Freshman second base Katie Laing is second on the team in batting average, boasting a .327 number heading into Wednesday's doubleheader with Valparaiso.

Softball Returns To Action After Easter Weekend Break

March 29, 2005

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Notre Dame (14-8) vs. Valparaiso (0-17)
Wednesday, March 30, 2005 (4 p.m.)
Notre Dame at Loyola Chicago
Single Game
Thursday, March 31, 2005 (5 p.m.)

After brief Easter break, Irish back to full schedule: The University of Notre Dame softball team (14-8) begins its final push toward the post season on Wednesday when it plays host to Valparaiso (0-17) in the two team’s traditional yearly matchup. The doubleheader will begin a string of 10 games in eight days, as the Irish will travel to Chicago for a single game with Loyola on Thursday, take to the road for their first BIG EAST Conference trip this weekend (at Rutgers and Villanova), then return home for a doubleheader next week with Eastern Michigan (Tuesday) and a single game with Ball State (Thursday).

Notre Dame played just one game last week, defeating Western Michigan 2-1 on a two-run double by senior Carrie Wisen in the bottom of the seventh. Previously schedule as a doubleheader on Wednesday, March 23, the game was moved to Thursday, March 24, and the teams played just one game.

Notre Dame quick hits: What you need to know about the Irish for Wednesday’s doubleheader:

• Notre Dame has won its last 22 meetings with Valparaiso, dating back to the 1990 season.

• Senior Steffany Stenglein has thrown two no-hitters vs. Valparaiso in her career. She combined with Carrie Wisen during the 2002 season in a 4-0 victory and also pitched a six-inning perfect game with 14 strikeouts last year at Valparaiso.

• Notre Dame and Loyola-Chicago, who have been regular opponents during both school’s history (both were members of the MCC at one time), did not meet during the 2004 season, marking the first year since 1997 that the two teams did not play.

Series history vs. opponents and team analysis:

Valparaiso – The Crusaders have struggled this season playing a demanding schedule, starting the season with an 0-17 record. Valparaiso is hitting just .178 as a team, but they are led on offense by Megan Carroll (.333, 1 HR, 3 RBI). Chris Halstead (0-9, 5.68 ERA) and Brittany Atteberry (0-3, 3.04 ERA) have seen a majority of the innings for the Crusaders.

Notre Dame and Valparaiso will be meeting for the 26th and 27th time on Wednesday. The Irish lead the all-time series 23-2 and have won the last 22 meetings. Valparaiso’s last victory in the series occurred during the 1989 season at Ivy Field.

Loyola-Chicago – The Irish and Ramblers will be meeting for the 35th time on Thursday, with Notre Dame leading the all-time series 29-5. Loyola is 7-11 in 2005 and are coming off a 6-1 victory at Indiana on March 20 (a doubleheader at Michigan State last week was cancelled).

Snapshot of the Irish: Notre Dame has endeavored 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 (.368, 25 H, 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 11 SB) has led from the front since the team took the field this season. Juniors Kellie Middleton (.309, 21 H, 5 RBI, 11 SB) and Meagan Ruthrauff (.306, 4 2B, 13 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 (9-4, 1.42 ERA) has turned in just one sub-par start (vs. Pacific) and has two shutouts and nine complete games to her credit. Senior Steffany Stenglein (2.07 ERA, 87 K in 61.0 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 .170 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 performed well, while freshman Katie Laing has moved over to second base and been steady.

Stenglein posting eye-popping strikeout numbers: With 24 strikeouts in her last three appearances, senior Steffany Stenglein is fast approaching the 600-strikeout barrier – after just reaching 500 strikeouts this season. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native has struck out 87 batters in 61 innings this season, a ratio of 10 Ks per 7.0 innings pitched. She has reached double-digit strikeouts three times this season and has posted at least nine in three of her last four starting appearances. She currently has 567 career strikeouts and is on pace to become the third Irish player to reach 600 Ks in her career.

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 567, 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 441 Ks to her credit and is the fourth Irish pitcher to clear that objective – joining Stenglein, Sharron and Kobata.

Ruthrauff looking for 100 career RBI: After senior Liz Hartmann cleared the 100-RBI barrier at Hawai’i’s Spring Fling two weeks ago, junior Meagan Ruthrauff is looking to join her teammate in the 100-RBI club at Notre Dame.

Hartmann became the eighth player to post 100 RBI in a career – and Ruthrauff will become the ninth some time this season. Ruthrauff currently has 94 RBI. She drove in 54 last season, becoming just the second Irish player to post over 50 RBI in a single season.

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 14-8 this season and three of those 14 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 second in batting average (.367 entering Wednesday’s doubleheader), fourth in stolen bases, sixth in runs scored, seventh in hits, ninth in home runs and seventh in triples. She also is poised to break into the top 10 in games played and doubles this season and is on pace to break the hits and stolen base records 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 .367 career batting average currently ranks second 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 seventh all-time in career hits (237 – and should become the all-time leader this season), ninth in home runs (12) and fourth in stolen bases (54).

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.

Notre Dame will face two of the three new teams entering the league in 2006 this season. The Irish split two games with South Florida at the GRU Classic in Gainesville, Fla., and wil travel to DePaul for a doubleheader on April 19.

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 Now Third In Directors’ Cup Standings: The University of Notre Dame stands in third place in the first set of winter 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).

The current standing comes after the Irish finished the fall seasons in first place — marking the first time in the 12-year history of the program that Notre Dame ranked number one. The previous highest ranking for the Irish had been second in the 2004-05 second set of fall standings.

Winter competition so far has netted Notre Dame 153 points — based on its NCAA combined men’s and women’s championship in fencing (50 points), a 24th-place NCAA finish in women’s swimming (49.5 points) and a 20th-place NCAA finish in men’s indoor track and field (53.5 points). Still to come are points from Notre Dame’s second-round NCAA appearance in women’s basketball. 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 points), their 11th-place finish in men’s cross country (57 points) and their second-round NCAA appearances in both men’s soccer and volleyball (50 points each).

Michigan (615.75 points) is first, highlighted by an NCAA runnerup finish in wrestling, a quarterfinal appearance in field hockey and a sixth-place finish in women’s cross country. Stanford (609.75 points) stands second, thanks to its NCAA title in volleyball.

The current standings include results from NCAA fall competition in football, volleyball, field hockey, water polo, men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s and women’s soccer – and from winter competition in fencing, rifle, skiing, women’s swimming, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and wrestling.

The second set of winter standings will be available April 7, with additional winter totals released on April 14 and April 28.

In previous years in which the Directors’ Cup competition has been held, Notre Dame has finished 11th in 1993-94, 30th in 1994-95, 11th in 1995-96, 14th in 1996-97, tied for 31st in 1997-98, 25th in 1998-99, 21st in 1999-2000, 11th in 2000-01, 13th in 2001-02, tied for 13th in 2002-03 and 19th in 2003-04.

Here are the current standings: 1.Michigan 615.75, 2.Stanford 609.75, 3.Notre Dame 490, 4.Texas 471.25, 5.Wisconsin 461.25, 6.UCLA 455.5, 7.Duke 427.5, 8.Tennessee 412.25, 9.Colorado 388.5, 10.Nebraska and Ohio State 386.5.