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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Hidalgo igniting the Irish with historic start to career

At a place like Notre Dame, records aren't supposed to fall easily. That applies especially to the women’s basketball program, a 46-year establishment that is top five all-time among Division I teams in winning percentage. Nobody should be able to top all-time lists after only two games in blue and gold.

Unless you’re Hannah Hidalgo.

The freshman guard, a top-five recruit out of Haddonfield, New Jersey, has wasted no time making history. In her collegiate debut last Monday against South Carolina in Paris, she posted 31 points. That set a Notre Dame scoring record for a freshman debut. Six days later, she added 12 steals to a 26-point homecoming at NJIT, tying the Irish record for thefts in a single game.

“Just being a freshman and being able to come in and do what I’ve done, it’s truly a blessing,” Hidalgo said. “Especially with all the big names that have come here, with Arike [Ogunbowale] and Marina [Mabrey] and Skylar [Diggins]. Being able to be up there as a freshman means a lot.”

It’s impressive enough to play as well as Hidalgo has so quickly. However, handling the byproducts of such success presents a totally different challenge even beyond the pressure of starting for a team with seven Final Four appearances in the last 13 years. Hidalgo has already received public praise from NBA superstar Kevin Durant and an ACC Rookie of the Week selection, but she’s taking it all in stride.

“I’m a really big faith person, so I really do believe that everything I have comes from God,” Hidalgo said. “And so I make sure that I keep my head humble because I know that everything the Lord has given me could all be taken in an instant. But I also know where I came from, and I didn’t always have all of this.”

Growing up in a basketball family of six certainly helped her find it. Hidalgo refined her game by competing against her three brothers as well as the boys her father coached. Orlando Hidalgo also coached Hannah at Paul VI High School, where she blossomed into a phenom.

With a 2,135-point high school career came premier collegiate offers to places like Stanford, Duke and Ohio State. But for the relationship-oriented Hidalgo, Notre Dame emerged as the right choice.

“They did a great job of being consistent,” Hidalgo said of the Irish coaching staff. “All the coaches, but especially Niele [Ivey] — she did a great job of just constantly making sure I was good or constantly checking in and coming to see me. It really meant a lot. It showed that she cared because she was consistent throughout the whole process.”

In due time, Hidalgo revealed herself to Irish fans as a game-changing player. The 2023 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year scored a record-breaking 26 points at the McDonald’s All-American Game in March. Four months later, she competed on the international stage for Team USA at the FIBA U19 Women’s World Cup. Seven thousand fans filled the arena in Madrid, Spain, watching Hidalgo clinch an American victory with her steal in the final 10 seconds.

“In college, I don’t think I’ll ever be in an atmosphere until we get to the national championship like how it was in the gold medal game,” Hidalgo said. “It really helped me out to make sure I stayed poised and got my team together. And it just really prepared me for what’s to come.”

Hidalgo’s dynamic skillset has already translated beautifully to the college game. She thrives on testing her opponents, using her defensive prowess to catalyze her teammates. Some might call her a dynamo. Others a high-flier. As Hidalgo puts it, she just wants to be a “dawg” on the court.

“I want to be that person that really brings the energy and ignites my team, starting obviously on defense with getting stops, battling on the floor and getting steals,” she said.

Two games in, Hidalgo already means a lot more to her team than just the intensity she brings. Her position at the point belonged to All-American junior Olivia Miles before a long-term knee injury sidelined her in February.

Still on the mend, Miles has used her leadership to teach young players like Hidalgo how to get the most out of her teammates. When Miles eventually returns, it’s unclear exactly how she and Hidalgo will operate together in Ivey’s system. But the two will make for an undeniably dangerous combination one way or another.

“It’s gonna be something that no school is gonna want to play against,” Hidalgo said proudly. “Niele [Ivey] was telling me off the cuff, ‘You and Liv [Miles] together [are] gonna be different, and nobody’s gonna want to play against that.’ I do believe it, so I’m so excited for the comeback.”

For now, it’s Hidalgo’s show. After stops in the City of Light and the Garden State, the show comes to Purcell Pavilion for the first time in the regular season. Hidalgo can’t wait to meet the Irish faithful in full force in Wednesday’s ACC-Big Ten battle with Northwestern.

“Our fans are really loyal,” Hidalgo said. “I think they’re gonna bring so much energy, I think they’re gonna pack the stands. I know they’re gonna come and they’re gonna support, so I’m excited to see what they bring.”

They’ll certainly bring anticipation as Hidalgo looks to continue her tear through the Notre Dame record books.

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