Feb. 18, 1997
Notre Dame Begins Season At ASU Tournament
Irish to Face Wisconsin, Arizona State, Indiana and Iowa
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame's softball team, off its-third straight NCAA appearance in 1996, begins its 1997 campaign at the Arizona State Tournament for the third consecutive year. The Irish will open the season against Wisconsin and Arizona State on Fri., Feb. 21, and then wrap up its first weekend of action against Indiana and Iowa on Sat., Feb. 22.
Scouting The 1997 Irish: Notre Dame returns perhaps its strongest senior class in school history, including the co-captains, two-time All-American Katie Marten (Lisle, Ill.) and 1996 Big East player of the year Meghan Murray (Minnetonka, Minn.). The class of five seniors led the offensive output in 1996 by accounting for 52 percent of the team's runs and hits and 46 percent of the RBI. Four-year starters Joy Battersby (Morris, Ill.), Kara McMahon (Pasadena, Texas) and Liz Perkins (Cupertino, Calif.) round out the class of 1997. Here is how the 1997 Notre Dame softball team is built:
Pitching staff: Head coach Liz Miller will look to her two returning starting pitchers, sophomore Angela Bessolo (Lakewood, Calif.) and Battersby. Bessolo should be stronger after gaining experience as a freshman. The 1996 Big East co-rookie of the year finished 1996 with a 19-8 record with a 1.46 ERA and five shutouts. Battersby recorded a career-best winning percentage in 1996 with a .643 mark. Junior Kelly Nichols (Vancouver, Wash.), the most versatile pitcher on the staff, enters her third season having led the NCAA in saves in each of her first two seasons with eight saves each year and needs just four more saves to become the all-time NCAA saves leader.
Catchers: Notre Dame returns both of its catchers from 1996 in sophomore Kristina McCleary (Westerville, Ohio) and junior Korrie Allen (Carol Stream, Ill.). McCleary came in as a freshman and won the starting position with her solid play. She started 53 games a year ago as she threw out 10 base-stealers and made 11 pick-offs at first and third bases with her strong arm. Allen was a clutch player for Miller in 1996 who could pinch-hit in addition to catching. Freshman Tara King (Overland Park, Kan.), who brings a strong bat to Notre Dame, could see time behind the plate as well as at first base.
Infield: Notre Dame returns its entire infield led by Murray and McMahon at shortstop and third base. Murray became the first Notre Dame softball player to bat over .400 in a season last year, as the cleanup hitter also led the team in hits, RBI, triples and home runs. McMahon was second to Murray in assists in 1996 with her sharp reflexes and good range at the hot corner. Junior Kelly Rowe (Edison, N.J.) was one of the team's most improved players in 1996 as she came on strong at the end of the season to start 23 of the last 24 games at first base. Sophomore Dawn Cunningham (Bethalto, Ill.) started 53 games as a freshman, playing in 59 games at second base for most of the season after beginning the year at shortstop. Freshman Lisa Tully (Garden Grove, Calif.) should see time at both second base and third base.
Outfield: Notre Dame's outfield will have a familiar look once again in 1997 as Perkins and junior Jennifer Giampaolo (San Marino, Calif.) return to left field and center field. Marten, who will start mainly as the designated player, has also played in the outfield and can be called upon for depth. Freshman Sarah Mathison (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) and junior Joanna Zuhoski (Oakton, Va.) should contribute in right field.
Head Coach Liz Miller: Liz Miller has compiled a 165-68 (.708) record in her four seasons at Notre Dame since 1993. Miller led the Irish to a school-record 48 wins in 1996 and to their third consecutive NCAA appearance. She was named the 1996 Big East coach of the year in her first year in the conference as she lead Notre Dame to a 19-1 record and the Big East South Division title. Miller won her 700th-career game on April 27, 1996, becoming one of only five collegiate softball coaches to have won 700 career games. Miller began her coaching career at Lake Michigan Community College where she posted a 541-142 (.792). She ranks fifth in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association career-win standings with a 706-210 (.771).
1996 Review: Notre Dame advanced to its third straight NCAA championships a year ago, earning its first-ever at-large bid into the 48-team field. It was a quick trip into the post-season for the Irish who dropped consecutive games to South Carolina and Central Michigan and were eliminated, ending the season with a school record 48 wins. Notre Dame went 19-1 in the Big East regular season, capturing the Big East South Division title. Connecticut up ended the Irish at the Big East championships in Chestnut Hill, Mass., as the Huskies used a classic 1-0 win in the deciding game seven of the championships to win the title and the Big East Conference's automatic bid into the NCAA championships.
Irish, Huskies Tapped As Preseason Big East Favorites: In a vote of the conference coaches, Notre Dame has been unanimously selected as the preseason favorite to win the Big East South Division. Rutgers was picked to finish second with Villanova third and Seton Hall fourth in the South Division. Connecticut was selected first in the North Division followed by Boston College, Providence and St. John's. The teams will play a 20-game league schedule, playing divisional opponents four times each and non-divisional opponents twice. The top two teams from each division advance to the Big East championships May 3-4 at Connecticut.
Notre Dame Earns Academic Honors: The 1996 Notre Dame softball team was named one of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association top-10 all-academic teams, marking the sixth consecutive year the Irish have received this honor. Notre Dame was the only team honored as one of the NFCA all-academic teams to be ranked in the final USA Today/NSCA Top 25 and participate in the 48-team NCAA championship.
In addition to the team honors, four Notre Dame players were recognized for their academic and athletic achievements and were named on the 1996 GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America softball team. Katie Marten, Joy Battersby and Meghan Murray were second-team Academic All-Americans and Jenna Knudson, who graduated in May, was a third-team selection. Notre Dame lead the Academic All-America teams with four players and joined Jacksonville State and Southwestern Louisiana (two each) as the only schools that placed more than one player on the three teams.
1997 Notre Dame Captains: Seniors Katie Marten and Meghan Murray will serve as captains of the 1997 Notre Dame softball team. Marten is a two-time NFCA All-American as designated player in addition to her GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Marten is a three-year starter for Miller and has stolen the most bases in Notre Dame history. She has a career .368 batting average, the highest in school history.
Murray was named the 1996 Big East player of the year after batting .507 in Big East games. She became the first Notre Dame batter in school history to hit over .400 in a season with a .402 average in 1996. The Academic All-American was also the team's MVP last year as she started every game of the year.
NSCA/USA Today Top 25 Final 1996 Poll
Team Record Pts.
1. Washington 49-7 500
2. Arizona 47-9 476
3. Fresno State 47-9 452
4. UCLA 40-8 450
5. Southwestern La. 42-8 401
6. Cal State Northridge 41-13 376
7. Michigan* 43-12 353
8. South Carolina* 36-10 347
9. Oklahoma 45-18 307
10. UNLV 36-21 290
11. California 36-20 270
12. South Florida 40-10 234
13. Minnesota 42-14 233
14. Iowa* 43-15 231
15. Cal State Fullerton 39-26 226
16. Florida State 48-19 194
17. Oklahoma State 33-15 177
18. Nebraska 37-18 144
19. Long Beach State 34-17 130
20. Notre Dame 48-14 129
21. Texas A&M* 38-18 108
22. Illinois-Chicago 39-11 97
23. Indiana* 36-19 91
24. Princeton 38-6-1 53
25. Hawaii 36-25 32
* - indicates 1997 Notre Dame opponent.
1997 Big East Softball Preseason Poll
1996 Big East
South Division (votes) Points W L Pct.
1. Notre Dame (7) 28 19 1 .950
2. Rutgers 20 10 10 .500
3. Villanova (1) 18 10 8 .555
4. Seton Hall 10 4 14 .222
North Division (votes)
1. Connecticut (7) 28 16 4 .800
2. Boston Col (1) 22 9 11 .450
3. Providence 16 9 11 .450
4. St. John's 10 1 19 .050