Ten questions for Notre Dame sports teams in 2023-24
Notre Dame fall sports are officially back. Irish women’s soccer kicked off their season against Milwaukee on Thursday, and men’s soccer, volleyball, cross country and football will soon follow suit with their season openers. While The Observer will provide plenty of coverage on the start of the football season, football is far from the only team on campus. Here are 10 questions and storylines to watch for as Notre Dame’s other teams take the field and court in 2023.
1. Can women’s soccer keep building?
Notre Dame women’s soccer has made steady progress each year of head coach Nate Norman’s tenure, with the exception of the strange, abridged 2020 season. Said progress culminated in a trip to the last eight of the NCAA tournament in 2022, the Irish’s best finish to the season in a decade. Notre Dame loses prolific forward Olivia Wingate and dynamic midfielder Korbin Albert (among other departures). They add a highly ranked recruiting class though, and return the entirety of one of the ACC’s best backlines. The losses are notable, but the bones remain for a potential run if the offseason development that defined each of the team’s last two summers continues. — J.J. Post
2. What will year two of the Rockwell era look like in volleyball?
Head coach Salima Rockwell’s first year was one of learning and development for the new Notre Dame volleyball coach. The former Penn State standout will continue to develop a defense focused around standout Libero Hattie Monson. Monson played all 108 sets for the Irish last fall and looks to become an even more vocal leader among the backline. As for the offense, look to Avery Ross and Lucy Trump to make larger contributions this year on the attack. Trump and Ross gained valuable experience last season, earning 17 and 19 starts respectively as freshmen. With a year of ACC play under their belt the duo will now have had a full off-season to prepare for what will be a grueling slate of conference matchups in the back half of the season. The young team could very well surprise many as they appear to finally be meshing under a stronger motion offense. — Jacob Irons
3. Who leads the line for men’s soccer?
The Irish men’s soccer College Cup run in 2021 was followed up by a relatively disappointing 2022 encore. A rebuilding year wasn’t much of a surprise — Notre Dame lost three players from the 2021 squad to the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, but the team is primed to once again be in contention for an NCAA tournament bid in 2023. To do that though, the team will need production in front of net — no player scored more than six goals in 2022. Returning goalkeeper senior Bryan Dowd should give the Irish a reliable backstop, and several notable defenders (including senior Paddy Burns, junior Josh Ramsey and graduate student Mo Williams) are back for the fall. The defense will, barring injury or unexpected regression, be solid. But can anyone break out in a major way in attack to give the team another dimension and take Notre Dame to the next level? — Post
4. How good will hockey’s freshmen centers be?
Notre Dame hockey’s eight-member freshman class is their largest in four years, and their contribution to the team’s offense will be a key question heading into the year. U.S. National Team Development Program product Danny Nelson and Fargo Force alumnus Cole Knuble seem particularly poised for important roles. Both are coming off strong pre-college seasons and were drafted in June’s NHL entry draft. Nelson shined at the IIHF under-18 World Championships, with seven points in seven games and was selected by the New York Islanders 49th overall.
Knuble put up 30 goals and 66 points in the top flight of junior hockey, the United States Hockey League (USHL), earning a fourth round selection by the Philadelphia Flyers. If those two can step into a center role and produce right away — a big ask for any freshman in college hockey, let alone two competing in a stacked Big Ten — it would be a boon for an Irish offense that struggled to score last year. — Ryan Murphy
5. Is strong pitching enough for softball?
After wrapping up last season in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional, Notre Dame softball should pitch at least as well as they did last season. Breakout freshman Micaela Kastor returns with a consistency-seeking Shannon Becker, joining graduate transfer and two-time Ivy League Pitcher of the Year Alexis Laudenslager (Princeton). But to break out of a 24-year super regional drought, the Irish must replace a handful of high-impact position players, including 40-RBI contributors Joley Mitchell and Lexi Orozco. Slugging senior first baseman Karina Gaskins and do-it-all senior catcher Carlli Kloss will be around to lead the charge, but 2024 success will hinge on the progression of unproven hitters around them. — Tyler Reidy
6. Which new contributors will step up in men’s basketball?
There will hopefully be a plethora of players that fit this description. Otherwise, a difficult campaign is likely in store for the Irish, who enter their first season under head coach Micah Shrewsberry with the challenge of having to replace nearly all of last year’s veteran-heavy rotation. In terms of returning players, the one to watch is junior guard J.R. Konieczny, an impressive athlete who redshirted last year and could be in line for a breakout season. Shrewsberry also pulled in a strong recruiting class despite having to work on a condensed timeline during his first offseason in South Bend.
Freshman guard Markus Burton, who earned Indiana Mr. Basketball honors, and freshman forward Carey Booth will both be counted on to make an impact from day one. Finally, the rebuilding Irish should get significant production from the transfer portal, having brought in sophomore forward Kebba Njie, who played for Shrewsberry at Penn State, as well as junior guard Julian Roper II from Northwestern. With a youthful and largely inexperienced group, expect Notre Dame to utilize a far deeper bench than they have in recent memory. It should be an exciting season to watch for Irish fans as they get to know the players that will make up the core for the next era of Notre Dame men’s basketball. — Matthew Crow
7. How does women’s lacrosse reload?
While the men’s team finally authored their long-awaited breakout run, 2023 was the latest so-close-but-yet-so-far season for the women’s lacrosse team. The Irish put together another solid season, going 20-6 and reaching the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The team is bringing back plenty of starpower, as seniors or graduate students account for a majority of the team’s top players. This season has a very “Last Dance” vibe for Christine Halfpenny – can the Irish make it count? — Andrew McGuinness
8. How well can the graduate transfer class fill baseball’s veteran void?
In an often-promising 2023 campaign that ended with a mid-May flameout, Irish baseball’s top four hitters all ran out of eligibility. With the graduate student core of Brooks Coetzee, Vinny Martinez, Zack Prajzner and Carter Putz moving on, Notre Dame’s offense will look very different in 2024. To help ease the transition, head coach Shawn Stiffler added five graduate transfers over the summer. Outfielders Josh Hahn (UCLA) and Nathan Manning (Cal) are coming off breakout seasons, while outfielders Tito Flores (Michigan) and David Glancy (St. John’s) and utility man Simon Baumgardt (Tulane) have combined to play 452 collegiate games. — Reidy
9. How dynamic can the guard play of women’s basketball be?
There’s no question that Notre Dame women’s basketball, once fully healthy, will be a guard-driven team this season. Olivia Miles is already one of the best point guards in the country. Incoming freshman Hannah Hidalgo was the highest ranked true point guard in the class of 2023, per ESPN. Transfer Anna DeWolfe averaged over 18 points per game last season at Fordham. Junior Sonia Citron is more of a combo player than a guard, but she’ll technically be listed as an option at the position for 2023 as well. Head coach Niele Ivey likes her teams to play fast, and this team will have the guard options to always be out and running this winter. Will it be enough to power a team without much in the way of proven production down low to a Final Four? — Post
10. Can Notre Dame’s two reigning national champions do it again?
Irish eyes have already had a lot to smile about in 2023. In March, the Irish fencing team brought home its third straight national championship, with now senior Luke Linder and sophomore Eszter Muhari also winning individual titles. Three months later, Notre Dame celebrated again, as the men’s team erased years of frustrating close calls, beating Duke to win its first championship in program history. The team returns a good amount of its stars, although junior Chris Kavanagh will be without brother Pat by his side for the first time in his collegiate career. — McGuinness