Even before stepping foot on United States soil, Kate Koval knew about Notre Dame. It’s one of a handful of universities with true international brand appeal. For a girl growing up in Ukraine, the mere possibility of playing big-time college basketball at a school like Notre Dame may be too foreign of a concept to even consider a dream.
But Koval had confidence in herself and shortly after arriving at Long Island Lutheran in her sophomore year, she had nearly every women’s college basketball program in the countrytrying to get her to join them next.
Koval, a 6-5 senior center, narrowed her final list to Stanford, LSU and Notre Dame. On Wednesday morning at Long Island Lutheran’s chapel, Koval announced she was accepting a full scholarship to join the Fighting Irish.
“I’m excited to go to Notre Dame,” Koval told Newsday before making her official announcement. “I just feel it’s the best of two worlds for me. I have a great relationship with the coaches and just in general, I really liked what that school had to offer academically and basketball-wise.”
The school played a video moments before the announcement that highlighted Koval’s journey and career at LuHi, which Koval didn’t expect and said made her a little emotional. She admitted to some nerves before making her announcement at the chapel in front of the entire school and being streamed live, but she was mostly excited. And when she unbuttoned her jacket to reveal a green Notre Dame shirt underneath, her teammates swarmed and celebrated with Koval.
“It feels unreal to be honest,” Koval said. “I would have never imagined I’d be in the position that I’m in now, so I’m extremely blessed, thankful and just going to keep working. I want to be the best one that ever went to LuHi.”
Notre Dame has one of the strongest women’s basketball programs in the country. The Fighting Irish have won two national championships, most recently in 2018, and reached the Sweet 16 last season. They’ve made seven Final Four appearances since 2011, and Koval wants to be a part of that tradition.
“I want to be a part of more championships for the school,” Koval said. “Just knowing that I’m going to have people around me who have the same goals, I’m pretty excited about that.”
“She’s definitely unique,” said Christina Raiti, Long Island Lutheran’s girls basketball coach and the school’s assistant athletic director. “I think there aren’t a ton of strong post players in the country and her skillset mixed with her personality and her excellence in the classroom is a very unique combination.”
Koval, who was Newsday’s Player of the Year last season and is ranked fifth in the Class of 2024 by ESPN, said she enjoyed the recruitment process. She enjoyed meeting different coaches and players around the country but ultimately decided Notre Dame was her best fit.
“Notre Dame is such a big school internationally,” Koval said. “Just to add Ukraine to their list is pretty awesome.”
And Ukraine is a huge motivator for Koval. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 to begin the ongoing conflict, Koval’s father stayed in Ukraine to help protect the country. Koval was understandably very concerned about her family’s well-being, and she continues to want to showcase her country’s toughness in her own way.
“I definitely always think about home,” Koval said. “I think about my parents all the time and how they gave me the opportunity to come here and learn and I’m just always happy to put the name out there for Ukraine.”
Long Island Lutheran won the state Federation Class AA title, the Nike Tournament of Champions, considered one of, if not the, best regular-season tournaments in high school girls basketball, and reached the GEICO Nationals finals last season. Koval scored a tournament-record 38 points in the semifinals of the GEICO Nationals before the Crusaders lost to Montverde Academy, 60-54, in the final. She averaged 15.3 points, 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game against one of the toughest schedules in the country last year.
Koval is excited to showcase those talents at Notre Dame next year. But not before helping Long Island Lutheran win as much as possible in her senior season.
“I feel like now I can be more locked in on what’s happening in the moment,” Koval said. “I don’t have to think about what my future is going to be for the next four years. Now I can just focus on LuHi and our season ahead. We’re planning on being the best team in the country this year so with me being one of the leaders, just to be able to focus on that will definitely help us a lot.”