Change of plans
By MATT LOZAR
As Steffany Stenglein signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Southern Mississippi in 2000, she thought she signed away her lifelong dream of going to Notre Dame.
But when the Southern Miss head coach left the program, Stenglein asked the school for a release from her scholarship. During her search for a new school, Notre Dame expressed interest, and she realized her dream was about to come true.
Today, the freshman pitcher is No. 1 on the Notre Dame staff and has enough raw talent to become one of the greatest pitchers in Irish history.
Dream Comes True
Coming from a Catholic background, Stenglein and her family watched Notre Dame football on Saturday afternoons. The dream to attend Notre Dame was born watching those games. When the opportunity to pitch for the Irish was presented, Stenglein jumped at the offer.
"It's always been a dream to come here for me. I remember my family — we are big-time Catholics — we would watch the football games. We would do the fight song," Stenglein said. "When I found out I was being looked at and they had an interest in me, it was my No. 1 choice."
Stenglein received a withdrawal from Southern Mississippi after learning of the coach's departure. She had to sit out a year to officially transfer to Notre Dame. During her off year, Stenglein attended Golden West Junior College in Huntington Beach, Calif.
During her senior year at Marin High School, Stenglein ranked third in the nation in strikeouts. She was able to overpower the batters and not have to worry about scouting reports. When Stenglein arrived at Notre Dame, her ability was not enough to get batters out.
"In the fall, we broke down Steff's mechanics and taught her the basics," said Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf. "She came in with a lot of raw talent. She is a work in progress, but if she continues to work hard, she could be very good."
Awaiting Stenglein in her first collegiate game was a match-up against Jennie Finch and the Arizona Wildcats. Coming into the game, Finch, the 2001 national Player of the Year, had won 45 straight decisions. Stenglein lasted only 3 1/3 innings, yielding three runs and five walks.
"It was against the defending national champions," she said. "It was very nerve-wracking, of course. But I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be going into that game."
In her first 14 innings pitched, Stenglein walked 20 batters. The adjustment to college softball had not only improved her mechanics but also her mental game and team reliance.
"In high school, I thought, `I can do it all. I'm going to strike them out. I'm going to get them out.' Here, you have to rely on your defense more," Stenglein said. "It is a lot more mental, because I think so much more here than I did in high school. Knowing the hitters better, knowing what pitch to throw."
Captain Jarrah Myers has helped Stenglein become more comfortable on the collegiate level. As her catcher, Myers knows close games can affect a freshman pitcher's mindset.
"Steff came in as a winner. She knows how to win," the senior said. "We worked together on her mechanics to help her in those tight situations."
Climbing to the top
After a rough start to the season, Stenglein has regrouped and is now the ace of the staff. On the year, she has worked 123 2/3 innings and has a 2.15 ERA. During Notre Dame's current 10-game winning streak, Stenglein has struck out 43, walked 17 and given up only six runs. Stenglein has also won her last four decisions to improve her record to 11-8. Gumpf attributes the improvements to Stenglein's hard work.
"Steff is stronger, her mechanics are better and her pitches move better," Gumpf said. "I expect her to be better and better every day she competes both physically and mentally."
Myers also notices the improvement.
"Steff's improvement is tremendous," said the senior captain. "She is a much better pitcher with her ball movement. At the beginning of the year, people were concerned about the amount of walks, but the stats speak for themselves now."
Stenglein knows personally she is a better pitcher through the experiences of her first college season.
"I've improved a lot more with Coach and Jarrah Myers helping me out, just my attitude going into the game, knowing that I can beat the hitters," Stenglein said. "Knowing it's just one pitch at a time. Not worrying about things and knowing that my defense will help me."
Coming in with so much ability, Stenglein needs to continue her hard work and dedication to softball in order to achieve her maximum potential.
"Steff has the capability to be one of the best ever at Notre Dame," Gumpf said. "Is she there yet? No. But, if she continues to work hard, as she is now, then she could be."
In her first eight weeks of collegiate competition, Stenglein has not had one standout moment to define her season. But being on the team is good enough for her.
"Being on the team, [is my] No. 1 [accomplishment], playing with these girls," Stenglein said. "I think how we are starting off really well in Big East. So far we are [undefeated] in Big East, that's great. I don't think I have had one moment stick out yet, but I'm hoping it's going to come in the next two months."
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, April 10, 2002