Feb. 25, 2004
2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic
Columbus, Ga. * Friday, Feb. 27 – Sunday, Feb. 29
Notre Dame (5-3) vs. NW State (8-5), Friday, Feb. 27, 2:30 p.m. , Field 4
Notre Dame vs. #6/6 Georgia (9-2), Friday, Feb. 27, 5:00 p.m., Field 4
Notre Dame vs. #24/24 CS Fullerton (3-6), Saturday, Feb. 28, 12:30 p.m., Field 4
Bracket Play begins, Saturday, Feb. 28, 5:00 p.m.
Bracket Play continues, Sunday, Feb. 29, TBA
Irish Quick Facts:
* Notre Dame will be making its third straight appearance at the NFCA Leadoff Classic this weekend – a tournament that invites the top two teams in each NFCA region. The Irish have played in a total of five NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association) Leadoff Classics entering this weekend (1996, ’97, ’98, ’02, ’03).
* The Ninth-annual NFCA Leadoff Classic will be held at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus, Ga.
* Notre Dame will be meeting Georgia for the first time ever this weekend.
* The NFCA Leadoff Classic features pool play and bracket play. Teams play each team in their respective pools on Friday and Saturday. The teams are then designated to bracket play – guaranteed at least two more games during the weekend.
Irish poised to take on the best at the NFCA Leadoff Classic:
Notre Dame hits the road again for its third early season tournament, heading to Columbus, Ga., for the NFCA Leadoff Classic. The Irish will be making their third consecutive appearance and sixth overall in the elite tournament, which typically features the top two teams from each NFCA region.
Notre Dame will face NW State, #6/6 Georgia and #24/24 CS Fullerton during pool play, before facing any combination of other teams in the tournament during bracket play – which begins at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Live statistics will be available:
The official athletic home of Notre Dame athletics on the world wide web – www.und.com – will feature live statistics of each Irish game this weekend. Go to the und.com main page, check the right side for the correct game, then click on the ‘Gametracker’ link.
Save for any unforseen technical difficulties, live stats will be up and working for the Notre Dame games this weekend.
The NFCA Leadoff Classic field:
Here is a complete list of teams competing in this weekend’s tournament –
Pool I: Georgia Tech, #12/7 Michigan, #14/14 Nebraska, Virginia Tech.
Pool II: Army, #10/11 Florida State, #16/15 Texas, #4/4 Washington.
Pool III: #3/3 California, Florida Atlantic, #13/12 LSU, Ohio State.
Pool IV: Central Michigan, DePaul, Massachusetts, #5/5 Oklahoma.
Pool V: #24/24 CS Fullerton, #6/6 Georgia, NW State, Notre Dame.
Pool VI: #21/18 Arizona State, #15/16 Fresno State, Princeton, #20/20 South Carolina.
Tournament format – There will be six pools of four teams each, with the top team from each pool advancing to the Gold Bracket. In addition, two other at-large teams will be selected for the Gold Bracket. The remaining second place teams, in addition to four at-large teams, will be chosen for the Silver Bracket. The remaining eight teams will be placed in the Bronze Bracket.
Notre Dame vs. Pool V:
Notre Dame and NW State will be meeting for the third time … the series is tied at 1-1, as NW State knocked off ND 3-2 in day one action at the Louisiana Classic last season … Notre Dame defeated NW State 12-7 on the final day of the tournament … Notre Dame and Georgia will be meeting for the first time … Notre Dame and CS Fullerton will be meeting for the fourth time … the Titans lead the all-time series 2-1 … the last meeting occurred in 1999, a 2-1 win for CS Fullerton … the Irish win in the series came in 1995, a 1-0 victory over the fifth-ranked Titans.
Notre Dame NFCA Leadoff Classic history:
1996: vs. Princeton (W, 7-1), vs. #22 Hawaii (L, 2-6), vs. Oregon (W, 9-2), vs. #4 Washington (L, 1-7), vs. #14 Texas A&M (W, 3-1), vs. #22 Hawaii (L, 4-6).
1997: vs. #13 La.-Lafayette (W, 4-2), vs. Texas A&M (L, 0-1), vs. Illinois State (L, 0-8), vs. Massachusetts (L, 0-1), vs. #6 South Carolina (L, 0-1).
1998: vs. Canisius (W, 15-0), vs. #11 South Carolina (W, 5-2), vs. Auburn (W, 1-0), vs. #9 Oklahoma State (L, 0-4), vs. Florida (L, 3-9), vs. #7 Arizona State (L, 2-5).
2002: vs. #11 Oregon State (L, 0-4), vs. Southern Mississippi (W, 6-0), vs. Texas A&M (L, 1-2), vs. #8 Arizona State (L, 1-2), vs. #4 Oklahoma (L, 2-3).
2003: vs. #4 California (L, 0-6), vs. Illinois State (W, 1-0), vs. #17 Alabama (L, 4-7)
Overall – 9-16 (.360).
Notre Dame made the trip to the 2004 Palm Springs Classic in California and endured three days of rain in the typically arid climate. The Irish began the tournament with a 4-3 victory over Utah, but fell 12-1 in five innings to Pacific (the Tigers scoring all 12 runs after a two-hour rain delay). Notre Dame followed up with a game vs. #8/8 Stanford – first spotting the Cardinal three runs in the top of the first before a late rally fell short in the 4-2 loss. The weekend ended with a 10-0, six-inning loss to the USA Olympic Team – although the Irish arguably played the Olympians tougher than anyone else on the weekend, holding Team USA to one run over the first four innings. Notre Dame was scheduled to meet #11/13 Tennessee on Sunday, but rain forced the cancellation of the game.
Schoonaert stars in the Palm Spring Classic and vs. the Olympic Team: Sophomore Sara Schoonaert ended up as the top offensive threat for the Irish last weekend, going two for five in her limited at bats in the nine spot, but providing the highlights of the weekend vs. the U.S. Olympic Team. Schoonaert posted both of Notre Dame’s hits against Team USA, both infield singles. She also was perfect defensively on six chances and had a stolen base. Schoonaert’s strong play has moved her into second in the Irish batting order, a spot which she will debut in officially this weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic.
Homers in the clutch:
The Deanna Gumpf era at Notre Dame has provided some of the most memorable clutch home runs in Irish history. Over the past three seasons, Notre Dame has claimed an upset victory on the road (vs. #4 Nebraska, 2002), an amazing comeback victory on the road (vs. La.-Lafayette, 2003), a BIG EAST Championship (vs. Villanova, 2003) and two first-weekend come-from-behind victories (at the UNLV Classic this season) via dramatic home runs.
Liz Hartmann has played a role in three of the memorable moments. In 2002, her three-run blast in the top of the seventh pushed Notre Dame to a 3-2 victory over #4 Nebraska at the Cornhuskers’ dedication of their new field in Lincoln. Last season, Hartmann tied the school record for home runs in a single game with two shots vs. La.-Lafayette. Her first against the Lady Cajuns tied up the game in the seventh inning (after Notre Dame had rallied from a 5-1 deficit) and then ended the game in the ninth inning on a three-run round tripper.
The 2003 BIG EAST Championship was claimed on a walk off home run by ’03 graduate Andrea Loman, who smashed a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth.
During the UNLV Classic two weeks ago, Notre Dame utilized four clutch home runs to secure two victories. Sophomore Kellie Middleton lauched a two-run shot to complete Notre Dame’s rally from a 7-4 deficit to defeat Hawaii 8-7. The next day, freshman Stephanie Brown completed another Irish rally with a two-run shot in the top of the seventh vs. #8/8 Nebraska – followed by another two-run shot by Hartmann to claim the winning margin. Hartmann had previously cut the Cornhusker lead down to 4-2 with a two-run homer in the fifth.
Scouting the Irish:
For the first time in four years, the Notre Dame softball team will be forced to develop a new identity. The graduation of four starting seniors, with three of the starters having been in the line up for four years and the fourth for three, means that head coach Deanna Gumpf will be writing a new infield on her lineup card for the first time in four years.
Second team all-BIG EAST catcher Mallorie Lenn (.238, 6 HR, 25 RBI in ’03) returns behind the plate and will catch a largely intact pitching staff – but the other four infield positions will feature new players. A two year starter in leftfield, junior Liz Hartmann (.236, 9 HR, 29 RBI) comes in a few steps to take over third base. Sophomore Sara Schoonaert (5-15, 1 RBI) will be the shortstop, freshman Stephanie Brown at second base and sophomore Meagan Ruthrauff (.310, 4 HR, 27 RBI) will be at first.
While the infield might take awhile to come together this season, the outfield should be both a defensive and offensive strength. Junior Megan Ciolli (.356, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 12 SB) will be the anchor in centerfield, beginning her second season as the starter in that position after starting in rightfield her rookie season. On Ciolli’s right will be senior Nicole deFau (.271, 1 HR, 5 RBI) in leftfield – who split time with sophomore Kellie Middleton (.222, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 15 SB) last year in rightfield. Middleton returns to start in rightfield for 2004.
Off the bench, Notre Dame will receive catching relief from two freshmen – Carissa Jaquish and Gessica Hufnagle. Jaquish also is among the leading candidates at DP. Junior Nicole Wicks, a transfer from Washington, will back up the interior infield positions, all the outfield positions and be among the first options for a pinch runner. Freshman Kenya Fuemmeler can also play the outfield as well as relief pitch.
The pitching staff should prove to be a strength this season for the Irish. Sophomore Heather Booth (21-10, 1.93 ERA) returns from her BIG EAST Rookie of the Year performance a year ago to lead the staff, though junior Steffany Stenglein (10-4) looks to be regaining her freshman form after battling through an injury in 2003. The always reliable Carrie Wisen (7-3, 1.67 ERA) will be the first option for relief – as well as seeing some time at DP. As mentioned, Fuemmeler will give Gumpf another arm to call on in the bullpen as well.
Notre Dame will face a loaded early season schedule:
In what has developed into a yearly tradition for the Fighting Irish softball team, Notre Dame will hit the road for the first five weekends of the season to face several of the top teams in the nation. According to the latest national polls, over the first five weekends of the season Notre Dame will face eight ranked teams (#2/3 California (L, 1-2), #6/6 Georgia, #12/7 Michigan, #8/8 Nebraska (W, 6-4), #8/8 Stanford (L, 2-4), #20/17 CS Fullerton, #10/11 Florida State, NR (now #19/21) Pacific (L, 1-12) – (ranking vs. teams played are indicative of team’s ranking when game was played) – including two top-25 teams this weekend. The Irish also will take on DePaul later on this season at Ivy Field (April 27) and have the opportunity to play several more ranked teams during bracket play at the NFCA Leadoff Classic and the Seminole Classic.
While a tough schedule might affect Notre Dame’s early season record, it has paid huge dividends over the last two years when the Irish return to the Midwest for conference and regional play. The 2002 season saw Notre Dame open up 8-12 while facing eight ranked teams in the first two months of the season. Notre Dame responded by winning 34 of its next 37 games and the BIG EAST Championship entering the NCAA regional. The 2003 season followed a similar pattern, as Notre Dame found itself facing six ranked teams and holding a 10-10 record on March 14. The Irish bounced back with a 20-game win streak and 26 win in its last 30 games entering the NCAA regional.
With several of the ’04 freshman class playing key roles during the season, here is a look at each player’s career firsts over the last weekend:
Stephanie Brown: First career… hit: vs. Hawaii … RBI: vs. Hawaii … SB vs. UNLV … HR vs. #8/8 Nebraska … assist: vs. Hawaii … run: vs. Nebraska
Kenya Fuemmeler: First career… run: vs. Hawaii … appearance: vs. Pacific
Carissa Jaquish: First career… hit: vs. #8/8 Nebraska
Gessica Hufnagle scored her first career run vs. #8/8 Stanford last weekend.
Closer look at the Irish pitching staff:
Notre Dame should be able to lean on two strengths this season, a quick and athletic outfield and a seasoned and talented pitching staff. Junior Carrie Wisen and Steffany Stenglein, along with sophomore Heather Booth, represent 362 of 373 innings pitched for Notre Dame last season.
Booth won the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year award by going 21-10 with a 1.93 ERA as the number one starter in ’03. Stenglein, who was recovering from off season surgery which curtailed her preseason workouts, found it difficult to reach the level of her freshman season (in which she also won 21 games). Wisen was her usual steady self in the bullpen, posting a 7-3 record with a 1.67 ERA and two saves.
Stenglein is back to full strength and poised for a break out season, while Booth and Wisen give Notre Dame a strong pitching staff to work with. Add in talented freshman Kenya Fuemmeler (the career prep strikeout record holder in Missouri) and the Notre Dame pitching staff looks to be among the best in the BIG EAST Conference.
Head coach Deanna Gumpf:
The 2004 season marks Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf’s third at the helm of the Irish softball program. Her 82 wins over the first two seasons are the most in school history (Liz Miller had 77 while Brian Boulac posted 61) and she has guided the team to set school records for home runs, RBI and fielding percentage over the last two seasons.
Gumpf’s record at Notre Dame stands at 87-37 (.702) entering this weekend’s action and her teams have captured back-to-back BIG EAST titles and NCAA regional appearances.
The 2004 season will feature Gumpf’s distinctive stamp on the program. The graduation of four starters in the infield gives the opportunity for the Irish starting lineup to feature five players from Gumpf’s first two recruiting classes at Notre Dame.
Megan Ciolli named to USA Softball Player of the Year watch list:
The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and USA Softball have announced their initial watch list for the third-annual USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award and Notre Dame junior Megan Ciolli (Terre Haute, Ind.) was one of the 40 players to make the list.
Ciolli will embrace a new role as team leader for the Irish this season, which begins next weekend (Feb. 13) at the UNLV Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The Irish have radically shifted from a senior laden team to one of the youngest squads in the Midwest.
A starter since she arrived on campus three years ago, Ciolli boasts a .350 career average – hitting either first or second in the Irish line up. A three-tool player able to bunt, slap and hit for power, the junior boasts 131 hits in her career, eight home runs and 48 RBI. She also has stolen 23 bases in her career and her .350 career average puts her in the top five all-time at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame picked to win its third-straight BIG EAST title:
Notre Dame has been picked to finish first in the BIG EAST Conference for the 2004 season, as voted on by the league coaches and released by the conference office. The Irish garnered seven of 11 first place votes and 95 total points in the poll, followed by Villanova (83 points) and Boston College (74).
Notre Dame won a share of the BIG EAST regular-season crown for the seventh-straight season last year, finishing the conference schedule with a 14-3 record. Led by conference player of the year Andrea Loman, Notre Dame swept through the BIG EAST Championship, scoring 21 runs in three games and earning the title on a walk off home run by Loman in the ninth inning against Villanova.
2004 BIG EAST Preseason Softball Coaches Poll
1. Notre Dame, 95 points
2. Villanova, 83 points
3. Boston College, 74 points
4. Seton Hall, 70 points
5. St. John’s, 55 points Virginia Tech, 55 points
7. Syracuse, 50 points
8. Connecticut, 49 points
9. Rutgers, 43 points
10. Pittsburgh, 20 points
11. Providence, 12 points
Keeping up with the Irish on the road:
A complete recap, plus game boxscore, will be posted on www.und.com as soon as possible upon completion of Notre Dame’s scheduled games for the day (although during preseason tournament action, the schedule might allow for game-by-game updates). The Notre Dame softball hotline will also be updated as soon as possible after each game, that line can be reached by calling (574) 631-3000.
BIG EAST Championship switched to Syracuse, N.Y. for 2004:
The 2004 BIG EAST Championship will be hosted by Syracuse University this season. During the previous two seasons, the BIG EAST Championship was held in Roanoke, Va., but a schedule change in the Division II National Championship (hosted by the city of Roanoke) dictated a return to campus sites for the BIG EAST Championship. The conference title will be on the line during play beginning Thursday, May 13 and continues until Saturday, May 15, with a raindate on Sunday, May 16.