Gumpf, Irish take positives from shortened season
Liam Coolican | Friday, May 15, 2020
When the Notre Dame softball team received the news that their season would be suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were on a spring break road trip in California. They were preparing to head to the field when the news broke.
“It was a little overwhelming, and the days went by and the weeks went by and we found out more and more information. We didn’t know that the entire season was canceled until about two weeks after that game was canceled,” head coach Deanna Gumpf said. “It’s been a ride, we’ve dealt with it together, we’ve dealt with it on Zoom, but we were lucky because we were actually together when it first all came down.”
Notre Dame had been off to a strong start, including a key win over 16th-ranked Arizona State and an undefeated record in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. When the season was suspended, the Irish owned a 13-9 overall record, with a 2-4 conference record.
“The best part about the season was that we hadn’t played our best softball yet, and we knew what we needed to [do], and we were definitely going the right direction,” Gumpf said. “We had a really tough first four weeks of [the] season. You’re going to hit your bumps and you’re going to get your bruises during that tough schedule, and most teams are a little intimidated to play such a tough schedule. We’re not. We go out there and we play the very best of the best, and we do it intentionally.”
Notre Dame had several individual performers who stood out in the first few weeks of the season. Junior pitcher Alexis Holloway was having a breakout year; in seventeen appearances, she pitched 83.2 innings with an ERA of just 1.09, one of the best in the nation. On the offensive side, junior outfielder Abby Sweet was leading the team with a .368 batting average, 21 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits.
While the NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to spring athletes, Gumpf said she isn’t sure which, if any, seniors will be returning next year.
“I know for sure not all of them will be back, not quite sure how it’s going to pan out yet. It was [a] tough decision for the seniors, because so many were prepared to move on,” she said. “At Notre Dame, [with] graduating in four years, which is not typical for most [athletes] at other universities: It’s a different set of circumstances, and our girls were completely prepared for the next stage.”
Although there are only five seniors this year, Gumpf said they were an incredibly important class.
“There’s so many memories about the seniors, there’s four years of memories with all of them,” she said. “They were such an important class for our team; they had so much success. When I think about the whole class, I think about all these great things that they’ve done, but when I think about each person individually, each of them have massive strengths that, combined, created such an awesome class.”
Gumpf said each senior player contributed something special to the team.
Alexis Bazos, an outfielder from Pound Ridge, NY, who battled injuries throughout her time at Notre Dame, batted 0.316 in her best season in 2018, and was named to the ACC academic honor roll three times. Bazos also represents Greece on the national stage, competing in multiple European tournaments during her time at Notre Dame.
“When I think about her, her love and passion for the game was incredible,” Gumpf said.
Katie Marino, a second baseman from Warren, N.J., was named one of the four Irish captains this year. She led the team with 5 home runs this year, was batting .333, and started all 22 games.
“Her standard of excellence was second to none,” Gumpf said. “[She] was having a great senior year.”
Ellie Richards, an infielder from Pendleton, Ore., was also a captain this year, as she was known for her leadership on the practice field and in the weight room.
“There’s no one that would work harder, ever,” Gumpf said. “She was constantly doing extra and just never stopped working.”
After seeing limited action during her first three years due in part to injuries, Chelsea Purcell, an infielder from La Habra, Calif., was allowed to play much more this year. Right before the season ended, she hit her first career home run against Duke.
“It was her confidence and swagger in the game, and her approach to the game was so awesome,” Gumpf said. “[She] was just hitting her stride and finally making some big progress that would give [us] the opportunity to put her on the field a ton.”
Madison Heide had to leave the team a semester early to return home and help care for her mother, who was very ill, but was still an integral part of the team. A catcher from Belton, Mo., Heide was a two-year starter who was known for defensive prowess and leadership behind the plate.
“Her calm presence on the field was so important,” Gumpf said.
Gumpf added this hiatus may prove difficult, especially because Notre Dame has such a young team, with twelve underclassmen on the roster.
“Time will tell. We’ve never been in this situation before, and this is all new for everybody,” she said. “All we can do is the best we can do, and prepare to be the very best team that we can possibly be, whatever happens, happens, and for the next few months it is what it is, and we can’t control it. All we can control is how we prepare to make sure we’re the very best team we possibly can for the ‘21 season.”
As much as Notre Dame might hope to maintain continuity, Gumpf said next year’s team will undoubtedly be different.
“You talk about it with the underclassmen, but at the end of the day, next year is a whole new team, [with] a whole new set of strengths and a whole new set of weaknesses,” she said. “You’re always learning, you take something every year to [make] yourselves better, but at the end of the day it’s a whole new team.We’re going to go 10 months without playing a true game again, which is incredible. It’s brutal. We’ll do everything we can to make ourselves the absolute most prepared we possibly can.”