Jan. 26, 2016
by Tony Jones
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — After welcoming a first NCAA Championship regional to Melissa Cook Stadium in 2015, the University of Notre Dame softball team will begin its second straight season recognized among the nation’s top 25 programs. The Irish were ranked 24th in the Tuesday release of the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division I Preseason Coaches Poll, just the second time Notre Dame has opened consecutive seasons in the top 25 coaches poll in program history (2001-03).
The 2016 NFCA preseason top 25 marked the seventh occasion Notre Dame has been ranked among the top 25 teams in the NFCA poll to open a season dating back to 1995. The Irish were tabbed 19th in 1995, 21st in 1997, 19th in 2001, 14th in 2002, 17th in 2003 and 22nd in 2015 in previous editions of the NFCA preseason top 25.
Notre Dame was also the first team receiving votes in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25, narrowly missing a second straight slot in the initial media poll after checking in at number 21 in the 2015 preseason rankings.
A total of 12 of Notre Dame’s 36 scheduled opponents for the 2016 season were ranked in either the NFCA and ESPN.com preseason top 25 or were among teams receiving votes. The Irish will square off with No. 7 UCLA (Feb. 20), No. 10 Florida State (April 2-3), No. 17 Central Florida (Feb. 26), No. 18 Kentucky (Feb. 12), No. 20/19 Washington (Feb. 19), No. 21/22 California (Feb. 13), No. 23/25 North Carolina State (May 7-8) and No. RV/23 Utah (Feb. 12) during the upcoming season.
Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina State were the three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) teams included in the top 25 of the preseason NFCA rankings, with North Carolina (six votes), Louisville (two votes) and Pittsburgh (two votes) each receiving votes. The Seminoles and Wolfpack were the lone ACC ranked representatives in the ESPN poll, with Notre Dame (42 votes), Virginia Tech (11 votes) and North Carolina (four votes) narrowly outside the top 25.
Notre Dame returns 13 Monogram winners from its 2015 squad that made a 17th consecutive appearance (20th all-time) in the NCAA Championship, hosting an NCAA Regional for just the second time in program history (2005). The Irish capped 2015 with a 42-15 (.737) mark, establishing single-season program records for hits (543), runs (395), and on-base percentage (.419), while batting above a .350 clip (.351) for the second straight season.
Notre Dame also earned eight victories over fellow national top 25 foes, and enjoyed a 24-game winning streak from March through the end of April that was the second longest in the nation during the year. The Irish tied their 2014 team total of seven NFCA Mid-Atlantic all-region honorees, with Micaela Arizmendi and co-captain Karley Wester returning as first team performers and Morgan Reed back as a third team representative from last season.
For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, visit www.und.com/softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter and at Instagram.com/notredamesoftball, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball and men’s soccer programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.