Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Official Athletics Website

Softball Will Begin Spring Break At Florida Atlantic

March 3, 2004

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2004 FAU/Worth Invitational Boca Raton, Fla. * March 6 & 7 *FAU Field

#23 Notre Dame (10-4) vs. Massachusetts (4-7), Saturday, March 6, 10:00 a.m.

#23 Notre Dame vs. Florida International (4-13), Saturday, March 6, 12:00 p.m.

#23 Notre Dame vs. North Carolina (11-7), Sunday, March 7, 2:00 p.m.

#23 Notre Dame vs. Florida Atlantic (17-9), Sunday, March 7, 5:00 p.m.

Irish Quick Facts:

* Notre Dame will be making its first appearance at Florida Atlantic this weekend, taking part in the FAU/Worth Invitational.

* The Irish are coming off a great weekend, as the team went 5-1 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic to win the Silver Bracket Championship.

* Notre Dame’s performance over the first 14 games (10-4) matches the second-best start in school history, behind the 13-1 record posted by the 2001 team.

Irish begin Florida Spring Break trip in Boca Raton:

Notre Dame has shifted across the country for its Spring Break trip in 2004, taking off for a week of competition and practice in Florida. This spring marks the first since 1998 the Irish will not be in California during break and it is the first season since 2000 Notre Dame is not taking part in the Kia Klassic at CS Fullerton (the tournament was moved off of Notre Dame’s Spring Break week in ’04).

The Irish begin their trip in Boca Raton, Fla., taking part in the Florida Atlantic/Worth Invitational. Notre Dame will face Massachusetts, Florida International, North Carolina and Florida Atlantic during the two-day tournament. The Irish will eventually move up the state to take on Florida State (March 11), before entering FSU’s Seminole Classic on March 12, 13 and 14.

Gametracker will be available:

In conjunction with the Florida Atlantic website, will offer Gametracker this weekend for all four of Notre Dame’s games in the FAU/Worth Invitational. Gametracker provides live statistics, boxscores and play by play (updated after each play in real time) for free. To find the Gametracker link, go to the main page, scroll down the right side of the page to the correct game and click on the Gametracker link.

The FAU/Worth Invitational field: A quick look at Notre Dame’s competition in the FAU/Worth Invitational this weekend –

Massachusetts: UMass enters the tournament with an overall record of 4-7 … Katie Jo Kelley has been the main offensive threat so far in 2004, hitting .214 with 3 HR and 9 RBI … Candice Molinari is currently hitting .333 with three stolen bases … the pitching staff is led by Jenna Busa, who is 2-4 in ’04 with a 3.08 ERA … Notre Dame and Massachusetts will be meeting for the third time (the series is tied 1-1) and for the first time since 1997 (a 1-0 victory for Massachusetts).

Florida International: The Golden Panthers are 4-13 in 2004 … the offense is led by Lindsay Tippings (.295, 6 RBI) and Jacque Vetters (.229, 2 HR, 6 RBI) … the FIU pitching staff has thrown well this season, boasting a 1.38 staff ERA … Amanda Nealer has started eight contests (1-4, 1.51 ERA, 43 Ks in 51.0 IP) … Saturday will mark the first meeting between Notre Dame and Florida International in softball.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels are 11-7 on the season … Emily Price paces the offense with a .444 batting average, four home runs and 16 RBI … Dionne Streete is hitting .431 with three home runs and 12 RBI … the pitching staff has both Crystal Cox (6-3, 2.49 ERA) and Alison Yin (4-4, 3.38 ERA) in the starting rotation … Notre Dame and North Carolina will be meeting for the eighth time, with the Irish holding a 5-2 advantage in the series … the last meetings occurred in 1999 at the National Invitational Tournament, where the Irish defeated the Tar Heels 2-1 and 2-0.

Florida Atlantic: The host of this weekend’s tournament, FAU is 17-9 this season … the Owls have Pam Mazzarella hitting .385 with seven doubles and six RBI … Jenn Piazza has knocked in 15 runs this season … the pitching staff boasts a solid 1.50 ERA … Amanda Morin has started 13 games (9-3, 1.67 ERA), while Candice Freel has started 11 games (6-6, 1.28 ERA) … Notre Dame and FAU will be meeting for the third time … the Irish won the previous two meetings (4-0 and 4-2) at a Florida State Tournament in 1996.

Last weekend:

Notre Dame won the NFCA Leadoff Classic Silver Bracket Championship, going 5-1 at the prestigious tournament … the Irish defeated NW State (2-1), #24/24 CS Fullerton (5-4 in eight innings), #14/14 Nebraska (1-0), Princeton (10-1 in six innings) and Georgia Tech (2-1), with the only setback coming at the hands of #6/6 Georgia (7-1) … Meagan Ruthrauff powered the Irish through the tournament, hitting two game-winning home runs (three total) and piling up nine RBI in the six games … the Silver Bracket Championship marks the best effort the Irish have delivered at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in six visits.

Ruthrauff named BIG EAST Player of the Week:

Sophomore first base Meagan Ruthrauff was named the conference player of the week after blasting three home runs during the NFCA Leadoff Classic, including two game-winners, while hitting .368 with nine RBI. Her two-run homer vs. Northwestern State to begin the tournament proved to be the difference in that contest, while her solo shot in the sixth inning vs. Georgia Tech provided the winning margin in Notre Dame’s 2-1 victory.

Ruthrauff also had a monster game against Princeton in Notre Dame’s 10-1, six-inning victory in the first game of bracket play. She went two for three at the plate with five RBI, including a three-run home run to break the game open in the fifth inning.

The weekly award is the second for the 2003 all-BIG EAST first-team selection (April 14, 2003).

Heather Booth named BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week:

Sophomore righthander Heather Booth had a spectacular weekend in the pitching circle for Notre Dame, winning all three starts during the NFCA Leadoff Classic with complete-game performances. She had seven strike outs and allowed just six hits in the opener vs. Northwestern State, then turned in a gutsy performance vs. #24/24 CS Fullerton. She pitched all eight innings of the game, allowing seven hits and one earned run with a career-best 11 strikeouts. The Irish won the game 5-4 on a passed ball in the top of the eighth.

Booth turned around the next day to completely shut down a potent #14/14 Nebraska line up to earn her second-straight victory over a ranked opponent. The Cornhuskers managed just four hits off Booth, who struck out five and walked just two batters for the complete-game shut out.

For the weekend, Booth pitched 22.0 innings, scattering 17 hits with 23 strikeouts and just two earned runs for a 0.64 ERA.

Irish have knocked off three of six ranked opponents this season:

The victories over #24/24 CS Fullerton and #14/14 Nebraska last weekend give the Irish three wins over ranked opponents this season … Notre Dame knocked off #8/8 Nebraska 6-4 on Feb. 14 at the UNLV Classic … those three wins in the first 14 games of the season are the second-best total in school history, behind the four by the 2001 team (#4 Washington, #18 South Carolina, #24 CS Northridge twice) and tied with the 1995 (#14 Texas A&M, #18 Illinois-Chicago, #21 Oklahoma State) and 1994 (#10 Michigan, #25 Minnesota, #5 CS Fullerton) squads … three of Notre Dame’s four losses this season came to ranked teams, while the fourth (Pacific) is currently ranked #14/18 … the other Irish setbacks and at the hands of #2/3 California, #8/8 Stanford and #6/6 Georgia.

Notre Dame matches its second-best start in school history:

The Irish have matched the 1995 and 2000 teams for the second-best start to the season (first 14 games), as Notre Dame is currently 10-4 … the 2001 team began the season with a 13-1 record.

Nicole Wicks steps up at the NFCA Leadoff Classic:

Notre Dame lost its starting rightfielder, sophomore Kellie Middleton, to an injury last week.

Junior transfer Nicole Wicks stepped in to start all six games for Notre Dame last weekend and responded to the challenge, leading the team in hitting during the tournament with a .400 average. Her first hit for the Irish was a solo home run vs. CS Fullerton and Wicks never looked back, piling up five more hits over the next three games, including a game-tying home run vs. Georgia Tech in the NFCA Leadoff Classic Silver Bracket Championship game.

Wicks was also steady on defense, contributing three outfield assists during the weekend.

Senior Nicole deFau providing leadership with her offense and defense:

Representing the entire senior class in 2004, Nicole deFau has embraced a leadership role on the team.

She is currently fifth on the team in hitting (.324) with three doubles, a triple and three RBI. During last week’s NFCA Leadoff Classic, deFau hit .375 with six hits in 16 at bats and stole a base. She also played a key role in Notre Dame’s victory over Georgia Tech in the Silver Bracket Championship game, throwing out the tieing run at the plate with a great throw from leftfield.

Stephanie Brown lands on NFCA Leadoff Classic all-tournament team:

Freshman second base Stephanie Brown landed a spot in the NFCA Leadoff Classic all-tournament team last weekend, hitting .368 in Notre Dame’s six games with two home runs, two RBI and two stolen bases. She moved into the leadoff role for Notre Dame in the CS Fullerton contest and responded with six hits in the last four games of the weekend.

Brown’s three home runs this season are tied for the team lead with Meagan Ruthrauff and Liz Hartmann. She also raised her season average from .148 entering the tournament to its current .256.

Homers in the clutch:

The Deanna Gumpf era at Notre Dame has provided some of the most memorable clutch home runs in Irish history. Over the past three seasons, Notre Dame has claimed an upset victory on the road (vs. #4 Nebraska, 2002), an amazing comeback victory on the road (vs. La.-Lafayette, 2003), a BIG EAST Championship (vs. Villanova, 2003) and two first-weekend come-from-behind victories (at the UNLV Classic this season) via dramatic home runs.

Liz Hartmann has played a role in three of the memorable moments. In 2002, her three-run blast in the top of the seventh pushed Notre Dame to a 3-2 victory over #4 Nebraska at the Cornhuskers’ dedication of their new field in Lincoln. Last season, Hartmann tied the school record for home runs in a single game with two shots vs. La.-Lafayette. Her first against the Lady Cajuns tied up the game in the seventh inning (after Notre Dame had rallied from a 5-1 deficit) and then ended the game in the ninth inning on a three-run round tripper.

The 2003 BIG EAST Championship was claimed on a walk off home run by ’03 graduate Andrea Loman, who smashed a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth.

During the UNLV Classic two weeks ago, Notre Dame utilized four clutch home runs to secure two victories. Sophomore Kellie Middleton launched a two-run shot to complete Notre Dame’s rally from a 7-4 deficit to defeat Hawaii 8-7. The next day, freshman Stephanie Brown completed another Irish rally with a two-run shot in the top of the seventh vs. #8/8 Nebraska – followed by another two-run shot by Hartmann to claim the winning margin. Hartmann had previously cut the Cornhusker lead down to 4-2 with a two-run homer in the fifth.

Scouting the Irish:

For the first time in four years, the Notre Dame softball team will be forced to develop a new identity. The graduation of four starting seniors, with three of the starters having been in the line up for four years and the fourth for three, means that head coach Deanna Gumpf will be writing a new infield on her lineup card for the first time in four years.

Second team all-BIG EAST catcher Mallorie Lenn (.238, 6 HR, 25 RBI in ’03) returns behind the plate and will catch a largely intact pitching staff – but the other four infield positions will feature new players. A two year starter in leftfield, junior Liz Hartmann (.236, 9 HR, 29 RBI) comes in a few steps to take over third base. Sophomore Sara Schoonaert (5-15, 1 RBI) will be the shortstop, freshman Stephanie Brown at second base and sophomore Meagan Ruthrauff (.310, 4 HR, 27 RBI) will be at first.

While the infield might take awhile to come together this season, the outfield should be both a defensive and offensive strength. Junior Megan Ciolli (.356, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 12 SB) will be the anchor in centerfield, beginning her second season as the starter in that position after starting in rightfield her rookie season. On Ciolli’s right will be senior Nicole deFau (.271, 1 HR, 5 RBI) in leftfield – who split time with sophomore Kellie Middleton (.222, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 15 SB) last year in rightfield. Middleton returns to start in rightfield for 2004.

Off the bench, Notre Dame will receive catching relief from two freshmen – Carissa Jaquish and Gessica Hufnagle. Jaquish also is among the leading candidates at DP. Junior Nicole Wicks, a transfer from Washington, will back up the interior infield positions, all the outfield positions and be among the first options for a pinch runner. Freshman Kenya Fuemmeler can also play the outfield as well as relief pitch.

The pitching staff should prove to be a strength this season for the Irish. Sophomore Heather Booth (21-10, 1.93 ERA) returns from her BIG EAST Rookie of the Year performance a year ago to lead the staff, though junior Steffany Stenglein (10-4) looks to be regaining her freshman form after battling through an injury in 2003. The always reliable Carrie Wisen (7-3, 1.67 ERA) will be the first option for relief – as well as seeing some time at DP. As mentioned, Fuemmeler will give Gumpf another arm to call on in the bullpen as well.

Notre Dame will face a loaded early season schedule:

In what has developed into a yearly tradition for the Fighting Irish softball team, Notre Dame will hit the road for the first five weekends of the season to face several of the top teams in the nation. According to the latest national polls, over the first five weekends of the season Notre Dame will face (or have faced) nine ranked teams ( Softball ranking first, followed by USA Today/NFCA):

* #2/3 California (L, 1-2) – now ranked #3/4

* #6/6 Georgia, (L, 1-7) – now ranked #7/8

* #12/7 Michigan (March 12)

* #8/8 Nebraska (W, 6-4), now ranked #18/17

#14/14 Nebraska (W, 1-0), now ranked #18/17

* #8/8 Stanford (L, 2-4), now ranked #10/10

*#24/24 CS Fullerton (W, 5-4), now unranked

* #4/6 Florida State, (March 11)

* NR Pacific (L, 1-12), now ranked #14/18

* NR Georgia Tech (W, 2-1), now ranked #25/24

The Irish also will take on DePaul later on this season at Ivy Field (April 27) and have the opportunity to play more ranked teams during bracket play at the Seminole Classic.

While a tough schedule might affect Notre Dame’s early season record, it has paid huge dividends over the last two years when the Irish return to the Midwest for conference and regional play. The 2002 season saw Notre Dame open up 8-12 while facing eight ranked teams in the first two months of the season. Notre Dame responded by winning 34 of its next 37 games and the BIG EAST Championship entering the NCAA regional. The 2003 season followed a similar pattern, as Notre Dame found itself facing six ranked teams and holding a 10-10 record on March 14. The Irish bounced back with a 20-game win streak and 26 win in its last 30 games entering the NCAA regional.

Closer look at the Irish pitching staff:

Notre Dame should be able to lean on two strengths this season, a quick and athletic outfield and a seasoned and talented pitching staff. Junior Carrie Wisen and Steffany Stenglein, along with sophomore Heather Booth, represent 362 of 373 innings pitched for Notre Dame last season.

Booth won the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year award by going 21-10 with a 1.93 ERA as the number one starter in ’03. Stenglein, who was recovering from off season surgery which curtailed her preseason workouts, found it difficult to reach the level of her freshman season (in which she also won 21 games). Wisen was her usual steady self in the bullpen, posting a 7-3 record with a 1.67 ERA and two saves.

Stenglein is back to full strength and poised for a break out season, while Booth and Wisen give Notre Dame a strong pitching staff to work with. Add in talented freshman Kenya Fuemmeler (the career prep strikeout record holder in Missouri) and the Notre Dame pitching staff looks to be among the best in the BIG EAST Conference.

Head coach Deanna Gumpf:

The 2004 season marks Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf’s third at the helm of the Irish softball program. Her 82 wins over the first two seasons are the most in school history (Liz Miller had 77 while Brian Boulac posted 61) and she has guided the team to set school records for home runs, RBI and fielding percentage over the last two seasons.

Gumpf’s record at Notre Dame stands at 92-38 (.708) entering this weekend’s action and her teams have captured back-to-back BIG EAST titles and NCAA regional appearances.

The 2004 season will feature Gumpf’s distinctive stamp on the program. The graduation of four starters in the infield gives the opportunity for the Irish starting lineup to feature five players from Gumpf’s first two recruiting classes at Notre Dame.

Megan Ciolli named to USA Softball Player of the Year watch list:

The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and USA Softball have announced their initial watch list for the third-annual USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award and Notre Dame junior Megan Ciolli (Terre Haute, Ind.) was one of the 40 players to make the list.

Ciolli will embrace a new role as team leader for the Irish this season, which begins next weekend (Feb. 13) at the UNLV Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The Irish have radically shifted from a senior laden team to one of the youngest squads in the Midwest.

A starter since she arrived on campus three years ago, Ciolli boasts a .350 career average – hitting either first or second in the Irish line up. A three-tool player able to bunt, slap and hit for power, the junior boasts 131 hits in her career, eight home runs and 48 RBI. She also has stolen 23 bases in her career and her .350 career average puts her in the top five all-time at Notre Dame.

So far in 2004, Ciolli has paced the Irish offense with a team-high 18 hits (.419 average), six stolen bases (in six attempts) and has contributed three outfield assists.

Notre Dame picked to win its third-straight BIG EAST title:

Notre Dame 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. 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.

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

Keeping up with the Irish on the road:

A complete recap, plus game boxscore, will be posted on as soon as possible upon completion of Notre Dame’s scheduled games for the day (although during preseason tournament action, the schedule might allow for game-by-game updates). The Notre Dame softball hotline will also be updated as soon as possible after each game, that line can be reached by calling (574) 631-3000, press 4, then 2.

BIG EAST Championship switched to Syracuse, N.Y. for 2004:

The 2004 BIG EAST Championship will be hosted by Syracuse University this season. During the previous two seasons, the BIG EAST Championship was held in Roanoke, Va., but a schedule change in the Division II National Championship (hosted by the city of Roanoke) dictated a return to campus sites for the BIG EAST Championship. The conference title will be on the line during play beginning Thursday, May 13 and continues until Saturday, May 15, with a raindate on Sunday, May 16.