Niele Ivey era commences at Notre Dame

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The first game of the Niele Ivey era tips Friday. The first game at anything resembling full throttle will have to wait.

Five Notre Dame women’s basketball players — Sam Brunelle, Katyln Gilbert, Mikayla Vaughn, Natalija Marshall and Amirah Abdur-Rahim — will miss at least Friday’s noon contest at Ohio and Sunday afternoon’s home opener against Miami of Ohio, Ivey said Wednesday during a news conference.

“I can’t really mention why they’re out,” Ivey said.

The rookie head coach added, though, that Vaughn and Marshall are continuing to recover from knee injuries that had previously put their readiness in doubt anyway, while Brunelle has “kind of a nagging injury that she’s coming back from.”

Ivey did not say anything addressing the circumstances for Gilbert and Abdur-Rahim.

Particularly in light of COVID-19, Notre Dame football this season has typically not disclosed why unavailable student-athletes are out, unless the player gives permission.

No formal policy for women’s basketball exists, according to associate athletics communications director Josh Bates. However, Bates said, there are privacy laws related to health that need to be followed regardless.

“Some of them are day to day,” Ivey shared of the individuals who are sidelined, “so it’s more the medical team letting me know when they will be available.”

In Vaughn, the Irish will be missing their only post player with collegiate experience. The 6-foot-3 senior center averaged 10.6 points and 7.0 rebounds last season to go with team-leading figures of 58.4% field-goal shooting and 1.6 blocks.

In Brunelle and Gilbert, Notre Dame will be minus two individuals who both earned Atlantic Coast Conference all-freshman honors last winter.

Brunelle finished second on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game to go with 5.9 rebounds, while Gilbert averaged 13.6 points and was second in assists at 2.8.

Marshall and Abdur-Rahim, both forwards, are part of an Irish freshman class of five that’s been rated No. 2 in the nation collectively by ESPN.

“I was expecting a little bit of the injuries,” Ivey said, “but I’m trying to focus on the ones that are healthy, and this is a deeper team than we’ve had in the past. That’s the beauty of this team, that we have a lot of players, and players that can play multiple positions, so the versatility I have I’m very excited about.”

Ivey named grad student Destinee Walker, junior transfer Dara Mabrey, sophomore Anaya Peoples, sophomore Abby Prohaska and freshman Maddy Westbeld as her likely starters for the opener. All but Westbeld are listed as guards.

That leaves a bench of freshman guards Alli Campbell and Alasia Hayes, joined by former walk-on Nicole Benz, also a guard.

Junior forward Danielle Cosgrove announced in mid-October that she’s taking a first-semester leave of absence from the program to focus on mental health.

Mabrey meshing

Though Mabrey — the younger sister of Irish assistant Michaela and ex-ND star Marina — arrives as a transfer from Virginia Tech, she has rapidly established herself as a leading voice within her new program.

“Two years ago with all those leaders leaving, there was definitely a hole for some leadership this past year,” Mabrey said Wednesday, alluding to the powerful personalities on Notre Dame’s 2018 national title team and 2019 national runner-up club, “and then they graduated a point guard (Marta Sniezek off last season’s team), so I knew that spot needed to be filled.

“Overall, I think it started with the team accepting me,” Mabrey said, “and I just went for it. It’s my natural instinct to be a leader and to use my voice, not just in basketball, so I found it pretty easy to come in here and build relationships first, and understand not everybody can be led the same way.”

Mabrey landed at Notre Dame in June without knowing if she would be immediately eligible at her new school under NCAA waiver guidelines or would have to sit out a season.

Her role as a leader was further solidified when she finally found out in early October.

“When I saw it, my heart kind of stopped a little bit,” Mabrey said, referring to the team posting the news on a big board. “I was like, ‘Wow, I can really play this year.’ I saw the excitement on everybody else’s face, too. It was a big welcoming moment.”

Among the nation’s premier 3-point shooters over the last two seasons, Mabrey is expected to have a prominent role at both point guard, which she frequently occupied as a freshman at Tech, and at off guard, which she shifted over to as a sophomore.

“I’m definitely going to use Dara running the point,” Ivey said, “but I’m also going to utilize Alasia. ... She’s my true point guard. She’s done a phenomenal job. Very fast, very shifty.”

Notre Dame’s Destinee Walker (24), last season’s top scorer, is expected to be in the starting lineup in Friday’s opener.


WHO: No. 22 Notre Dame (0-0; 13-18 last season) vs. Ohio (1-0; 19-11 last season).

WHEN: Friday, noon.

WHERE: Convocation Center (13,000), Athens, Ohio.


RADIO: WQLQ (99.9 FM).


NOTING: Niele Ivey, the fourth head coach in Notre Dame women’s basketball history, makes her debut. Sharon Petro in 1977 and Muffet McGraw in 1987 each won their first Irish games, while Mary DiStanislao in 1980 lost. Ivey becomes the second ND coach to debut on the road, joining McGaw, who took her premiere 67-61 at Loyola of Illinois. ... Ohio opened its season Wednesday with a 76-72 home win over Liberty. Erica Johnson led the Bobcats with 31 points and eight rebounds. Cece Hooks added 18 points. The two guards were also Ohio’s top two players last season, averaging a combined 37.1 points, 12.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists on the way to All-Mid American Conference first-team honors. ... Eighth-year Bobcat coach Bob Boldon is 150-75 overall and 82-44 in league play, with four MAC East titles. ... Notre Dame is expected to be without five of its players. Among those slated to play, grad-student guard Destinee Walker was ND’s leading scorer last season at 14.5 points per game; Anaya Peoples averaged 12.6 points and a team-pacing 8.1 rebounds as a freshman; and Dara Mabrey averaged 11.9 points at Virginia Tech. Mabrey converted 155-of-379 on 3-pointers during her two seasons with the Hokies for 40.9%. .... The Irish have faced Ohio just once, in November 1996 during the opening round of the Downtown Classic at Atlanta. Notre Dame won 95-82.

QUOTING: “We’re just ready to play someone else. With the nature of the virus, the pandemic, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to play.” — Niele Ivey, Notre Dame coach.



1/Dara Mabrey5-7/G/Jr./Belmar, N.J.

3/Amirah Abdur-Rahim/6-3/F/Fr./Marietta, Ga.

5/Alasia Hayes5-7/G/Fr./Murfreesboro, Tenn.

10/Katlyn Gilbert/5-10/G/Jr./Indianapolis

12/Abby Prohaska/5-10/G/So./Liberty Twp., Ohio.

15/Natalija Marshall/6-5/F/Fr./Queens, N.Y.

20/Nicole Benz/5-8/G/Sr./Valencia, Calif.

21/Anaya Peoples/5-10/G/So./Danville, Ill.

23/Alli Campbell/6-0/G/Fr./Altoona, Pa.

24/Destinee Walker/5-10/G/Gr./Orlando, Fla.

30/Mikayla Vaughn/6-3/C/Sr./Philadelphia

33/Sam Brunelle/6-2/F/So./Ruckersville, Pa.

34/Maddy Westbeld/6-3/F/Fr./Kettering, Ohio