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Post: Three options for Notre Dame women’s basketball in the quest to replace Maya Dodson

| Monday, April 11, 2022

Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team is entering the offseason before the 2022 season in a privileged position. They’ll return four of five starters. Their leader in points, assists and steals was only a freshman, and very well might be the best freshman in the country. As a program, the upward trajectory under their (relatively) new head coach, Niele Ivey is clear: a marginal record improvement in year one, and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in year two. 

But as Ivey herself has said, the bar for Notre Dame women’s basketball is not Sweet Sixteens. It’s national championships. And, as the Irish gear up for an even better run in 2022, for all their strengths, the team has one immediate and gaping hole: center.

This week, graduate student Maya Dodson announced that she would be committing herself to the WNBA draft process, as her request for a sixth year of eligibility was denied by the NCAA. Without getting into the absurdities of NCAA’s eligibility requirements, this announcement creates an immediate problem for Notre Dame at the five spot. 

As long as she was out of foul trouble, there wasn’t a minute last season that the Irish didn’t have Dodson as their anchor down low. The former Stanford transfer was a staple at the center position for a reason: a member of both the all-ACC first team and all-ACC defensive team, Dodson provided a nearly unparalleled mix of consistent scoring (12.6 points per game), rebounding 7.3 per game, and rim protection (she had 91 blocks, nobody else on the roster had more than 30). 

On the bright side, Irish are not without immediate options, at least in the hypothetical. Sophomore Maddy Westbeld was forced to play out of position for portions of Notre Dame’s Sweet Sixteen game against North Carolina State when Dodson got into foul trouble, and dealt with one of the best centers in the country in Elissa Cunane relatively well. Though moving Westbeld out of position would open up another lineup spot, freshman Sonia Citron has proven capable of providing minutes at the four spot and Ivey has hinted that even KK Branford, Notre Dame’s highest rated incoming freshman, could play any of the 1-4 spots as a guard. Looking back to the current roster, sophomore Natalija Marshall has struggled with injuries throughout her Irish career, but the former top-40 recruit stands at 6-feet-5 and certainly has the height to profile as a center. 

But in all likelihood, the best place for Ivey and the Irish to go to find a replacement for the near-irreplaceable Dodson is back where they picked her up in the first place: the transfer portal. Since Dodson made the switch from Stanford to South Bend last year, the portal has exploded from a relative anomaly to a fundamental part of how championship rosters are built. This offseason, over a thousand women’s college basketball players have already entered, and more seem to come each day. Notre Dame does face some unique challenges in acquiring portal players: The strict rules regarding grades and credits have been noted and bemoaned more than a few times, especially regarding the football team. But the strict rules, as evidenced by Dodson, doesn’t mean Notre Dame can’t bring in transfers. It just means the fit has to be a little more perfect, and the search a little more meticulous. However, ignoring the unknown of grades or credits, purely based on basketball resume here are three options that Irish could turn to to fill Dodson’s shoes down low.

Taya Corosdale (Oregon State): A relatively recent entry to the portal, Corosdale announced Friday that she’d be exploring other options for the remainder of her eligibility. The redshirt junior offers invaluable experience that could boost a generally young Irish core, as well as a tall physical frame standing 6’3. Corosdale wasn’t as prolific of a scorer as Dodson was, only averaging 7.3 points per game, but she was a slightly better rebounder than Dodson was — averaging 7.4 a game to Dodson’s 7.3. She also tied for the team lead on the Beavers in blocks, and averaged more minutes per game than any other player on the roster. Though her stats aren’t as eye-popping as the other two names on this list, don’t count out experience as an important trait in Ivey’s search for a Dodson replacement. The fact that Corosdale has played college ball for years now could make her an attractive option should Ivey look to further balance her young lineup.

Dre’una Edwards (Kentucky): Though the shortest name on this list at “only” 6-feet-2, Edwards brings a strong resume to the table after a year at Kentucky. The former 2019 PAC-12 freshman of the year took some time to get up to speed with the Wildcats, dealing with injuries (and even this season only started 12 games), but when she was on the court she was one of the teams’ most influential players. Averaging 16.8 points per game to go with 8.4 rebounds, Edwards also possesses an efficient shooting stroke. The redshirt junior shot 52% from the field last season, showing an offensive versatility that, when mixed with her natural length and ability in the paint, could make her a nice fit for Ivey’s up-tempo attack. 

Angel Reese (Maryland): Though Reese doesn’t profile as a traditional center, playing her trade more in the mold of a Sonia Citron hybrid forward/guard, the Baltimore native would be a slam dunk addition for the Irish. Bringing in Reese would require the Irish to play a little smaller than last year, but the sophomore has the height required to be a presence on the boards, standing at 6-feet-3. The question of why the Irish would shift their play to accommodate Reese is answered by her stats and accolades: she averaged a double double with 17.8 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. Even more impressively, these gaudy numbers came while she only averaged 25.8 minutes per game. Reese is no slouch on the defensive side of the ball either — being named to the all-Big Ten defensive team last season. A third team all-American as only a sophomore, Reese would be a statement addition for the Irish, as a host of national title contenders no doubt have interest in bringing her in.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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