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ND Softball

Winter wins another

| Monday, April 28, 2014

The first thing you notice about Laura Winter is that she’s always in motion. As she stands in the circle waiting for the catcher’s signal, she rocks slightly on her left toe, back and forth and back and forth, before coiling and snapping forward like a whip. The ball zips past the batter, but she’s already moving. She’ll catch the throw back and walk around a little bit before getting right back to business, gently rocking and waiting to throw the next pitch right past a hitter.

It seems uncanny, almost an unconscious tic of muscle memory, but as strange as it sounds, Winter does it to relax.

“I have a thing where I just can’t stay still,” Winter said. “I have to be moving around, have to be doing something, because I don’t want to be the pitcher that only stays in the pitcher’s circle. I want to be out, and I want to be interacting with my team.”

Irish senior pitcher Laura Winter winds up in Notre Dame's 11-4 win over Ball State on April 1 at Melissa Cook Stadium.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish senior pitcher Laura Winter winds up in Notre Dame’s 11-4 win over Ball State on April 1 at Melissa Cook Stadium.

It’s a method that has worked for Winter, as the Irish senior winds down her softball career as one of the greatest pitchers to ever wear a Notre Dame uniform. Through April 28, Winter (23-4) is ranked first on the all-time list in program history for wins and strikeouts, sitting at 106 wins and 1,025 career strikeouts. She is also the only pitcher in program history win both the conference pitcher of the year award (2012) and conference player of the year award (2013).

Yet, amusingly enough, when Winter first started playing at the age of seven, pitching was the last thing on her mind.

“I actually didn’t want to be a pitcher,” Winter said. “I didn’t want to be the center of attention, I always wanted to hide behind the catcher’s mask. They forced me to go out for one inning, and when I came out I was like ‘Alright, I’m done.’ But I was thinking about it, and the next day I came downstairs and I was like ‘Dad, I kinda wanna pitch.’ And he was like ‘Well, alright, we’ll get you ready next season and you’ll be a starter.”

“And I said, ‘No, no, no. I wanna pitch this season.”

It’s that drive that led her to eventually be named the Palomar League Pitcher of the Year during her high school senior season in 2010, and it played a role in how she burst onto the scene for the Irish her freshman year in 2011. Winter led the team with 25 wins, 12 complete games, 179.1 innings pitched, and her 216 strikeouts were more than half the team total of 413. From there, she’s never looked back. Each season she has led the team in strikeouts, wins, innings pitched and complete games.

But Winter wasn’t thinking about that when she started; all she was looking to do was earn her spot on the team.

“Coming in, freshman year, my whole mentality was just to ‘Do your job,’” Winter said. “If you get an inning here or there, you know, fantastic. Make sure you prove yourself for next year. When things started to kind of roll, people came up to me and were like ‘We see the energy change when you’re on the mound, ’ and that changed my mentality to ‘Alright, it’s going to be a bigger role than I thought.’”

It’s a decidedly modest approach, but like any successful pitcher Winter knows her accomplishments cannot be reached without the support of her teammates behind her.

“A couple of girls came up to me [saying] ‘Look at the team behind you, we rally behind you, and you’re the one we want out there,’” Winter said. “That is a humbling experience, to know that people behind you also believe in you, and just to have that vocalized is really an eye-opening experience. It’s a whole team effort.”

For Irish coach Deanna Gumpf, who has coached Winter all four seasons of her career, it is almost difficult to find the words to describe Winter’s effect on the team.

“I feel like she’s grown so much and I feel like she brings so much competitiveness to this team,” Gumpf said. “She has drive, she has desire, and she’s never satisfied. There’s no one who wants to win more than she does, and she wants to do anything she can to help this team win.”

“What does she mean to this team? Well, we’ve been jumping on her back for four years. She is the center of our team.”

And though she’s spent her entire senior season knocking down records left and right, she’s never let that affect her approach.

“[We don’t] talk about it, it’s almost like a superstition, like throwing a no-hitter,” Winter said.

But Winter won’t be hanging up the cleats just yet. The information technology management major studying at the Mendoza College of Business looks to take her career professionally, having been drafted by the Akron Racers of National Pro Fastpitch.

But for all of the success Winter has achieved during her stay on the Irish mound, it is an inevitable reality that it is almost finished. Winter said it didn’t really start to hit her until hearing announcements for the next summer’s youth softball camps, when she realized that this would be the first time where she wouldn’t be looking forward helping out at the clinics anymore, and be preparing for the next step. But ask her what she’ll miss most, and perhaps it’s no surprise that her response is immediate.

“The team,” Winter said. “Absolutely. Just the team mentality, the friendships that we have, the team activities off the field, everything. It’s definitely been worth it.”

 

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