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The Niele Ivey Era Begins At Notre Dame: Here’s What to Expect

COLUMBUS, OH – MARCH 30: Associate head coach Niele Ivey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates in the locker room after the semifinal game of the 2018 NCAA Photos via Getty Images Division I Women’s Basketball Final Four at Nationwide Arena on March 30, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Notre Dame defeated Connecticut 91-89 to advance to the National Championship. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

For 24 consecutive years, Notre Dame reached the NCAA tournament. Until it didn’t.

At 13-18 and 8-10 in ACC play, there was little chance of the Fighting Irish making the 2020 NCAA tournament. Only then there was no NCAA tournament.

Instead, Hall of Fame head coach Muffett McGraw’s 33-year career ended with a 67-65 loss to Pitt in the first round of the conference tournament. And the streak lived on.

When McGraw announced her retirement, it came as a surprise to nearly everyone, including the woman who has been tapped as the successor, Niele Ivey. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was one of the only people who knew of McGraw’s decision ahead of time, and had a written agreement that the reigns would be passed off to Ivey.

Ivey, who was there for the first national championship in program history as a player and for the second as an assistant coach, has spent a total of 17 years at Notre Dame. This past season, she coached for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, a job she held when she received the shocking news that McGraw was calling it a career. After checking on her mentor, it was a quick process for Ivey to accept one of the most high profile coaching jobs in the sport.

Replacing Muffet McGraw is no easy task, one that was only made harder by the pandemic. Four months after her hiring, Ivey still had items in storage. After guidelines cost the team more than eight weeks together over the summer, Ivey and her players only initially met up in person on Aug. 1.

Usually, a coach would have all summer to install a new system, acclimate, and begin a new dynasty. Instead, Ivey, like everyone else, has had to make it up as she goes during an offseason dominated by Zoom meetings.

Notre Dame has never reached a Final Four without Ivey. Now, the team is hoping their new head coach will spark a tenth. But what do their prospects look like following 2019’s letdown?

During her time on the coaching staff, Ivey was often leading the charge on recruiting. She was instrumental in the recruitment of Skylar Diggins-Smith, and later Jewell Loyd and Arike Ogunbowale.

Ivey, like McGraw, is a former point guard. At the time of the hiring, Diggins-Smith posted this clip of her coach in action in the Final Four.

Now, Ivey can reap the benefits of her own recruiting as she inherits a stacked team. The freshman class was ranked third in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz behind UConn and Oregon. After a number of small classes, Notre Dame signed five players to its roster, including four five stars. Madeline Westbeld, Allison Campbell, Natalija Marshall, Alasia Hayes and Amirah Abdur-Rahim should all be able to make an immediate impact.

The 2019 class was ranked 11th despite there being just two members: Sam Brunelle and Anaya Peoples. The two five stars started the season opener, becoming the first pair to do so for Notre Dame since Teresa Borton and Jacqueline Batteast in the 2001-02 opener.

Peoples played in 17 games before a shoulder injury cut her season short, still finishing with a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game and 12.6 points per game, which would have been the best among ACC freshmen if not for Brunelle. The forward averaged 13.9 points per game and will continue to be a factor in 2020-21.

Katlyn Gilbert made more field goals than anyone on the team last year. While fellow foreigner five star Jordan Nixon transferred to Texas A&M, Danielle Cosgrove caught fire from behind the arc to shoot 8-for-20 over the last nine games, and Abby Prohaska will be returning from a medical redshirt.

Last year, Mikayla Vaughn was the only player with significant on court experience returning from the 2019 national championship appearance, but missed 11 games with a sprain in her right knee, after tearing the ACL in her left knee as a freshman. In 20 games, all starts, Vaughn shot a team-high 58.4% from the field with 10.6 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Granted a sixth year, returning leading scorer will be back for her second year with the team after coming over from North Carolina. Dara Mabrey, who transferred from Virginia Tech, will not be eligible for the 2020-21 season, but will look to add her 3-point shooting and follow in her sisters’ footsteps in finding success in a Notre Dame uniform.

Ivey’s legacy as a fantastic recruiter is already showing up. Olivia Miles, the second highest rated player in 2021, and Sonia Citron, also in the top 20, verbally committed within the first week of Ivey’s tenure.

Notre Dame can also expect Ivey, like McGraw and so many others throughout the women’s game, to continue to be a champion for issues off the court.

“What sets Niele apart is her ability to connect with all generations — alums, her current team and future student-athletes,” McGraw said. “She will be a fantastic role model and a leader in the women’s empowerment movement, and she will represent Notre Dame in a way that will make our fans proud.”

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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