Former Five-Star Recruit Natalija Marshall Looks ‘Amazing’ For Notre Dame
If there’s one word that describes how Natalija Marshall must be feeling this summer, it might be this: finally.
Finally, the former five-star recruit is healthy and on the floor running five on five in summer practices. Finally, Marshall is set to make her much-anticipated debut in a Notre Dame uniform this fall. Finally, the last two years are behind her.
Marshall tore her ACL early in her senior season at Queens (N.Y.) Christ the King. She missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season as a result. The 6-5 forward’s return to South Bend this summer also marked her return to full-contact participation.
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey’s one word for that?
“Amazing,” Ivey said. “Just amazing.”
Marshall is the tallest player on Notre Dame’s roster. She’s poised to make a difference for an Irish team that ranked No. 184 in the nation in rebounding margin (-0.7). It’s a lot to ask of someone who hasn’t played a competitive game in nearly two years to be the savior in that regard, though.
“When you learn from the side, it takes a little bit to be able to see things from the floor,” Ivey said. “It’s easy when you’re watching from the side. But when you’re on the floor, it’s like, ‘OK. Now I’ve got defense on me. Now I’ve got to make the right decision. I have to finish with contact.’ That’s been a little bit of a progression, but it’s something that I expected.”
Ivey said comfortability with the physical demands of the game will come with time. Notre Dame’s male practice squad has not been on the floor over the summer. Ivey said Marshall will truly be tested and will get solid reps in the post when the Irish are back up against the men in the fall.
For the time being, Marshall has been busy in the weight room and getting her legs back on the floor. Those are things she has not taken for granted after spending the better part of the last two seasons watching from the bench.
“She has been through a lot, but she’s healthy, happy and hungry,” Ivey said. “She has been the most incredible teammate from the sidelines. Being a former player who has been hurt and has had to learn from the side, it’s definitely character-building. But I think she has come back from a sense of urgency. She wants to contribute.”
Opportunities will certainly be there for contributions. Notre Dame currently has a roster of 10 players after offseason shuffling. Marshall, Stanford graduate transfer Maya Dodson and sophomore Maddy Westbeld — the latter two of whom both stand at 6-3 — are the likeliest of options to hold down the Irish front court.
Westbeld was dynamite as a true freshman in leading the team with 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Her emergence has put less pressure on Marshall to be a superstar in her first healthy season.
Westbeld started all 20 games for the Irish last season. Ivey said she expects 6-2 junior Sam Brunelle to take a big step after averaging 8.7 points in just under 23 minutes per game, too.
Notre Dame has some pieces in place to rebound from a disappointing 10-10 season. Marshall is certainly one of them. If she’s able to be the five-star talent Notre Dame recruited her as right away, then the Irish have the makings of being a completely different team in 2021-22.
“She has done a tremendous job in getting herself healthy and ready,” Ivey said. “She’s so energized. That makes me really excited about what her potential can be for us this season.”
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