Junior Mallorie Lenn (left) and Heather Booth (right) hope to continue the Irish winning streak this weekend at Ohio State.

Softball Back In Midwest For Weekend Tournament At Ohio State

March 17, 2005

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2005 Buckeye Invitational

Friday, March 18
Marshall vs. Oakland, 2 p.m.
Ohio State vs. Ball State, 4 p.m.
Ohio State vs. Eastern Michigan, 6 p.m.

Saturday, March 19
Ball State vs. Marshall, 11 a.m.
Eastern Michigan vs. Ball State, 1 p.m.
Eastern Michigan vs. Oakland, 3 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Marshall, 5 p.m.
Notre Dame at Ohio State, 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 20
Oakland vs. Ball State, 10 a.m.
Notre Dame vs. Oakland, 12 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Eastern Michigan, 2 p.m.
Ohio State vs. Marshall, 4 p.m.

* – Live audio coverage will return next week for Notre Dame’s planned home opener vs. Western Michigan on Wednesday, March 23 (4 p.m.).

Irish return to Midwest looking to continue Spring Break momentum: The University of Notre Dame softball team (11-7), winners for its last seven games and tournament champion at Hawaii’s Spring Fling, return to Midwest and BIG EAST Conference action for the rest of the year this weekend. The Irish will take part in Ohio State’s Buckeye Invitational, which also welcomes Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Oakland and Marshall. This weekend’s tournament also features two future Notre Dame opponents – though the Irish face just one of them this weekend. Eastern Michigan will appear at Ivy Field (and on CSTV) for a doubleheader Tuesday, April 5 (3 p.m.) and Ball State will pay a visit on Thursday, April 7 for a single game at 5 p.m. The Irish will face EMU this weekend on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Notre Dame headed into its Spring Break trip with a 5-6 record and looking to establish their identity for the season. The trip began with a split at Loyola Marymount, but a plane trip Hawaii for the Spring Fling allowed the team to finally find its hitting streak. During its four-game undefeated run in the tournament, the Irish pounded out 45 hits, scored 25 runs and posted 21 RBI. The Spring Fling is also the second tournament title won by the team in 2005, following up a 3-2 run through the GRU Classic at the University of Florida the first weekend out this season.

Notre Dame quick hits: What you need to know about the Irish for the Buckeye Invitational:

• Senior Megan Ciolli is backing up her All-America nod from 2004 in `05. The Irish team captain is leading the team both on and off the field, and she currently boasts team highs in batting average (.357), hits (20), doubles (5), and slugging percentage (.589). She also is tied with teammate Meagan Ruthrauff for the team lead in home runs with two.

• Junior Kellie Middleton is playing the best softball of her career. After missing 61 games with an injury last season, Middleton is second on the team in batting average (.333) and is a perfect 10 for 10 in stolen bases. She was named the BIG EAST Player of the Week on March 14.

Series history vs. opponents and team analysis: Here is a quick look at Notre Dame’s series history, as well as quick overview, of this weekend’s opponents:

Marshall – The Irish and Thundering Herd will be meeting for the first time … Marshall is 11-8 in 2005 … Rachel Folden leads the offense with a .417 batting average … Randi Nielson has seen a majority of the innings in the circle, going 6-4 with a 3.75 ERA and two shutouts.

Ohio State – The Irish and Buckeyes will be meeting for the seventh time … the series is all tied up at 3-3 … OSU is 11-6 in 2005 and is hitting .310 as a team … Ashley Cutcliff paces the offense with a .429 batting average … Megan Schwab (14) and Liz Caputo (12) have provided the RBI … Jamee Juarez looks to the OSU’s number one pitcher, going 7-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 58 K in 60.0 IP.

Oakland – The Irish and Grizzlies will be meeting for the second time … Notre Dame defeated Oakland 16-0 on April 30, 2002 … OU is 1-8 in 2005 and has struggled on offense (.197 team batting average) … Laura Chomokos has seen a majority of the innings pitched for the Grizzlies (25.0 IP, 0-4, 5.60 ERA).

Eastern Michigan – The Irish and Eagles will meet for the first of three games this season on Sunday … the two teams are meeting for the sixth time on Sunday, with the Irish holding a 4-1 advantage in the series … Notre Dame swept a doubleheader from EMU last season at Ivy Field on March 20 … the Eagles are 5-12 in 2005 … Kelli Jeziorski leads the offense with a .326 batting average … four pitchers see significant time in the circle for EMU, led by Amy Brownfield’s 4.78 ERA.

Snapshot of the Irish: Notre Dame has struggled to find its 2005 identity this season, but might have found a successful formula over Spring Break. After struggling through the four weeks of the season with silent bats, the Irish offense exploded during Hawaii’s Spring Fling for 45 hits and 25 runs. The offensive production was, hopefully, a sign of good things to come for the team as they return to the Midwest for regional and BIG EAST Conference action.

Senior team captain Megan Ciolli (.357, 20 H, 5 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 8 SB) has led from the front since the team took the field this season. Juniors Kellie Middleton (.333, 18 H, 5 RBI, 10 SB) and Meagan Ruthrauff (.306, 4 2B, 12 RBI) have shown signs of giving Ciolli dedicated support in the Irish lineup.

The pitching staff has been somewhat steady for the Irish this season. Junior Heather Booth (7-3, 1.30 ERA) has turned in just one sub-par start (vs. Pacific) and has two shutouts and eight complete games to her credit. Senior Steffany Stenglein (2.00 ERA, 64 K in 49.0 IP) has been untouchable early in games, but has fallen off after the sixth inning and has allowed seven home runs this season. In the end, opponents are hitting just .161 against Stenglein in 2005.

Notre Dame’s defense, unsure of itself early in the season, has benefitted from one positional move. Junior Sara Schoonaert has taken over at shortstop and played great, while freshman Katie Laing has moved over to second base and been outstanding as well.

Irish continue on sixth of six consecutive weekends on the road: Notre Dame is not the only school in the nation that travels for a large majority of its early-season schedule, but the Irish pride themselves in taking on some of the best teams in the nation during that stretch. This weekend’s trip to Columbus will mark the sixth of six consecutive weekends of travel for the team, which began in Gainesville, Fla. (Feb. 11-13), then San Diego, Calif. (Feb. 18-20), followed by Palm Springs, Calif. (Feb. 25-27), the Los Angeles area (March 6-7), to Hawaii (March 9-12).

Two Irish players earn BIG EAST weekly awards: Juniors Heather Booth and Kellie Middleton earned weekly honors from the BIG EAST Conference on Monday after helping the University of Notre Dame softball team finish its Spring Break trip with a 6-1 record, including five-straight wins to end the week. The conference player of the week is the first BIG EAST award for Middleton, while Booth earns the third pitcher of the week accolade in her career.

Booth finished last week with a 3-0 record, making four appearances while allowing just two earned runs and striking out 16. She earned her second shutout of the season at UC Santa Barbara on March 7, keeping the Gauchos at bay as the Irish earned a 1-0 victory.

She also picked up two victories and a save during Notre Dame’s 4-0 run through the Spring Fling at the University of Hawai’i. She earned victories over the host team and Nevada, going the distance in both games and allowing just seven hits. Booth also earned her second career save against Virginia, entering the game with the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the seventh. She recorded a pop out and strike out to end the game.

For the week, Booth compiled a 0.71 ERA, allowing just 13 hits in 19.2 innings pitched.

Middleton served as the catalyst for the Irish offense, which exploded during last week’s Spring Break action. Notre Dame pounded out 45 hits and 25 runs during the Spring Fling and Middleton came out with the best overall statistical line from all the Irish starters.

The junior, who is back to full strength after missing 61 games last season with an injury, hit .563 in Notre Dame’s five games last week. She was unstoppable on the basepaths, swiping six bases in six attempts. No stolen base was bigger than her theft at UC Santa Barbara. She got on base with a bunt single, moved to second on a steal and scored on an RBI double by teammate Sara Schoonaert – the only run of the game.

Middleton was also hot in Notre Dame’s tournament action in Hawaii, going seven for 11 at the plate with two RBI and four stolen bases. She shared this week’s award with Providence’s Shannon Garvin.

Wisen posts second three-hit game of her career: Carrie Wisen’s three for three, two RBI performance at Hawaii on March 9 was the second two-hit game of the senior P/DP’s career. She also had three hits and two RBI against St. John’s on May 9, 2004.

Ciolli becomes first Notre Dame NPF draft selection: National Pro Fastpitch announced its 2005 Senior College Player Selections last week and current Irish senior Megan Ciolli was selected by the Chicago Bandits with the first selection of the second round (seventh overall).

Due to NCAA regulations, an active college player may not sign with her respective franchise until their 2005 college season is finished. Senior selections expire on July 15, 2005.

The NPF officially announced that it will enter the 2005 season with six teams – the Akron Racers, Arizona Heat, Chicago Bandits, New England Riptide, NY/NJ Juggernaut and the Texas Thunder. The California Sunbirds will remain part of the league but will suspend play in 2005 to restructure the franchise.

The Bandits will be competing in their first season in the NPF and have already signed Olympic Team standout Jennie Finch. The season will run through June 2 through August 28 and will consist of a 48-game regular season schedule for each team, an all-star game, playoffs and a Championship Series. NPF continues to be the Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball and has recently developed a new alliance with ASA/USA Softball and the International Softball Federation (ISF). This alliance will help promote international play by inviting teams from China, China Taipei, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia and Venezuela to play against NPF teams. A finalized schedule will be released in March.

Irish pitchers reach strikeout milestones in 2005: Senior Steffany Stenglein and junior Heather Booth have both reach strikeout milestones over the first six weeks of the `05 season. Stenglein struck out 11 batters against Utah on Feb. 18, becoming the third Irish pitcher to record 500 strikeouts in a career.

Stenglein currently has 544, trailing Terri Kobata (907) and Jennifer Sharron (728) on the all-time list.

Booth posted her 400th career strikeout against #3/4 UCLA in a hard-fought 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Feb. 25. She currently has 431 Ks to her credit and is the fourth Irish pitcher to clear that objective – joining Stenglein, Sharron and Kobata.

Hartmann reaches 100 career RBI, Ruthrauff closing in on milestone as well: Senior 3B Liz Hartmann drove in three runs last week during Hawaii’s Spring Fling, become the eighth Irish player to post 100 career RBI. She is now 25 behind Andria Bledsoe for seventh on the all-time list and will soon be joined by teammate and junior Meagan Ruthrauff, who has drove in 93 runs during her career.

Notre Dame earns second tournament title of 2005 at Hawaii Spring Fling: Notre Dame’s 4-0 run through an abbreviated Spring Fling tournament at the University of Hawaii earned the team its second tournament title of the year. Combined with the GRU Classic (Feb. 10-13 – see note that follows) Notre Dame joins the `01 team as the only Irish team to claim two early-season tournament titles (the `01 squad won the Holiday Inn Invitational at South Florida and the Frost Tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn.).

Notre Dame claims first initial weekend tournament title since 2001: Notre Dame’s three consecutive victories in the GRU Classic (Feb. 10-13) in Gainesville, Fla., pushed the Irish through to the tournament title. The first weekend tournament victory marks the first for Notre Dame since the 2001 season, when the Irish swept through the Holiday Inn Invitational at South Florida with a 5-0 record.

Irish own three wins over ranked teams in 2005: Notre Dame is 11-7 so far in 2003 and three of those victories have come against ranked teams. The Irish defeated #21 South Florida and #19 Florida on their first weekend out (Feb. 12-13), then knocked off #5/6 Tennessee last weekend in Palm Springs.

Under head coach Deanna Gumpf, the Irish have knocked off at least three ranked teams in three of four seasons (#25 South Florida, #4 Nebraska, #15 Oregon State in `02; #8 Nebraska, #14 Nebraska, #18 Nebraska in `04). The most ranked wins for the Irish came in 2001, when the team defeated eight teams ranked in the national top 25.

First back-to-back ranked wins since 2001: Notre Dame’s victories over #21 South Florida (5-1) on Saturday, Feb. 12, and #19 Florida on Sunday, Feb. 13, marked the first time since the 2001 season the Irish have posted two consecutive wins over a ranked opponents.

During the 2001 season, the Irish swept a doubleheader from #10 DePaul on April 19. To find the last time the Irish defeated two consecutive different ranked teams, you will fall back to 2000, when Notre Dame defeated #16 La.-Lafayette and #6 Oklahoma on March 18 at the Kia Klassic.

Ciolli looks to continue her climb up the career charts: Along with classmate Liz Hartmann, 2004 third-team All-American and BIG EAST Player of the Year Megan Ciolli has been a three-year starter since stepping on campus in 2001-02. Batting at the top of the lineup for a majority of her career (second freshman season, first sophomore season, third junior season), Ciolli has established herself as one of the top offensive players to ever don an Irish uniform.

Her current career rankings include third in batting average (.366 entering the weekend), fourth in stolen bases (51), seventh in runs scored (126), eighth in hits (232), ninth in home runs (12) and seventh in triples (eight). She also is poised to break into the top 10 in games played and doubles this season. A complete list of current Notre Dame players threatening career records appear on page eight of this notes package.

Ciolli on USA Softball Player of the Year watchlist: The Amateur Softball Association (ASA), the National Governing Body of Softball in the United States, has announced its initial watch list for the fourth-annual USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Senior centerfielder Megan Ciolli (Terre Haute, Ind.) was among the 40 players named to the list, which will eventually be pared down to proclaim the collegiate player of the year in 2005.

Considered the Heisman Trophy of collegiate softball, past winners of the award include UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman, Texas pitcher Cat Osterman and Florida State’s Jessica Van der Linden.

Ciolli appears on the initial watch list for the second consecutive season in 2005. The catalyst for the Irish offense in 2004, Ciolli hit a team-high .397 with 81 hits, 23 RBI and 20 stolen bases. The ’04 BIG EAST Player of the Year, Ciolli compiled an outstanding offensive season, finishing third on the all-time single season list for hits and second for stolen bases. Her .366 career batting average currently ranks third all-time at Notre Dame.

Named team captain by a vote of her teammates earlier this semester, Ciolli will continue her climb up the career offensive charts in 2005. She currently ranks eighth all-time in career hits (232 – and should become the all-time leader this season), ninth in home runs (12) and fourth in stolen bases (51).

A list of 25 candidates for the award will be released on April 5, with another list of 10 following on May 10. Three finalists will be announced on May 31 with the winner proclaimed at the 2005 NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

South Bend plays host to the 2005 BIG EAST Championship: For the third time in the last four years, the BIG EAST Softball Championship will be held in a neutral/off-campus site in 2005.

After Salem, Va., served as the tournament’s site in 2002 and 2003, the City of South Bend, Ind., will welcome the 2005 BIG EAST Softball Championship to the Belleville Complex on the far west side of town.

The Belleville Complex is one of the best softball-only facilities in Indiana and served as host to over 3,000 fans when the U.S. Olympic Team played an exhibition doubleheader in July of 2005.

Irish picked to finish first in the BIG EAST: The University of Notre Dame softball team has been picked to win its 10th consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular-season crown by the league’s coaches, as announced by the conference on office on Tuesday, Jan. 11. The conference’s 10 head coaches rank every team except their own, with Notre Dame garnering all nine possible first place votes.

The Irish will return a veteran team in 2005, led by ’04 All-American senior CF Megan Ciolli and two of the top pitchers in the nation – senior Steffany Stenglein and junior Heather Booth. Ciolli was named the ’04 BIG EAST Player of the Year while Stenglein earned the league’s pitcher of the year award last season.

Head coach Deanna Gumpf’s team graduated just one player last season, first-team all-BIG EAST pick OF Nicole deFau. The Irish are expected to be back at full strength, however, with senior 3B Liz Hartmann, junior C Mallorie Lenn and junior OF Kellie Middleton all back to full strength after dealing with an assortment of injuries over the past offseason.

Seton Hall, who bested the Irish in four games late last season, was picked to finish second in the league, followed by Villanova, Boston College and Syracuse.

The league falls to 10 teams in 2005 with the movement of Virginia Tech to the ACC. The conference will bounce back in 2006, however, as it welcomes DePaul, Louisville and South Florida into the league – three of the top programs in the nation.

California girls: While three trips to the west coast gives the Irish an opportunity to face several of the top teams in the country this season, Notre Dame’s appearances in San Diego (Feb. 18-20), Palm Springs (Feb. 25-27) and the Los Angeles area (March 6-7) also will provide the seven California natives on the team will a chance to play in their home state.

Heather Booth (Riverside), Liz Hartmann (Novato), Carissa Jaquish (Highland), Mallorie Lenn (Garden Grove), Meagan Ruthrauff (La Mirada), Steffany Stenglein (Huntington Beach) and Carrie Wisen (Fullerton) are the seven California natives on the `05 Irish roster.

Incoming freshman class of 2006: University of Notre Dame head softball coach Deanna Gumpf has announced the signing of seven student-athletes to national letters of intent last week, landing one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.

Brittney Bargar (Corona, Calif.), Christine Farrell (La Habra, Calif.), Erin Glasco (Johnston City, Ill.), Linda Kohan (Westminster, Calif.), Alexandra Kotcheff (Beverly Hills, Calif.), Stephanie Mola (Naples, Fla.) and Beth Northway (Kentwood, Mich.) will make up the class of 2009.

“This is one of the best recruiting classes I have seen in my career and I feel it is the best in the country,” Gumpf says of the group.

“The quality and diversity of this class is second to none. The entire staff is excited to have this group of players join the Notre Dame family.”

The class hails from across the country with four California natives, plus players from Michigan, Illinois and Florida. The group also is made up of two pitchers (Bargar, Farrell), a catcher (Glasco), an infielder (Kohan), two outfielders (Kotcheff, Mola) and an infielder/outfielder (Northway) – giving the class excellent balance at all positions.

BIG EAST loses one team before gaining three in 2006: With the shift of Virginia Tech to the ACC for the `05 season, the BIG EAST drops down to 10 teams this season before expanding to 13 teams next year when DePaul, South Florida and Louisville join the league (Marquette and Cincinnati to do not compete in softball).

With the addition of three traditional powers, the BIG EAST Conference will quickly become one of the best softball conferences east of the Mississippi.

High school teammates: Sophomore Stephanie Brown and freshman Katie Laing are just the third combination of high school teammates to play for the Irish since the program began. Both Brown and Laing played for Corona del Sol in the Chandler, Ariz., area during their prep careers. Debbie Boulac and Stephanie Pinter, both from South Bend, Ind., and St. Joseph High School, played together from 1990-93. Jennifer Sharron and Jessica Sharron, the first second set of sisters to play for the Irish, were on the Notre Dame roster together in 2000 and 2001.

Sisters Debbie and Diane Boulac both played for the Irish, but were not on the same team together.

Schedule adjustment: The Notre Dame – Loyola-Chicago game, scheduled for March 31, has been previously released as a home game for the Irish. The game will be played in Chicago on Loyola’s campus.

Schedule adjustment II: There has been another shift in the Irish schedule. The previously scheduled home game vs. Illinois-Chicago on April 14 has been shifted to an away contest at UIC for 7 p.m. The road game at UIC on April 27 has been cancelled.

Notre Dame Nabs Top Spot In Directors’ Cup Standings: Notre Dame stands first in the final set of fall sports standings released in the 2004-05 United States Sports Academy Division I Directors’ Cup all-sports competition sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (formerly known as Sears Directors’ Cup). This marks the first time in the 12-year history of the all-sports program that Notre Dame has ranked number one, surpassing a second ranking in the 2004-05 second set of fall standings.

Fall NCAA competition earned the Irish 337 points based on their NCAA title in women’s soccer (100 points), their fourth-place finish in women’s cross country (80), 11th-place finish in men’s cross country (57) and second-round NCAA appearances in men’s soccer and volleyball (50 each).

Michigan (333 points) stands second, followed by Stanford (332), Duke (327) and UCLA (297).

The current standings include results from NCAA fall competition in volleyball, field hockey, men’s water polo, men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s and women’s soccer and football. In previous years in which the Directors’ Cup competition has been held, Notre Dame has finished 11th in ’93-’94, 30th in ’94-’95, 11th in ’95-’96, 14th in ’96-’97, 31st in ’97-’98, 25th in ’98-99, 21st in ’99-’00, 11th in ’00-’01, 13th in ’01-02 and ’02-’03 and 19th in ’03-’04.