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
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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

2023 LPGA Drive On Championship: How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

Jin-young Ko of South Korea and Nelly Korda on the 17th tee during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.
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The LPGA Tour makes its return to the Arizona desert this week at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. The season’s first full-field event features eight of the world’s top 10 players plus a slew of fresh faces as this year’s rookie class gets its first taste of competition as tour members.

This week’s event features 144 players (plus two Monday qualifiers) competing for the $1.75 million prize purse in a 72-hole tournament that will implement the LPGA’s new cutline policy for the first time. Beginning this week, the 36-hole cut will change from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties advancing to weekend action. The LPGA says it hopes to “establish a faster pace of play” with the change.”

Arizona last hosted the LPGA for the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, where Jin Young Ko earned her first of four LPGA titles that season. The tour last played at Superstition Mountain in the Safeway International from 2004 to 2008, where Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2004, 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008) each won twice, and Juli Inkster won in 2006.

The tournament marks the first of four events over the next five weeks (taking off the week of the Masters, April 7-10) and kicks off the crescendo that’s building to the LPGA’s first major of the season, The Chevron Championship, April 20-23 in its new location at The Woodlands, Texas. The 72-hole LPGA Drive On Championship features 144 players, in addition to two Monday qualifiers, who will compete for a $1.75 million purse.

How to watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

You can watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, March 23: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, March 24: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, March 25: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, March 26: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

Sitting out this week are world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, but No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 3 Jin Young Ko are back in action following Ko’s return to the winner’s circle two weeks ago in Singapore, where she held off Korda by two strokes. Also in the field this week are:

  • No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 7 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 8 In Gee Chun
  • No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka
  • 2022 major winners Ashleigh Buhai, Jennifer Kupcho, Chun, Henderson

Rookies and Epson Tour graduates making their first starts as LPGA members include 20-year-old Lucy Li, a two-time Epson Tour winner who might be best known for playing the 2014 U.S.  Women’s Open as an 11-year-old; South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu, who took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series; and 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who finished tied for 21st at Q School to earn her card but might be best known from her role in the 2013 Netflix documentary, “The Short Game.”

Past winners, history of the Drive On Championship

The Drive On Championship was initially created as a series of LPGA events that marked the tour’s back-to-competition efforts following the pandemic. Each tournament used the “Drive On” slogan in support of the tour’s resilience, beginning with the first series event in July 2020 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Danielle Kang won by one stroke over Celine Boutier. The second event, held in October 2020, replaced the three stops originally scheduled in Asia, and was held at Reynolds Lake Oconee Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Georgia. Ally McDonald captured her career first LPGA title by one stroke over Kang.

The last two “Drive On” events were staged in Florida, at Golden Ocala Golf Club (Ocala) in March 2021 and at Crown Colony Golf Club (Fort Myers) in February 2022. Austin Ernst cruised to her third career title at the 2021 edition, beating Jennifer Kupcho by five shots. The 2022 tournament marked a fresh start for the event (no longer including results or records from the 2020 and 2021 events), where Leona Maguire became the first Irish winner on tour with her victory in 2022.

Last year at the Drive On Championship

Ireland’s Leona Maguire gifted her mom and early birthday present with her first career win at the 2022 LPGA Drive On Championship. A 27-year-old Maguire, a standout at Duke and former No. 1 amateur, carded a final-round 67 to finish at 18-under 198 and won the 54-hole event by three strokes over Lexi Thompson. She became the first woman from Ireland to win on tour, and her 198 tied her career-best 54-hole score.

More about Superstition Mountain

Superstition Mountain’s Prospector Golf Course opened in 1998 and was a combined design effort by Jack Nicklaus and his son Gary. The course plays as a par-72 and stretches to 7,225 yards in length, with the women playing it at 6,526 yards. The course was home of the LPGA Safeway International from 2004-08, and was recently selected by Golfweek as one of the “Top 100 Residential Courses.”

Of note, Superstition Mountain is a female-owned facility, originally purchased in 2009 by Susan Hladky and her husband James, who died in 2011. Hladky has made a point of opening her courses to women and college players, twice hosting U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and the site of a 2025 NCAA women’s regional tournament. She’s also given membership to eight LPGA players, who play out of the club: Carlota Ciganda, Mina Harigae, Dana Finkelstein, Jaclyn Lee, Charlotte Thomas, Caroline Inglis, Jennifer Kupcho and Brianna Do.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like to play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” Roberts said regarding the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

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