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
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

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

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