With spring just around the corner, the Notre Dame softball team is ready to begin its new season this weekend at the UNLV Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev.
The tournament will consist of five games over a three-day span, with two on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday. The Irish open up Friday with games against Colorado State, the only team in the tournament that did not receive a vote in the coaches' poll, and 25th-ranked BYU.
On Saturday the team will face its toughest opponent in the Desert Classic - the Oregon State Beavers, the 12th-best team in the country - as well as UNLV. The Irish finish the weekend against Cal State Fullerton, a perennial contender in the NCAA tournament.
The team, which flew to Las Vegas Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.
This tournament should be a boon to the Irish, who are playing without the experience that has guided them to 10 straight Big East regular season titles. Notre Dame has seven freshmen on the team, with only four seniors and four juniors. One position where the Irish's youth will show in the tournament is at pitcher.
With only one proven pitcher on the staff - senior Heather Booth, a two-time All-Big East pitcher and the 2003 Big East Rookie of the Year - Notre Dame will expose its inexperienced pitchers to the college game. Freshman Brittany Bargar and junior Kenya Fuemmeler round out the staff for the Desert Classic. Freshman Christine Farrell may appear, but will most likely forced to limited pitch counts until well into the season due to offseason surgery.
The Irish's pitching staff during the tournament will be anchored by Booth, with relief coming from Bargar and Fuemmeler. Fuemmeler, in her third year with the Irish, has only seen limited time on the mound because of the strong presence of other pitchers, such as Booth and last year's Big East pitcher of the year, Irish graduate Steffany Stenglein. But with the Irish seeing five games in three days this early in the season, all three pitchers should be guaranteed some innings.
The Irish infield is set at three spots, with three all-Big East players returning this season. Senior Meagan Ruthrauff will anchor the infield at first base with Katie Laing and Sarah Schoonaert playing up the middle. Although Schoonaert has not had much college success at the plate, she has always demonstrated good glove work, which should help bolster the infield.
The only question mark remaining in the Irish infield is at third, where junior Carrisa Jacquish and freshman Linda Kohan are competing for the starting job.
Perhaps Notre Dame's most solid position is at catcher, where senior Malorie Lenn will return as the Irish backstop. Lenn has been a standout behind the plate, committing only one error all last season in 359 total chances. She will be instrumental this weekend in helping the young pitchers on the team cope with the college game.