Jan. 31, 2014

Leading up to the start of the 2014 season on Feb. 8, UND.com will run special feature Q&A’s on each Notre Dame softball class. Check back regularly over the next few weeks to get the inside scoop on your favorite Irish players.

Not even the polar vortex can stop the Getting To Know Irish Softball series, and this installment features the 2014 Notre Dame sophomore class: Catcher Casey Africano (Huntington Beach, Calif.), first baseman Micaela Arizmendi (Huntington Beach, Calif.), infielder Carly Piccinich (Wyckoff, N.J.), pitcher Allie Rhodes (Kirkland, Wash.) and outfielder Megan Sorlie (Wichita, Kan.).

Africano played in 31 games, earning five starts, as a freshman with the Irish in 2013, finishing with a final batting average of .257 with four doubles, two home runs, 11 RBI, a .543 slugging percentage and a .409 on-base percentage. She was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll the week of April 15 after batting .500 with two game-winning home runs, six RBI, a team-best 10 total bases and a 1.667 slugging percentage in a weekend set against Rutgers. Africano was a letterwinner for Edison High School prior to coming to Notre Dame, and was a 2012 All-California second team selection.

Arizmendi was named to the 2013 all-BIG EAST third team, becoming the first Notre Dame freshman to earn all-conference honors since teammate Laura Winter accomplished the feat in 2011. She led all Irish freshmen with a .259 batting average and added two home runs, 13 RBI and 10 runs scored in 42 games (27 starts). Arizmendi enters her sophomore season with the ninth-best career fielding percentage (.988) among Notre Dame players with 150 or more career chances. She was a multi-time all-conference choice at Mater Dei High School, and was chosen as the team’s Most Valuable Player as a senior.

Piccinich earned BIG EAST Academic All-Star recognition and led all Irish newcomers with 51 games played (four starts) in 2013. She finished 6-for-7 on stolen base attempts, and scored a team-high 19 runs as a pinch runner during her freshman campaign. Piccinich added a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage during the season at second base. She was a varsity letterwinner in both softball and tennis at Immaculate Heart Academy, and served as a two-year captain in softball. Piccinich added All-America honors in each of her final two seasons, and helped lead Immaculate Heart Academy to a pair of state championships.

Rhodes also was named a BIG EAST Academic All-Star and appeared in 15 games in the circle during her first season at Notre Dame, including two starts. She posted a 2-0 record with a 2.82 ERA and two saves in 27.1 innings pitched, walking 15 and striking out 28 batters, while limiting left-handed hitters to a .125 batting average (4-for-32). Rhodes became only the second southpaw to see action on the mound in the 26-year history of Notre Dame softball, along with two-time All-American Jennifer Sharron (’01). She helped guide Juanita High School to a pair of sectional championships, as well as the 3A state championship during her junior season, and was a three-time all-conference selection.

Sorlie was the third member of the incoming class of 2013 to be named a BIG EAST Academic All-Star and batted .257 with three RBI and seven runs scored in 26 games (seven starts) last season. She was the second-toughest player to strike out on the Notre Dame roster, posting a final 11.67 K average during her inaugural campaign. Sorlie was a four-year standout at Andover Central High School, and was a four-time all-conference selection and an ESPNHS All-America second team recipient after her senior year.

I got the low down from the sophomores on what their first year at Notre Dame was like, their camaraderie as a class, and more.

How would you describe your first year at Notre Dame?

Carly Piccinich: (Notre Dame) has been everything I expected, and more. It’s a dream come true, and it is awesome to be here.

Micaela Arizmendi: I would say it’s a definite change from high school, but it’s awesome here and I love this place.

Allie Rhodes: It definitely turned out way better than we all expected, especially our class. We’ve really turned out to be awesome friends.

Casey Africano: You definitely learn a lot that first year, it takes time to make some adjustments. But, once you get the hang of it, and now that we’re sophomores, we are more on top of it.

Megan Sorlie: It’s really like everything I imagined it to be, and even more than that.

Any nicknames, especially those given to you by other members of the team?

AR: Mine is ‘Bones’, given by Coach Kris (Ganeff) and Cassidy (Whidden). And that’s me now, so yeahââ’¬¦

CP: I got ‘Carl’ my freshman summer by Cassidy and Chloe (Saganowich), and it stuck. Males, too, call me that on campus. And Lauren Stuhr calls me ‘Charles, ‘ and (strength coach Kaitlin) Sweeney calls me ‘Pic.’

AR: I call you ‘Carlos’ââ’¬¦

CP: Yeah, Carlos, anything that sounds male works. ‘Prince Carl,’ I’ve gotten that, tooââ’¬¦

MA: Just call me ‘Mick,’ or ‘Mickey.’

CA: ‘Oh Mickey you’re so fineââ’¬¦’ (From the 80s pop song Mickey).

MA: That was my walk-up song.

MS: I’m ‘Mego’ââ’¬¦

MA: I say ‘Megatron.’

CA: My email is ‘CAfrican,’ so people call me that sometimesââ’¬¦

AR: I don’t call you that, everââ’¬¦

MA: I think ‘Case’ is a good one for you.

AR: Yeah, Case.

What was the most noticeable difference in the transition from high school/club softball to the Division I college level?

MS: I think the pace of the game is a lot faster, that’s what caught me off guard the most. The game plays really fast, you’ve got to keep up with it.

CA: I would say the pace of college in general is just fast because you have classes, and practices, and workoutsââ’¬¦

AR: It’s really different because you are dealing with it all at once. It was high school and then you would go to Select practice. Now it’s all in one. In one day you’re going to class, and in the middle of that you have a lift, and then practice, and then dinner with the team.

MA: You really need to manage your time well in collegeââ’¬¦

MS: Almost push yourself to the max.

CA: (And) you definitely find your limits.

What is your favorite activity away from softball?

CP: I like to go to the lakes and listen to country musicââ’¬¦

CA: It’s not a dating videoââ’¬¦

CP: No, that’s what I do in my spare time.

MA: Favorite spot on campus is my bed (napping).

CA: Bones and I are a part of Notre Dame Christian Athletes, and that’s really awesomeââ’¬¦

AR: Well, Bones is some of the time, but I try. It’s fun.

How did the First Year of Studies program help you choose your academic path?

AR: It definitely turns out differently than you expected because you don’t have to declare, but a lot of us thought we were going to do something specific at the start of freshman year. I had no idea what I was going to major in and I randomly chose sociology and management. It’s kind of cool to see us find our paths.

MA: I am definitely not where I thought I would be. I came in thinking I was going to be a double major in English and history, and now I am living the life in the business school.

MS: Nobody tells you that the business school is going to be as hard as it is.

CP: I think we have all helped each other on the journey, like Casey last year thought she was (originally) going to go into pre-med. We have all kind of helped each other discover who we are going to beââ’¬¦

MS: And to make each other better.

CA: We have definitely grown, all of us together.

MA: I think because four of the five of us are basically in the same classes, we are there for each otherââ’¬¦

MS: To laugh about our gradesââ’¬¦

MA: And cry through finals (all laughing).

What first introduced you to softball, and what led you to your current position?

MA: I got into softball because my mom played in college, and I wanted to be just like her. I don’t know how I ended up at first base, I think because I almost tore my hamstring, so then my outfield days were done.

CP: You were in the outfield?

MA: Yeah, I played center field my sophomore year of high school. I was killing it out there.

CP: I watched my sister play when I was younger, and she was a shortstop, but I didn’t really like shortstop. The throw is kind of farââ’¬¦ No, I like second base, I like being in the middle infield and talking all the time.

CA: I started when I was four, and I pitched for a while and played short for a while. Then, Lauren Stuhr’s dad decided that he wanted me to catch when I was on his team. I was 11, and that’s how I started catching, and I’ve been there ever since. And I play some outfield. I am not bad in the outfield.

MS: My parents signed me up for Coach-Pitch when I was eight years old, and it just went out from there. The reason I got in the outfield was because I got hit in the face at first baseââ’¬¦

CA: Not to mention, she has a beast of an arm.

MA: Ground ball at first base got you?

MS: Oh yeah, right in the face (all laughing).

Do you have any pregame or at-bat rituals?

CP: I do XX, XX with my feet (in the dirt), I don’t know why. I’ve always done it.

MA: I usually just tap the plate.

CP: Oh yeah, and I have to kiss my cross after the National Anthem, and Bones makes sure that I do.

AR: I stay on the line and make sure Carl kisses her cross every time. Everyone else leaves, and it’s just me and Carl having a moment out there.

CA: That’s what you do?

AR: Yeah.

CA: All right, cool.

CP: We do say some things to each other before we go to the fieldââ’¬¦

AR: Some thingsââ’¬¦

MS: Terms of endearmentââ’¬¦

What is your favorite place on campus, and why?

CP: (With a British accent) the lakesââ’¬¦

AR: ââ’¬¦Not Loftus (everyone laughs).

MA: I still say my bed, because I like to sleep.

MS: Either The Grotto or my bed.

AR: I do like the lakes, too.

CP: I definitely like the lakes, I have a spot down there and I just post up.

CA: I like my room. That’s my favorite place.

What word(s) would you pick to describe your class?

MA: Sassy, I’m going to go with that.

CP: That’s actually pretty accurate. I would say outgoing, too.

AR: We all do have good personalities. They do clash sometimes, butââ’¬¦

CA/CP: Bubblyââ’¬¦

MA: I thought Casey said ugly, and I was like oh myââ’¬¦

CP: Bubbly, sassy, sarcastic.

MS: Sarcastic.

CP: (In British accent) hilarious, extraordinaryââ’¬¦

CA: So I guess we are going to go with sassy?

CP: Sassy AND bubbly, bubbly and sassy (still in accent).

MA: What is that supposed to be, that accent?

What goals do you have for your sophomore seasons?

MA: This year, the goal for us as a class is to make an impact, and lead Notre Dame softball to a place we’ve never been before, like the World Seriesââ’¬¦

MS: Last year, I am not sure we really did as much as a class as we could have for the team, and this year we made a pact to never let that happen again.

AR: We are going to make an impact this year.

CP: And we are going to continue to be great teammates like we were last year. We’ve come closer together a lot better than we did last year, coming in and not knowing each other as freshmenââ’¬¦

CA: It’s just been really positive for all of our games and our personal lives.

Be sure to check back for the next edition of Getting To Know Irish Softball with the Notre Dame junior class. For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.


— Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant