Irish softball to kick off season at Alabama State tournament
Mannion McGinley | Friday, February 12, 2021
This coming weekend, Notre Dame softball will open its season at the Stinger Classic in Montgomery, Ala.
“We’re excited to get on the field,” Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf, who is entering her 20th year as a coach at Notre Dame, said. “We had a great fall, we had a bunch of really committed student-athletes who are willing to do whatever it took for us to stay on the field the whole time, and they’ve been amazing [with] their flexibility, and the way that they just handle the situation that we’re in right now. So, I’m very excited about this group.”
Gumpf also said she was excited to see how the team comes together over the next few weeks since, with the NCAA issuing a blanket waiver for 2020 spring sport athletes, the Irish did not lose a starter from last year’s roster.
This tournament marks the first time Notre Dame will take the field since COVID-19 cut their 2019-20 season short last March. Infielder and team captain Sarah Genz said it was the longest stretch that most, if not all, of the team had gone without softball in their entire careers. Gumpf stated, though, that the lengthy break was not wasted.
“We wanted to make sure that we were all prepared for the level of playing that we needed to be at. So we took our time, a little bit longer this year,” she said. “So we’re moving a little bit. Just taking things a little bit slower and taking a little more time with everything to make sure we’re ready. Now, off the field with COVID, I mean, it takes up 50% of our day to make sure that we’re ready to go, make sure that teams that we’re playing are complying with our standards, making sure that we’re prepared for the travel, because this team’s traveling for the first, what, five weeks? So we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to put us in the very best position to play those five first weeks.”
In their 38 conference games this season, the Irish, ranked as the No. 3 team in the ACC in the preseason coaches poll, will face five teams that are currently ranked or receiving votes in the national preseason poll. They will play every conference opponent four times.
“We all looked to this year [and] we all kind of said, ‘Okay, what’s next? How can we prepare for the 2021 season?’” Genz said. “So, we all were incredibly committed over this summer, especially during the fall, putting in the work, putting in extra work, going one more than we normally would. It helps that you know, even though we haven’t played the game in so long, we have one of the best staffs, I think, in the country. So to see pitching like that every day has been incredibly, incredibly helpful to us as hitters. So, I think we had spent a while without a game, but it’s only been since yesterday that I hit off some of the best pitchers in the country, so I think we’re ready.”
That pitching crowd consists of seniors Alexis Holloway and Morgan Ryan and junior Payton Tidd, who combined for last season’s third-best ERA in the conference at 1.86. Both Genz and Holloway are two of this year’s captains and the third is outfielder Abby Sweet.
“It’s really surreal. I feel incredibly lucky. My goal is just to go out every day and feel like I’ve earned that trust from my teammates my coaches.” Genz said of her new leadership position. “I feel incredibly blessed and honored, and I think Abby, Alexis and I are doing everything we can to cultivate a great atmosphere on our team, make sure we get team chemistry going.”
With everything the coronavirus pandemic has hindered, Genz recalled how they tried to find ways to get new team members incorporated.
“It’s been difficult with COVID protocols, but we’ve kind of had to think outside the box of ways to get everyone included,” she said. “We feel strong and confident in ourselves and in our teammates, and all of our abilities to get the job done. We’ve also done a great job of incorporating, you know, current freshmen into everything; and the current sophomores, freshmen last year who felt like they really couldn’t get going in the season.”
Genz had goals for herself and the team while out on the diamond as well, not just in her new role as captain.
“I think, individually, my goal is just to support the team, first and foremost. As a team, since I’ve been at Notre Dame, my class’ goals have been to win the ACC championship and make it to the Women’s College World Series,” she said. “So, we’re as committed to those goals as we ever have been. I just need to be really consistent offensively. Coming up big in big situations and hitting the ball well with runners in scoring positions. Each of us needs to stand strong in being consistent.”
Tidd shared the same team goals of making it to the big stages.
“In terms of goals for me, I just want to compete,” she said. “I want to compete with my team and win the ACC championship.”
One path to that success is through the control she and Holloway have from the mound.
“We’re like two people and one brain,” Tidd said. “Like, we know each other’s strengths, and I think we complement each other in terms of her style pitching and my style pitching are very different, and so when she’s pitching and I get put in or vice versa, I think that that’s a whole new set of pitches that the hitters are looking at. And I think that for me and Alexis, we’re very good friends, so, therefore, we’re very good at supporting each other and told each other, ‘Hey, like, I think you get better at this,’ and we’re very good at communication.”
Tidd and Genz both said they want to bring a championship home for their teammates and, as Tidd put it, “most importantly, just having that ND on my chest and representing my school and myself and my teammates on the field.”
The Irish will face North Alabama at 12:30 p.m. Saturday followed by a quick turnaround matchup with the tournament host Alabama State at 5:30 p.m. They will then wrap the weekend against Tennessee Tech at 10 a.m. Sunday.