The women’s college basketball world was shocked when Muffet McGraw decided to retire after coaching at Notre Dame for 33 years. When Niele Ivey was named the next head coach, and the first African American woman to be the program’s head coach, it was clear she had big shoes to fill. Ivey played her college ball at Notre Dame from 1997-2001, followed by a four-year WNBA career. 

She started her coaching career as an administrative assistant for Xavier from 2005-2007 before becoming an assistant coach at Notre Dame in ‘07. She was an assistant until 2015 before being promoted to associate head coach until 2019. She moved on to become an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies, where she would coach Ja Morant, who is close with her son Jaden, a college basketball standout at Purdue.

In April 2020, she was named the head coach of the program, and she definitely did not have it easy. Coach Ivey had to navigate through a pandemic in her very first season and she handled it better than most. By finding a way to keep her players safe, while still having them all feel like a family.

I can recall her having the team together to watch the WNBA All-Star game this past season where the All-Stars played the Olympic team. It’s also worth noting there were ND alumni Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jewell Loyd, and Arike Ogunbowale whom all she coached playing in the game. In her first season, the team went 10-10 (8-7 in conference play) and showed signs of improvement game to game, talent, and potential.

In her first real offseason, she was able to bring in Stanford transfer Maya Dodson, and two big-time recruits in Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron. Adding those pieces to a team that already boasted leading scorer and ACC Co-Freshman of the Year Maddy Westbeld, Dara Mabrey, Natalija Marshall, Anaya Peoples, Sam Brunelle, and Abby Prohaska. It became clear they could compete in the ACC, and they’ve done more than that to start the season. 

Sitting at 13-3 and a #20 ranking with their only losses to Georgia on a neutral court, #2 ranked UConn on the road and #15 Duke on the road by 2. Miles coming to South Bend as an early enrollee before the end of last season certainly helped her development. She had a triple-double against Valparaiso, posting 11 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists. Citron was one of the best at the U19 World Cup this summer, she had a career-high 29 points at Michigan State. Westbeld is again leading the team in scoring, while Dodson leads the team in rebounds and just had back-to-back 26 and 28 point games. 

It’s easy to see that the way coach Ivey runs her program and treats her players is a good recipe for both development and winning. She continues to bring in more talent as well, getting KK Bransfield to commit to play for her next season.

Again, she had big shoes to fill but it didn’t take her long to build her own culture and put her imprint on the program. Obviously, being the head coach at Notre Dame comes with high expectations, but fans will be happy to have her running their program for as long as she decides to be their head coach. If you have not been paying attention, open your eyes, because she seems to be well on her way to being a great coach.