The first-ever Citi Shamrock Classic women’s college basketball, featuring the University of Notre Dame and the Cal Golden Bears, will be played this Saturday, Nov. 12, in St. Louis, Missouri. The game will air live on NBC and Peacock at 4 p.m. ET, marking the first live broadcast of a women’s college basketball game on NBC.
Ahead of the 2022 Shamrock Classic, On Her Turf met Notre Dame junior redshirt Natalija “Nat” Marshall on her team’s goal for the 2022-23 women’s basketball season, what it’s like to play for the head coach Niele Iveyand his long journey home from a torn ACL.
This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
On His Territory: I’d like to start with your trip to the University of Notre Dame. Can you tell me where you grew up and your early basketball years?
Natalija “Nat” Marshall: I’m from New York and I’m an only child. Basketball was kind of the last sport I tried. I did softball, tennis, gymnastics, tennis, a bit 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 basketball, Dyckman basketball and Rucker Park, there’s a big history there. So I really fell in love with the game in New York.
I went to a pretty big basketball school in high school (Christ the King), started getting offers, played on the AAU circuit, travel ball. The last three schools I decided between were Duke, Stanford, and Notre Dame. Notre Dame has always been my dream school. I was big on academics in school for a long time. I also wanted to play for a female coach, that was huge on my list. And these three schools had that.
Coach Muffet McGraw (who recruited me) really pushed for female empowerment and was also passionate about social justice. Obviously, I didn’t have the chance to play for Coach McGraw, because she retired before I arrived. So I been under Coach Niele Ivey. But I’ve loved it so far.
On his turf: I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone say so clearly that they want to play for a female coach. Did you ever have a female head coach before arriving at Notre-Dame?
Marshall: I had one (when I played) in recreational little league when I was in third grade, but it was only for a few months.
On his territory: Wow. Given that you only had male coaches, how were you so sure that was something you wanted out of your college basketball experience?
Marshall: I don’t know. I think in high school I took a step back and thought, ‘I’m on a team with 12 other young women and we have a whole coaching team, a strength team, a strength team. conditioning and an all-male athletic training team.’ It was like, it just seems a little strange. I don’t see that on the men’s side (with women training men).
So it was just something that I started to explore and learn. And I saw that all of these great programs were run 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 get a glimpse of that…I’ve been really intentional about women and I’m surrounded. I think just being around women cultivates this super nurturing environment that I love.
On his territory: So Muffet McGraw signed you, but you’ve been playing under Niele Ivey since you arrived at Notre Dame. What plays for Coach Ivey – or do you call him Niele? – been like?
Marshall: Oh my God, Niele is great. We are definitely on a first name basis. Sometimes when it’s hot we say Coach Ivey, but yeah, we usually call him Niele.
I think she does a pretty good job wearing multiple hats. She has the head coach 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 look like in sport. I think she cultivates that with all of her staff and it trickles down from the associate head coach all the way through to our sports psychologist and support staff.
I (also) appreciate the way she carries herself and encourages us to hold our own and use our voice, just like Coach McGraw. I think she is the best person who could have gotten this job after Coach McGraw. So, yes, we have a very good relationship.
On her turf: While women, in general, are underrepresented in coaching positions, women of color are even less represented. How does it feel to have one of those rare women of color coaching you?
Marshall: That’s it. I’m really passionate about social justice and fairness, not just in sports, but in general. And so learning from a black woman is so incredibly powerful. Show young people, especially young black girls, that you can hold that position of leadership, that you can lead the best team in the country, that you can be as good and better than the men in your position. I think that at Notre Dame, we are the example. And I think Niele did a great job there.
On His Territory: A few years ago… You arrived at Notre Dame, the school of your dreams, but you were dealing with a torn ACL. What was this transition to college like for you?
Marshall: Yeah, I think my situation is a little different. I tore my ACL two days before the first game of my senior year of high school. It was in the fall of 2019, heading into 2020, which was obviously the COVID pandemic. So I tore my ACL, had surgery, and been out all year.
And then the world closed… So basketball was taken away from me, but it was also taken away from everyone. So that year was super, super tough – for everyone.
When I came to Notre Dame for my freshman year, I wasn’t ready to play, health-wise. So I put on a red shirt and then underwent two more operations. And then I had another operation. And then a fifth in January.
So it was a tough race, battling injuries. It was a learning experience – a humbling learning experience. But having amazing coaches and staff and athletic training got me through it.
On its territory: In addition to not having enough women in coaching positions, there is a lack of women in sports science, and women are even underrepresented in sports injury research studies . Have you witnessed this gender disparity during your ACL rehabilitation?
Marshall: Actually, I had never thought of that before. But looking back, in those early days just before the world shut down, I had this vibe in rehab. It was all men who worked with me and they really only worked 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 who tear their ACL.
So Notre Dame has been amazing and the sports medicine here is second to none. They are really good at what they do and I was blessed that way.
On Home Ground: The women’s college basketball season is just getting started, but can you tell me what Notre Dame’s dynamic looks like in practice?
Marshall: I think that’s the best team chemistry I’ve ever been on.
And I thought I felt that last year. But this team, I don’t know, we just have this special bond and this incredible way of translating our chemistry off the pitch onto the pitch. Besides talent and watchlists and preseason accolades, we have this way of supporting each other. All those intangible things. I think we push very hard on the pitch. We have this nice rotation and we really trust each other.
On Home Territory: In terms of team chemistry, what does it look like in practice?
Marshall: I think we’re still trying to figure out who we are. Niele really pushes us to think about our identity in terms of defense, it’s a very big priority for us this year. As we know, defense is what wins championships and it is the biggest component of basketball in the final minutes of the game.
So the training environment is good and we have amazing training players who improve us every day. I think we’re really open to criticism, trying to improve every day and (to come back) to this Final Four again.
On Home Ground: Looking ahead to the first-ever Shamrock Classic vs. Cal… How did you find out this event was scheduled and would air on Network TV?
Marshall: Our team told us we were going to have this special game in St. Louis, but we didn’t really know what it was about. Then we got all the details when the press release and social media posts went out and it was amazing. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity, not only to bring attention to women’s sports, but the fact that it’s on NBC is amazing.
And we play in St. Louis, which is Niele’s hometown — and Cal’s head coach (Charmin Smith) is also his hometown… We are so excited. It will be a once in a lifetime experience.
On His Territory: I know you don’t want to give away the secrets of a scouting report, but what stands out the most about Cal’s strengths as a team?
Marshall: I think their pace and guard game is really impressive. Like I said, we’re huge on defense here. We are also focused on our attack. But we are focused on shutting down their best players. I think our defensive patterns – I’m going to be wide here – but our defensive patterns for this game are going to be really good.
Home Territory: Given the national viewership of the Shamrock Classic, I’m guessing some fans will be watching Notre Dame women’s basketball for the very first time. What do you want people to know about you and your team when they log into the game?
Marshall: First of all, I want them to know that women’s basketball, women’s college basketball, we play at a very high level. And Notre Dame has a history and tradition of consistently being one of the top programs.
We are still building our identity this season. And like I said, (we focus on) defense, defense, defense. So, I want people to look at us and be like, ‘Dang, this is something they’re really, really good at, they’re really stopping 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, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC or stream it live on Peacock.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC