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ND SOFTBALL: After Big East title, Irish ready for postseason

Kate Gales | Friday, May 13, 2005

Ten titles, five seniors, one goal.

After wrapping up their tenth consecutive Big East regular-season title, the Irish softball team is far from finished.

“They expect to win the Big East, and that’s a given,” Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf said. “That’s just common knowledge about the team – that’s just the way it is here.”

A pair of lopsided victories over Rutgers sealed the title for the Irish and ensured their top seeding for the Big East Tournament. The wins left the Irish with a record of 41-11 and a conference tally of 16-2. Although the dominating performances ended conference play on a positive note, Gumpf said the real culmination was the last home game against Syracuse in front of a large home crowd.

Gumpf attributed much of this season’s success to the senior class – Megan Ciolli, Steffany Stenglein, Carrie Wisen, Liz Hartmann and Nicole Wicks.

“There are so many things that these girls do that make this class special. … These girls are just a great group,” she said.

Ciolli, the team captain, was named All-American last year. According to Gumpf, the team looks to her for leadership.

“We didn’t come to play well today at practice,” Gumpf said. “Someone needs to say ‘it’s not good enough,’ and Megan is really that person. Megan is not afraid to say anything to anybody, and I think that’s been a good thing for this team … to have it come from somebody else other than the coaches.”

Another key component of the team has been Stenglein, who is averaging 12 strikeouts per game.

“She has turned it on the last half of the season,” Gumpf said. “… she’s just nasty right now. She’s a tough pitcher to hit, and she’s dominated the Big East … her stats are awesome.”

Despite a nagging leg injury, Wisen has also been a major contributor this year.

“She’s really fallen into the DP – designated player – role,” Gumpf said. “She has had some clutch hits … just watching her hit is so fun, and the whole team loves to watch her hit. She’s one of those players – anything you throw at her, she can hit it.”

Injuries also affected Hartmann’s time on the diamond.

“She’s really had a great career at Notre Dame,” Gumpf said. “She’s a great third baseman and a clutch hitter.”

Wicks, who transferred to Notre Dame after her sophomore season at Washington, was the final piece of the senior jigsaw puzzle.

“She’s taught the young girls so much about baserunning,” Gumpf said. “She’s one of those players that understands the game so well, and she’s a great teacher of it.”

The five-some has determined much of the team’s drive for success, Gumpf, who believes that the senior class determines the team’s chemistry, said.

“This senior class realized that and decided, ‘This is how I want our team to be.’ They’ve made the decisions on how this team is – the good and the bad, but there’s a heck of a lot more good,” she said.

The season is not yet over for the Irish. One goal remains – to make the College World Series, a feat never before accomplished by Notre Dame.

“That’s the ultimate,” Gumpf said. “There’s nothing bigger or better.”