Feb. 11, 2004
2004 UNLV Classic
Las Vegas, Nev. * Feb. 13-15
Notre Dame vs. Hawaii (3-3), Friday, Feb. 13, 12:00 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. #2/3 California (6-0), Friday, Feb. 13, 2:30 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. #9/8 Nebraska (0-0), Saturday, Feb. 14, 4:00 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. UNLV (2-3), Saturday, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Portland State (0-0), Sunday, Feb. 15, 10:00 a.m.
Irish Quick Facts:
* Notre Dame begins its season this weekend at the UNLV Classic.
* Deanna Gumpf begins her third season with the Irish after leading the team to back-to-back BIG EAST Championships in 2002 and 2003.
* This is Notre Dame’s second trip to UNLV for early season action in the last three years – as the Irish faced Oregon and UNLV on March 10, 2002. The Irish also played in the UNLV Classic in 2000, making this weekend’s trip their third to ‘America’s Playground’.
* Notre Dame is coming off a 38-17 season in 2002. The Irish claimed their second consecutive BIG EAST Championship and fifth consecutive NCAA regional appearance.
Notre Dame begins the 2004 season in Vegas:
The 2004 season finally begins for the Irish this weekend, when Notre Dame takes part in the UNLV Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. One of the top vacation destinations in the country, this weekend’s action will be far from a vacation for the Irish. Notre Dame will face two top 10 teams this weekend (#2/3 California, #9/8 Nebraska), defending WAC champion Hawaii, the host team UNLV and Portland State.
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 (Feb. 10) ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25, the first five weekends of the season will see Notre Dame face eight ranked teams (#2 California, #7 Georgia, #8 Michigan, #9 Nebraska, #10 Stanford, #14 CS Fullerton, #16 Florida State, #18 Tennessee) – including two top-10 teams this weekend. The Irish also will take on #14 DePaul later on this season at Ivy Field (April 27) and have the opportunity to play several more ranked teams during bracket play at the NFCA Leadoff Classic and 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 82-34 (.706) 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.
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 www.und.com 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.
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.