For the second time in four seasons last winter, the Notre Dame girls basketball team reached the state final four. This is what has become the norm for a program that has now won five district championships in a row, which is the second-longest streak in school history.
Aside from head coach Kirk Boeller taking over for the Bulldogs back in the 2018-19 season, the one other constant for Notre Dame in its recent span of success has been having a Rubel on the roster.
While The Rubel Duo made up of sisters Lexi and Tori Rubel have now both graduated and are playing Division-I college basketball together at UT Martin, there are still two more Rubels at Notre Dame. And they are only sophomores.
These are twin sisters 5-foot-9 guard Brie Rubel and 6-0 forward Kate Rubel, aka The Rubel Twins, who are joined by their longtime teammate and fellow sophomore 6-2 post Nevaeh Lucious. All three of them, who played with current WNBA player Napheesa Collier’s AAU team Phee Elite over the offseason, started every game last season and each have multiple D-I offers to play collegiately.
“They were able to see some really good talent over the summer,” Coach Boeller said. “It’s always interesting the different viewpoints they pick up and how they see the court. How they find each other, how they make passes and how they read space. Seeing that high level where the game is played really, really fast — having that over the summer and incorporating the things they learned from their travel program into our system has been a cool kind of mesh of all those different styles.”
In the Bulldogs Big Three’s first season of high school basketball, they helped Notre Dame win its most games since 2019-20 with a record of 23-7 while allowing the fewest points per game in over 15 years at 34.6.
Along with reaching the Class 5 Final Four and winning a fifth consecutive district title, Notre Dame captured a historic fourth-straight SEMO Conference Tournament and Holiday Classic championship last winter. Notre Dame also swept the conference for the second season in a row by going undefeated in SEMO regular-season play.
The Bulldogs came up five points shy of reaching the Class 5 State championship game as they lost to eventual state runner-ups and 30-win Carl Junction 37-33 in the state semifinals. Carl Junction only fell to state champions Lutheran St. Charles by five points at 44-39, while Notre Dame was defeated by the 2022 Class 5 State Champions West Plains 42-38 in the third-place game.
“I feel really good and confident with the returning starters — we’ve got a good balance of returners and good talent that’s coming in,” Coach Boeller said. “I’m just excited to get the games started. They know what the expectation from the program is — they’ve seen it the last several years and watched it in grade school and getting a chance to be a part of the program.
“We set those standards high for ourselves as a program, so they know what they’re getting into. Anna [Garner] and Tori last year did a good job of being our two seniors, and the next oldest kid was a sophomore. They did a good job of teaching those younger girls last year what it takes to be a championship-type program.”
While the Bulldogs return a majority of their starters in the Rubels and Lucious, they are still certainly going to miss a Class 5 All-State selection like Tori Rubel. She became an all-state selection after leading Notre Dame in scoring with 11.6 points per game, as well as rebounds (8.2) and assists (3.2).
Tori also had the second-most steals for the Bulldogs at 2.4 per game, while she was also second in 3-pointers made with 35 behind her younger sister Brie, who registered a team-high 46. Throughout the season, Tori and Brie combined for 30-plus points five times as they recorded 31 (Brie 16 points and four 3’s, Tori 15 points and two 3’s) in Notre Dame’s 46-35 win over John Burroughs to advance to the final four.
On top of leading the Bulldogs in 3-pointers and 3-point percentage (33.8%), Brie Rubel was the Bulldogs leader in steals with 2.6 per contest. Brie is Notre Dame’s returning leading scorer as she paced Tori with an average of 8.8 points and also dished out 2.6 assists per game to earn all-conference honors.
In the postseason, Brie, who fields offers from Abilene Christian and UT Martin, averaged 11.6 points and 2.5 3’s per game, knocking down a percentage of 41.6% shots from beyond the arc. She made multiple treys in 13 games and recorded as many as five in a single game last winter.
“I thought last year, Brie was one of our most poised players — it never looked like she was rattled, confused or frustrated,” Coach Boeller said. “She was even-keeled, and she does everything so well — such a talented player. The way she carries herself on the court, she has that sense of calm, and even Tori and Anna fed off that last year as seniors. Having Brie on the court, you have that extra sense of confidence that she’s going to move people in the right place and calm everybody down.”
Pacing Tori and Brie in scoring average for the Bulldogs was indeed Lucious as she finished with 8.1 points. Nevaeh was far and away her team’s leader in blocks per game with 2.7 as she finished with a total of 82, which was only five shy of the single-season program record.
Lucious, who earned all-conference as well as all-district honors, was also third on Notre Dame in rebounds with 4.2 behind Tori and Kate. Over the offseason, Nevaeh racked up a total of seven D-I offers in Evansville, Howard, Illinois State, Lindenwood, Southeast Missouri State, Toledo and Wichita State.
“From last year to this year, I’ve seen Nevaeh’s physical strength grow,” Coach Boeller said. “Last year, she had the height and would get her hands on a lot of passes. This year, the way she’s taking the ball to the basket and attacking the rim is totally different than last year. She’s going in strong and finishing high, and she’s going to be one of those that when we have the ball in our hands we’re going to make sure she touches it every possession.”
Setting the tone for the Bulldogs throughout the offseason and in practice heading into this season has been none other than Kate Rubel. She finished her freshman campaign with 7.6 points (fourth on team), 4.9 rebounds (second), three assists (second) and two steals per game (fourth).
Additionally, Rubel was the only other Bulldog besides Lucious to record double-digit blocks with 11. Like her twin sister Brie, Kate fields offers from Abilene Christian and UT Martin as well and will only continue to fill the stat sheet due to her athleticism and natural ability.
“Kate has been our energy in practice all year — she sets the tone, has high energy and is everywhere on the court,” Coach Boeller said. “She’s loud, she’s talking and has cranked up her intensity as a player from last year to this year. She’s set the tone for our team of what our intensity needs to be. It’s really cool watching her do that — talking on defense, calling our passes on offense and getting her teammates in the right spot. Having that spark plug that gets the team going, she’s high energy and is going to be fun to watch.”
Outside of the Bulldogs Big Three, Notre Dame will return three key role players from last season in junior guards Skylar Craft, Maddy Erbst and 6-0 junior forward Eliza Barnette. Other players Coach Boeller sees stepping up for the Bulldogs are junior guards Aubrey Keran, Cora Burford and sophomore guard Mia Panton.
“Our program is built on defense first, and we’ve got a lot of kids that we can throw out there, and they’re going to cause chaos on the defensive end,” Coach Boeller said. “These girls are making my job really hard trying to decide who starts, but we’re going to be a team that goes nine to 10 players deep. I’m tickled to death with the talent we have coming in that’s going to hopefully be able to replace Anna and Tori.”
Having played in all or a majority of games last winter, players like Barnette, Craft and Erbst, of course, have an upperhand when it comes to earning a starting role due to their experience. Barnette often filled in for Bulldogs like Tori Rubel and Lucious, while Craft played all 30 games rotating in at guard.
While Notre Dame returns its top 3-point shooter in Brie Rubel, it lost shooters Tori and Anna to graduation, who combined for 63 3’s with 35 and 28, respectively. Craft paced these three with eight 3-pointers of her own off 29 attempts, while Kate had six (30 attempts), Nevaeh four (nine) and Erbst three (22).
“[Barnette, Craft and Erbst] each dressed varsity last year and saw action,” Coach Boeller said. “They got to watch and take it all in. They got to be a part of halftime and post-game talks — they know what it takes, and they’re ready. They had a few minutes — not a ton — but enough to where they are ready to step in. The moment won’t be too big like, ‘Oh my gosh it’s varsity,’ moment. They’re mature and it’s kind of funny, they are all even-keeled.”
As for the season goes, the Bulldogs have added plenty of strength to their schedule as they will host the reigning Class 5 State Champions Lutheran St. Charles in December. Notre Dame has also moved out of the Holiday Classic to instead play in the Visitation Christmas Tournament, which has been won by nationally-ranked and reigning Class 6 State Champions Incarnate Word Academy for the past five seasons.
The Bulldogs have a chance to see the same team they beat to reach state, John Burroughs, potentially three times this season. Notre Dame will face the Bombers in the St. Joseph Academy Shootout and could play them in the Visitation Christmas Tournament as well before a possible state quarterfinal rematch.
“Once districts come around, we won’t have not been tested — our schedule is brutal this year,” Coach Boeller said. “We are doing that to prepare ourselves for districts because the regular-season record doesn’t really matter. We’re trying to make our season as competitive as we can to be ready. We’ll have already seen adversity and maybe taken one on the chin — we should be ready for anything by the time the end of February rolls around.”