Lesar: Notre Dame's 'glue' player, Kathryn Westbeld, learns about control

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — At the time, it seemed like one of those profound philosophies that sounded good and made for a quality New Year’s resolution: Control what you can control.

Little did Kathryn Westbeld know that less than a month later it would be a mantra with a significant influence on her life and basketball career at Notre Dame.

“There are a lot of things that are out of your control,” Westbeld said Saturday. “You have to stay level-headed. Do the things that you can do that help you get far in life. It’s a struggle, but my family and coaches remind me I can get through this.”

It hasn’t been an easy junior season for the 6-foot-2 post from Kettering, Ohio.

As a proven veteran on a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, Westbeld has grown into a constant in the midst of a lot of variables. Assistant coach Carol Owens, in charge of the posts, calls her the “glue.” She can be a calming influence with a storm of chaos all around her.

That’s why it hurt so much when she was gone.

The last game Westbeld played healthy was a loss at Tennessee on Jan. 16, 19 games into the Irish schedule. In practice leading up to the trip to Boston College, she went down with a right ankle injury. It’s been more than a sprain. The public explanation is called a bone bruise, “along with other things,” Westbeld said.

That just sounds like it’s gotta hurt. It must because, as Owens said, “Kat’s tough.”

Before the injury, Westbeld, who must own a patent on that jumper from the elbow of the free throw line, was averaging 8.6 points. Since the injury, while sitting out five games and being used cautiously in the others – while not practicing much the whole time – Westbeld is averaging … 8.6 points … in the 10 games in which she’s appeared.

Talk about consistency.

“I’m always on the sidelines shooting (at practice),” Westbeld said. “That’s one thing I can work on and not put too much stress on my foot.”

Friday night’s NCAA Tournament win over Robert Morris was one of the games in which Westbeld was held out. No reason for any risk in a 30-point victory.

The Irish likely won’t have that luxury Sunday night when they face Purdue for a berth in the Sweet 16. That’s OK, Westbeld is eager to play and as healthy as possible with such an injury. It will be an opportunity to cross paths with Boilermaker senior point guard Ashley Morrissette again. Westbeld faced Morrissette (from Twinsburg, Ohio) in Ohio high school state championship games three times, and they also played on a couple summer AAU teams together.

Sunday night, she hopes to finally have something she can control.

“It’s been frustrating, not being able to play,” Westbeld said. “It gives me a perspective of where we are as a team. We’re in a real good spot now. Everyone’s playing well together.

“Coming off the bench, you can see where the open spots are. You know what’s working and what’s not.”

“I’ve watched her for four summers,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said of Westbeld. “She’s a very, very good player. She’s very smart. She’s a great 15-, 18-foot shooter. She’s a good passer on the high-low (post); she can get it down to (Brianna Turner) quite a bit. She understands the system so well.”

“(Westbeld’s) personality is very calm and poised,” Owens said. “That’s how she handles the game. She comes in and calms the storm.

“We’ve constantly reminded her of her value to us. She’s played a big role in helping the freshmen (Jackie Young and Erin Boley) adjust to this game. She’s the glue to our team.”

On or off the court, that’s always something Westbeld can control.

Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33) dribbles on the sideline during a practice at Purcell Pavilion. The junior was held out of ND's first-round NCAA Tourney win over Robert Morris but is expected to play Sunday against Purdue. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)