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ND Women’s Softball: Team opens season with winning hopes

Molly Sammon | Thursday, February 11, 2010

After breaking numerous records at the plate, on the mound and in the field, and winning the title of Big East champions last season, the Irish softball team is ready to begin the 2010 season with even loftier goals.

“Our expectations are higher this season,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “We have a veteran team who knows how to win.”

Though Notre Dame was not granted a pre-season ranking, some of those who voted did see potential in the Irish, which hopefully promises that they will be ranked within the first few weeks of play, if all goes well.

“In the voters’ minds we lost some key players from last season,” Gumpf said. “It also gives us an opportunity to rise in the rankings early.”

The Irish graduated five seniors at the end of the 2009 season, including celebrated pitcher Brittany Bargar. But the coaching staff boasts that they do not predict the Irish will struggle at the mound with four pitchers and varying the rotation.

“I expect Jody Valdivia to lead the way with her experience and success from last year,” Gumpf said. “We also have junior Shannon Kelly and two freshmen, Jackie Bowe and Brittany O’Donnell, who will be throwing innings for us.”

The remaining Irish defense will remain similar to last season with only one infield position to be held by a new player.

“Our goal defensively is to be solid, make consistent plays,” Gumpf said. “We will be working on getting better every day we are out there and becoming a consistent team.”

Last year, the Irish team featured many strong hitters. Returning top hitters include senior Christine Lux and sophomore Dani Miller.

“Our hitters this year potentially could be even better than last year’s squad,” Irish assistant coach Kris Ganeff said. “With what we have returned and our added freshmen bats I would look for the Irish to come out swinging.”

The Irish start their season this weekend playing in the Kajikawa Classic, hosted by Arizona State. The Irish will play last year’s NCAA Champion team and preseason top-ranked team, the Washington Huskies.

“We always play a tough but balanced preseason schedule,” Gumpf said. “It prepares us for the Big East competition.”

Playing the big name teams from highly competitive softball conferences, such as the Big 12, SEC and Pac 10, help prepare the Irish for their in-conference portion of the schedule, which kicks off March 27 against Seton Hall.

“When it comes to Big East, every team is gunning for us,” Gumpf said. “Each team is our biggest game on the day we play them.”

Notre Dame will also play other competitive programs before starting the Big East portion of its schedule, including No. 16 Ohio State, Auburn, Purdue, San Diego State and Oregon.

“The possibility should be great for us to win another ring,” Ganeff said. “We have a lot of talent and great leadership. If we stay focused throughout each part of our season, we should put ourselves in a good spot for the postseason.”