The ascendance of the Notre Dame offense to the top of NCAA Division I softball
A wealth of experience and success defines longest tenured female coaching staff currently at Notre Dame
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Notre Dame returns 11 regular offensive contributors from a record setting 2014 season
Notre Dame returns to the preseason top 25 for the first time since 2003
Notre Dame vs. Fordham, game one of the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic (photos by Jason Roberts)
Images of the Irish during the run to another NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame claimed a 9-1 win in five innings of Northwestern.
Amy Buntin's three-run, walk-off homer gives Irish 5-3 win at Melissa Cook Stadium.
HONORS AND AWARDS:
2014 NFCA Mid-Atlantic Region Coaching Staff of the Year
2013 BIG EAST Conference Coaching Staff of the Year
2011 BIG EAST Conference Coaching Staff of the Year
A former member of the U.S. National Softball Team and 2001 BIG EAST Player of the Year, Lizzy Ristano enters her 11th season in the Notre Dame dugout as an assistant coach in 2015.
Ristano, elevated to her current title of associate coach in August 2012, works closely with the Irish outfield corps and is also a polished hitting instructor. She has helped Notre Dame advance to the NCAA Regionals in each of her 10 seasons as part of the coaching staff, including BIG EAST Conference tournament titles in 2006 and 2009.
Notre Dame made its 17th consecutive appearance (20th all-time) in the NCAA Championship in 2015, hosting an NCAA Regional for just the second time in program history (2005). The Irish capped the season with a 42-15 (.737) mark, establishing single-season program records for hits (543), runs (395) and on-base percentage (.419), batting above a .350 clip (.351) for the second straight season.
Notre Dame also earned eight victories over fellow national top 25 foes, and enjoyed a 24-game winning streak from March through the end of April that was the second-longest in the nation during the year. The Irish tied their 2014 team total of seven NFCA Mid-Atlantic all-region honorees with Emilee Koerner, Katey Haus, Micaela Arizmendi and Karley Wester representing the first team, Cassidy Whidden on the second team and Jenna Simon and Morgan Reed on the third team.
Finishing as a career .404 hitter, Koerner, Notre Dame's career leader in runs scored (196), doubles (79), total bases (471) and slugging percentage (.694), capped her collegiate tenure in a tie for third on the all-time NCAA doubles list and had the second-most RBI (178) in Notre Dame history. With her team-leading 29 stolen bases this year, Simon tied two-time All-American Megan Ciolli ('05) for the career program record of 76 stolen bases. Haus finished with the fourth-most RBI (175) and sixth-most doubles (48) in the Notre Dame career record book, while Whidden tied All-American Heather Johnson ('11) for fourth place all-time with 35 home runs.
Under Ristano's guidance in 2014, Notre Dame emerged as one of the preeminent offensive teams in all of Division I softball. Team records set by the 2014 Notre Dame team included the highest batting average (.357) and most doubles (107, 1.98 doubles per game) in a single season in program history, figures that also led all Division I teams in the NCAA. The Irish, who had 533 hits and a .419 on-base percentage, also finished second nationally with a .552 slugging percentage and were seventh in scoring after tallying 6.69 runs per game.
Notre Dame was ranked among the national top 25 teams over the final 14 weeks of 2014, tying a program record set by the 2001 Irish team (54-7) for consecutive weeks appearing in the national polls during a single season.
Karley Wester, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in batting average (.455), hits (81) and stolen bases (26) on her way to being named the 2014 ACC Freshman of the Year, was also one of three finalists for the inaugural NFCA Division I National Freshman of the Year award. NFCA All-Americans Wester (second team), Micaela Arizmendi (second team) and Emilee Koerner (third team) joined Laura Winter, Cassidy Whidden, Katey Haus and Jenna Simon in representing a program record seven Notre Dame players who received NFCA all-region honors in 2014.
Ristano's tutelage was also on full display in 2013, as Notre Dame surpassed the .300 batting average plateau for the fourth consecutive season and, at the time, just the ninth time in program history after logging a .314 clip as a team. The Irish averaged five or more runs per game (5.69) for the fifth straight year, and set a team record by drawing 162 walks.
Numerous Irish hitters recorded career years in 2013, with Emilee Koerner enjoying a four-week run as the leading statistical hitter in the NCAA on her way to a .439 final average, and USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 10 finalist and NFCA All-America second team recognition. Laura Winter equaled the single-season program record for home runs with the first 17 long balls of her Irish career, while Kelsey Thornton (.357 average) and Lauren Stuhr (.294 average, five home runs) also posted career-best offensive production under Ristano's instruction.
Notre Dame crushed a number of blue and gold benchmarks under the watchful eye of Ristano in 2010 with single-season program records in the form of a nation-leading batting average (.343), runs (369), doubles (103), home runs (75), RBI (337), total bases (878), slugging pct. (.590), on-base pct. (.409) and fielding pct. (.978). The Irish were second among NCAA teams with 1.75 doubles/game and fourth in slugging pct. In regular season BIG EAST play, the Irish ranked first in slugging percentage (.635), runs scored (150), RBI (134), doubles (46), home runs (31) and total bases (330).
Ristano's outfielders did not commit a single error during the regular season in 2010 while shortstop Katie Fleury went on to earn NFCA All-America honors.
Ristano's influence was extremely evident throughout the Irish batting order in 2009, helping produce five all-region and seven all-conference performers. Additionally, Christine Lux was named an NFCA third-team All-American after turning in one of the most outstanding single-seasons at the plate for the Irish. Over the course of the 60-game season, Lux amassed a .329 batting average while also tallying 15 home runs, a number that tied the program's single-season mark for home runs that she herself set in 2008.
Batters under Ristano's tutelage posted a number of program single-season bests in 2009 including: runs (2nd - 310), doubles (3rd - 90), home runs (1st - 66), RBI (1st - 282), total bases (1st - 748), slugging pct. (1st - .501) and walks (1st - 152).
Ristano also developed then freshman Dani Miller in 2009, converting the athlete into an outfielder as Miller went on to post a 21-game hit streak, the longest of any BIG EAST player that season. Heather Johnson matched that streak in 2011 en route to being named the BIG EAST Player of the Year and Notre Dame's single-season and career RBI leader.
Both Miller and Johnson were named to the NFCA All-America third team in 2011, the same season in which each of Notre Dame's three outfielders - Sadie Pitzenberger, Brianna Jorgensborg and Alexa Maldonado - earned all-BIG EAST accolades.
It was under the guidance of Ristano that outfielder Sarah Smith posted one of the greatest single-season improvements in program history during the 2008 campaign. Smith saw limited action for the Irish in her first three seasons, then broke out as a senior as the lefty slapper went on to earn first-team all-BIG EAST and all-NFCA regional honors. Furthermore, Smith was one of three Notre Dame outfielders to claim all-league recognition that season. Smith's .370 batting average and 60 hits in 2008 ranked among the best single-season performances ever by an Irish outfielder.
Ristano trekked from coast to coast after earning a pair of degrees from Notre Dame in 2001 before landing back in South Bend. Upon graduation, she earned a spot on a U.S. National team that steamrolled the competition with four consecutive victories and a tournament title during the 2001 U.S. Cup in Hawaii.
After her time with the U.S. National team, Ristano returned to Notre Dame as an athletic department intern through the summer of 2002. It was then that she was accepted into the sport management program at the University of Massachusetts, and she went on to earn a master's degree in that field. While pursuing her degree, Ristano also served as an intern in the athletic department compliance office. In addition, Ristano was also a volunteer assistant coach for the softball squad, coordinating team travel and developing the play of the Minutewomen outfield.
In 2003, Ristano shifted gears by landing a position at Boston College within the athletic department's development office, and was hired one year later as an annual giving associate at Stanford University.
Ristano, under her maiden name Lemire, captained the most successful team in the history of the Notre Dame program, powering the 2001 Irish to an overall record of 54-7 along with an all-time best No. 7 national ranking and the first number-one seed in the NCAA Regionals. As a senior, Ristano hit .324 (including a .383 mark in BIG EAST play) with 38 RBI, 10 stolen bases and three home runs. She shared the program's single-season record for doubles, logging 17 two-baggers in 1999 that was later surpassed by three-time All-American Emilee Koerner in 2013 (21). Under Ristano's guidance, Koerner smashed her own team doubles mark with 28 in 2014. Ristano's career numbers included a .332 average, 28 stolen bases, 126 RBI, nine home runs and 43 doubles. Ristano is regarded as one of the most fearless and skilled defensive outfielders in Notre Dame history.
Her personal efforts were reflected in her team's success, as Ristano was part of a senior class that complied an overall record of 177-63 (.738), earned two BIG EAST Tournament championships, four regular-season conference titles, and made three consecutive trips to the NCAA Regionals.
Ristano prepped at Woodbridge High School after growing up in Irvine, Calif., where she was the city and high school's scholar-athlete of the year in 1997. The Irvine World News also recognized her as its female athlete of the year following her senior campaign. Ristano led Woodbridge to a No. 2 national ranking and was an ASA All-American in 1997.
Ristano and her husband, Notre Dame baseball pitching coach Chuck Ristano, were married in November of 2014. The couple resides in South Bend with their dog, Mo.