Notre Dame women’s basketball enters the 2022 season knowing what they’ve got in most key areas.
Their backcourt stable is headlined by one of the most impressive freshmen in the country last year: Olivia Miles. Next to her will be Dara Mabrey, a fifth-year senior who has never missed a start at the collegiate level. Combo guard Sonia Citron offers a dream mix of ability in the post and adept perimeter play that head coach Niele Ivey has utilized impressively.
The front court is also impressive. Maddy Westbeld averaged nearly 12 points per game last year, looking comfortable in all sorts of defensive matchups. A transfer platoon of Lauren Ebo and Kylee Watson adds additional pedigree to a unit that lost an anchor in the graduated Maya Dodson. Even 6-foot-5-inch forward Natalija Marshall — who missed the last two seasons due to injury — is fully fit, with the former top-40 prospect adding yet another weapon to a well-rounded Irish roster.
Notre Dame is poised to build on an impressive 2021 season with a core that’s well-suited to execute Ivey’s fast-paced and largely position-less game plan. But for all the on-court strengths and returning talent, the question that still needed to be answered over the offseason was who would step up as the leader.
Between the departure of Maya Dodson to the WNBA and upperclassmen Katlyn Gilbert, Abby Prohaska, Anaya Peoples and Sam Brunelle to the transfer portal, the 2022 Irish returned just one player of senior or elder status: Dara Mabrey. The void left by Dodson and company led to a young Irish roster with a lack of leadership that needed to be filled, and the natural fit for such a role was Olivia Miles.
Miles is no stranger to being a heavily involved member of the Notre Dame program, despite her short time with the team. As a rookie, Miles led the squad in assists by an eye-popping amount — her 244 dimes finished second best in the entire nation, and more than tripled the second best number on the roster. She also led the team in points, steals and minutes and was a permanent fixture in the lineup at every major juncture.
But this season, her role on the team will expand past being an incredible floor general. Miles, now with a full season of collegiate experience under her belt, is poised to be a key leader for the Irish off the floor, as well.
Miles herself will tell you, from a personality standpoint, she’s not a natural fit for the role. But she’s strived (and continues to strive) to improve her assertiveness as her time with the team grows.
“I’m a pretty introverted person. So it’s definitely a challenge for me to use my voice and speak up in that leader way … But I definitely can work on improving my voice overall, on and off the court.”
And while Miles’ self-admitted introversion made her development as a leader particularly tasking, she possesses traits that show why she’s well-suited for the role. Always playing with passion on the court, Miles touched on how her emotional game can help her connect with a team that at many times has been sparked by her fiery play.
“[Emotion] is a big part of our team,” Miles said. “I feel like we’re all pretty emotionally driven, tapping into the way that our teammates need to be led. And I feel like high or low, we’re always invested emotionally into one another. That’s a part I do need to grow in … Emotion is very important, but I feel like more mentally with these girls, talking and getting their heads right before games, is super important”
Leaning on her on-court experience to influence her off-court efforts, Miles also touched on how Niele Ivey, a former Irish guard herself, has mentored her as she moves into a more vocal role.
“I feel like [I lead] by example … Coach Ivey tells me that all the time; just be an example for others to follow. It can help them really implement themselves into the system quicker."
Ultimately, Miles emphasized that one of the team's greatest strengths heading into the season is that it shouldn’t be a hard lineup to lead. A condensed Irish roster (only 12 players are rostered heading into the season, down from 15 in Ivey’s first season as head coach) thrives on chemistry and a tight-knit off-court bond.
“I think this team is the closest that I’ve ever been to any team in my life,” Miles said. “We just hang out with each other all the time, on and off the court. I think the experience is really starting to help us … Experience is helping us perfect our system, knowing each other on the court and improving our chemistry.”
Contact J.J. Post at email@example.com