ND Women’s Basketball
ACC Rookie of the Year, Westbeld, reflects on Ivey’s first season
Greg McKenna | Friday, May 21, 2021
Playing during a college basketball season during a pandemic presents enough uncertainty in itself. One might think replacing a hall-of-fame coach without summer practice as well would be an overwhelming experience for any player.
Freshman forward Maddy Westbeld, however, admits she didn’t know anything different heading into her first collegiate season.
“I mean, definitely going through it, it was really challenging and definitely really frustrating,” she said. “But there were also a lot of great things that came out of it. So I think for my first year at Notre Dame, I wouldn’t have wanted anything else.”
Westbeld wouldn’t have hoped for anyone else to be patrolling the sideline, either. She said playing for first-year head coach Niele Ivey, who replaced Muffet McGraw after the two-time national champion retired last April after 33 seasons leading the Irish, was a “dream come true.”
“I’ve known her since I was little,” Westbeld said. “And she has just always been somebody that I could talk to about anything. And just to have her as my head coach and be able to look on the sideline and see her wanting great things for me and wanting great things for the team, it was just so amazing.”
Westbeld also could not have hoped for a better freshman campaign, individually. After leading Notre Dame with 15.2 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game, as well as shooting a team-high 39% from three, Westbeld was named First-Team All-ACC and conference Rookie of the Year.
Westbeld was the only freshman in the country to average at least 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game, but she said she was surprised to be a consistent starter, never mind the team’s star.
“I think the first couple games, that was when I was still trying to figure it out, and I was getting in some foul trouble,” she said.
Westbeld said good communication with the coaching staff allowed her to figure things out, paving the way for her meteoric rise.
She said one of the most critical things was, “sitting down with my coaches, and really being transparent with them, knowing what they need me to do to come out on top.”
Though ranked No. 22 in the preseason AP Poll, the Irish (10-10, 8-7 ACC) faced a learning curve of their own. The Irish dropped 4 of their first nine games before suffering a heartbreaking loss at Boston College in early January.
The Irish led by 12 in with 3:29 to go, but the Eagles, who only won two games in the ACC all season, closed the game on a 16-1 run to snatch the victory.
Westbeld said the game in Chestnut Hill began a frustrating trend of fourth-quarter collapses, which included a late January loss at North Carolina and first-round exit in the ACC Tournament against Clemson. She said the relatively young Irish know their play late in games will need to improve next season.
“It’s definitely fixable stuff,” Westbeld said. “But we just as a unit needed to figure out how to get over that hump of holding a lead. And that comes with leadership.”
Following the loss at BC, however, the Irish rebounded with a three game win-streak, their longest of the season. The Irish would obtain revenge against the Eagles in the second of those games, winning by 10 back home at Purcell Pavilion.
A three-game losing streak followed, but Notre Dame won two of its last three regular season games to seemingly put the Irish on the good side of the bubble heading into the ACC Tournament. After the five-point loss to Clemson in Greensboro, however, Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament appearance streak ended at 24.
Westbeld, whose sister Kathryn averaged 7.7 points per game on the 2017-2018 national title-winning squad, knows Notre Dame’s typical standard is much higher. She said this is not something the team needs to harp on during offseason workouts, however.
“We all were on the same page without it needing to be said,” Westbeld said.
In terms of departures, the Irish graduate senior guard Nicole Benz, and senior center Mikayla Vaughn and graduate student guard Destinee Walker are also moving on.
Vaughn, who averaged 7.6 ppg and led the Irish with 1.4 blocks per game this season, saw preseason action with the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA before being waived prior to the regular season. Westbeld said Vaughn, despite playing down low, was unafraid to take on leadership duties typically attributed to a team’s point guard.
“A lot of times during practice and things it was Mik being the vocal leader,” she said.
Westbeld said Walker, whose 11.4 ppg this season was good for second on the team, led by being a friend to anyone who needed her.
“For me, personally, I know that Destinee always had my back,” she said.
Westbeld said Benz, a former walk-on who, like Vaughn, was a member of the 2017-2018 title-winning squad, was a tremendous best friend, part-time roommate and mentor.
Westbeld said Benz “knew everything,” including, “the right words to say when things were getting frustrating.”
Westbeld will headline a strong group of returnees that includes early-enrollee Olivia Miles, who averaged nearly 10 points per game after joining the Irish in late January. Notre Dame also adds Stanford graduate transfer Maya Dodson at forward and incoming freshman guard Sonia Citron, ESPN’s 16th-ranked point guard in the 2021 class and a McDonald’s All-American.
Westbeld has absolute faith in Ivey to lead this talented Irish squad forward.
“I can never question her heart and never question anything negative about her because I know that all she wants is positive things for the program and for us,” she said. “I love playing for her and I’m so excited to keep that journey going.”