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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish basketball shines in Year 2 of Ivey era

| Friday, May 13, 2022

To say Notre Dame women’s basketball took a step forward in 2021 would be an understatement. In year two under Niele Ivey, the Irish rose to 24-9 with a Sweet 16 appearance. That followed a 10-10 conference record in 2020-21 and a first-round exit in the ACC Tournament. Last year’s Notre Dame team lost to Ohio in the season opener. This year, the Irish beat the Bobcats by 35. That win set the stage for some high-profile wins, including a victory over third-ranked North Carolina State. The Irish were seconds away from repeating the feat in the Sweet 16. 

Maya Dodson makes instant impact

The difference between year two and year one for Niele Ivey and her squad? Among others, the arrival of graduate student center Maya Dodson. After opting out of the 2020 season, Dodson arrived in South Bend with a highly proven resume from her time at Stanford. Averaging five points, three rebounds and a block per game for the Cardinal, Dodson brought a post presence to Purcell Pavilion that few teams could match.

Dodson averaged 12.6 points as well as 7.3 rebounds per game for the Irish. That anchored Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive output in the paint. When the team needed her most, Dodson was often at her best, displaying her experience and senior leadership. 

In a December game, the Irish struggled to close out against Depaul on the road, for instance, the graduate student was a consistent force. She notched a team-high 28 points as well as 8 rebounds. In Notre Dame’s first ranked conference game against North Carolina Dodson lodged a double-double. Just weeks later against No. 3 NC State she repeated the feat. This time, she also led the team in scoring with 20 points. 

A defensive cog with a penchant for shot-blocking, Dodson was named to the ACC all-defensive team as well as her general OK second team all ACC honors at the end of the year.

“Maya’s a once-in-a-lifetime player. She’s a special player,” Ivey said. “I don’t think there’s really anyone that can really even replace the intangibles that she brought us.” 

Anya Ruffino

Mabrey shines from beyond the arc

Dodson wasn’t the only senior who proved to be a driving force for the Fighting Irish in 2021, though. Guard Dara Mabrey was another vital member of the Notre Dame lineup. She added both ball-handling skills and a reliable shooting capability to Coach Ivey’s rotation. 

Notre Dame fans are plenty familiar with the Mabrey name. Michaela Mabrey was a two-year team captain for the Irish and is currently an assistant coach on Ivey’s staff. Marina Mabrey is Notre Dame’s all-time leader in three-pointers and played a major role in bringing home the Irish’s most recent national title in 2018. After arriving as a transfer in 2020, Dara became the third Mabrey to don the blue and gold. She wasted no time carving out her own space in Notre Dame lore.

Averaging 10.3 points per game, Mabrey also posted 76 assists, second on the team. A vocal presence on the court and an experienced hand on a relatively young Irish roster, Mabrey rose to the occasion as a senior leader for the Irish in some of the team’s biggest games. 

The senior from Belmar, New Jersey led Notre Dame in scoring during the NCAA tournament. She averaged 18.7 points per game in a stretch that included an explosive 29-point performance in the round of 32 against Oklahoma. On the road in Norman, Mabrey was near-unconscious from deep. She drilled seven of 12 three-pointers (including five of six in the first quarter) to help the underdog Irish notch a statement win.

Such an offensive outpouring was only the high point in a year of impressive efficiency for Mabrey. She shot a team-high 37% from beyond the arc on the year. The senior was also an underrated defender, only committing 42 fouls in 2021, 20 less than any other starting player.

Mabrey will be using her additional year of eligibility to return for the 2022 season. Her prowess adds another weapon to an Irish lineup that will look to thrive in transition and high-scoring affairs.

Young stars return with Mabrey

Younger stars surround Mabrey on the 2022 roster. The Irish’s young roster blossomed into one of the best starting lineups in the ACC last year as the season progressed. Rising sophomore Olivia Miles will handle guard duties in 2022 alongside Mabrey. Miles was widely regarded as one of the best freshmen in the country last season. Leading the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game, Miles also dished out 244 assists- good for second in the entire country. 

Miles racked up accolades in her first season playing college ball, being named first-team all-ACC as well as a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award. She became the first freshman in collegiate basketball history to record a triple-double in a national tournament game, an achievement only made more impressive by the fact that she nearly held it as an average for Notre Dame’s entire March Madness run (Miles averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds and 9.7 assists for the tournament).

In addition to Miles, the Irish will also bring back combo guard Sonia Citron, whose versatility proved to be an asset as the season went on. Initially coming off the bench at the start of the season, the freshman slowly emerged into a key starter for the squad, adding a nice blend of scoring (11.8 points per game) and rebounding (6.6 rpg). Rising junior Maddy Westbeld completes the slate of Irish returnees, offering more positional versatility at forward as well as an efficient shooting touch. 

Niele Ivey thinks between Mabrey and the young core around her the Irish are primed for an even deeper tournament run in 2022:

I think when you have a point guard like Olivia Miles, you have a chance no matter what.  Because of the way that she plays and the way that she leads,” said Ivey. “And I feel like I have great shooters. I have really good size, and I’m going to add some more size [with the transfer portal]. [Incoming freshman KK Bransford] is another versatile guard. That versatility in multiple positions- I think that’s a recipe for success. And we have the drive, we have the hunger, and I think we have great chemistry. We have the vision, that mindset… that we want to get back and go further. And that’s the one thing that you need to have.”

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