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Softball Looking Forward To The NFCA Leadoff Classic Challenge

Feb. 19, 2003

Complete Release in PDF Format, which includes team roster, BIG EAST standings, statistical breakdowns and more.
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2003 NFCA Leadoff ClassicColumbus, Ga.

#23 Notre Dame vs. #4 California, Friday, Feb. 21, 5 p.m.

#23 Notre Dame vs. Illinois State, Friday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.

#23 Notre Dame vs. #17 Alabama, Saturday, Feb. 22, 12:30 p.m.

Bracket play begins Saturday, Feb. 22, 5 p.m.

Irish head to Georgia for the NFCA Leadoff Classic:

The University of Notre Dame softball team (2-2) heads south once again this weekend to participate in one of the elite tournaments of the season – the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga.

This is the eighth annual Leadoff Classic and it boasts 24 of the top teams in the nation, including six teams that competed in the 2002 Women’s College World Series.

The tournament format consists of six, four-team pools. Following pool play, the top team from each pool, along with two at-large teams, will advance to the gold championship bracket. The remaining four second-place teams along with four at-large teams will be placed in the silver bracket and the remaining eight teams will make up the bronze bracket. All brackets will be single elimination/consolation and each team will play a minimum of five games regardless of pool or bracket assignments.

The NFCA Leadoff Classic field: Pool 1: #17 Alabama, #4 California, Illinois State and #23 Notre Dame. Pool 2: #7 Cal State Fullerton, #9 LSU, #10 Oklahoma and Villanova. Pool 3: #14 Arizona State, #8 DePaul, Liberty and #21 Ohio State. Pool 4: #11 Florida State, #25 Massachusetts, #18 Oregon State and #20 Pacific. Pool 5: #3 Nebraska, North Carolina, Southern Mississippi and #12 Stanford. Pool 6: #15 Michigan, #16 South Carolina, Temple and #5 Washington.

Notre Dame’s NFCA Leadoff Classic history:

The Irish have won eight out of 22 games at the NFCA Leadoff Classic since 1996. Notre Dame’s 2002 visit to the tournament was marked by several close losses to Texas A&M (2-1), #8 Arizona State (3-2) and #4 Oklahoma. In fact, Arizona State hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to win the game and the tying run for Notre Dame was thrown out at the plate in the seventh inning against Oklahoma.

Series history vs. California and game preview:

Notre Dame and #4 California have met just once prior to their matchup on Friday evening, a 2-1 victory by the Bears at the 1999 NIT in San Jose, Calif. Cal is the defending national champion, marking the second straight season the Irish have faced the winner of the Women’s College World Series (Notre Dame played Arizona twice in 2002).

Cal enters Friday’s game with a 10-2 record and seven home games already played. They are led on offense by Veronica Nelson (.450 avg., eigth RBI) and in the circle by Kelly Anderson (1.26 ERA, 45 Ks in 39.0 IP). Their two setbacks this season have come to Hawai’i (1-0) and Nebraska (6-1).

Series history vs. Illinois State and game preview:

The Irish and Redbirds have met four times, with Notre Dame holding a 3-1 lead in the series. The teams last met in 2002 at the Aggie Invitational in College Station, Texas, a 1-0 win for the Irish.

Illinois State brings a 6-5 record into this weekend’s tournament and boasts two wins over Iowa and Utah State this season. Freshman Tricia Gaither is the top offensive threat, hitting .300 this season with nine hits and seven runs scored. Pitchers Audra Rast and Corey Harris both boast 3-2 records, with Rast sporting a 1.85 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 34 innings.

Series history vs. Alabama and game preview:

Saturday, Feb. 22, will mark the first meeting between Notre Dame and #17 Alabama in softball. The Crimson Tide are 8-5 on the young season and boast wins over #10 Cal State Fullerton and #16 Ohio State. Alabama also lost to #1 UCLA by one run on the Bruins home field. The Tide has four players hitting over .300, led by Jennifer Reach (.387) and Jackie McClain (.375, 12 RBI).

The pitching staff is led by Erin Wright, who has a 2.79 ERA and 46 Ks in 37.2 innings.

Freshman getting it done early this season:

Notre Dame’s freshman class, which was expected to have an immediate impact on the team in 2003, lived up to its billing at the USF/Wilson Tournament in Tampa, Fla., last weekend.

Heather Booth, Mallorie Lenn, Kellie Middleton, Sara Schoonaert and Meagan Ruthrauff all played key roles in Notre Dame’s contests last weekend.

Heather Booth – Booth suffered the hard-luck loss to South Florida in Notre Dame’s first game, but came right back in the nightcap to grab her first career victory. Booth threw five innings against Kent State, picking up the win after giving up one run on four hits and striking out two. The rookie came back the next day in relief of Carrie Wisen and worked 4.2 innings against Jacksonville, giving up three hits and striking out eight to get her second win of the season.

Mallorie Lenn – Lenn caught her first four games as the new Irish catcher last weekend and also contributed two hits and three RBI. One of those RBI came in the top of the seventh against South Florida to tie up the game.

Kellie Middleton – Ended up with two stolen bases on the weekend, but her ‘first career’ accomplishments from the weekend overshadow her base running abilities. In her first defensive chance of her career, Middleton gunned down a Kent State runner trying to score from third on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. Middleton also posted a memorable first career hit, hitting a three-run home run against Hofstra.

Sara Schoonaert – Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf’s first pinch runner option, Schoonaert stole her first career base last weekend and scored the game-winning run in both Irish victories.

Meagan Ruthrauff – Ruthrauff enjoyed perhaps the best weekend of all her classmates. She cranked out five hits, four RBI and six total bases and contributed key hits in all of Notre Dame’s four games.

Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf in her second season:

Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf led her team to a 44-17 record in 2002 – her first season as the program’s leader. A former assistant at Notre Dame and player at Nebraska (’92), Gumpf and her staff landed the BIG EAST Conference Coaching Staff of the Year award and shared the NFCA Mideast Region Coaching Staff of the Year award with Wisconsin last season.

Among Notre Dame’s many accomplishments in 2002, the Irish advanced to the final day of competition at the NCAA regionals for the second-consecutive season, won the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament titles and set school records for home runs (54) and fielding percentage (.971).

Notre Dame slips to 23rd in latest USA Today/NFCA Top 25:

After splitting its first four games of the season, Notre Dame is currently ranked 23rd in the latest USA Today/NFCA Top 25, down from its preseason spot of 17th.

A number of Irish opponents are in the latest ranking, including #4 California and #17 Alabama, who the Irish will face this weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic.

Irish team strength lies in veteran infield:

There is no secret where the Notre Dame team strength lies this season. Three-year starters Andrea Loman (third base), Andria Bledsoe (short stop) and Alexis Madrid (second base) return to lead the team this season on offense, defense and as team tri-captains.

All three players have key roles in Notre Dame’s offensive numbers and defensive prowess. The Irish set a team record for fielding percentage in 2002 (.971) and committed just 50 errors on 1,678 chances. Notre Dame also hit a team-record 54 home runs in ’02.

Loman excels on offense and defense and is widely regarded as one of the best third basemen in the country.

The Riverside, Calif., native led the team with a .377 average last season, putting up 12 home runs, 43 RBI and 66 hits. She ranks in the top five all-time in Notre Dame history for fielding percentage.

Bledsoe is among the Irish leaders on offense and defense as well. The Higley, Ariz., native drove in 43 runs last year on 56 hits. She also hit a career-best seven home runs and was steady on defense, compiling a .970 fielding percentage.

Madrid dropped from hitting over .300 in 2001 to a .225 clip last season. She did steal 10 bases (third-best on the team) and contribute 95 assists on defense.

Notre Dame’s infield also features two-time first-team all-BIG EAST selection Lisa Mattison at first base. Mattison hit .325 in ’02 with 27 RBI and four home runs.

Two Irish players on player-of-the-year watch list: The Amateur Softball Association (ASA), the national governing body of softball in the United States, has announced its initial watch list for the second annual USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award.

Notre Dame’s Andrea Loman and Megan Ciolli were among the 40 players on the watch list.

The award, which is considered the Heisman Trophy in women’s collegiate softball and is the only national player of the year award, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country.

The initial watch list is comprised of 40 players that represent 23 college and 11 different collegiate conferences. Event if a player doesn’t appear on the initial watch list, they are still eligible for the award. The first 25 finalists will be announced on May 13th, then down to 10 on April 29th and three on May 13th. The winner will be announced at the 2003 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

California girls:

Just a quick glance at the 2003 Notre Dame softball roster can beg the question, is the ND campus located on the west coast?

In all, 10 Irish players call California home – that is over 50% of the Irish roster. Add in head coach Deanna Gumpf (La Palma) and the Notre Dame softball team has a distinctive Golden State flavor.

The California girls: Steffany Stenglein (Huntington Beach), Carrie Wisen (Fullerton), Jessica Sharron (Agoura Hills), Liz Hartmann (Novato), Chantal DeAlcuaz (Modesto), Alexis Madrid (Temecula), Mallorie Lenn (Garden Grove), Heather Booth (Riverside), Andrea Loman (Riverside) and Meagan Ruthrauff (La Mirada).

Notre Dame preseason favorite to win the BIG EAST Conference:

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.

2002 BIG EASTPreseason 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

Mallorie Lenn wins gold medal with the U.S. Junior National team:

Freshman Mallorie Lenn landed a spot on the U.S. Junior National team that eventually won the First Junior Women’s Pan American Championship in Hermosillo, Mexico.

Lenn, from Garden Grove, Calif., was one of the starting catchers on the U.S. team that did not surrender a single run during the tournament. The team was potent on offense as well, dispatching Netherlands Antilles 21-0, Guatemala 20-0 and Jamaica 20-0.

The U.S.’s main competition in the tournament was Canada, and in the first match up during round-robin play Lenn provided the game-winning RBI in her team’s 1-0 victory. Lenn also served as the catcher for the gold-medal game against Canada (a 2-0 U.S. victory).

The victory provided the USA with a berth in the 2003 International Softball Federation Junior Women’s World Championships in Nanjin, China, during the summer of 2003.

All-Time Record:

Entering the 2003 season, Notre Dame softball has posted 556 wins in 14 seasons (almost 40 wins per season). The Irish have won 67% of their games and have never posted a losing season.

Road Warriors:

February isn’t the best time to play softball in Northern Indiana, so the Notre Dame softball team hits the road exclusively during the first two months of the season to take on some of the best teams in the nation. In just the last five years, Notre Dame has visited Arizona, Georgia, California, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Nevada, Hawaii and Oklahoma in early-season tournament action. This year, the Irish have already visited Tampa, Fla., for the USF/Wilson Tournament, and will travel to Columbus, Ga., for the NFCA Leadoff Classic, Lafayette, Louisiana, for a tournament hosted by the Lady Cajuns and Southern California for the Kia Klassic.

Loman among the best at her position:

Already known as one of the best in the Midwest prior to the 2002 season, senior Andrea Loman finally earned national acclaim for her spectacular play at the end of Notre Dame’s ’02 campaign. Loman earned third-team NFCA/Louisville Slugger All-American accolades in addition to being named the BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player.

She began her season last weekend with four hits in 12 at bats, putting up a home run and two RBI with two stolen bases.

Loman excels both offensively and defensively for Notre Dame, driving in runs and taking away many players ability to drop a bunt down the third-base line. Loman’s .962 fielding percentage for the ’02 season is impressive by itself (219 chances) but six of her eight errors were committed after she broke a finger on her throwing hand in a doubleheader at Seton Hall. Her career fielding percentage stands at .981 entering the 2003 season.

Not just a power hitter, Loman is able to hit for average (.377 in ’02) and steal bases when she gets on (a team-high 16 stolen bases last season).

Irish will not back down from the best in the country:

In what has become an annual tradition for the Notre Dame softball team, the Irish will spend the first two month of the season crisscrossing the country and taking on the best teams in the nation.

Notre Dame began the year this weekend at the USF/Wilson Tournament in Tampa, Fla., facing traditional power South Florida and several NCAA east regional teams, including Hofstra and Rhode Island.

This weekend finds Notre Dame at the challenging NFCA Leadoff Classic taking on defending national champion #4 California, Illinois State and #17 Alabama. The Irish head to the Bayou the next weekend for a tournament at Louisiana-Lafayette before going west to the 2003 Kia Klassic in Fullerton, Calif. Notre Dame will face #22 Fresno State, #3 Nebraska and #8 DePaul at the Kia this year.

Notre Dame’s regular-season schedule also features the Cornhuskers and Blue Demons in late April.

In an unusual conglomeration of events, Notre Dame ended up playing three innings of its best softball of the season against Rhode Island on Monday, Feb. 17. Unfortunately, none of the hits, stolen bases and runs counted. Notre Dame’s commitment to missing the minimum amount of classes this season forced the game to be ended in the third inning and eventually cancelled.

Notre Dame was able to get in its two games on Sunday, Feb. 16, against Jacksonville and Hofstra. Rain force the postponement of the remaining games on Sunday, forcing a reschedule of the contests for Monday morning. Notre Dame’s matchup with Rhode Island on Monday was pushed back to 12 noon from 10 a.m.

The problem arose when the Jacksonville – Kent State game did not get over until 12:30 p.m. on Monday. With the Irish already missing classes on Monday (Notre Dame does not get a day off for President’s Day), they would have to leave in time to make their flight out of Tampa at 4 p.m. (getting Notre Dame back into South Bend around 10:30 p.m.). The coaches and umpires agreed that the game could not be played much past 2 p.m.

Notre Dame promptly put 12 runs on the board in the first three innings, and starting pitcher Steffany Stenglein did not surrender a hit to the Rhode Island offense. Scoring 12 runs takes time, however, and by the time the third inning ended, it was 2 p.m.

Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf attempted to play until the fifth inning to get an official game out of the contest, but the umpires, citing the 2 p.m. deadline, cancelled the game and wiped out all the statistics.

“It was an unusual circumstance, but I am just satisfied with the way we played on Monday,” Gumpf said after the game.

“There was nothing we could do about the timing. But the team I saw on the field on Monday was the team we were looking for all weekend. Getting a win, at this time of the season, will not help us in the big picture. We just need to remember how we played in that game and carry it on to the next.”

Looking for Notre Dame livestats?

Live statistics will be available for all Notre Dame home games this season. An effort is being launched to do some of Notre Dame’s preseason away games, but it will be dependent on phone line availability at the various fields/complexes/stadiums. Unfortunately, no live stats will be available for the NFCA Leadoff Classic. Fans can call 574-631-3000 for the Notre Dame sports information hotline, which will be updated as soon as possible after the games this weekend.