Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2021

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

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Page 46 of 55 AUGUST 2021 47 WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA I t's been a summer of firsts for Niele Ivey. The second-year Notre Dame women's basketball head coach went on the road in July to see recruits in person for the first time since tak- ing over for Muffet McGraw in April 2020. Check. Just before hitting the road, Ivey welcomed her players to Notre Dame's campus for the start of a six-week period of summer practices and workout ses- sions. Those didn't occur last summer because of the CO- VID-19 pandemic. Check. Even upon re- turning from her recruiting visits — which were spread over six states in seven days — Ivey took part in another first. She watched a former Notre Dame player she recruited and coached win W N B A A l l - S t a r Game MVP honors while surrounded by current Notre Dame players she also recruited and coached. That's a big, surreal, Arike Ogun- bowale game-winning shot in the 2018 NCAA national championship game-sized check. Ogunbowale is the former Irish superstar who won the award, after all. "It was awesome to be around the team but also to support our alum and what she's doing professionally and how she's impacting women's basketball and the world," Ivey told Blue & Gold Illustrated. "It was a lot of fun." The recruiting. The summer ses- sions. Watching Notre Dame faithful have success on the court. Though all of those things belong to a relative list of firsts for Ivey, they all feel so normal to her at the same time. Ivey is the first — there's that word again — to admit her first season at the helm in South Bend wasn't up to the Notre Dame standard. A .500 overall record without an appearance in the postseason won't cut it after the Irish made the NCAA Tourna- ment 24 straight times under Mc- Graw from 1996-2019. Ivey was a part of 18 of those sea- sons — five as a player, 13 as an assis- tant coach. She won a national cham- pionship as McGraw's point guard in 2001, and she was McGraw's associ- ate head coach in 2018. The bottom line? Ivey knows what success looks like at Notre Dame. Just like the rush of recruiting re- turned and the regularity of offsea- son workouts was restored, Ivey is adamant the Irish's winning ways will be reinstated rather quickly. "The University of Notre Dame is a special place regardless of the last two years," Ivey said. "I truly believe in my staff, my team, my program and my university. I feel that the foundation of Notre Dame is right where it needs to be. I feel like I am part of that foundation because I've had the opportunity to win as a player and serve under a Hall of Fame coach. I know the fabric of this university and program." There are reasons to believe in why Ivey believes, too. The No. 34 overall recruit in the class of 2020, 6-5 forward Natalija Marshall, makes her much antici- pated return from an ACL injury she sustained as a senior in high school. The No. 8 and No. 16 players in the class of 2021, point guard Olivia Miles and combo guard Sonia Citron, will also play meaningful minutes as freshmen. Miles enrolled early and played six games last season. Citron enters the fold as the program's 24th McDonald's All-American. To complement the talented youth, Notre Dame returns two of the three double-digit scorers from last sea- son in sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld (15.2 points per game) and senior guard Dara Mabrey (11.3). The Irish also added 6-3 graduate transfer Maya Dodson from S t a n f o rd f o r re - bounding and de- fensive depth in the frontcourt. That takes care of six players on Notre Dame's 2021 roster. A potential reason for concern? There are currently only four others. Ivey has a roster of 10 after offsea- son transfer portal departures and a freshman class that consisted of just Miles and Citron. It's getting late in the game to bring in another trans- fer. Ivey is open to it but not certain it will happen. She said she'll take a few walk-ons this fall to flesh out the roster, but for the most part what you see is what you'll get in terms of production. "I want to put the best five on the floor," Ivey said. "I'm completely open to whomever that is. I think since we have a smaller roster, there is so much opportunity for everyone to contribute. That's what I'm really excited about." For many of them, it'll be their first contributions in some form or fash- ion. Marshall's first collegiate min- utes. Same for Citron. Dodson's first season in a Notre Dame uniform. Miles' first full season. Ivey's first full head coaching season unaffected by a pandemic. And, perhaps, her first ap- pearance in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach too. As Ivey learned this summer, sometimes firsts aren't so bad. ✦ Niele Ivey Relishes A Return To Normalcy Ivey and her team will have been able to take part in summer practices and workout sessions, as well as team-building gatherings, things that did not take place last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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