It’s a great time to be a Notre Dame fan. Not only are we in the midst of a much better football season than many of us expected, but now we get to add the fun of basketball into the mix. The women’s basketball team will begin their season this Saturday afternoon against the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, then they will travel to Western Kentucky on Tuesday. Before tipoff, we’ll take a look back at the offseason and a peek at what’s ahead.

Missing Faces

The first time you see the team this year, you may think you’re watching the wrong game as there will be more new players than returners on the court. The Irish are going to be missing a lot of last year’s familiar faces. In fact, they will start the season with only eight healthy scholarship players available. Some of these departures were expected. Diamond Thompson and Lindsay Allen both graduated after last season. Allen was drafted in the second round by the New York Liberty, played in their WNBA season this summer, and is now playing professionally in Russia during the WNBA offseason. After four years with Skylar Diggins and four years with Lindsay Allen, the Irish will have to find a new identity at point guard this season.

Shortly after the season ended in the Elite Eight in March, news broke that freshman Erin Boley and sophomore Ali Patberg were leaving the program. It was later announced that Boley will be playing for Oregon and Patberg for Indiana after they each sit out this coming season due to the transfer rules. Both transfers seemed unexpected, and left significant holes in the Irish roster.

If losing four players to graduation and transfer is not enough to make you nervous, the team will also be shorthanded due to injuries. Star forward Brianna Turner will take a redshirt this year as she continues to rehab the torn ACL she suffered in the NCAA tournament in March. Just over two weeks ago, the team announced that Turner’s fellow senior, Mychal Johnson, tore her ACL in practice and will also miss the season. The third and final member of their senior class, Kathryn Westbeld, underwent surgery during the offseason on the ankle that troubled her last season. She is still rehabbing the injury and will not be ready to play for at least the first few weeks of the season.

New Faces

Cheer up – the news isn’t all bad! The team welcomes several new players this year too. Two freshmen have joined the team: center Mikayla Vaughn from Philadelphia and forward Danielle Patterson from Brooklyn. With Turner and Westbeld out, and after Boley’s transfer, the freshmen will likely get playing time early and have a chance to make an immediate impact.

In a rare move, Muffet McGraw also welcomes two transfer students to the team this year. A graduate transfer from Stanford, Lili Thompson is expected to take over a lot of the responsibility at point guard. Irish fans saw firsthand what an impact Thompson can have when Stanford brought down the Irish in the 2016 NCAA Tournament behind Thompson’s eleven points and nine assists. Her experience will be a big asset for this young team.

Also new to the team is junior transfer Jessica Shepard. Shepard was originally expected to sit out this year due to transfer rules, but shortly before the team’s exhibition game the NCAA approved her hardship waiver, making her eligible to play this year. Like the two freshmen, the two-time All Big Ten player should have a chance to make a difference right away.

To add some depth to this eight-player roster, McGraw also took the unusual step of adding two walk-on players to the team. Junior Maureen Butler and sophomore Kaitlin Cole bring the roster up to a slightly more respectable ten. All ten players scored points in the team’s 108-40 exhibition win over Indiana University (PA) on November 1st.

The new faces join a few returners in fifth-year senior Kristina Nelson, juniors Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale, and sophomore Jackie Young. With so many new players, I’m guessing we may see some rough patches while they all figure out how the pieces fit together. There is a lot of talent on the small roster, though, and with any luck Westbeld will be healthy sooner rather than later. I’m not giving up on a good season yet.

Other Odds & Ends

  • In case you missed it, Muffet McGraw was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. Her coaching career has included 853 wins, seven Final Fours, and a national title so far, and hopefully she can increase all of those numbers before she calls it quits. Or maybe she’ll never retire – that would be okay too.
  • Things are looking good for the Irish next year. Four highly-regarded recruits from the Class of 2018 signed their Letters of Intent to play for Notre Dame this week. Guards Abby Prohaska, Katlyn Gilbert, and Jordan Nixon, and forward Danielle Cosgrove make up the newest class.
  • Saturday’s game against Mount St. Mary’s will feature the Ring of Honor induction ceremony for Kayla McBride. The 2014 graduate was a two-time All-American who helped lead the team to four Final Fours. After graduating, she was drafted by the San Antonio Stars with the third overall pick in the WNBA draft and has been playing well at the professional level. She was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team in 2014 and was an All Star in 2015.


(Photo credit: USA Today)