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Notre Dame girls basketball returns two starters and brings in big-time freshman class

Notre Dame 6-foot-1 senior guard/forward Tori Rubel enters her final season as a three-time all-district and two-time all-conference selection. Photo by Jay Forness

Over the past four seasons, the Notre Dame girls basketball team has become one of the most renowned athletic programs in all of Southeast Missouri. The Bulldogs have done so by making one state final four and four state quarterfinal appearances while winning four district championships, four conference championships and 77% of its games.

Prior to that, the Bulldogs had not qualified for the final four or even won a district title since 2010. That all changed, though, when three-time all-stater Lexi Rubel first stepped foot on campus in the 2018-19 school year and helped lead Notre Dame to its recent success.

Along with reaching the final four and winning multiple championships, Rubel became the program’s all-time leader in rebounds, assists and steals, and she also finished as the Bulldogs second career-leading scorer with nearly 1,500 points. However, Lexi graduated from Notre Dame last spring and is currently a starter for the UT Martin women’s basketball team.

“I feel like we’re going to have a learning curve at the beginning because we only have three girls returning from last year’s team,” Notre Dame head coach Kirk Boeller said. “Some girls will have to grow up really fast, but we’re still super talented.

“We’ve got a lot of girls who can play and one through eight are interchangeable — we can throw anybody out there and be comfortable. The biggest issue will be getting over that youth hurdle, but I think these girls are smart and athletic enough that it’ll be easy.”

The Bulldog faithful shouldn’t fear at all since the second half of The Rubel Duo and future Skyhawk herself 6-foot-1 senior guard/forward Tori Rubel is back for her final season.

Tori, who enters her fourth year as a starter, was a vital part of Notre Dame’s final-four run her freshman year. It was the first of three times Rubel was selected to the all-district team as she’s also been named all-conference twice.

Along with helping the Bulldogs win three-straight district titles in her own right, Tori led Notre Dame to win the SEMO Conference Tournament for a third-straight year, which no other program in the area has ever accomplished.

Rubel also helped the Bulldogs sweep the conference last season by also claiming the regular-season title and win three consecutive First State Community Bank Holiday Classic championships (two-time Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team selection).

What makes Rubel such a dominant player is the fact she’s unlike any other 6-footers in the area. Most players in Southeast Missouri with Tori’s height and length — which is rare anyway — are primarily post players, but she has the skills of a guard with her ability to shoot, pass and handle the ball.

Rubel also possesses exceptional athleticism that allows her to play and guard multiple positions while being a force on both ends of the court and in every aspect of the game.

Last season behind Lexi’s 15.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.3 steals per game, Tori averaged 8.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 deflections of her own. Tori also returns as Notre Dame’s leader in 3-pointers after making 32 as a junior.

Tori’s future head coach at UT Martin and four-time Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year Kevin McMillan, leading the Skyhawks to four NCAA Tournament appearances and 10 OVC titles, had this to say about her in a press release: “Tori brings another level of versatility to our program. She shoots the ball tremendously well and with her size can present problems for teams at multiple spots. She can rebound, put the ball on the floor, shoot it and has a tremendous basketball IQ. She has the ability to fit into the program in a variety of ways.”

That’s exactly what Rubel has done throughout her entire career here at Notre Dame and is now stepping into a bigger leadership role since Lexi is gone. Coach Boeller is excited for Tori to do this because of the type of impact she can have on everyone who comes through the program.

“The younger players are looking to her,” Boeller explained. “I’m excited to see that growth and what she can do as a true senior leader. She’s kind to everyone and it’s just the way she goes about her business. She works hard and has a great attitude.

“She’s a great competitor and like Lexi in the fact that she’s not going to do the rah rah yell and get in people’s faces. She’ll lead by example because people respect her and see how she works.”

The two other players returning to Notre Dame from last year’s team are senior guard Anna Garner and junior forward Madelyn White. Garner stepped into a starting position last winter in place of an injured Leah Jansen.

Anna became an all-conference selection in the process by averaging 8.3 points, 2.3 steals, 1.6 assists and 1.3 deflections per contest. She also made 26 threes of her own behind Tori’s total of 32 3-pointers and Lexi’s 27.

“Everybody in our program looks up to Anna and Tori,” Coach Boeller said. “It’s so easy as a coach to have two seniors that are good people that the younger ones can look up to. Anna took that role last year and has never looked back, and she’s only gotten better since then. She reminds me a lot of Leah with her quickness and tenacity on defense — she was such a phenomenal replacement when it happened. She’s a tough cookie.”

Filling the rest of the starting roles will be a trio of freshmen that have already received a Division-I offer or visited a D-I school. They are twin sisters 5-9 guard Brie Rubel and 6-0 forward Kate Rubel, along with 6-2 post Nevaeh Lucious.

The Rubel Twins and Lucious have played together for a while in the AAU circuit as members of SEMO Sizzle, which, of course, Tori and Lexi were inaugural members of. In the upcoming AAU season, they will play on WNBA star Napheesa Collier’s team Phee Elite.

“Three freshmen being on a varsity team is almost unheard of, and they’re three players who are going to make immediate impacts,” Boeller said. “It’s a big step from eighth grade to varsity, but I think they’ll be OK.”

Back in September, Brie and Kate both received their first-ever offer from D-I Abilene Christian out of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) during an unofficial visit. Their older sisters Lexi and Tori both didn’t receive their first offers at least until after their first seasons of high school basketball.

As for Lucious, she also made an unofficial visit to a D-I school, but it was to the local university Southeast Missouri State. All of this is very telling of the type of talent these three freshmen possess and will bring to the table for Notre Dame over the next four seasons.

In eighth grade, The Rubel Twins led Immaculate Conception to a perfect 14-0 season. Kate finished as the Eagles leader in four major statistical categories with averages of 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.

Kate Rubel is ranked as the No. 2 overall player in her class by national-recruiting website Prep Girls Hoops. The only person in Rubel’s class above her is Addison Bjorn of Park Hill South (Kansas City), who has offers from 10 current nationally-ranked teams.

Coach Boeller praised the incoming freshman by saying her offensive game reminds him of Lexi’s and that defensively she’s a lot like 2020 graduate Riley Burger, who is currently a collegiate jumper at Louisville and was instrumental in Notre Dame’s final-four run. Both of these former Bulldogs were selected as CBJ Female Athletes of the Year (Burger 2020; Lexi 2021 and 2022).

“She has another gear and doesn’t have an off switch,” Boeller said. “She has a high motor and everything is a thousand miles an hour with her, which is phenomenal. The way we play defense and how our offense is going to run, she’s going to slide right in and be able to rebound and contest shots.

“Offensively she’s great, but I think on the defensive end she’s going to make a lot of noise, too. She’s athletic and we were talking the other day about how she has those bursts of athleticism that Riley Burger had, where it’s like, ‘Holy cow. She just did that.’ She’s done that already a few times at practice.

“She does remind me a lot of Lexi when she was a freshman. She can get to the basket, penetrates as well as anybody and she’s starting to develop that outside game, too. By the time Lexi graduated, she was a threat inside half court no matter if she was in the post or outside the perimeter. Kate’s on that same path.”

As for Kate’s twin sister, Brie will be running the show as Notre Dame’s point guard this season. Rubel did this extraordinarily well at IC, especially in her final season by averaging 15 points, 5.2 steals, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists each game while making a team-high 24 3-pointers.

Brie also sits in the top 10 of Prep Girls Hoop’s Missouri Class of 2026 rankings at No. 6 as Boeller says she might be his funnest player to coach. Coach Boeller described her as being even keeled no matter the situation on the court, while her skills and tenacity also make her an immediate impact.

“Brie has like no expression the entire time, but then she’ll steal a pass or pick somebody clean and go down and make a layup while still being even keeled,” Boeller said. “She’s scrappy and is going to be able to guard up top like Leah Jansen and Riley Burger used to do. She’s going to get in people’s faces and guard.

“She can handle the ball and most of the time she’ll be our one, but she can create and is a really good passer as well. She sees the floor well, facilitates and gets other people shots, which is something Lexi and Tori are good at, too. She can also shoot it — there’s not a shot she doesn’t like.”

Lucious helped lead Jackson’s eighth grade team to an undefeated season as well last winter, and she’s the No. 10 ranked player in Missouri for her class behind Kate and Brie. During the National AAU tournament Run 4 Roses in Louisville this summer, Nevaeh averaged 7.7 points per game behind Kate’s 12.2.

“She’s a true post — she knows what she’s doing there,” Boeller said. “Beyond that, she can knock down threes, so she’s a great shooter. She’s going to be so much fun to coach because she’s super talented. We’ve got eight girls who can shoot the three, and this year we’ve got some size.”

The other two players who will be key contributors for Notre Dame this season are sophomore guards Skylar Craft and Maddy Erbst. Craft played some varsity at the end of last year, while Erbst was full-time junior varsity.

“We are super balanced, and we haven’t been this balanced post to guard position wise in a long time,” Coach Boeller said. “I think the sky’s the limit.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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