#19 Notre Dame Softball 2016 Preview

Notre Dame Fight Irish
Overall Rank: #19
Conference Rank: #3 ACC
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Notre Dame made its 17th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, where it bowed out of its own Regional after losing to Kentucky. The Irish established single-season program records for hits (543), runs (395), and on-base percentage (.419), while batting above a .350 clip (.351) for the second straight season. Notre Dame had a 24-game winning streak from March through the end of April. That was the second longest in the nation during the year and the Irish bring back three NFCA Mid-Atlantic all-region honorees, with Micaela Arizmendi and Karley Wester returning as first team performers and Morgan Reed back as a third team representative from last season.

2015: 42-15, 17-6
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Deanna Gumpf
Field Players:
The Irish had four players hit double-digit home runs last year, but of the group only Arizmendi returns. Arizmendi hit 11 home runs, tied for second on the team, and finished with 54 RBI, which was third on the team. She did tie for the team lead in doubles, however, with 18 and finished with a .372 batting average. Karley Wester led the team in four hitting categories including average (.429), runs (65), hits (84) and triples (four). Morgan Reed had an impressive .325 average, while knocking around 10 doubles and driving in 31 RBI. Sara White also had a nice freshman debut, hitting .263 with eight doubles.
The Irish bring back both of their top two pitchers from last season in Allie Rhodes and Rachel Nasland. Rhodes went 20-5 with a 2.81 ERA last season, while starting 25 of the 35 games she pitched in. Nasland was 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA and had a team-high 170 strikeouts. It will be hard to keep freshman Caitlyn Brooks out of the circle after she went 18-5 with a 0.66 ERA, 264 strikeouts and 18 walks last season as a high school senior. 
Who to Watch:
The Irish brought in an impressive freshmen class that included three NFCA All-Americans and Ali Wester, who is #31 on the Madness Recruiting rankings. The three All-Americans included Brooks, who was a two-time All-American, Maddie McCracken, a four-time All-American and MK Bonamy. McCracken hit .552 with five home runs, 29 RBI, a .690 on-base percentage, an .879 slugging percentage and 26 runs scored, while Bonamy hit .481 with 12 home runs, 55 RBI, a .550 on-base percentage and a .842 slugging percentage. Ali Wester hit .520 with 10 doubles, four home runs, 17 RBI and 30 runs scored, reaching base at a .529 clip with a .740 slugging percentage.
Final Projection:
The Irish have been a consistent force in the collegiate softball world, having been to the NCAA Tournament for 17 consecutive seasons. One of the most important things for a team to have is a strong pitching staff and with Notre Dame bringing back its top two starters, as well as adding Brooks, it looks like the circle will be in good hands yet again. The Irish will have to replace a good amount of power, but having Arizmendi's power, as well as Karley Wester's success at the plate and the basepaths (26-of-27 stolen bases) and Reed back, it's a nice building block. If the freshmen can adapt to the collegiate game quickly, the Irish will be a team to fear yet again. Big nonconference games against Kentucky, Washington, Cal, UCF and UCLA loom, but the team gets ACC contenders Florida State, Louisville, Pittsburgh and NC State at home.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Karley Wester, OF, 196
Hits: Karley Wester, OF, 84
Home Runs: Micaela Arizmendi, IF, 11
RBIs: Micaela Arizmendi, IF, 54
Runs: Karley Wester, OF, 65
Stolen Bases: Karley Wester, OF, 26
Wins: Allie Rhodes, P, 20
Innings Pitched: Rachel Nasland, P, 180.2
Strikeouts: Rachel Nasland, P, 170
Complete Games: Rachel Nasland, P, 16
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#33 Ali Wester
#34 Caitlyn Brooks