Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 11, 2021

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

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48 SEPT. 11, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA N otre Dame women's basketball had its issues last season. They were well documented. For starters, the overall record of 10-10 wasn't up to the program's lofty stan- dard. There were plenty of things that led to it. For example, Notre Dame ranked 207th nationally in rebounds per game and 115th in assist-to-turnover ratio — two team-oriented statistics that often directly correlate to wins and losses. Naturally, the head coach is going to take the brunt of the blame in most situations in which a team does not per- form the way it is expected to. But first-year Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey had plenty of valid explana- tions for why Notre Dame didn't fin- ish with a winning record and missed the NCAA Tournament. Injuries and a lack of chemistry because of a coach- ing change that took place largely in the middle of a pandemic were two major contributors to the lack of success. Still, Ivey was never afraid to own up to her team's shortcomings. After the last home game of the sea- son, a 78-61 loss to Louisville, she was asked directly if the turnover problem the Fighting Irish had at the beginning of the game — five on the first five pos- sessions — were her own players' fault or if Louisville had more to do with them. "I would say the first five minutes were on Notre Dame," Ivey said. "We didn't make the right play." That's called accountability. It should come as no surprise that Ivey exhibits it all the time. Former Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw was able to count on Ivey to help deliver the program's first national championship in 2001, and South Bend Cubs fans as well as Ivey's friends and family were able to count on her to throw a strike Aug. 19. No, seriously. Ivey was picked to throw the ceremo- nial first pitch at Four Winds Field before the Cubs' game against the Quad Cit- ies River Bandits that Thursday evening. Plenty of sports fans have seen the viral videos of ceremonial first pitches gone awry. Ivey made sure that she would not end up as the star of one of them. Accountability, after all. Ivey visited Notre Dame baseball coach Link Jarrett at Frank Eck Stadium on the afternoon of Aug. 19. The two played catch for a bit to gauge Ivey's ability on the mound. "You have completely got this," Jar- rett told her. "You're all over it. That is money." "I just learned how to throw a pitch from the best coach in the country," Ivey said after the training session. "Our ACC Coach of the Year, Coach Jarrett, I appreciate you." "Niele, that was fun," Jarrett said. "I haven't caught an athlete like that. I've seen you make a lot of baskets, but you were filling the strike zone up. That was about 10 in a row." Make it 11. Ivey fired the ball over the plate with the cameras rolling and spectators watching at Four Wins Field. What does any of it have to do with Notre Dame women's basketball trying to bounce back and record its first winning season since 2018-19? It goes back to that word that starts with an "A" — accountability. Ivey could have just showed up and bounced the ball into the catcher's mitt. Again — just go watch one of those videos. Plenty of people have done it. Plenty of people have missed the catcher entirely, too. Ivey was never going to be one of them. Jarrett said it himself; Ivey is a pure athlete. But as the saying goes: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." It doesn't take an athlete to be able to throw a strike. It takes someone who puts in practice work. Ivey is an athlete, and she logged the preparation time. That's a winning combination. The recipe is the same for Notre Dame this season. There are talented play- ers all over the roster. Former five-star freshman Olivia Miles got her feet wet in the college game this past winter as an early enrollee. Fellow freshman Sonia Citron just won a gold medal at the U-19 FIBA World Cup and was also named to the all-tournament team. Notre Dame has the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year in Maddy Westbeld. Graduate transfer Maya Dodson was a former McDonald's All-American just like Citron, Westbeld, junior forward Sam Brunelle, junior guard Anaya Peo- ples and senior guard Katlyn Gilbert. That's more than a starting five full of former McDonald's All-Americans, and that's not even including former five- star recruit Natalija Marshall or the 2017 and 2018 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, Dara Mabrey. If Notre Dame stays healthy, finds the chemistry Ivey said her team lacked last season and — most importantly — dedi- cates itself with the same determina- tion and drive Ivey did to perfecting her ceremonial first pitch, then there won't be too many reasons left to plausibly explain why Notre Dame can't win at an elite level again in women's college basketball. "I have an incredible group of young women who are excited," Ivey said. "We're going to have a chip on our shoulder and play with an edge. I just want to bring the best out of this group and to bring that swag and confidence back to this program." ✦ How Niele Ivey Demonstrated Accountability At A South Bend Cubs Game Ivey threw out the ceremonial first pitch — a strike — before a South Bend Cubs game at Four Winds Field Aug. 19. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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