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    Irish Softball Have High Expections in 2007

    FIGHTING IRISH Notre Dame's softball program will open the 2007 season against Auburn on Feb. 16 at the Tiger Invitational in Auburn, Ala.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Notre Dame's softball program will open the 2007 season against Auburn on Feb. 16 at the Tiger Invitational in Auburn, Ala.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Feb. 8, 2007

    The 2007 edition of Notre Dame softball will feature the experience of four seniors and seven upperclassmen that have been a key part of the Irish over the past three seasons.

    This year's senior class has a combined record of 137-73 (.652), which is the third- most wins ever for a Notre Dame class heading into its senior season (topped only by the '02 and '03 classes). This class also has led the Irish to three NCAA regional appearances, two conference regular season crowns and a pair of BIG EAST Conference Tournament titles. This year's Notre Dame roster boasts nine freshmen and sophomores. How quickly the veterans and the younger players can learn to play together will ultimately tell the tale of the `07 season.

    Notre Dame returns six position starters, three pitchers and 13 monogram winners from a season ago. The team also added three newcomers to the mix, as the squad looks for its ninth consecutive NCAA bid.

    "We only have three newcomers but we will have five new people in the lineup this season, which is interesting," Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf explains. "So even though on paper it doesn't sound like we've changed much, in reality this is a totally different team than we've had the last few seasons. We lost four key starters. With losing those four, we'll need to adjust and adapt. It's an exciting team for me and my coaching staff to coach because I really feel as if it's a brand new team."

    Pitching

    The Irish pitching staff is expected to be a strong point for Notre Dame in `07 and will be led by the duo of sophomore Brittney Bargar and senior Kenya Fuemmeler.

    Bargar, who went 15-9 last season, returns to anchor the staff. She struck out 157 batters in 151 innings last season proving to be a reliable starter for the Irish.

    Bargar's role will expand greatly and she will be expected to carry more of the load this season following the graduation of former Notre Dame workhorse Heather Booth.

    "With the experience she gained last season, Brittney knows how to get it done for us," Gumpf says. "I think she is prepared and ready to lead this team. Last year proved to be a great learning experience. She had tremendous success, where she pitched great (including one eight inning no-hitter), but she also had her moments when things just didn't work out for her. Overall, both the struggles and the success made her a better pitcher and taught her about both the highs and lows of this game. I think she is ready for both the challenges and expectations this year."

    Fuemmeler, the second starter and one of the three captains, is making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation. In 12 appearances in 2006, Fuemmeler had a sparkling 1.56 ERA and limited opponents to a .190 batting average.

    "Kenya is a senior that has never wanted anything more than what she is doing this year," Gumpf comments. "I'm excited for Kenya. She has worked so hard leading this team and deserves to be one of our starting pitchers. She has grown into a good pitcher and I'm excited to send her out there because she will always find a way to win."

    Christine Farrell, a sophomore from La Habra, Calif., will be making her Irish debut in the circle this year after missing last season due to off-season surgery.

    "Christine is healthy and back in the rotation this year," Gumpf explains. "She is throwing to our hitters everyday and getting game ready. She is a finesse pitcher that depends more on location and moving the ball around. She really does a great job of playing with the hitter's minds and can be very difficult to hit because of the way she throws. She is definitely going to play a big role in the later innings for the team this season."

    Catchers

    Despite losing former starter and second team all-BIG EAST catcher Mallorie Lenn to graduation, Notre Dame still returns two talented and experienced catchers in sophomore Erin Glasco and senior Gessica Hufnagle.

    Glasco appeared in 58 games for the Irish last season with 52 starts. Of the sophomore's 52 starts, 10 were behind the dish for the Irish. In splitting her time behind catching and as the designated player, Glasco totaled 30 hits, six doubles and 10 walks.

    "Erin is a talented catcher who got her feet wet last season and is ready to take on a leading role," Gumpf says. "She has the potential to be one of the best hitters on the roster because she has great focus at the plate. She also has a great arm and does a tremendous job of working with our pitching staff."

    Hufnagle will be the other part of the catching tandem. After making the transition to the outfield and 50 starts in left field, Hufnagle will make the move back behind the plate this year. Hufnagle drove in 13 runs and was fourth on the team with seven sacrifices in 2006. Hufnagle also had a steady defensive season at a new position with only one error.

    "She has done so many things and has played quite a few positions for the team in her time at Notre Dame," Gumpf remarks. "Gessica began her career as a catcher and spent a season in the outfield and is now back to working behind the plate. She calls herself `The Wall' and I have to agree because she excels at blocking balls in the dirt and takes a lot of pride in her defense."

    "Both of our catchers have major strengths that the team depends on and are quality hitters. Erin bats from the left side of the plate while Gessica is the right-handed combo of the platoon and my goal is to have them both in the lineup in some capacity no matter who is catching."

    First Base

    Senior Carissa Jaquish is the team's first option at first base. Jaquish also has spent quite a bit of her Notre Dame career finding a positions spending time in the infield, outfield and even a season working behind the plate. Jaquish has seen action in 137 games in her career. As a freshman, she was the team's top option at designated player. As a sophomore, she spent time as both the designated player and as the back-up catcher. In her junior season, she played some at third base, the outfield and as the designated player. While versatility is always nice, it is felt that Jaquish may have finally found a full-time home at first base this season.

    "Carissa will be one of the starters at first base," Gumpf emphatically states. "She has been waiting a long time to find her place and get this opportunity. I feel like she found her position and is now feeling both comfortable and confident. Those feelings will go a long way to the success she will have. She is ready to do great things for us. I'm really expecting her to step up and be a solid offensive player."

    Christine Lux, a freshman from Glendale Heights, Ill., also is in the mix for playing time at first. Lux was recognized throughout her high school career for her hitting prowess and will provide a steady bat for the Irish.

    "I love her approach at the plate," Gumpf notes. "Christine is disciplined and swings the bat hard. I've always felt that anyone who swings the bat hard is more likely to make something good happen. Her learning curve has been tremendous. She has made some major accomplishments in a short period of time. Additionally, she is a left-handed batter, which is always a nice luxury to have."

    Second Base

    Sophomore Linda Kohan, who played both third and first base last season, will likely be Notre Dame's starting second baseman. She began the '06 season at third but eventually settled in at first base. Wherever she played in the infield, Kohan continued to hit throughout and she led the freshmen in all offensive categories, including batting average (.275), hits (49), doubles (13), home runs (5) and runs driven-in (29).

    "Linda has spend a great deal of her off-season working on her speed and quickness and it has really paid off," Gumpf remarks. "She is much quicker than she was and her range has also greatly improved. I'm anticipating great things from her offensively and defensively. She really is one of our up-and-coming leaders."

    Shortstop

    The shortstop position will be manned by another familiar face in a new place in junior Katie Laing. Laing, after spending her first two seasons and the majority of her 124 career games starting at second base, is making the smooth transition back to her natural position at shortstop. Laing had a solid second year for Notre Dame in `06 with a .283 batting average to go along with a team-leading 16 doubles and 34 RBI. Her best quality, however, may be her leadership ability. The junior was named one of the three captains (along with Kenya Fuemmeler and Stephanie Brown) this season and has earned the title of `The General' by the Notre Dame coaching staff.

    "She is `The General' and is a tremendous leader both on and off the field," Gumpf explains with a gleam in her eye. "Katie is the glue of not only the infield but the entire team. She is a leader and influences her teammates in so many ways with not only her play but also with the way she teaches and coaches on the field. She also possess a naturally beautiful swing and is extremely fun to watch play."

    Third Base

    Freshman Heather Johnson arrives with high expectations of playing third base for the Irish this season. Johnson, from Los Alamitos, Calif. and perennial athletic powerhouse Mater Dei, had the attention of Gumpf the moment she arrived on campus during the fall.

    "The minute she arrived on campus, I knew Heather was going to be my third baseman," Gumpf notes. "She has a certain inner confidence about her and truly believes nothing should get past her at third base. It's the sort of quality I enjoy seeing, especially from someone as young as Johnson. Although she is young, she is someone that has proven to be reliable and steady and can be counted on to produce. She is a talented hitter with good power potential. On defense she has very soft hands and has added stability to the infield."

    Outfield

    Stephanie Brown returns to patrol centerfield. Brown is coming off a season where she earned several national awards. Among the senior's awards were a unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selection, a second-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American honor and a Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association third-team All-American honor. Brown also set the BIG EAST record for hits in league play with 38, while playing centerfield for the first time in her career.

    "Stephanie is coming off an All-American season and I don't expect her approach to change this year," Gumpf says. "She will again be counted on to be one of our leaders (the third of the three captains) and set the tempo at the top of the lineup for the offense. I can't say enough about what she means to this team."

    The Irish have plenty of talented outfielders that are vying for possible time this year in juniors Brittany Glynn and Sarah Smith, sophomores Beth Northway and Stephanie Mola and freshman Ashley Ellis.

    Glynn scored 13 runs last season for Notre Dame, mostly as a pinch runner. Smith also excelled for the Irish as a pinch runner with 18 runs scored last season and she started eight games in left and right field. Northway hit .667 in limited playing time due to an early season injury. Mola proved to be difficult to keep out of the lineup as she led the freshman outfielders with 25 starts. Mola also contributed 15 hits and eight runs scored.

    "Brittany (Glynn) is a steady outfielder that is capable of playing all three positions," Gumpf comments. "She is great for the team because of her enthusiasm for the game."

    "Sarah is the fastest player on the team. She is a gifted athlete that is just beginning to realize all that she is capable of doing. She gives us flexibility both as a starter and coming off the bench."

    "Beth was still recovering from her surgery at the end of last season so we really just got a taste of what she is capable of contributing to the team. Beth is an outstanding athlete. She is a determined, hard-nosed player. She also has the ability to play the infield, but will receive more playing time as an outfielder."

    "Stephanie (Mola) is arguably one of the hardest workers on the team and the player that gets the most out of her abilities. She just always seems to find a way to get the job done no matter the situation. She is an excellent contact hitter and is a hard player to keep out of the lineup because she does the intangible elements so well."

    "Ashley has the potential to be great. She is fast, has a great arm and good range. She is coming along very well as a hitter. Her consistency will ultimately determine how much she contributes this year."

    Coaching Staff

    Notre Dame returns its entire coaching staff from a season ago in assistants Kris Ganeff, Lizzy Lemire and Dawn Austin.

    "With Kris and Lizzy on board I wouldn't trade them for any other staff in the country," Gumpf explains. "Not only do they know the game, they also have knowledge of what it takes to be successful at Notre Dame because they both did it as players. Both Kris and Lizzy have an undying love and admiration for the school and that is the way they coach. I see it and the girls see it each and every day."

    "Dawn is an experienced Notre Dame assistant that is volunteering and helping out with the team for the second year. She really helps by throwing batting practice and getting everyone ready to play on game days."

    "Together we all work well, and really bring out the best in each other and the team."

    "Coaching at Notre Dame is truly a great experience. It really is an honor and privilege to coach here and be a part of this special university. This is truly a unique place and there is really nowhere else that compares to it."

    Schedule

    A 22-game home slate, three trips to California and appearances in Alabama and Florida highlight a very challenging 2007 Notre Dame softball schedule.

    The Irish slate features 15 teams that made the `06 NCAA Division I Softball Championship (UCLA, South Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Tennessee Tech, Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, Tulsa, Northwestern, Arizona State, California, Louisiana-Lafayette and Auburn), including six teams that advanced to the round of 16.

    Notre Dame opens up `07 play at the Tiger Invitational (Feb. 16-18) against host school Auburn on Feb. 16. The Tigers ended the'06 season ranked No. 21 in the NFCA poll. The Irish also will play a second game that afternoon against Alabama-Birmingham. Notre Dame will face Tennessee Tech (Feb. 17) and Tulsa (Feb. 17) on day two of the tournament, before squaring off against Virginia Tech (Feb. 18) on the last day.

    The first trip to California (Palm Springs Tournament) follows the next weekend, Feb. 23-25, highlighted by games against Oklahoma (Feb. 23), California (Feb. 23), UNLV (Feb. 24), Cal State Fullerton (Feb. 24) and Ole Miss (Feb. 25).

    Notre Dame travels to Florida for the Jacksonville Tournament (March 2-4) to take on Virginia (March 2), Jacksonville (March 2 & 3) and Michigan (March 3 & 4).

    During their Spring Break the Irish travel back to California, as they participate in the Long Beach State Invitational and the Judi Garman Classic. Among the teams on the docket are Eastern Kentucky (March 11), UCLA (March 11), Arizona State (March 15), Fresno State (March 16) and Louisiana-Lafayette (March 16).

    Notre Dame will open the home portion of its schedule with a non-conference game against IUPUI on March 22 at Ivy Field. The following weekend, the Irish begin BIG EAST Conference play with a doubleheader against St. John's on March 24. Fellow BIG EAST rival Seton Hall comes in the following day, March 25, for a pair of games. The home schedule continues with a game against Toledo on March 28 and a conference doubleheader against Pittsburgh on March 31.

    The Irish play 20 games in April, including 14 home games. Among the teams paying a visit to Notre Dame are BIG EAST rivals Syracuse (April 1), Louisville (April 21) and South Florida (April 22). The Irish also have three conference road doubleheaders during the month against DePaul (April 5), Providence (April 14) and Connecticut (April 15). The Irish finish the month with a single game against NCAA College World Series participant Northwestern (April 24) and UIC (April 25).

    Notre Dame closes out the regular season with three road doubleheaders, including two conference matchups. The Irish travel to Loyola Chicago on May 1, before taking on BIG EAST rivals Rutgers (May 5) and Villanova (May 6).

    The BIG EAST Softball Championship, hosted by Notre Dame at the Belleville Softball Complex, begins on May 10 with the winner receiving the conference's automatic bid into the 2007 NCAA Softball Championship. The first round of the NCAA Regional starts on May 18.

    "I wanted to the start the year off as challenging as possible," Gumpf explains. "I'm a big believer in playing against the best competition and looking at this year's schedule, I think we are certainly achieving this goal. Nine of our first 18 games are being played against teams that were ranked in the top 25. We are going to get a good idea of what type of team we have very quickly. Our team welcomes the type of challenge this schedule presents."

    Goals

    After the success the Irish have experienced since Gumpf took over the program (four BIG EAST regular season titles, three BIG EAST tournament crowns and five consecutive appearances in an NCAA Regional) you would think the goals would be fairly easy and defined, but the Irish head coach has an interesting take on her team's season goals.

    "We take it week-by-week," Gumpf remarks. "Our season goals remain to dominate in the BIG EAST, win the tournament title and make the NCAA Regional; but between now and the end of the season, we need to really focus our attention on consistency and finding ways to win."

    "It's going to be a tough season, ahead of us, but if we build on our great fall season (4-0 record in the Worth Fall Classic), we are going to have a great future. I'm very excited by the chemistry and the bond the team started to form in the fall and will continue to mold in the spring."

     

     

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