Nov. 29, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame head softball coach Deanna Gumpf recently announced the signing of four high school players that are set to join the Irish in the fall of 2008.
California's Kristina Wright and Danielle Miller will join Alexa Maldonado of New Jersey and New York's Kasey O'Connor for the 2009 softball campaign.
"This signing class brings a great mix of power and speed to the program," Gumpf noted. "Not only are they extremely athletic, but they have all excelled in the classroom and have a deep passion and sense of respect for the University.
"Offensively, they do it all. They're definitely players who I recruited with the vision that they'll be making immediate contributions to our lineup. This is a class that is also very balanced, defensively.
"It's fun and rewarding as a coach to be able to join athletes from both sides of the continent. It shows you that the game of softball and its popularity has spread throughout the country. I believe we have four of the best athletes coming out of their class. They all come from very good high school and club teams, which will help them be better prepared for the caliber of competition they'll see at the Division I level."
Considered one of the top prep athletes not only in the state of New Jersey but the entire East coast, according to Rivals.com, Maldonado provides the Irish with a superior combination of speed and power at the plate. She surprisingly took up softball only as recently as four years ago - playing competitive baseball up to that point - and attended Notre Dame's high school clinic last winter.
A first-team all-county choice last season, she exploded for an eye-opening 1.216 slugging percentage and her 12 homeruns led all players in Essex County while distinguishing herself as one of the top position players in the country.
Earning four letters as a starting shortstop on head coach Jim Colabelli's Millburn High School varsity squad, Maldonado has captained her prep team for two seasons and has three times been named its most valuable player. An all-state selection as a junior after leading Millburn to an 18-9 record and an appearance in the second round of the state playoffs, she was also tabbed an all-conference choice in each of the past three seasons.
Looking ahead to the spring of 2008, Maldanado will enter the upcoming season as the school's single-season homerun leader after launching 12 bombs out of the park in 2007. That season, she also hit .608 with a .707 on-base percentage and drove in 39 runs. She made the most out of her time on the base paths by stealing 19 bags and crossed the plate 42 times.
To begin the 2007 season, she homered in the first at-bat in each of her opening four contests from the leadoff spot in the lineup.
She further exhibited her athleticism by earning four letters on the Millburn's basketball team, earning nods as the team's most valuable player as a sophomore and junior. For the last two seasons she was voted to the all-conference team, highlighted by a 30-point contest as a junior. In fact, the New Jersey Star-Ledger noted that her half-court heave - which netted three of her game-high 25 points - at the end of the third quarter against West Milford on Jan. 18 was the paper's shot of the year.
At the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) camp held this past June in Pennsbury, Pa., she had the fastest 30-yard dash time (3.88) out of the 450 participants.
The high school senior stays active in the local community by singing in Millburn's chorus, and is a member of the St. Rose of Lima youth group. She is daughter of Gina and Frank Maldonado of Short Hills, N.J., and has three brothers - Frank, Nicholas, and Christopher. Her father played baseball at Manhattan College.
"Alexa is such a threat at the plate and exhibits tremendous speed once she makes contact," Gumpf shared. "She's very passionate about softball and passionate about Notre Dame. She is really fun to watch play the game, as she is an amazing outfielder with a rifle for an arm. Alexa is going to turn a lot of heads when she's on the field for us."
O'Connor, a native of Yorktown, N.Y., comes to Notre Dame from the same high school, Yorktown, that yielded Irish swimmer Rebecca Grove (2004-07).
She is a member of the National Honor Society, Student Against Drunk Driving, the Big Buddy mentor program, and Yorktown's student senate.
The multi-sport start has earned two letters as a forward on the soccer team, three letters with the hoops squad, swam the 50-yard freestyle event, and has already earned four softball varsity letters. O'Connor earned starting nods on three varsity sports during her freshman year.
She capped off a junior season in which she hit .461 in 102 at bats by earning all-state honors. O'Connor also scored 34 times and recorded 26 RBI on 47 hits, four of which were doubles and three went for three bags. She had an on-base percentage of .486 and a slugging clip of .735 that was aided by six homers. Over the course of Yorktown's season, she was good for 14 multi-hit contests and racked up at least a pair of RBI in eight more games.
This past June, she was tabbed the North County News' Athlete of the Month after hitting homeruns in four consecutive games to close the season, as the last three of those came during her first at-bat of the game.
The North County News also recognized her on its all-county team in 2007 and 2006, an honor she also collected from the Journal News. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association awarded her its scholar-athlete award during her respective soccer, basketball, and softball seasons.
Along with teammate Cassie Reilly-Boccia, who has also signed to play Division I softball, O'Connor led the Cornhuskers to a 24-4 mark and a Section 1 Class AA title last season, which was the school's first-ever softball championship.
Her brothers, Kevin and Ryan, played lacrosse at Delaware and Boston College, respectively.
"Kasey is a very versatile ballplayer; she can play the entire infield and has the speed for the outfield," Gumpf said. "She is a power hitter with a nice, strong swing. She has had a great experience in travel ball and it was a pleasure to recruit someone with such a strong desire to excel at the college level."
Wright had six schools on her list but will now wear the blue and gold after she wraps up her prep career at Ramona High School in Sand Diego, Calif.
"Kristina will be doing a lot of catching for Notre Dame," said Gump. "She is a power hitter; she has a beautiful swing, a great arm, and she works really well with pitchers. In watching her play, you can tell that she is a student of the game, and that's reflected in her fundamental technique and field savvy. She has already caught for some of the best pitchers coming out of her class, so that experience will pave the way for a smooth transition when she catches for our girls.
"She is very driven, and she is going to do whatever it takes to help Notre Dame achieve its goals. Just from watching her, it's apparent that she's a leader on the field, and she makes sure that her team is ready to go on every pitch. She's got that intangible quality that provides a great presence, defensively, and pitchers love to throw to her."
Rivals.com listed her as one of the top prospects at her position among Californians.
She has earned four letters in softball and has served as team captain for three seasons under Ramona head coach Mike Schuler, taking home the team's MVP honor in 2007. Wright has received all-Valley League honors three times in as many seasons, and was voted to the all-city team following her junior campaign.
Wright played volleyball for Ramona as a freshman before focusing solely on softball, and it surely paid off. In her first stretch with the prep squad, she tied for the fourth-most RBI (20) in the conference and was third with a pair of homeruns in league play.
As a junior, her total of eight homeruns was good for third-place among all players in North County. That season she had 38 hits in 79 at-bats, scoring 32 times and drove in another 25 runs. Her .481 batting average was sixth-best in the league, which was supported by an on-base percentage of .585.
Wright won her team's 2005 Defensive Player of Year award, then racked up the Coach's Leadership award in 2006 and took home the Valley League's Player of the Year award that same season. She made it onto the California Interscholastic Federation's (CIF) 2007 all-San Diego team, and found a spot on the CIF's all-academic squad as well. The Union-Tribune named her to its second-team in 2006, and then she played her way into its first-team one season later.
Through three prep seasons, she sports a .418 batting average, .498 on-base percentage, has plated 79 runs, driven in 75 more scores, and slammed 16 homeruns. For four consecutive years her summer team, So Cal Athletics, has played its way into the ASA National Tournament, and finished 5th in the 18U Gold division in 2005.
The daughter of Sylvia and Keith Wright is a member of the National Honor Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Renaissance Club, and is president of her high school's Spanish Club.
Miller, a native of Huntington Beach, Calif., is a four-year starter for Edison High School of the CIF's Sunset League. Seeing most of her defensive action at third base and shortstop, Miller is a two-time all-conference and first-team all-leaguer.
"Defensively, Dani has superior instincts in the middle infield," Gumpf shared. "Moreover, she has smooth glove work at the corners. She is a very determined young lady and such a gritty player. When she is playing the game, you can tell she loves it. That's the first thing that caught my eye about Dani. Simply put - she's a ballplayer."
This past season she posted a .329 batting average with 16 RBI and three homers. The 16 RBI tied her for fourth among league players, while the trio of bombs was enough for fourth-best among Sunset batters as well.
She is one of six members of her Firecrackers Gold travel squad that have signed with Division I programs including her twin sister, Rachel, who will be playing her college ball at UC Davis. Last season, the sisters connected for back-to-back homers during one of Edison's regular season contests. They are the daughters of Chris and Jeanne Miller.
Against some of the top teams from California, Miller led Edison to the quarterfinals of the Woodbridge 25th Annual Tournament this past April. Miller boosted Edison ahead of Beckman High School to a 4-0 lead by driving in three early runs on a single and double.
Miller was recognized as a CIF scholar athlete in each of the last three seasons. As a junior, she was her team's offensive player of the year after taking home all-tournament honors in California's Cypress Tournament.
"There is so much speed, power, and versatility in this class," Gumpf concluded. "I honestly believe that we've got the best players from both sides of the country."