Q+A: Notre Dame’s Nat Marshall on the Shamrock Classic, gender inequity in basketball and more

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dara Mabrey (1) and forward Natalija Marshall (15) react to a play from the bench against the Syracuse Orange during the second half at the Carrier Dome
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The first ever women’s college basketball Citi Shamrock Classic, featuring the University of Notre Dame and Cal Golden Bears, will be played this Saturday, November 12, in St. Louis, Missouri. The game will air live on NBC and Peacock at 4pm ET, marking the first live broadcast of a women’s college basketball game on NBC. 

Ahead of the 2022 Shamrock Classic, On Her Turf caught up with Notre Dame redshirt junior Natalija “Nat” Marshall about her team’s focus for the 2022-23 women’s basketball season, what it’s like to play for head coach Niele Ivey, and her long journey back from an ACL tear. 

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

On Her Turf: I’d love to start with your journey to the University of Notre Dame. Can you tell me about where you grew up and your early years playing basketball? 

Natalija “Nat” Marshall: I’m originally from New York City and I’m an only child. Basketball was kind of the last sport I tried. I did t-ball softball, tennis, gymnastics, tennis, kind of everything. Basketball was the last one that clicked, when I was in fifth or sixth grade.

I grew up playing basketball outside. New York City basketball, Dyckman basketball and Rucker Park, there’s a big history there. So I really fell in love with the game in New York City.

I went to a pretty big basketball school in high school (Christ the King), started getting some offers, played on the AAU circuit, travel ball. The final three schools I was deciding between were Duke, Stanford, and Notre Dame. Notre Dame was always my dream school. I’ve been big on academics in school for a long time. I also wanted to play for a woman coach, that was huge on my list. And all three of those schools had that.

Coach Muffet McGraw (who recruited me) really pushed women’s empowerment and being passionate about social justice as well. Obviously, I didn’t have the chance to play for Coach McGraw, as she retired before I got here. So I’ve been under Coach Niele Ivey. But I’ve loved it so far.

On Her Turf: I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone so clearly articulate that they wanted to play for a woman coach. Did you ever have a female head coach prior to getting to Notre Dame?

Marshall: I had one (when I was playing) in a small recreational league when I was in like, third grade, but that was only for a few months.

On Her Turf: Wow. Given that you only had male coaches, how were you so certain that was something you wanted from your college basketball experience?

Marshall: I don’t know. I think in high school, I took a step back and was like, ‘I’m on a team with 12 other young women and we have an entire coaching staff and strength staff and conditioning staff and athletic training staff that is all men.’ It was like, this just seems a little odd. I don’t see that on the men’s side (with women coaching men).

So it was just something that I started to explore and learn about. And I saw that all of these top programs were led by women: South Carolina, Notre Dame, Stanford, Duke. So it just became something that (I realized) I wanted.

I don’t think we really realize the impact that powerful women have in our lives. But once you do get a glimpse of that… I’ve been really intentional about the women and I’m surrounded by. I think just being around women cultivates this super empowering environment that I love.

On Her Turf: So Muffet McGraw recruited you, but you’ve been playing under Niele Ivey since getting to Notre Dame. What has playing for Coach Ivey – or do you call her Niele? – been like?

Marshall: Oh my gosh, Niele is great. We’re definitely on a first name basis. Sometimes when it’s heated, we’ll say Coach Ivey, but yeah, we usually refer to her as Niele.

I think she does a really good job wearing multiple hats. She has the head coaching hat, the mentor hat, the mom hat, the recruiting hat. And she’s really, really good at showing us what strong, powerful, successful women leaders in sports look like. I think she cultivates that with all of the people on her staff and it trickles down, from the associate head coach all the way down to our sports psychologist and support staff.

I (also appreciate) the way that she carries herself and encourages us to carry ourselves and use our voice, just like Coach McGraw. I think she’s the best person that could have gotten that job after Coach McGraw. So, yeah, we have a really good relationship.

On Her Turf: While women, in general, are underrepresented in coaching positions, women of color are even less represented. What has it been like having one of those few women of color coaching you?

Marshall: It’s everything. I’m really passionate about social justice and equity, not just in sports, but in general. And so learning from a Black woman is so incredibly powerful. Showing young, specifically young Black girls, that you can be in that position of leadership, that you can lead the top team in the country, that you can be just as good and better than men in your position. I think at Notre Dame, we exemplify that. And I think Niele has done a great job being in that spot.

On Her Turf: Going back a couple years… Y­­ou arrived at Notre Dame, your dream school, but you were dealing with an ACL tear. What did that transition to college look like for you? 

Marshall: Yeah, I think my situation is a little bit different. I tore my ACL two days before the first game of my senior year of high school. That was the fall of 2019, going into 2020, which was obviously the COVID pandemic. So I tore my ACL, had surgery, and was out that whole year.

And then the world shut down… So basketball was taken away from me, but it was also taken away from everybody. So that year was super, super tough — for everyone.

When I got to Notre Dame for my freshman year, I wasn’t ready to play, health-wise. So I redshirted and then had two additional surgeries. And then I had another surgery. And then a fifth one in January.

So it’s been a tough ride, battling injuries. It’s been a learning experience– a humbling, learning experience. But having amazing coaches and staff and athletic training has gotten me through.

On Her Turf: In addition to not having enough women in coaching positions, there’s a lack of women in sports science, and women are even underrepresented in research studies about sports injuries. Did you witness that gender disparity at all while rehabbing your ACL?

Marshall: I’ve actually never thought about that before. But looking back, in those early days right before the world shut down, I did get that vibe in rehab. It was all men working with me and they really only worked primarily with male athletes with ACL tears.

Then when I got to Notre Dame, there was this big switch. That 2018 team that won the NCAA national championship, four players were out with ACL tears. So unfortunately, we have a lot of experience with women tearing their ACL.

So Notre Dame has been amazing and the sports medicine is unmatched here. They’re really good at what they do and I’ve been blessed in that way.

On Her Turf: So the women’s college basketball season is just getting started, but can you tell me what Notre Dame’s dynamic has been looking like in practice?

Marshall: I think this is the best chemistry of a team I’ve ever been a part of.

And I thought I felt that way last year. But this team, I don’t know, we just have this special bond and this incredible way of translating our off-the-court chemistry on the court. Besides the talent and the preseason watch lists and accolades, we have this way of having each other’s backs. All of those intangible things. I think we push really hard on the court. We have this great rotation and we really trust each other.

On Her Turf: In terms of team chemistry, what does that look like in practice?

Marshall: I think we’re still trying to find out our identity. Niele really pushes us to think about our identity in terms of our defense, that’s a really big focus for us this year. As we know, defense is what wins championships and it’s the biggest component of basketball in the last few minutes of the game.

So the practice environment is good and we have some amazing practice players that get us better every day. I think we’re just really we’re open to criticism, trying to get better every day, and (make it back) into that Final Four again.

On Her Turf: Looking ahead to the first ever Shamrock Classic vs. Cal… How did you find out that this event had been scheduled and would air on network TV?

Marshall: Our staff told us that we were going to have this special game in St. Louis, but we didn’t really know what it was. Then we got all of the details when the press release and social media posts went out and it was amazing. I think it’s an awesome opportunity, not only to bring attention to women’s sports, but the fact that it’s on NBC is amazing.

And we are playing in St. Louis, which is Niele’s hometown — and Cal head coach (Charmin Smith)’s hometown too… We’re just so excited. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

On Her Turf: I know you don’t want to give away any scouting report secrets, but what stands out to you the most about Cal’s strengths as a team? 

Marshall: I think their pace and their guard play is really impressive. Like I said, we are huge on defense here. We are focused on our offense for sure, too. But we’re focused on shutting down their best players. I think our defensive schemes – I’m going to be broad here – but our defensive schemes for this game are going to be really good.

On Her Turf: Given the national audience for the Shamrock Classic, I’m guessing some fans will be watching Notre Dame women’s basketball for the first time ever. What do you want people to know about you and your team when they tune into the game?

Marshall: First of all, I want them to know that women’s basketball, college women’s basketball, we play at a really high level. And Notre Dame has a history and tradition of consistently being one of the best programs.

We’re still building our identity this season. And like I said, (we’re focused on) defense, defense, defense. So I want people to watch us and be like, ‘Dang, that’s something that they are really, really good at, they are really shutting down Cal and their best players.’

You can watch the 2022 Citi Shamrock Classic featuring the University of Notre Dame and Cal Golden Bears this Saturday, November 12, at 4pm ET on NBC or stream it live on Peacock. 

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.