The Notre Dame women’s basketball team is locking in as they prepare for out-of-conference play to start next month. Their season opens on Nov. 7 versus Northern Illinois.
Notre Dame’s season was cut short last year in a heartbreaking Sweet Sixteen loss to NC State. This season, the team is determined to build upon their performance. Head Coach Niele Ivey spoke about how last year’s loss is motivating the team this season.
“It’s something that’s always gonna be in the back of their heads. It gives them a chip on their shoulder. They know how good they can be, they showed it last year, so it’s about raising that standard, raising that expectation every day.”
The players themselves help their teammates meet these high expectations by holding each other accountable as well as cheering each other on. Players frequently exchange high fives during practice, but they don’t hesitate to offer criticism either. Sophomore guard Sonia Citron spoke about the importance of this practice.
“I’ll get on my teammates if they’re not working hard, just like they’ll get on me, and its not personal, it’s just what we have to do to get better.”
The Irish lost to NC State in the Sweet Sixteen by only three points, one of six losses last year that the Irish lost by five or fewer points. In such close games, effort and discipline are often the difference maker. As they prepare for this season, Notre Dame is focusing on limiting mistakes in order to win those close games.
“Every single practice we work on attention to detail and not making those silly little errors that can cost us that game,” Citron said.
Coach Ivey and the rest of the Notre Dame coaching staff also help their players emphasize these details frequently during practices, reminding players to sprint at full speed or “finish the first one” when a player misses a layup. This type of attention to detail in practice will help the Irish convert narrow losses into wins this season.
Incoming recruits will be crucial to Notre Dame’s success this year. The Irish lost five of last year’s players, including four who transferred to other programs. The team is filling their places with four new recruits.
Guard KK Bransford from Cincinnati, OH, the only freshman joining the team, earned Ms. Ohio Basketball the past two years and is the seventh-ranked guard in her class. She has transitioned well to college so far, competing against older girls in practice and playing great man defense.
Citron spoke highly of Bransford’s abilities.
“Even though she’s so young she is so talented,” Citron said.
Along with Bransford, three transfer students are joining the Irish. Graduate transfer guard Jenna Brown joins the Irish from Stanford, where she won a national championship in 2021.
Coach Ivey believes that “playing with that championship caliber helps.”
Brown’s presence on the team brings experience to a team of young players. Brown underwent knee surgery two seasons ago and is currently practicing in a brace; however, she is moving well on the court and is expected to be a useful addition to the Notre Dame squad.
Fellow graduate transfer Lauren Ebo, a center from the University of Texas, earned Big 12 All-Tournament Team and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention accolades last year. Tall and strong, Ebo can score and rebound at will from the post. Her size gives the Irish an advantage, both because she is difficult to guard and also because her teammates are able to practice against a tougher opponent than they will usually face in games. Along with dominating on the court, Ebo is also a vocal leader both in practice and in the locker room. Coach Ivey said she can rely on Ebo to use her voice and experience to help her teammates.
Ebo also plays well with junior forward Kylee Watson, who joins the Irish from Oregon. Watson, who led the Ducks in shooting percentage last year, says she loves “being on the floor when Ebo just can go to work.”
This type of positive team dynamic will be important to Notre Dame’s success this year. Culture is essential to any successful program, but especially one where four out of nine scholarship players are brand new to the program. Watson said that the smaller roster has actually helped the team bond.
“It’s so much easier to build chemistry when you have a smaller roster … hanging out outside of basketball and just being close, obviously that plays a role in how much we trust each other and want to play for each other.”
The positive team culture is obvious as you watch the Irish joke around while stretching and as they exchange personalized handshakes before the start of practice. The team looks cohesive and disciplined, and they’re having fun on the court. This is a Notre Dame team that is prepared to take the Irish to another Final Four.
Contact Sammie McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org