Muffet McGraw Assesses Notre Dame’s Five Incoming Freshmen
Following a 2019-20 reconstruction year capped with a 13-18 overall record, Notre Dame’s 2020-21 campaign will center first on providing more numbers and internal competition on the roster.
Next year’s starting lineup will feature junior Katlyn Gilbert at point guard, with sixth-year senior Destinee Walker plus sophomores Sam Brunelle and Anaya Peoples and senior center Mikki Vaughn (who has a fifth season of eligibility in 2021-22).
All five averaged double-figure scoring, led by Walker’s 14.5 points per game.
The two other scholarship players returning from the past season are junior forward Danielle Cosgrove and sophomore guard Abby Prohaska, sidelined the past year with pulmonary embolism, although she was able to practice later in the campaign.
Brought in to continue the rebuild is a five-woman class that collectively ranked No. 3 nationally but does not possess individually a perceived top-five game-changer that had been routine during the nine-year stretch from 2011-19 when the Fighting Irish advanced to seven Final Fours and won the 2018 national title.
What the incoming group can provide for now is enough quality to enhance the numbers and especially provide competition in practice.
“We can play man-to-man more, we can press, we can change things, we can trap, we don’t have to worry about foul trouble, we don’t have to worry about pacing ourselves for the end of the game,” reflected Naismith Hal of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw of her 34th season at Notre Dame next season. “There are so many good things from a strategy perspective that we can do differently that we couldn’t this year. Then there is the competition factor, you’re competing against your teammates now for playing time.
“This year they pretty much knew they could do about anything they wanted and we couldn’t take them out of the game. … You can’t just make careless passes and not be accountable. The competition should help people become accountable.”
6-2 • Kettering, Ohio • Fairmont High
National Rankings: No. 23 by ESPN HoopGurlz and No. 27 by Prospects Nation
Statistical Overview: The lone McDonald’s All-American in the Irish class and Gatorade’s Ohio Player of the Year, Westbeld paced her team in scoring (18.0 points per game), rebounding (11.2), assists (3.6) and steals (2.8) as a senior.
The 25-3 Firebirds lost 47-41 to Mount Notre Dame in the Division I Regional final, with Westbeld tallying 15 points and 11 rebounds.
In November against the nation’s No. 2 team, Tennessee’s Hamilton Heights Academy, Westbeld led a 53-46 win by scoring 36 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, making eight steals and handing out four assists.
McGraw’s Take: While taller than older sister Kathryn Westbeld, the glue figure of the 2018 national champions, the younger Westbeld is a different player with the most star power and versatility in the class.
“She is much more of a guard, so she will be handling the ball a little more, she’ll be great when teams press us,” McGraw said. “She’ll be the perfect in-bounder to get the ball back and then bring it up herself. She’s not going to play the point, but she can handle the ball.
“She’s a three-point shooter who can score on the block. She can take people off the dribble, she can rebound — has great size for a guard. She’s definitely the one I would say can make the most immediate impact in a couple of different categories.”
5-7 • Murfreesboro, Tenn. • Riverdale High
National Rankings: No. 44 by ESPN HoopGurlz and No. 130 by Prospects Nation
Statistical Overview: Her two older sisters play at Middle Tennessee State, while Hayes raised her stock as a senior, averaging 23.7 points per game after a 13.5 figure her junior year. She also averaged 7.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.9 steals her final season that finished 19-12.
McGraw’s Take: The Irish missed on a couple of top-five prospects at point guard this year. Ready or not, Hayes might have to see action there as a freshman while spelling Gilbert.
“She had a great year, she’s fast, she can guard and pass … but point guard is the toughest position to play for a freshman,” McGraw said. “Lindsay Allen [2013-17] was the only one who came in and took over the first game. Even with Skylar Diggins [2009-13] it took her the first month or so of games.”
5-11 • Altoona, Pa. • Bellwood-Antis High
National Rankings: No. 25 by ESPN HoopGurlz and No. 21 by Prospects Nation
Statistical Overview: She led her school to two straight PIAA Class 2A state titles before this season’s run became cancelled after a 26-2 mark. Her 3,019 career points made her the 10th girl and 14th player overall in Pennsylvania history to reach the 3,000 benchmark.
As a senior she averaged 28.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists. She converted 65 of 166 three-pointers (39.2 percent), and 259 of 671 (38.6 percent) in her career.
McGraw’s Take: The addition of Campbell and Westbeld with their perimeter shooting to join Brunelle should help spread out defenses much more in the future.
“With what we run, we can play Sam, Maddie, Alli all together and have a big team — but also a very skilled team who can shoot threes and drive,” McGraw said. “… I don’t think we’ll see a lot of zone next year but we’ll figure out some sort of motion where we can get everybody on the perimeter.
“The question for all freshmen coming is how ready are you to play a game that goes so much faster. The high school that she played at, the competition wasn’t at a high level. For some kids it takes a couple of weeks, some a couple of months, some the whole year to really figure it out. I have confidence she can do it. It’s just a question of when that light bulb goes on.”
6-2 • Marietta, Ga. • St. Francis High School
National Rankings: Not ranked
Statistical Overview: After playing only four games as a junior before getting injured, she averaged 14.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 blocks per contest for a 28-4 team. She converted 170 of 283 field goals (60.1 percent).
McGraw’s Take: From a prominent basketball family that includes older brother and former NBA All-Star Shareef, she is projected as a complementary figure such as 6-1 Ariel Braker was from 2010-14, starting 70 of 73 games her last two seasons on a star-studded lineup.
“She’s somebody who can guard the point guard, play the point in the press and can make the free-throw jumper while playing the high post,” McGraw said. “We expect her to rebound, block shots and play defense. She’s built like Ariel Braker.”
6-5 • Queens, N.Y. • Christ The King School
National Rankings: No. 32 by ESPN HoopGurlz and No. 19 by Prospects Nation
Statistical Overview: Sidelined in December with ACL surgery after averaging 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots as a junior for the New York State Class AA Federation Champ.
McGraw’s Take: Needing much more size up front, the program signed one of its top targets in Marshall, who also is adept at playing the high post.
“What I really like is she is a great communicator, a leader, a real vocal player,” McGraw said. “She will be the one talking the whole time, getting everybody in the right spots.
“We’re hoping she will be cleared to do things without contact before this September. She’s only three months out of surgery right now.”
If an individual is the right fit for the program, McGraw ideally would like to add either a graduate transfer at point guard or in the low post.
“What we really need still need is a clear leader, somebody who’s been there and can lead a young team of freshmen and sophomores,” McGraw said. “What you also look for is, ‘Can she do something that nobody else does?’
“At point guard I think we’ll be fine with Katlyn and Alasia, but if there is somebody out there who has played in the Final Four, then we would look at her.”
A prime target is 6-1 Liberty graduate transfer, a former Big South Player of the Year in Keyen Green, who received her undergraduate degree in May 2019 and is working on her MBA.
“Team chemistry is really important,” McGraw emphasized. “We will have a pretty full roster and we think we’ve addressed our needs. We’ll see what we have out there.”