Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 6, 2021

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

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56 NOV. 6, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA F ive ACC women's basketball teams landed in the preseason Associated Press Top 25. Notre Dame was not one of them — but the Fighting Irish were certainly knocking on the door. Head coach Niele Ivey's team received eight votes in the inaugural poll and was the top unranked ACC team receiving votes. Notre Dame still has some work to do in the early portion of the sea- son to crack the rankings, though. If the poll extended past 25 teams, Notre Dame would be ranked 35th. No t re Da m e wa s subsequently picked by the ACC's 15 head coaches and a group of 57 voters from the m e d i a o n t h e B l u e Ribbon Panel to fin- ish sixth in the con- ference, which is ex- actly where the Irish finished in last year's shortened season with an ACC record of 8-7 and an overall mark of 10-10. For context, Florida State finished sixth during the last full- length women's col- lege basketball season in 2018-19. The Seminoles (24-9, 10-6) received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 5 seed. That's about what Notre Dame should expect if the Irish should finish sixth in the conference. The program's standard, of course, is winning it all. National championships. Notre Dame has them, and it wants more. Back-to-back non-winning seasons have naturally tempered those expectations though. A trip to the big dance is just what the doctor ordered for Ivey and company to get the ship back on the right track. And Ivey might have a roster that could get the Irish there. A year after leading Notre Dame in scoring and rebounding with 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a true freshman, sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld is a consensus preseason All- ACC team member. Westbeld landed on both the coaches' and Blue Ribbon Panel's preseason list of 10 all-conference worthy players. Two of her teammates, freshman guards Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, were selections for both newcomer watch lists. Only five players make those lists and Notre Dame had two of them in consensus fashion. Miles got her feet wet averaging 9.3 points per game in six games off the bench as an early enrollee last win- ter. Citron joins the program fresh off averaging 13.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in a gold-medal winning effort with the U19 USA Team at the 2021 FIBA World Cup in August. She was named to the all-tournament team, a group consisting of five players. This Notre Dame team has talent. Does it have a roster that can come to- gether and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament? That's an unknown. But Westbeld likes it that way. She'd rather people be aware of Notre Dame in March than November. "This year we're flying under the radar," Westbeld told reporters in mid- October. "But people are going to know who we are." Ivey said preseason practices have been galvanized by an "electric" energy. "Everyone is committed and has worked so hard to come back," Ivey said. "They are playing with a sense of urgency and a hunger. That's from hav- ing a bad taste in their mouths and not being able to make the tournament. It will be our motivation." Ivey has to rid the Irish of that foul taste and get back to where Notre Dame was so accustomed to being under former h ea d coa c h M u f fe t McGraw. If not, seri- ous doubts will cer- tainly creep into the minds of fans, media and possibly even the players if the Irish go a third straight season without reaching the postseason. McGraw didn't up and leave the Notre Dame program be- hind, either. She's an ACC Network analyst who has been to a few Notre Dame practices in recent weeks to study up on the Irish for her studio job. Of course, she had a few chats with Ivey — a former player of hers in South Bend from 1997-2001 and a former assistant of hers from 2007-19. McGraw can come back to her old s to m p i n g g ro u n d s a l l s h e wa n ts, though, but it won't change the fact that this is Ivey's program now. And Ivey will be saddled with the reaction to its results — good or bad. If she wants the women's basketball scene to once again include South Bend as a must- stop location — and of course she does — there's really only one thing she can do about it: win. Notre Dame hosts an exhibition against Emporia State Nov. 1 before get- ting the regular season started at Purcell Pavilion against Ohio Nov. 9. Almost go time. ✦ Notre Dame Picked To Finish Sixth In ACC Preseason Poll Freshman guards Olivia Miles (left) and Sonia Citron (right) were both consensus picks for the ACC newcomer watch lists compiled by the league's coaches and the Blue Ribbon Panel. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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