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Palm Springs Classic Up Next For Softball

Feb. 18, 2004

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2004 Palm Springs Classic

Palm Springs, Calif. * Feb. 20-22

Notre Dame (4-1) vs. Utah (5-4), Friday, Feb. 20, 12:30 p.m.

Notre Dame vs. Pacific (8-2), Friday, Feb. 20, 6:00 p.m.

Notre Dame vs. #8/8 Stanford (8-1), Saturday, Feb. 21, 1:00 p.m.

Notre Dame vs. U.S. Olympic Team, Saturday, Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m.

Notre Dame vs. #12/18 Tennessee (11-1), Sunday, Feb. 22, 9:00 a.m.

Irish Quick Facts:

* Notre Dame is making its first appearance in Palm Spring, Calif., this weekend.

* The 2004 Palm Spring Classic is being hosted by Oregon State University at the Big League Dreams Complex.

* Notre Dame faces another tough weekend, taking on two ranked teams in three days again (plus the U.S. Olympic Team). The Irish will face #8/8 Stanford and #12/18 Tennessee after defeating #8/8 Nebraska 6-4 and battling #2/3 California to a 2-1 loss last weekend.

* The 4-1 start to the season is the best for the Irish since 2001, when Notre Dame won its first eight games.

Irish ready for second weekend of action:

The 2004 season continues this weekend on the West Coast, as Notre Dame makes a trip to the Palm Springs Classic in California. A homecoming of sorts for the seven players from California (Heather Booth, Liz Hartmann, Carissa Jaquish, Mallorie Lenn, Meagan Ruthrauff, Steffany Stenglein and Carrie Wisen), Notre Dame is appearing in California for the eighth consecutive season.

The Irish will take on Utah, #8/8 Stanford, the U.S. Olympic Team, Pacific and #12/18 Tennessee in tournament action this weekend. Among the other teams in the tournament field this week are #18/24 Oregon State, #3/2 Arizona, #7/7 Alabama, #1 /1 UCLA, #20/17 CS Fullerton and #6/6 Georgia.

Irish will face U.S. Olympic Team during its “Aiming for Athens” tour:

While Notre Dame has four challenging games against top-notch Division I teams this weekend, the Irish also will face a special challenge when it goes up against the U.S. Olympic Team on Saturday, Feb. 21. The exhibition is part of the national team’s “Aiming for Athens” tour that will take them across the country this spring as the squad prepares for the 2004 games in Athens.

Last weekend:

Notre Dame began the 2004 season with a very solid effort at the UNLV Classic, defeating Hawaii 8-7, losing 2-1 to #2/3 California, defeating #8/8 Nebraska 6- 4 and besting Portland State 4-1. The Irish rallied twice to win during the weekend, scoring five runs in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Hawaii and following up the next day with four runs in the top of the seventh vs. Nebraska. Home runs played a key role in both rallies, as Kellie Middleton’s first round tripper of the season ended up as the winning run vs. Hawaii. Against Nebraska, freshman Stephanie Brown hit her first home run, a two-run shot, to tie the game. Junior Liz Hartmann then stepped in and launched her second two-run home run of the game to claim the upset victory for the Irish.

Hartmann enjoys memorable first weekend:

Junior third base Liz Hartmann entered the 2004 season poised to post the best statistics of her career and came through during Notre Dame’s first weekend of action at the UNLV Classic. She began the weekend against Hawaii going three for four with a double and RBI, followed by a one for three performance vs. #2/3 California. Hartmann then exploded against Nebraska, chalking up three hits, two two-run home runs and four total RBI in Notre Dame’s victory. Her two-run shot in the top of the seventh inning marked the second time in Hartmann’s career she has delivered a game-winning home run against the Cornhuskers (she hit a three-run shot in the top of the seventh in Lincoln during the 2002 season).

Hartmann went 0-2 at the plate against UNLV, but delivered a clutch sacrifice fly for her sixth RBI of the season. Her RBI total quickly reached seven in the first inning against Portland State, when she drilled a solo home run in the first inning – in what turned out to be the winning run in Notre Dame’s 4-1 victory.

In all, Hartmann hit .500 last weekend with three home runs and seven RBI.

Ciolli off to a great start as well:

Megan Ciolli has taken over as a leader for the Irish both on and off the field this season. One of the 40 players on USA Softball’s player of the year watch list (see note later in this package), Ciolli hit .625 in five games last weekend to lead the team to a 4-1 record. She had at least one hit in each game and went three for four vs. #2/3 California and four for four vs. Portland State. She scored four runs in the five games and stole three bases (including two vs. California). She also hit her first home run of the season (and ninth of her career) in the top of the first vs. Portland State.

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 (last weekend) 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.

Last weekend, 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.

Irish pitching staff posts solid first weekend:

While a glance at the scoreboard last weekend might lead some fans to think the Irish pitching staff struggled, Notre Dame only yielded seven earned runs last weekend (there were eight unearned runs scored against the team). Carrie Wisen picked up two relief victories against Hawaii and #8/8 Nebraska – while Steffany Stenglein enjoyed two solid complete game efforts and Heather Booth picked up a complete game victory vs. Portland State.

Notre Dame’s team ERA over the first weekend came in at a solid 1.44 and the Irish struck out 29 batters in 34 innings. Stenglein posted her third 10-strike out performance of her career vs. UNLV and Booth set down nine batters vs. Portland State.

Middleton & deFau embrace their new roles:

Senior Nicole deFau and sophomore Kellie Middleton platooned in rightfield last year for the Irish and have stepped in as every-day starters in 2004. deFau has taken over in leftfield for Liz Hartmann (now at third) and Middleton has assumed the rightfield duties.

Both players responded during Notre Dame’s first weekend at the UNLV Classic. Middleton piled up seven hits in 16 at bats (.438) – including the game-winning home run against Hawaii. deFau has been among the most consistent at the plate, going four for 13 (.308) with a double, triple and two RBI.

The two players have also contributed defensively – Middleton has already chalked up three outfield assists and deFau has been steady presence in leftfield.

Irish are off and running:

Notre Dame might be among the most aggressive base running teams in the country this season. The Irish have already attempted 11 stolen bases this season and have been successful in nine of those attempts. Junior Megan Ciolli and sophomore Kellie Middleton lead the team with three stolen bases each, while sophomore Sara Schoonaert, freshman Carissa Jaquish and freshman Stephanie Brown each have one theft. Brown is the only runner to be caught this season (twice). While it is far too early to look ahead, the team record for stolen bases in a season is 112 from 1992.

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, the first five weekends of the season will see Notre Dame face eight ranked teams (#2/3 California (L, 2-1), #6/6 Georgia, #11/10 Michigan, #8/8 Nebraska (W, 6-4), #8/8 Stanford, #20/17 CS Fullerton, #10/11 Florida State, #12/18 Tennessee – ranking vs. teams played are indicative of team’s ranking when game was played) – including two top-20 teams this weekend. The Irish also will take on #25/21 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.

First career:

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

Carissa Jaquish: First career… hit: vs. #8/8 Nebraska

Gessica Hufnagle also saw action in four games over the weekend in a pinch running role, but did not score a run.

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 86-35 (.711) 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 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.