Feb. 3, 2014
Leading up to the start of the 2014 season on Feb. 8, UND.com will run special feature Q&A's on each Notre Dame softball class. Check back regularly to get the inside scoop on your favorite Irish players.
The Getting To Know Irish Softball series returns with the Notre Dame junior class, the only Irish class made up of players who all wear an odd numbered jersey: #9 Katey Haus (Oceanside, Calif.), #3 Emilee Koerner (Tustin, Calif.), #7 Jenna Simon (Granger, Ind.) and #51 Cassidy Whidden (Parrish, Fla.)
Haus was named to the BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament team in her first, and only, two seasons playing in the conference's championship event. She started all 58 games at third base for Notre Dame as a sophomore in 2013, setting career-highs with 12 doubles, 35 RBI and 26 runs scored. Haus was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll the week of March 18 after batting .474 (9-for-19) with two doubles, a home run and nine RBI in her previous six games last season. She was a letterwinner in both softball and field hockey at Vista High School, was a two-year team captain for the softball squad and made five appearances in the ASA national tournament on the club circuit.
Koerner enjoyed one of the most prolific offensive seasons in program history as a sophomore in 2013, batting .439 with a team record 21 doubles while adding 11 home runs and 47 RBI in 58 starts in the Notre Dame outfield. She finished ranked among the national top 20 in doubles per game (0.36, eighth) and batting average (16th), and posted the 28th best slugging percentage in the country (.772). Koerner was a top 10 finalist for last season's USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award, and became the 22nd All-American in program history after being named to the NFCA All-America second team. She earned all-conference honors on four occasions at Foothill High School, and helped lead her travel ball team to an ASA national championship victory in 2004.
Simon enjoyed a breakout sophomore season herself in 2013, earning all-BIG EAST third team recognition after batting a career-high .316 with four triples, 11 RBI, 44 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. She added BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll citations the weeks of Feb. 11 and April 8 of last year. Simon was tied for the BIG EAST lead with her four triples, and also ranked among the league's top 10 in runs scored (fifth) and stolen bases (seventh), while reaching base a total of 23 times on either infield errors (12) or fielder's choice (11) plays. She was an all-state softball player at nearby Penn High School, and was a finalist for Indiana's Gatorade Player of the Year award in 2010.
Whidden burst onto the scene as the team's primary designated player and in key innings at catcher last season as an all-BIG EAST third team performer. A total of 15 of her 27 hits (five doubles, one triple, nine home runs) accounted for extra bases, and she drew 13 walks, was hit by pitch a team-high 12 times and scored 26 runs in only 94 at-bats. Whidden also finished the season with 26 of her 31 RBI coming with two outs, an impressive 84 percent of her season total. She was a team captain and all-state selection at St. Stephen's Episcopal High School, and was recognized on ESPN's Top Players to Watch list prior to her arrival at Notre Dame.
I found out how the juniors embrace leading by example, how they first got involved with the sport, and what special energy boost one class member needs before every game she plays.
How would you describe your careers, both athletically and academically, thus far at Notre Dame?
Jenna Simon: I think when we came in as freshmen, we had this mindset that we wanted to make an impact, and I think we've worked really hard these two years to do that. I think we've achieved that goal, and this year we are pushing to get more and more.
Katey Haus: We work really well together and hold each other accountable, sharing goals with each other. We push each other.
Emilee Koerner: Especially freshman year. Everyone always talks about how everyone has a "freshman year" (a learning experience), and I feel like we came in and were dead set on we're not going to do that, we are going to make an impact, like Jenna said. We're not going to take step back, we will try to be ahead of the expectations, and try to beat them and keep beating them each year forward.
Has your success as a class added any extra pressure to perform?
KH: I don't think so. We really just have fun, and we just want to compete. We are very competitive.
EK: I think we just take it as a complement, if anything, and are like, "Well, that's really cool..."
Cassidy Whidden: We are definitely not done yet, in any mindset, and I don't think that any of us feel that pressure because the one thing we all want to win is a national championship. So when we win (at the conference level), we're still not done. We're not settling for conference.
Any nicknames, especially those given by the team?
JS: I don't have one...
KH: `Haushole' (everyone laughs).
JS: Cassidy is `Chass' sometimes, `Emi' is just normal...
EK: Apparently I am the `messiest', according to (the first) five out of five teammates (preseason Get To Know the team graphics), but I don't really know where it's coming from...
KH: You did have a Starbucks cup in your locker for a solid, we dated it and it was moldy. Monica (Torres) ruined it and asked you why it was there. It had been like a month, and it's still there. But yeah, Haushole came from (associate coach) Kris (Ganeff) freshman year, and it just kind of stuck.
EK: Oh wait, `Millie,' that's a nickname. Once Kasey (O'Connor '12) left, that kind of left, too. Her and Kelsey (Thornton '13) both. Also, `Mills'.
What helped you to adapt to the speed of the college game?
JS: I think we're all very confident in our ability to do our jobs, and that has come with being on the field for two years. We know what we need to get done, and we know that we can do it. At practice, pushing the limits, diving, runner on third and you have to score...We just know that we have the ability to get it done, and I think that has helped a lot with our play.
KH: Wanting to compete, too, and having the drive. Last week I thought to myself that I had to get better this week, so I think constantly having the drive to be the best you can be has helped.
CW: Being mentally mature, which comes after two years of experience and not settling on the mistakes you made in practice. You have to think, "All right, I did it once, I'm not going to do it again." That just makes you a better player all around, learning from your mistakes, and we don't dwell on them. You have to keep moving forward.
EK: Coming in we came to a team that was smaller than the year prior, so we knew we were going to be expected to step into spots people had left, and we knew we weren't going to be behind others. We knew it was our chance the second we got here, and we'd played softball our whole lives and knew the game didn't change. Even though it got a little faster, it's really not much faster than anything we would have seen in travel ball. Knowing that and sticking to our skillset that we know we have (has been the key), because it's not that much different.
Have there been any added expectations to take on a leadership role now that you are upperclassmen?
KH: The biggest thing is reaching out to the underclassmen because sometimes they might be a little intimidated to ask what they see as a stupid question, even if it's during a drill. I remember in one I asked Dana (Bouquet) if she had done it before, and she said no, so I was like okay, let me explain what's going on. Just making sure they're up to speed with what's going on, because that really helps.
EK: We all lead by example really well, in drills, on and off the field.
What is your favorite activity away from softball?
JS: I would say mine is eating pizza, for sure...(all laughing).
KH: Don't forget the mac and cheese, Jenna...
JS: Pizza and mac and cheese, those are my staples.
KH: Naps are a good bonus every once and a while, but that makes you sound like a boring person, a nap...
EK: I'm not going to lie, naps are pretty great.
CW: It's so sad, but our lives outside of softball are with the softball team, so... (all laughing).
EK: Going to dinner together as a team...
KH: We did sit at the dining hall for like an hour and a half last night, doing nothing.
CW: I like to go back to my room with Carl (y Piccinich) and do stupid things...
JS: Flash the lights and dance (all laughing).
EK: We went to a pumpkin patch this year, and that was awesome. We had a blast with all of the hundred two-year-olds that were roaming the pumpkin patch with us. That's a team thing...
KH: We do go out to eat sometimes.
EK: You know why don't we just put napping. Eating and napping, we are all large children.
What first introduced you to softball, and what led you to your current position?
JS: I started playing t-ball when I was six, six or seven, and just played all the way through. Got involved with travel ball and made it here. I played short in high school, and when travel ball came around I moved to second.
CW: My parents needed someone to catch my older sister, so I got stuck behind the plate when I was young... (all laughing).
EK: That's awesome. I played baseball for like three years, and I started when I was four. (Team USA pitcher) Caitlin Lowe's dad was my coach, their younger brother is a year older than me and I played baseball with him. I think it was (her sister) McKenna, she was always at the practices helping their dad, so she talked my dad into turning me into a softball player and to stop playing baseball because I was a girl. So I got into eight and under softball, and on my ten and under travel team I played second base, and our outfield wasn't that good, so our coach put me out there. I caught a few balls and just kind of stayed there.
KH: My parents had me hitting off a tee from age three or four, and I played t-ball. I was actually a pitcher until I was like 10 or 11ish, and then it got to where "If you're going to pitch, when you're not pitching you're not going to play." I was like forget it I'm not doing this. My coaches put me at third one game and I ended up loving it. In high school I played field hockey and softball, and was really close to playing field hockey in college instead of softball. Actually, the fact that it was Notre Dame is what brought me here.
EK: Oh yeah, I pitched, and then walked 11 batters, and never saw the mound again...(all laughing). I forgot that detail...
KH: I started pitching because my mom forgot to draft a pitcher in rec. She said, "Well, you're going to pitch this year." I was eight, and I think I averaged like three hit batters a game.
Do you have any pregame or at-bat rituals?
KH: Before every game, our class actually has its own huddle and says what we want to do during the game. I don't know how I got to doing my pre at-bat little, bat-helmet thing, I don't know...
CW: I have to swipe the dirt in the batter's box, and I have to touch the barrel of the bat to my helmet.
JS: I eat M&Ms, before every game (all laughing). I usually have a bag in my backpack and take some out. When I was younger my dad always brought me M&Ms during my games for energy, and I just kind of kept going with that.
EK: Pregame, I put my left sock and left stirrup on before my right sock and stirrup, and I put my left batting glove on before my right, I don't know why. And I swipe the front inside of the box. That's it I think.
KH: Also, you can't step on the baseline before the game. You've got to step over it.
JS: That's a big one.
KH: Can't step on the chalk.
What is your favorite place on campus, and why?
KH: I think driving down Notre Dame Ave., especially in the spring when everything is green.
EK: I have a favorite bench down by the lakes that is very peaceful. I will go during the summer.
KH: You probably can't even sit on the bench now because it's covered in snow...
CW: I like the door that says "God, Country, Notre Dame" on the Basilica, I walk past that one here and there.
What word(s) best describe your class?
EK: Well, maybe that's just me (all laughing)...Messy? Again, party of one...
CW: I think we're really close.
KH: We are all under 5-6, and we all have odd numbers.
EK: Wait, who's 5-6?
KH: I said under 5-6.
JS: I would say awesome and close are really good ones.
KH: We're fun...
JS: I think people enjoy being around us, I would say.
EK: We think we're hilarious (all laughing). Beautiful...
KH: We are so smart...
CW: We all have boyfriends! (all laughing). We are all taken...
EK: Sorry boys (all laughing).
CW: I think we are really competitive, like the most competitive class because we win everything.
EK: We are pretty confident...
JS: We love ourselves.
CW: We're all that...
KH: ... And a bag of chips...
CW: And that's that.
EK: I think we're inclusive...
CW: I thought you said EXclusive, and I was like... (all laughing).
KH: I think we could have fun in a cardboard box.
EK: We really like chocolate...
JS: I carry it in the pockets of my jacket (all laughing).
KH: So does she (points at Emi)...
EK: I had chocolate chips in my pocket.
KH: (One time) she goes, "Oh, I've got chocolate chips in here!"
EK: We are smiley, have great teeth...
KH: All right Emi... (all laughing).
What goals do you have for your junior seasons?
CW: Win a national championship.
EK: To make it further than we ever have...
JS: And to just dominate everybody that we play, we want a team to not want to play us again.
EK: Shock the ACC.
JS: And make a real name for Notre Dame softball.
EK: Shock the country.
JS: I like that one...
KH: That's a good one, that's a marketing major over here...
EK: And a studio art minor, I'm creative. We're creative!
KH: She's in woodshop. She will make you a chair...
Be sure to check back for the final edition of Getting To Know Irish Softball with the Notre Dame senior class. For the latest news and updates on all things Notre Dame softball, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant