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Irish ranked in top 20 in polls

Chris Federico | Thursday, January 15, 2004

While still more than a month away from their season opener with San Diego State in Los Angeles on Feb. 20, the Irish have found themselves ranked in the top 20 in the four major college baseball preseason polls. “I’m really excited for our guys that they’re getting the recognition that they deserve,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said of Notre Dame’s standing in the four pre-season polls.Notre Dame’s highest ranking comes from the Collegiate Baseball Magazine poll, which has the Irish slated 10th – the program’s highest preseason ranking in the 46-year history of the poll.The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association placed the Irish 13th in its preseason poll, and the USA Today Coaches poll has the Irish at 17th.Baseball America listed Notre Dame 19th, marking the fifth straight year the Irish have cracked the top 20 in that poll – a feat accomplished by only six other teams in 2003 National Champion Rice, LSU, Cal State-Fullerton, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Baylor.Mainieri is not worried about the expectations that go along with his team’s impressive early rankings.”A lot of coaches are afraid of high expectations and polls and things like that,” he said. “I’m not one of those coaches. I’m glad that our name is out there in front of people that are college baseball fans, and I’m glad our kids are being recognized as one of the top teams in the country.”A couple of Notre Dame players also found themselves on several preseason All-American rosters.Senior second baseman Steve Sollmann earned consensus Preseason All-America honors, as he was named to the first team by Collegiate Baseball Magazine and the NCBWA and to the second team by Baseball America.Sollmann hit. 384 in 2003 with four home runs, 40 RBI and 67 runs scored, and he notched 38 stolen bases.Junior pitcher Chris Niesel also received some recognition, earning second team preseason All-American honors from both Collegiate Baseball Magazine and the NCBWA. The right-hander finished 9-1 last season with a 2.65 ERA.With the preseason rankings and All-American squads in, expectations are high for the 2004 Irish. Mainieri knows that it is now up to his team to live up to and even surpass those expectations.”And now the challenge is to go out there and prove that we are worthy of those rankings,” he said. “Frankly I think that being ranked 10th in the country is fine and dandy, but by the end of the year, I would like to see us move up about nine spots.