Notre Dame's Westbeld earns major honors

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Maddy Westbeld picked up a couple major honors Tuesday, then handed out several assists.

The Notre Dame freshman forward was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year in a vote among the league’s coaches. She also was selected to the ACC all-conference first team in a vote by the league’s Blue Ribbon media panel.

Westbeld was quick to salute God, her coaches and teammates during a Zoom news conference, as well her older sister, Kat Westbeld, a since-graduated starting forward on ND’s 2018 national title team.

“Having her to answer questions, having her to let me know what I should look like, how I should be training, what kind of shape I should be in by the time I get here was really vital in me being ready and being in that position to show up ready for college,” Westbeld said.

“That whole summer quarantine,” Westbeld recalled, “we were working out together every day and we kind of had the same goal of being ready and just putting (myself) in the best position to succeed.”

It worked.

“From the moment she stepped on this campus, I felt like she was one of the best players in the ACC,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said Tuesday. “She came in with a college body. The transition has been very simple for her.”

Not that Westbeld let up upon arriving, either.

“She’s always been my hardest worker,” Ivey said. “She’s always in the gym, so coachable, such a great teammate, so I’m just really happy she was honored in this way, for what we all see on a daily basis here.”

The versatile, 6-foot-3 Westbeld leads Notre Dame (10-9, 8-7 ACC) at 14.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game heading into Thursday night’s first-round league tournament game against Clemson in Greensboro, N.C.

She’s also second on the team in assists (2.6), is one steal (1.4 average) from being tied for the team lead there and is second in blocked shots (0.9). She’s shooting 45% from the field, including 19 made 3-pointers, and 78% at the line.

While Westbeld was the coaches’ choice for Rookie of the Year, Syracuse 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso beat her out as the media pick.

Both players were on the 10-member All-ACC first team among media, while the coaches had both on the five-member second team.

Cardoso averaged 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals and a league-leading 2.8 blocks for the Orange (12-7, 9-7) to go with 60% from the field (no 3-pointers) and 58% at the line.

“It definitely probably went down to the wire,” Westbeld guessed of the exact voting, which was not released, “but (Cardoso’s) a great player.”

Cardoso, from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Westbeld, from Kettering, Ohio, once faced off in an interstate high school tourney, and they were once on the same recruiting visit to Ohio State.

Cardoso was rated No. 5 overall by ESPN coming out of high school, tops among ACC signees, while Westbeld was No. 20, with four ACC recruits in addition to Cardoso ranked higher.

Westbeld said winning Rookie of the Year “was in the back of my mind” once others increasingly pointed out the possibility after the season started, but “it wasn’t ever like this is what I wanted most.”

“Pretty much the only goal in my mind was just focusing on winning,” she said.

Westbeld was the only Irish player mentioned among Tuesday’s honorees.

Louisville senior Dana Evans swept the coaches’ and media Player of the Year awards for the second straight year, giving the Cardinals the league’s top player in that voting for the fourth straight time (Asia Durr in 2018 and 2019).

Coach of the Year, like Rookie of the Year, was split, with Wes Moore of league runner-up North Carolina State getting the nod from his peers and Nell Fortner of third-place Georgia Tech being the selection among media.

Additionally, the coaches chose Cardoso and Lorela Cubaj of Georgia Tech as their co-defensive players of the year, Jada Boyd of N.C. State and Emily Engstler of Syracuse as their co-sixth persons of the year, and Lotta-Maj Lahtinen of Georgia Tech as most improved.

Westbeld became Notre Dame’s sixth Rookie of the Year. Brianna Turner was named in 2015, while from the Big East days, Jewell Loyd won in 2013, Jacqueline Batteast in 2002 and Alicia Ratay in 2000, and from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference era, Beth (Morgan) Cunningham in 1994.

Notre Dame’s Maddy Westbeld (34) grabs a loose ball from Florida State’s Sayawni Lassiter (3) during the Feb. 25 game at Purcell Pavilion.