Jan. 22, 2016
by Tony Jones
To preview the upcoming University of Notre Dame softball season, UND.com will feature the 10 things you need to know in advance of the opening Irish tournament of the spring at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona on Feb. 12. With insight from your favorite Notre Dame players and coaches, The Top 10 will give fans a special look at Irish softball as the team prepares for 2016.
To pay homage to the style of a favorite preseason relic of years past, the next stop in the Top 10 features a special Q&A with the 2016 University of Notre Dame softball freshman class: MK Bonamy (Hoover, Alabama), Caitlyn Brooks (Burbank, California), Maddie McCracken (Olathe, Kansas), Melissa Rochford (Irvine, California) and Ali Wester (Huntington Beach, California).
Bonamy begins her college softball career with Notre Dame after earning six varsity letters at Spain Park High School. She was a 2015 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) High School All-America third team selection, and was twice tabbed (2014-15) to the NFCA all-South Region first team. A 2014 and 2015 all-state selection, Bonamy is among a group of talented corner infielders on this season’s Notre Dame roster.
Brooks was a multi-year letterwinner as a pitcher at Burbank High School, and was tabbed an NFCA High School All-America choice in 2014 and 2015. Named NFCA all-West Region as both a junior and senior, Brooks was also a four-time all-CIF Division 3 selection and team most valuable player during her standout prep career. She is one of five pitchers that comprise the 2016 Notre Dame rotation in the circle.
McCracken was a four-time NFCA High School All-American as a catcher at Olathe North High School, earning third team honors in 2012 before claiming a slot on the NFCA second team each season from 2013-15. Selected to the CBS Sports-MaxPreps All-America team in both 2014 and 2015, McCracken and senior Casey Africano comprise the catching contingent for the Notre Dame battery.
Rochford returns to the softball diamond after missing the majority of her junior season and all of her senior season due to injury while attending Mater Dei High School. She logged an impactful first two campaigns with the Monarchs, earning all-Trinity League honors as a freshman and sophomore. Rochford is a utility infielder most likely slotted at third base with the Irish during her freshman campaign.
Wester rounds out the incoming freshman class as a utility defender who can play corner outfield and at second base. She was the Sunset League co-most valuable player as a senior at Edison High School, and was selected to the MaxPreps California Large School all-state team during her final high school season. Wester also earned first team all-conference honors after both her sophomore and junior years.
What has life in college been like thus far into your first year on campus?
Caitlyn Brooks: It’s definitely harder than I anticipated it would be, a major step up from high school and playing travel ball. You learn to get into a routine, getting a regular schedule certainly helps.
MK Bonamy: You really have to figure out a plan because every hour counts. Even if it’s a five-minute nap, it definitely helps in scheduling your time wisely.
Maddie McCracken: The biggest thing for me was the level of academics, because you know that it is better here but you don’t realize how much better it is until you’re here. It is insane.
Melissa Rochford: Taking care of your body is a big thing because sometimes you go straight from practice to lift, that was a hard transition at first. Eat right and get enough sleep to balance everything. That was a main thing for me.
Ali Wester: I would say try to get ahead in everything. Get ahead on any work, other things that you have to do.
What have been some of the challenges of adapting to college softball?
Maddie: Team-wise it was honestly easy to adapt to this team. They are so cohesive and everyone has the same goal all the time. It’s just so easy to fit in and feel at home.
MK: It is definitely faster paced but it’s still the same game. Adapting game-wise wasn’t too hard because it is in many ways still the same.
Ali: Adapting to the specifics of the team was hardest, trying to learn everything.
Cait: For me college softball was probably the easier transition compared to school. School was much harder to transition into, but softball we have been playing our whole lives. It might be a bit faster paced with more intense practices but overall it’s still more of a constant in our lives.
Melissa: Softball-wise it was an easier transition because everyone is so willing to help. The coaches are really there for you.
Getting up to speed on different team concepts, especially defensively
MK: At first it was difficult but then, literally two innings in (during the fall), you got the hang of it. It became pretty easy to adapt to after that.
Ali: It was definitely stressful, but everyone on the team is willing to help you out. If you don’t know what you should be doing everyone will tell you and help.
Maddie: I think the best advice I got from (associate coach) Kris (Ganeff) was don’t act like a freshman. Act like you belong even if you might not feel it, don’t look at it as being a freshman.
Cait: Everyone is willing to help, so if you do have to ask a question they will clarify anything that you need to know.
Melissa: If you find a person that knows what they are doing, I would say it’s a good idea to follow them. You learn through what they are doing, and that was a pretty easy way to follow and go with the flow.
Do you have any nicknames, especially those given by the team?
Cait: Mine is Brooksie or Cait. Either Cait, Cait Brooksie, Brooks, any of those.
Ali: Prince Ali (AH-lee, main character in Aladdin) is one, some people call me Murr.
Maddie: I would say Maddie (short for given name Madison), Madds, Maddog, sometimes just McCracken. They enjoy “Release The Cracken” a lot.
Melissa: I go by Keja, it’s short for Kejanae. K-e-j-a. That’s my nameÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦.
MK: I am just MK (short for given name Mary Kathryn).
What are your favorite activities at Notre Dame outside of softball?
Everyone: Training Table is fun.
Maddie: I have gone rock climbing a few times on campus, that’s really fun.
Melissa: I walked around the Lakes with Cait once, before it started snowing.
Cait: We take some strolls. Mainly around my dorm, I really like hanging out with my dorm friends. We’ll watch movies together and hang out, or I’ll nap while they hang out.
Do you have any known pregame or at-bat rituals?
Maddie: Especially this year we are working consciously, as a team, to have the same at-bat ritual every time. Everyone has some type of specific routine before they come up to bat.
Ali: I always tap my leg with the bat each time before I step into the box.
Melissa: I pull up my right pant leg every time. I think that was from travel ball, our pants would always slip so I’d have to pull them up. I don’t know why but I just do it, I pull my right pant leg up.
Cait: When I pitch I just reach down and grab dirt, constantly.
MK: I have to do at least one Happy Gilmore (running swing) before I go up to bat.
What is your favorite place on campus and why?
Melissa: The Student Welfare and Development commons area because they have chocolate milk and couches.
Cait: I agree, I like Student Welfare and Development. It’s fun to hang out there.
Melissa: It’s halfway in between the stadium and my dorm, so it’s kind of perfect.
Cait: It’s near the training room in the JACC, great location.
Maddie: There is a room in the bottom of DeBart that has giant beanbag chairs. They are big enough that you can kind of treat them like a bed and take a nap in there.
MK: That’s awesome.
Cait: (To MK, who has not seen the room) Your mind is going to be blown, you don’t even knowÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦
MK: Is it sanitary? There’s a bunch of random peopleÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦
Maddie: I am going to say yes no matter what. You live in a dorm with 100 some odd other girls, your immune system is fine.
MK: No it’s not, I’m always sickÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦
Cait: That’s one thing I have noticed (about college), illness. Everyone is constantly sick.
Outlook for your freshman season
Ali: I feel that as a class, we are a really strong class. We can make an impact on the team.
Melissa: If we continue to get better as a team each week and are playing our best softball by the end of the season, I think we will be pretty good.
Cait: We definitely strive to be better every single time we go on the field. Just make that extra leap.
MK: The goal for everyone is to make some sort of impact on the team, not to be just another player. We want to add something to this team.
Visit UND.com next Monday (Jan. 25) for the fifth installment of the Irish Top 10 series. For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, visit www.und.com/softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter and at Instagram.com/notredamesoftball, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.
Tony Jones, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball and men’s soccer programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.