Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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48 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL RECRUITING BY LOU SOMOGYI I t's easy to put two and two to- gether in Notre Dame's 2019 wom- en's basketball recruiting efforts. The 2018 national champions gradu- ated their top two forwards, Kathryn Westbeld and Kristina Nelson. Next spring the Fighting Irish will graduate two frontcourt All-America candidates in Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner, both in their final seasons of eligibility. Therefore, adding two "bigs" to next season's roster to complement current sophomores Mikayla Vaughn and Danielle Patterson and freshman Danielle Cosgrove — a prototype "stretch four" — remains the fore- most priority to head coach Muffet McGraw and her staff for the early Nov. 14-21 signing period. Forward/wing Samantha Brunelle and guard Anaya Peoples have long been verbally committed to the Fight- ing Irish to take the place of current senior guards/wings Arike Ogun- bowale and Marina Mabrey after this season, which is why the focus now centers on the frontcourt . Brunelle and Peoples took their of- ficial visits to campus for the foot- ball season opener against Michigan Sept. 1 — and likely to assist the re- cruiting efforts for the two other 2019 official visitors from that weekend: 6-4 Aliyah Boston from Worcester (Mass.) Academy, now the nation's No. 3 overall prospect according to ESPN HoopGurlz, and 6-3 Malu Tshitenge- Mutombo from St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. Tshitenge-Mutombo, the niece of eight-time NBA All-Star Dikembe Mu- tombo, dropped from No. 29 to No. 56 in the ESPN HoopGurlz rankings fol- lowing the summer competition, but remains a valued "take" for the Irish. She indicated that she has narrowed her choices to North Carolina and Notre Dame, and that an announce- ment will be forthcoming soon. Boston, from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, still has a November official visit planned to the Univer- sity of Connecticut, which always looms as a top threat for elite pros- pects. She moved up from No. 7 to No. 3 in the ESPN HoopGurlz rank- ings, just ahead of Brunelle (No. 4), and they have often been teammates, including three-on-three tourna- ments, on the all-star circuit. Another forward who was on an unofficial visit for the Michigan weekend is someone who already has been to the campus dozens of times — 6-2 high school junior for- ward Madelyn Westbeld, younger sister of Kathryn. She is currently ESPN HoopGurlz's No. 45 overall prospect in the 2020 class. Here are some most asked questions: Besides Boston and Mutombo, who else is Notre Dame pursuing in the 2019 class? The final two official visits will come Sept. 29 for the Stanford football game with 6-1 wing Haley Jones — who this summer passed Brunelle as the nation's No. 1 prospect on ESPN HoopGurlz (she already was No. 1 on Prospects Nation while Brunelle was No. 5) — and 6-3 Canadian forward Laeticia Amihere, the No. 10 over- all prospect on the recently updated ESPN HoopGurlz list. Jones, who resides in Santa Cruz, Calif., and attends Archbishop Mitty, is getting pursued from coast to coast, and she could become the third straight No. 1 player to sign with UConn, joining Christyn Williams (2018) and Megan Walker (2017). Amihere, known for her dunking prowess, so far reportedly has taken visits to Kentucky and most recently Louisville. How many do the Irish want to sign? If all four of the uncommitted want to join (unlikely), there is room to take six, although McGraw has pre- ferred not to go beyond 11 on a roster because of internal chemistry prob- lems it can create when you recruit so many premier prospects (including the transfers of Erin Boley and Ali Pat- berg at the end of the 2017 campaign). If the Irish end up with only two (also unlikely) in Brunelle and Peo- ples, then that would be a huge dis- appointment with not meeting their interior needs. Either way, though, Notre Dame won't say no to any of the four remaining on their board. Reality might be somewhere in between with perhaps four recruits overall to join last year 's quartet of guards Jordan Nixon, Katlyn Gilbert and Abby Prohaska, along with for- ward Cosgrove. Could this be McGraw's best class in her 32 seasons at Notre Dame? In 2015 she signed three top-25 players in Ogunbowale (No. 10), Pat- berg (No. 13, and now at Indiana) and Mabrey (No. 24). However, from that same group, Shepard (No. 3) eventu- ally transferred from Nebraska — so that is the gold standard. If she can land any duo combina- tion of Jones (No. 1), Boston (No. 3) or Amihere (No. 10) to go with Brunelle (No. 4) and Peoples (No. 21), that would be No. 1 on paper in quantity and quality. ✦ Notre Dame Looking To Round Out Its Frontcourt From left to right, recruits Sam Brunelle, Anaya Peoples, Aliyah Boston and Mahu Tshitenge-Mutombo all took their official visits the weekend of Notre Dame's football opener versus Michigan Sept. 1. PHOTO VIA TWITTER

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