Notre Dame first-year head coach Niele Ivey is taking over a program that is coming off a disappointing 13-18 season, but the first-year head coach isn’t inheriting a roster devoid of talent. With her first class, Ivey added an elite backcourt to a young roster that has the future in South Bend looking incredibly bright.
We've seen this story play out before.
From 2014 to 2016, Notre Dame added three straight extremely talented recruiting classes. Those three classes added four Top 10 recruits and five more Top 30 recruits, and the number of Top 10 recruits grew by one when Jessica Shepard transferred in from Nebraska for the 2016-17 season.
That group (Arike Ogunbowale, Brianna Turner, Jackie Young, Marina Mabrey, Jessica Shepard, Kathryn Westbeld) served as the heart of Notre Dame’s 2016-17 and 2017-18 teams that combined to go 70-7, won a national championship in 2017 and finished as the national runner up in 2018.
Following the 2018 national title game run, all five starters and the top backup (Westbeld) all departed, and each of the five starters were selected within the first 19 picks of the 2019 WNBA Draft, which is just the second time that all five starters from a team were drafted. Young (No. 1), Ogunbowale (No. 5) and Turner (No. 11) are all taken in the first round.
When you lose that much talent there is certainly going to be a drop off, and youth combined with injuries to cause a major drop-off last season.
But the future looks extremely bright for Notre Dame, and when Ivey’s two five-star guards in the 2021 class (Olivia Miles, Sonia Citron) arrive on campus next summer they’ll walk onto a talented and deep roster.
Including the 2021 class, Notre Dame's last three classes have added two Top 10 players and four more
Notre Dame landed a small but talented 2019 class that included 6-2 forward Sam Brunelle and 5-10 wing Anaya Peoples.
Brunelle ranked as the nation’s No. 6 overall player in the 2019 class, and she averaged 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a true freshman. People ranked as the nation’s No. 18 overall player, and she was averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds when she was lost for the season with an injury.
That class was followed up by the current freshman class, which was ranked by ESPN as the nation’s third-best recruiting class. The class was led by talented 6-3 forward Madeline Westbeld, the nation’s No. 20 overall player, 6-0 guard Allison Campbell (No. 27), 6-4 forward Natalija Marshall (No. 34), 5-7 guard Alasia Hayes (No. 44) and 6-4 forward Amirah Abdur-Rahim, the younger sister of former NBA all-star Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
There is plenty of size in the last two classes, and the 2021 backcourt duo gives the Irish another top level scorer (Citron) and the nation’s best distributor of the basketball (Miles).
When Citron and Miles arrive the roster will also include veteran guards Katlyn Gilbert (13.6 points per game last season) and Abby Prohaska, who was a key reserve on the national runner up squad in 2018. Gilbert was a McDonald's All-American and the nation's No. 27 overall player in the 2018 class.
Notre Dame’s 2020 and 2021 classes both ranked among the five best in the country. The last time Notre Dame added back-to-back Top 5 classes resulted in then head coach Muffet McGraw adding the core of her second and final national championship squad.
Expecting the 2020-21 squad to immediately get back to national title contention is unfair and likely unrealistic, but the future beyond that looks incredibly bright. If Ivey proves to be as good at developing talent as a head coach as she was as an assistant, the Irish will soon be back near the top of the college basketball landscape.
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