Irish close season with 14-game win streak
Jamison Cook | Friday, May 21, 2021
During a year overshadowed by COVID restrictions, not many college sports teams have been able to play anywhere near a full slate of games. The same cannot be said for the Notre Dame softball team, who have taken to the field over 40 times this season.
The discipline and resilience her team has shown in the face of the pandemic – paired with its on-field success this season (31-12, 20-10 ACC) – have made softball coach Deanna Gumpf incredibly proud of her team.
“I’m so proud of how they handled this whole thing because it could have gone in 20 different directions, but we’ve been on the field,” she says. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young women than I am of this group because of what they’ve had to endure and what they’ve had to handle isn’t easy, and it is probably one of the most challenging things they’re ever going to deal with in their lives.”
The resilience of the Irish has been evident on the field itself as well. Following a midseason sweep at the hands of No. 6 Florida State in which Notre Dame was shut out in three of four games, the team has rattled off 11 straight wins. While many fans may have been discouraged by the tough losses to Florida State, Gumpf saw it as a major turning point in Notre Dame’s season.
“We played really bad softball that weekend, but since that time, we’ve figured out how to play really good softball,” she says. “To me, because that happened, I think it’s worth it because it’s made us better and it made us who we’ve become. So, I appreciate that weekend probably more than most do, because a lot of good has come out of something bad.”
Nothing has been able to stop the Irish since that series in early April, and their winning streak has put them on the edge of the top 25 teams in the nation. Notre Dame has improved on both sides of the ball as the season has progressed, most notably on the defensive side. The point of attack on defense is the mound, and Coach Gumpf is very pleased with the development of her pitching staff – namely seniors Alexis Holloway and Morgan Ryan, and junior Payton Tidd – over the course of the season.
“They’ve been so fun to coach because they work so well together and they appreciate each other and they truly care about each other, and I think that that reflects in the way that they’re pitching together,” she said. “It starts right there on the mound; they’ve done a great job.”
On top of the exemplary pitching, Notre Dame’s defense behind the pitcher has also been a bright spot. The Irish have given up more than three runs just twice since the winning streak began, evidence of how they have developed into an elite defensive team. Notre Dame has also been very effective on offense in the latter part of the season. They have generated runs with ease, scoring five or more runs in five of the 11 games that have made up the current winning streak.
Much of this success has been due to the leadership of Notre Dame’s upperclassmen. Four seniors and two graduate students have led the way for the Irish, but none have stood out quite like senior Abby Sweet. Sweet’s success on the diamond earned her the honor of Notre Dame’s Female Athlete of the Year, and she was also named one of 25 finalists for the National Player of the Year. Her statistics jump off the page, but it is the intangibles, Gumpf says, that really make Sweet stand out.
“If you see her on paper, what she’s accomplished speaks for itself. Her numbers are incredible, and they just don’t happen, and she’s making it happen. It’s been all season, she’s been like this,” Gumpf says. “The difference is if you see her play the game, then you know why she is who she is, and you know why she is Notre Dame’s female athlete of the year and a top 25 nominee for the nation because the way she plays the game is second to none. I just can’t say enough of the player and the person she is; she gives everything she has every moment of every day to this team, and I am so proud of what she’s done and what she continues to do every day.”
Sweet and the Irish finished off the regular season with a three-game series sweep against Boston College and had a quick turnaround for the ACC Tournament, which began on May 12. The team lost in the quarterfinals to Virginia Tech 1-4 on May 13.