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Falcons Fly Far

Seniors Haven Taken Softball to New Heights

It’s a long way from Cleveland to Decatur, Ala. – 646 miles to be exact. It’s also a long way from where NDC Softball was just a few years ago to where it is now – having come up just one win shy of making the Final Four at the 2009 NAIA National Championship Tournament after an exciting run through most of the 32-team bracket.

Tara MeyerThe Falcons’ season came to an end on May 18, when they closed out three games on the day with a loss to No. 3-ranked Dickinson State (N.D.). The Falcons went 1-2, losing to No. 4 Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) and beating No. 11 Martin Methodist (Tenn.) before bowing out in what was the losers’ bracket semifinal in the double-elimination championship bracket that featured eight teams. In all, the Blue & White played six games at the Wilson Morgan Softball complex in Decatur, the host city of the championship event.

For Notre Dame Softball, however, the unlikely run in Alabama goes down as a highlight not only in the history of the program but in the history of athletics at Notre Dame College. It also caps off a remarkable four-year run for a group of senior players that have rewritten the Falcon record book and redefined a program. In the four years preceding 2006, NDC Softball went a combined 50-123 (.289 winning percentage). In the four years since, Notre Dame has gone 130-44 (.747). The Falcons have gone from perennial doormat in the American Mideast Conference (AMC) to consistent contender for the league title, and this year for a national championship. The participation in Alabama marked NDC’s first appearance in a national tournament in the 21-year history of the program.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of girls,” said Notre Dame Head Coach Amy Kyler. “This has been a great experience, winning the AMC, hosting the conference tournament, winning that at home and then being here at nationals. But what’s more, this team played hard and played for each other. They went toe-to-toe with the top teams in the country.”

To advance to the championship bracket, Notre Dame swept through three games of pool play in Decatur from May 14 to 17, including an upset win over the No. 5 team in the nation, William Carey (Miss.).

With its 4-2 performance in Alabama, the 2009 edition of Notre Dame Softball set a program record with 34 wins on the season. The Falcons went 34-11; the 2007 squad won 33 games when it posted a final record of 33-11.

“This has been a special team and a real success story for Falcon Athletics,” said NDC Director of Athletics Susan Hlavacek.

That success story included the team earning its second conference title – the Falcons swept both the AMC regular season and tournament crowns by going 18-2 during the regular season and 3-0 in the league tournament held at NDC’s Campus Field for the first time. All the while, the 2009 Falcons put up prolific numbers.

In the regular season, Notre Dame won a program-best 16 straight games from April 2 to 25. After a loss on April 25, the Blue & White picked up where they left off, rattling off another eight in a row for a 25-game stretch wherein the Falcons won 24.

Individually, senior Anna Ball broke NDC single-season records for batting average (.535, 77-for-144), hits and runs scored (55). Senior hurler Tara Meyer finished the season with a 2.02 ERA that ranks as the third-best single-season ERA in Falcon history. Ball and Meyer were part of an accomplished core of seven seniors on the team: Ball, Jessica Fiorilli, Jill Gigliotti, Lianna Holub, Meyer, Heather Sheber, and Stephanie Tartaglione. The group led a team that goes down in Falcon history as one of the most successful teams Notre Dame has ever fielded in any sport.

With their advance in Decatur, NDC Softball became just the second Notre Dame athletic team to ever make the quarterfinals of a national tournament. Softball now joins NDC Men’s Soccer and Notre Dame Wrestling on the list of the College’s most successful postseason runs. Softball placed fifth in Decatur; the soccer team did likewise at the 2005 nationals while the wrestlers placed fifth at the 2009 NAIA National Championships.

“We will be losing a lot of talent,” said Kyler about losing the likes of Ball, Gigliotti, Meyer and Tartaglione, whose names now dot the program’s record book. “But we also had some young players really step in the [tournament]. They had a taste of winning at the national level and they want to come back.”

Skip Snow is the director of sports Information at Notre Dame College.