Jan. 8, 2003
The BIG EAST Conference has released its 2002 preseason softball poll and the University of Notre Dame softball team ended up as the top choice, as voted on by the league’s coaches, to win the 2003 league championship. The Irish received 99 points in the conference’s preseason release, ahead of Syracuse in second place (85) and Villanova (75) in third. Notre Dame received nine first-place votes, while Villanova and Virginia Tech each received one.
Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf, the 2002 BIG EAST Coach of the Year, returns a stellar veteran infield for the 2003 season. First-team all-BIG EAST selections Andrea Loman (third base), Andria Bledsoe (short stop) and Lisa Mattison (first base) will all be back on the lineup sheet in this season, joined by 2002 second-team all-BIG EAST selection Alexis Madrid (second base).
Loman also earned third-team All-America honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Louisville Slugger in 2002. She ended up with a .377 batting average, 12 home runs, 43 RBI and 16 stolen bases. Bledsoe was one of the leading RBI producers as well, knocking in 43 runs with 11 doubles and seven home runs. Mattison finished up with career-highs in hits (53), home runs (4) an RBI (27) while hitting .325.
The outfield features all-conference and all-region selection Megan Ciolli along with Liz Hartmann – who set the freshman record for home runs in a season (seven) last year.
Notre Dame’s pitching staff should be strong in 2003 as well. Sophomores Steffany Stenglein and Carrie Wisen both logged over 170 innings last season, with Stenglein setting school season records for innings pitched (250.2), appearances (54) and starts (47) while matching the school mark for wins (27) in a season. Stenglein was a first-team all-BIG EAST selection while Wisen joined her on the league’s all-rookie team.
Other veteran players returning to the lineup this season include reliever Jessica Sharron, IF/OF Nicole deFau and catcher Chantal DeAlcuaz.
The Irish also will be bolstered by an outstanding freshman class which includes RHP Heather Booth, C/1B Mallorie Lenn (who recently saw international competition as a member of the gold-medal winning USA Junior National Team at the Pan American Championship in Mexico), IF/OF Kellie Middleton, IF/OF Sara Schoonaert and IF/OF Meagan Ruthrauff.
Notre Dame ended the 2002 season with a 44-17 record, losing to #7 Nebraska in the championship game of the NCAA Region VII tournament in Iowa City, Iowa. Ending up with a final national ranking of 19th, the Irish lost the first game of the BIG EAST Championship to Virginia Tech last season before rallying to win four consecutive games and claim their third conference title in four years. Loman was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Notre Dame begins practice for the 2003 season on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The regular season schedule begins Saturday, Feb. 15, as the Irish take on South Florida in USF’s Wilson Tournament.
2002 BIG EAST Preseason Softball Poll
Rank, team, (first place votes), points, ’02 record
1. Notre Dame (9), 99 pts., 44-17
2. Syracuse, 85 pts., 25-21
3. Villanova (1), 75 pts., 45-15
4. Virginia Tech (1), 71 pts., 42-18
5. Seton Hall, 69 pts., 29-17
6. Boston College, 63 pts., 26-26
7. St. John’s, 36 pts., 23-30-1
8. Rutgers, 35 pts., 22-25
9. Connecticut, 31 pts., 5-15
10. Pittsburgh, 30 pts., 21-33
11. Providence, 11 pts., 5-15