Dec. 16, 2003
The University of Notre Dame softball team has been picked to finish first in the BIG EAST Conference for the 2004 season, as voted on by the league coaches and released by the conference office on Tuesday. The Irish garnered seven of 11 first place votes and 95 total points in the poll, followed by Villanova (83 points) and Boston College (74).
Notre Dame won a share of the BIG EAST regular-season crown for the seventh-straight season last year, finishing the conference schedule with a 14-3 record. Led by conference player of the year Andrea Loman, Notre Dame swept through the BIG EAST Championship, scoring 21 runs in three games and earning the title on a walk off home run by Loman in the ninth inning against Villanova.
While the Irish have been picked to repeat as league champions, they will be challenged to fill many crucial spots in the defensive line up and batting order. Notre Dame will display an entirely new infield next season, as all four starting players graduated last May. Junior Megan Ciolli (career .350 hitter) and classmate Liz Hartmann (16 career home runs) hope to lead the offense, helped by sophomore Meagan Ruthrauff (.310 avg., 27 RBI in ’03) and sophomore Mallorie Lenn (6 HR, 25 RBI in ’03).
The Irish will field a strong contingent of pitchers for the 2004 season. BIG EAST Rookie of the Year Heather Booth returns after a 21-10, 1.93 ERA rookie season last spring. Junior Steffany Stenglein will be fully healthy after off season surgery a year ago and looks to regain her rookie form (career record of 37-16, 2.47 ERA). Junior Carrie Wisen (24-8, 1.89 ERA, 207.0 IP) will also play a factor, as will freshman Kenya Fuemmeler (RHP, Missouri state strike out record holder).
Notre Dame begins the 2004 season on Friday, Feb. 13, in Las Vegas, Nev., against NCAA runner-up California during the UNLV Classic. The Irish will face Hawaii, Nebraska, UNLV and Portland State during the tournament.
Notre Dame’s fall travels will take the team to Palm Springs, Calif., (where they will face the U.S. Olympic team in an exhibition on Feb.21), Columbus, Ga., for the NFCA Leadoff Classic, Boca Raton, Fla., and Tallahassee, Fla.
The home schedule begins on Saturday, March 20, with a doubleheader against Eastern Michigan. The BIG EAST Conference slate starts in April, with the Irish hosting UConn on Friday, April 2, at 4 p.m.
2004 BIG EAST Preseason Softball Coaches Poll
1. Notre Dame, 95 points
2. Villanova, 83 points
3. Boston College, 74 points
4. Seton Hall, 70 points
5. St. John’s, 55 points
Virginia Tech, 55 points
7. Syracuse, 50 points
8. Connecticut, 49 points
9. Rutgers, 43 points
10. Pittsburgh, 20 points
11. Providence, 12 points