Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM AUGUST 2022 45 WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA T here wasn't any mistaking where Niele Ivey was on the afternoon of July 21. Whistles blared. Sneak- ers screeched. Background clutter was aplenty. The lazy echo of any noise whatsoever combined to create a ca- cophonous combination. She was inside a basketball gym, of course, in Ladera Ranch, Calif. Ivey couldn't give updates on which prospects she was watching there. The NCAA forbids the dissemination of such information by coaches. But while watching potential future Fighting Irish stars, she shared plenty on the progress of current ones with Blue & Gold Illustrated. Notre Dame has four new faces on the roster: Stanford transfer Jenna Brown, Texas transfer Lauren Ebo, Oregon transfer Kylee Watson and All-Ameri- can freshman KK Bransford. Thus far, Ivey has been impressed with the quartet. The emphasis with Brown, a 5-10 guard and a 2018 McDonald's All-American, has been on off-court exercises — she's en- dured three knee surgeries in three years and has only averaged 1.8 points in 57 ca- reer games as a result. The training staff built her up in June to be able to withstand the rigors of Ivey's practices in July. "She's hungry," Ivey said. "She came in like Maya [Dodson] with a smaller role at Stanford but will play a big role for me." Ivey said Ebo brings sheer size in the post that Notre Dame hasn't had since Brianna Turner, Kristina Nelson and Jessica Shepard helped the Irish win the national championship in 2018. Ebo is 6-foot-4. She played in the Elite Eight twice at Texas and averaged 8.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in 2021-22. "She carries that experience with her," Ivey said. Watson, also 6-4, joined returning guards Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey as New Jersey natives on the Notre Dame roster. She averaged 3.8 points in just more than 16 minutes per game last year. "She has an incredible motor and ex- plosiveness," Ivey said of Watson. "She can play inside-out. She's really fast." Ivey called the transfers "culture fits," which are often difficult to find in the portal. Ivey knew what she was getting in Bransford, meanwhile. The Cincin- nati Mount Notre Dame star committed to Notre Dame last October and signed in November. She watched the Irish go to the Sweet 16 while patiently waiting to one day be part of such a journey. That day is now, and Ivey's team is better for it. She said Bransford is as advertised. "She's such a high-IQ player," Ivey said. "Everything comes easily and nat- urally to her. I expected that coming in. She picked everything up so easily. It's been refreshing to see that." The 5-11 Bransford might not figure into the starting lineup right away. Notre Dame returns four regular starters — Miles, Mabrey, guard Sonia Citron and forward Maddy Westbeld — from last season's roster. In theory, Ivey just has to insert Ebo or Watson at center. She wasn't ready to make such a decision, not with three months until the season starts. Junior forward Natalija Marshall has quietly gone about her business, too. Is she a starter? Probably not. A depth piece on a team with nine scholarship players? Absolutely, if healthy. Like Brown, Marshall has battled knee injuries for years. She missed 20 games with one that required surgery in the winter but has fully recovered. "She's progressing well," Ivey said. Notre Dame played most of last season with seven to nine available scholarship players. The numbers issue isn't anything new to Ivey, and she didn't sound stressed over it. She knows how to navigate it. She seemed more fixated on the screeching sneakers and blaring whis- tles. If she's able to nab what she was looking for in Ladera Ranch, Calif., the numbers issue will soon disappear. ✦ NOTRE DAME'S 2022-23 NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE Date Opponent Oct. 31 Truman State (Exh.) Nov. 7 Northern Illinois Nov. 12 Opponent TBA Nov. 16 at Northwestern Nov. 20 Ball State Nov. 24 American* Nov. 25-26 Arizona State* Dec. 1 Maryland^ Dec. 4 Connecticut! Dec. 8 at Lafayette Dec. 10 Merrimack College Dec. 21 Western Michigan * Goombay Splash in Bimini, Bahamas; ^ ACC/Big Ten Challenge ! Women's Jimmy V Classic Roster Turnover Excites Head Coach Niele Ivey True freshman KK Bransford arrived at Notre Dame over the summer after a McDonald's All- America senior season at Mount Notre Dame High School in Cincinnati. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS IVEY COMPLETES COACHING STAFF Notre Dame announced the hire of Irish alumna Charel Allen as Niele Ivey's third full-time assistant on July 20. Allen replaces Coquese Washington, who became the head coach at Rutgers in May. "She was on my short list of people who know my system and people I'd want to work with," Ivey said. Allen arrives at Notre Dame after five seasons as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton. She rose to as- sociate head coach status there in 2021. As a player at Notre Dame (2004-08), Allen was a two-time All-American and a two-time first-team All-Big East selection. She was a senior during Ivey's first season as an assistant at Notre Dame. "Charel brings a high-level mentality that leads to great player development," Ivey said. "She's a rising star in this industry. She's extremely passionate and understands what it takes to excel as a student- athlete at Notre Dame."

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