Madeline Westbeld was the best player on her basketball team so she took most of the shots.
“Honey, you need to pass the ball,” her mom said.
So little Maddy stopped shooting because second-graders mostly want to please mom.
“Now I feel like everybody always tells me that I’m not selfish enough,” said Westbeld, who just finished a stellar high school career at Fairmont. “So I feel like that’s where that came from.”
Team has come to mean everything to Westbeld. After the Firebirds lost the Division I regional final Saturday to Mount Notre Dame, she could barely speak. She felt no solace in a 25-3 season and her individual accomplishments. The dream of going to state had died.
But Westbeld found reason to smile the next day. Her coach, Jeremey Finn, texted her with good news. She had been selected as Ohio’s Ms. Basketball by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association.
“I was still a little upset about the loss,” she said. “But it was just a really awesome surprise. Kind of a silver lining in all of this.”
Westbeld was also named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year and the Division I Player of the Year. She is 6-foot-3 but plays all over the floor with a diverse skill set. She led her team in scoring (18.0) rebounds (11.2), assists (3.6), steals (2.8) and blocked shots (2.3).
“Some people would say that she’s a wing player, a forward, a guard,” Finn said. “She can do a lot of things. The fact that she can shoot from outside opens everything up.”
Westbeld was recruited nationwide and made official visits to UCLA, Ohio State, Louisville and Tennessee. Then she visited Notre Dame and committed to the Irish in October and signed in November.
“I loved all the schools, so it was really difficult to pick one,” she said.
Westbeld’s sister, Kathryn, helped lead Fairmont to the 2013 state championship as a junior, played four years at Notre Dame and was a starter on the Irish’s national championship team in 2018. Madeline went to several games, mostly while still in middle school, during Kathryn’s first two seasons, and was at the final four two years ago in Columbus.
“Notre Dame meant the most to me because of not only the history with my sister but just the tradition and the whole atmosphere of the campus,” Westbeld said. “It’s such a competitive environment, and that’s what I do best in.”
A competitive experience in middle school changed Westbeld’s view of basketball.
“In early middle school I just played basketball because I’m tall, kind of athletic, kind of coordinated, it’s fun, I get to hang out with my friends for a couple hours a day,” she said. “I never really put in any work outside of practice.”
At some point in middle school – she doesn’t remember exactly when – she started walking across the street after school to the rec center to play pick-up basketball with boys.
“My passion came from playing against the boys,” she said. “It was always super competitive, and I loved it.”
»LOOKING BACK: Westbeld commits to Notre Dame
Finn saw that competitive nature in his two seasons as Westbeld’s coach. When recruiters came to practice, which was almost every day, Finn said she was the hardest worker in the gym, and it wasn’t just for show.
“I’ve had a lot of boys and girls go on to play in college, but there’s no one that works harder in practice every single day than Maddy,” Finn said. “She truly practices like she plays. Every rep is 100 percent.”
Westbeld’s competitive streak is a family trait. She is the fourth of five kids and all the others have been or still are athletes. Kathryn, though, is the one Madeline has been inevitably compared to.
“There’s always competition,” she said. “She’s my biggest role model, but I don’t want to be just like her. I want to be my own person.”
Since finishing at Notre Dame, Kathryn has played professional basketball in Puerto Rico, Spain and Australia. Kathryn recently returned from Australia and saw Madeline’s final two games. Despite the distances that often separated them, the little sister was able to rely on the big sister for help and advice with school work, social life and basketball.
“She had gone through it pretty much exactly how I did,” Maddy said. “So I always have her to fall back on if I ever need anything.”
Westbeld feels support from all directions. She said her parents’ time and financial commitment to her and her siblings’ pursuit of athletics has been her greatest support system. And her senior teammates – Madison Bartley, Makira Webster, Kierra Thornton, Kyndall Ketterer – have made her four years worth every high and every low.
“The chemistry that we had throughout the four years that we were playing together is the most important thing,” she said. “I’ll have sisters for the rest of my life, and you can’t get that back.”
Westbeld returned to her second-grade roots this winter. She and her teammates helped with the Early Bird program for girls and boys ages 4-7. They went to the Kettering Recreation Complex for five Saturday mornings from 7:30 to 8:30 and taught basketball skills. Finn’s 5-year-old daughter Tate was there.
“They loved those girls,” Finn said. “It was always fun to hear my own kids talk about it.”
One day Tate will truly understand: That was Ms. Basketball.
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