Between 1996 and 2019, Notre Dame women’s basketball advanced to 24 straight NCAA tournaments, nine Final Fours and won two national championships. Under the tutelage of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw, the Irish blossomed into one of college basketball’s elite programs.
That’s why McGraw’s retirement announcement after 33 years at the helm came as a bit of a surprise in April of 2020, even after Notre Dame went just 13-18 in the COVID-canceled 2020 season, the worst win percentage of McGraw’s career. While some fans may have felt apprehensive about McGraw’s departure, McGraw herself exuded nothing but confidence in handing the keys to the program over to her hand-picked successor: Niele Ivey.
Two years later, it’s easy to see that McGraw’s faith in Ivey was well-founded. This season, year two of the Ivey era, Notre Dame finished the regular season 22-8 overall and third in the ACC after going 13-5 in conference play, earning themselves a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Irish returned as a mainstay in the top-25 national rankings and upset No. 3 NC State inside Purcell Pavilion for one of five ranked wins on the year and the team’s first victory over a top-5 team since the 2019 run to the national championship.
In the first round tournament matchup against No. 12 UMass, the Irish secured a 89-78 win and earned themselves a date with No. 4 Oklahoma in the second round. Four Irish players scored in double figures in the victory, but it was freshman point guard Olivia Miles who stole the show. Miles posted a triple double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It was the first ever triple double achieved by a freshman in NCAA men’s or women’s tournament history, and the second of the season for Miles, who joins Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jackie Young as the only three Irish players to post multiple career triple-doubles.
This season has been quite the turnaround from last year’s, when Notre Dame went 10-10 in Ivey’s first season and missed out on the tournament for the first time since 1996. While Ivey’s speedy success as head coach is impressive, it’s unsurprising given her resume. It’s no coincidence that Notre Dame’s streak of NCAA tournament appearances began in 1996, Ivey’s freshman year under coach McGraw. Ivey was the starting point guard on Notre Dame’s 2001 squad that won the program’s first ever national championship.
After a brief stint playing in the WNBA, Ivey returned to South Bend as a member of coach McGraw’s staff in 2007, where she coached for a total of 12 seasons as an assistant and then associate head coach. In her 17 seasons as a player and assistant coach, Ivey was a part of all nine of Notre Dame’s Final Four runs and all seven national championship game appearances.
This year’s team has been successful thanks to a roster that features a balanced blend of experience and youth. But it has been coach Ivey’s first recruiting class as head coach, the freshmen tandem of Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, who have catapulted the Irish back onto the national stage.
Miles has been the centerpiece of Notre Dame’s success and one of the best all-around point guards in the country. She leads the Irish in scoring at 13.9 points per game, ranks second in the nation in assists per game at 7.2, and also contributes over 5 rebounds per game. Miles and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark are the only two players in Division I averaging at least 13 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds per game. Miles has been awarded as an AP All-American honorable mention selection and a top-5 finalist for the Nancy Leiberman Award given to the nation’s best point guard.
Meanwhile, Citron ran away with the ACC Rookie of the Year award after securing six ACC freshman of the week nods throughout the season. Citron was 1 of 2 freshmen nationally averaging at least 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 steals.
Outside of Miles and Citron, veteran leaders Maya Dodson and Dara Mabrey have also had notable seasons. Dodson, a graduate transfer from Stanford, ranks second on the team in scoring, leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game and her 2.8 blocks per game is good enough for top-10 nationally. Meanwhile the sharpshooter Mabrey is averaging 9.8 points per game and, with over 115 career games started between her time at Virginia Tech and ND, she’s been the vocal leader of the Irish squad.
Notre Dame may no longer have a Hall of Famer paroling the sidelines, but if this season has been any indication, Niele Ivey is prepared to maintain Notre Dame’s legacy of success.