ND Softball: No. 17 Irish open season in temperate Tampa
BY MATT LOZAR
Coach Deanna Gumpf just wants to see her team play on dirt.
In this weekend's USF/Wilson season opening tournament, the 17th-ranked Irish will get a chance to play games on dirt —outside.
"I just want experience get on dirt. We want groundballs, air and to be outside," Gumpf said. "Just to get the experience of being outside and playing in a real game. We are going to find out our weaknesses real quickly. Once we find out our weaknesses, we can work on fixing them."
One place Gumpf doesn't expect to have weaknesses is on the infield. With third baseman Andrea Loman, shortstop Andria Bledsoe and second baseman Alexis Madrid returning for their fourth year as starters for the Irish, consistency should not be a problem.
"It has made a huge difference this year with the five seniors. Those three are our captains," Gumpf said. "The leadership they have added this year is a huge bonus. They are strong leaders and are very passionate."
Loman, who earned third-team All-American status last season, led the Irish with a .377 batting average. As one of the top third baseman in the country, Loman plays solid defense and ranks in the top five in Notre Dame history for fielding percentage.
Bledsoe hit .315 last year and tagged a career-best seven homeruns. Madrid didn't have her best season at the plate hitting .225, but she was 10-of-12 in steal attempts.
First baseman Lisa Mattison rounds out the infield for the Irish. The senior from Granger, Ind., hit .325 last year and drove in 27.
On the mound, Gumpf can breathe a little easier this season with sophomores Steffany Stenglein and Carrie Wisen having a year of experience under their belts.
"I think it is crucial to have that. They were thrown into the fire this year," Gumpf said. "They responded very well and did a great job last year. They know what to expect."
Stenglein finished the 2002 season with a 27-12 record and a 1.93 ERA. Wisen was used primarily in relief and had 116 strikeouts to go along with a 2.00 ERA. Senior Jessica Sharron and freshman Heather Booth will also pitch for the Irish this year.
Despite losing only two starters to graduation last year, Gumpf lost two big-time players on the field in catcher Jarrah Myers and centerfielder Jenny Kriech. Myers was an All-American and Big East Player of the Year while Kriech led off for the Irish and batted .335.
"Every year I can't replace anybody we use," Gumpf said. "I'm hoping their leadership carries on and we get better leaders. Both were All-Americans and aren't replaceable."
In the outfield, Gumpf will work on finding the right combination of her four outfielders. Sophomore Megan Ciolli moves up to bat leadoff for the Irish after hitting .345 in the second spot in the lineup last year.
Ciolli will be one of the starting outfielders playing with a combination of junior Nicole deFau, sophomore Liz Hartmann and freshman Kellie Middleton. Hartmann hit seven home runs for the Irish in 2002, a rookie record, and battled injuries throughout most of the season. deFau was used mainly as a pinch-hitter last season.
Junior Chantal DeAlcuaz and freshman Mallorie Lenn will both catch for the Irish this year. DeAlcuaz has seen limited playing time in her two previous seasons while Lenn was a member of the U.S. Junior National team in the fall.
This weekend, the Irish will play South Florida, Kent State, Jacksonville, Hofstra and Rhode Island. Last year, Notre Dame defeated South Florida 5-3 in the season's first weekend.
After compiling a 44-17 record last year, which included an upset of No. 4 Nebraska, Big East regular season and postseason titles and being one step away from the College World Series, Gumpf is taking a fresh outlook into her second year at the helm of the Irish.
"Every year is a brand new year, you never know what to expect," Gumpf said. "You have to prepare the team the best you can and roll with the punches."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 14, 2003