Feb. 4, 2015
Leading up to Notre Dame softball’s 2015 season opening tournament at the So Cal Collegiate Classic, UND.com will examine the top four pressing questions facing the Irish entering the new campaign. With the team’s second official season in the Atlantic Coast Conference on the horizon, here is the final installment in the official preseason preview series.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Traits that define the best leaders and role models in all walks of life are not always gained over time. For many, the ability to be a strong leader is an innate characteristic in one’s DNA, and it merely takes the right opportunity to reveal that skill to the world.
Preparing for its second season of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the University of Notre Dame softball team has a core group of four seniors that truly stack up among the all-time greats in program history. A total of 626 games played, 578 starts, a 124-44 (.738) class record, conference, regional and national awards; that is just a glimpse of what infielder Katey Haus, outfielder and co-captain Emilee Koerner, infielder and co-captain Jenna Simon and catcher Cassidy Whidden have contributed to the Irish in three seasons.
And the run is not over yet.
“When we talk about the belief of the whole team, it starts with the experience level and the belief of the senior class,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “It trickles down from them. I am not sure I have had many senior classes that have more experience in games, and this senior class collectively will play as many games as virtually any other class in Notre Dame softball history. Percentage-wise we have never really had this much experience, and I think that will pay off.”
Each one of the four seniors has experienced remarkable personal success, battled personal adversity, and come out for the better on the other side during their collective Notre Dame journeys. The reason why, in Gumpf’s mind, is simple.
“There is never moment in the day where they don’t want what’s best for this team, and all four of them are able to see the benefit of the team being more important than their individual successes,” Gumpf said. “That’s a hard thing to do, but they all do that. I have seen these qualities in them day in and day out, and those are things that you can not teach.”
Looking back in time, to freshman year, 2012. The class of 2015 entered the Notre Dame softball program at a time when the Irish were looking to replace a large and talented eight-player senior class that departed the previous spring. Given the pressures of adapting to not only life as a college student but also life as a college student-athlete, an acclimation period would certainly have been typical.
“They emerged from the moment they stepped on campus,” Gumpf said. “It’s just been an interesting dynamic between the four of them, always. It’s the quality of the entire class to figure out what’s best for the team, and that’s such a great question to always ask, and they are constantly doing that. That has to come from within, and that comes from that person’s soul. That is what’s so special.”
The goals of the class of 2015 were evident to the rest of the Notre Dame team from the outset. Always wanting to improve personally, collectively, and as a team. Wanting to reach heights never before seen in program history. Vowing to tackle these challenges head-on to see what may have once been thought as unreachable milestones reached.
“From the minute they all got here they set goals for themselves that we didn’t plant in their head,” Gumpf said. “The thing that I will always remember about this class is that they were huge playmakers for us and they all, from the very beginning, knew what we were capable of doing and have tried every single day to make that happen for this team. I will feel like that 20 years from now. They’ve always been a group of players that just wanted it so bad.”
There is Koerner, a two-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-America selection who burst onto the scene as a sophomore, etching her name into the national conscience as a top 10 finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award in 2013. Already the team’s single season (28, 2014) and career (61) doubles leader after only 166 games, the sky appears to be the limit for the Tustin, California native during her senior campaign.
Jokingly dubbed as the “Hometown Hero” by her teammates, there may not be many monikers more befitting of a player like Simon. A star at Penn High School in nearby Granger, the speedy short game specialist has started over 150 games at second base for Notre Dame since 2012. Simon also earned the distinction of being the first local player to ever be selected as an Irish softball team captain, and will be just the third Indiana native to ever serve as captain since the inception of the Notre Dame varsity softball team in 1989.
One of the most durable players in the history of the Notre Dame softball team, Haus has battled injuries throughout her career and missed only one game in that span, starting more than 150 consecutive games at third base dating back to her freshman season. The Oceanside, California native established career-highs in batting average (.333), hits (55), doubles (14) and RBI (52) in 2014, joining Simon as first-time recipients of NFCA all-region accolades last spring.
The road has arguably been the longest for Whidden among the four 2015 classmates. A pair of knee injuries, which for a catcher could spell certain doom, have not slowed the Parrish, Florida product. In fact, Whidden has emerged from the setbacks to become one of the most efficient defensive catchers and dangerous power hitters in Notre Dame history. Career highs in batting average (.336), home runs (11) and RBI (35) landed Whidden on the 2014 NFCA Mid-Atlantic all-region first team.
With the new season just days away, the anticipation of Notre Dame’s return to the playing field has reached a fever pitch. Win, lose or draw in the final run for the senior four, there is one lasting image that will remain from the class of 2015 that will indelibly be etched into Irish softball lore.
“Whatever happens, happens, and we are all going to do the best we can all season to be the very best team we have ever been,” Gumpf said. “Time will tell how the season will go, but this senior class will leave with no regrets. That is one thing I am sure about, I am not sure about wins or losses, but they will leave with no regrets.”
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, Media Relations Assistant