Feb. 2, 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 latest installment in the official preseason preview series.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Success in the game of softball is in many ways a reflection of how a team executes in the three main phases of the sport, offense, defense and pitching. Possessing a dynamic collection of players at any given position group is always key, and no players on the defensive side of the ball cover more ground than the outfield.
For the University of Notre Dame softball team, the 2015 season will begin as a historic one for the team’s outfield corps. For the first time in the 27-year history of the Irish program, two active National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Americans will start next to one another in the outfield, comprising two thirds of arguably the best array of outfield talent in Notre Dame history.
“The expectations are so high for our outfield because of the successes they have had in the past, and because two of our top leaders on the team are out there working together and building the strength of the entire group,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “We will have players in the outfield who might not have the experience of the other two, but the way they communicate and play the game makes it easy for that third outfielder to jump on board with that.”
The two returning starters are senior co-captain and two-time NFCA All-American Emilee Koerner in center and 2014 NFCA All-America selection, NFCA National Freshman of the Year finalist and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshman of the Year Karley Wester in left. Both players combined to hit at a .444 clip (155-for-349) as a tandem last season, accounting for 48 extra base hits, 79 RBI, 32 stolen bases and 115 runs scored.
Perhaps most importantly, Koerner and Wester, both named last week to the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List, collectively made one error in 162 total chances in the field (.994 fielding percentage) in 2014.
“I love their leadership, their expectations that they have out there, and the belief that they carry for our team,” Gumpf said of both Koerner and Wester. “A lot of people ask why Wester isn’t in center. We have so many balls that are hit between left and center that if you think center is more important, they are both center fielders. If you think left is more important, they both are left fielders, it just depends on your perspective. They work so well together and they cover so much ground, they make game-winning plays all the time.
“I don’t care where we put them, they are winning ball games for us with their defense,” Gumpf added.
Koerner is in the midst of arguably the greatest two-year run in Notre Dame softball history. The Tustin, California native claimed NFCA All-America (third team) and all-region first team honors for the second straight year in 2014. That performance was nearly identical to her 2013 sophomore season that landed her not only as a second team NFCA All-American but also as a top 10 finalist for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award.
Koerner ranked third among all ACC players with a .433 batting average and was the NCAA leader with 28 doubles in 2014, to go along with 74 total hits, three triples, 11 home runs, 51 RBI, a .825 slugging percentage, a .495 on-base percentage and 65 runs scored. Koerner also ranked second on the Irish with 21 multiple-hit games and 15 multi-RBI games last season.
Wester enjoyed one of the most productive and nationally acclaimed freshman seasons in Notre Dame history in 2014. Along with being an NFCA All-America second team selection and a top three finalist for the NFCA Division I National Freshman of the Year award, the Huntington Beach, California native led all ACC hitters with a .455 batting average, 81 hits, four triples and 26 stolen bases.
Wester also set the Irish pace with a .517 on-base percentage and six outfield assists in 54 games played, along with 25 multi-hit games. Officially, 45 of Wester’s 81 hits were credited as infield singles, and the Irish left-handed slapper also added two doubles and 28 RBI.
With the alignment in left and center fields both presumably set, three players have emerged in the race for the starting right fielder slot. Junior Megan Sorlie brings the most experience to the table after making 23 starts in right field last season, batting at a .295 clip with five doubles and 11 RBI. Sorlie added three stolen bases and 12 runs to her season totals in 2014.
The other two players involved in the competition are relative newcomers to the fray in right, junior Casey Africano and sophomore Kimmy Sullivan. Africano picked up a handful of spot starts in right field last season, batting .340 with nine runs scored in 31 appearances split between catcher, right field and designated player. Sullivan, second on the depth chart for Notre Dame at first base, batted .222 with five RBI and five runs scored in 21 games (six starts) as a freshman.
“To have the options of three strong hitters for the right field spot, along with great speed and good arms in the outfield, is great for our team,” Gumpf said. “I love the experience of Megan that goes along with the potential offensive production of Kimmy and Casey. Consistency in the outfield is the number one priority with the offensive power that they all are able to provide.”
Visit UND.com on Tuesday for the third installment of the Rounding the Bases with the Irish series. 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