Irish open with quartet of games
Christina Kochanski | Thursday, February 6, 2014
The Irish hit the road this weekend to kick off their season at the Auburn Plainsman Invitational in Auburn, Ala., where they will take on four teams in two days.
Saturday’s first game features a matchup between the Irish and Tennessee Tech, who ranked seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference. Another competitive game follows that afternoon against North Dakota State, two-time defending champions of the Summit League.
Sunday morning the Irish face Morehead State out of the Ohio Valley Conference. They round out the weekend against tournament host Auburn Tigers, who rank 13th preseason in the Southeastern Conference.
Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said she anticipates strong competition from all of Notre Dame’s opponents this weekend.
“This time of year, it’s anybody’s ballgame,” Gumpf said. “They’re all going to be good. It’s everybody’s first weekend, everybody’s excited, everybody has been chomping at the bit to play somebody.”
The Irish opened up practice season in mid-January. Gumpf said despite the limited amount of practice time, she believes the team is prepared for the tournament.
“Softball players are accustomed and we’re bred to play a lot of games,” Gumpf said. “Our girls don’t know any different. Four games in one weekend is not a big deal, it’s typical.”
Gumpf is entering her 13th season as head coach at Notre Dame, one example of the team’s wide range of experience. The Irish are returning seven starters, including junior outfielder Emilee Koerner. Koerner was named to the ESPNW preseason All-American softball team along with 11 other college players from around the country. Koerner and senior pitcher and infielder Laura Winter were also named to the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List.
The team’s 17-woman roster is comprised of four seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen. Gumpf said the team is counting on the experience of the returning players.
“Do I depend on them? Absolutely. Every single one of them,” Gumpf said.
This tournament marks the team’s debut as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. A preseason ACC poll ranked the Irish behind only Florida State and North Carolina State. The Irish are coming off of a strong final season in the Big East, finishing with a 43-15 record and a regular-season championship.
The Irish hope last season’s success will carry over into this season. However, Gumpf said she believes it can be difficult to predict the skill and ranking of teams before the season starts.
“You don’t know who you’re going to get at the beginning of the year,” Gumpf said. “I mean, we could be getting anybody. … I’m expecting everybody that we play to be a top-10 team.”
The Irish can expect tough matchups this weekend. The Golden Eagles have senior infielder Stephanie Etter, who was named preseason second-team all-conference. Against Auburn, the Irish will have to deal with two players named to the preseason All-SEC team: junior outfielder Morgan Estell and sophomore infielder Emily Carosone. North Dakota State’s senior catcher Jenina Ortega was named a first-team all-league honoree in 2013.
The Irish kick off their season this weekend in Auburn, Ala. as they compete in the Auburn Plainsman Invitational.