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A Very Feisty Bunch

Feb 4, 2014, 11:04 AM EDT

Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at the Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories about Irish athletic squads . You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggersToday, Mike left the hardwood and moved to the softball field to interview Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf…

Deanna Gumpf came to Notre Dame in May of 1997 as an assistant coach to Liz Miller. After four years as an assistant coach, Gumpf was named head coach after Miller announced her retirement from the sport. Gumpf became the third head coach in Notre Dame’s 26 years of collegiate softball competition. Since then, she not only has become the winningest coach in the program’s history, she also has taken her student-athletes to 12 straight NCAA Championships.

This year will be one of change for the Irish. The team will be a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference this year. Gumpf offered her thoughts on the change of conference. “The ACC is more consistently difficult,” she said. “The BIG EAST’s top five teams were better than the top five the ACC had to offer; where the ACC is better in is at the bottom of the conference standings.”

Everyone in the ACC is a formidable opponent for the Irish. That will be different in that regard. However, Coach Gumpf is not worried about playing new teams, “We have played many of the teams in the ACC before,” she explained. “Some teams, like Virginia Tech and Syracuse, were in the BIG EAST at one point so things won’t be too different there.”

Coach reminded me that it is business as usual when the season starts. When I asked her what are her expectations for this upcoming season, she responded with two words that were said with extreme confidence, “To Win…”

Coach Gumpf has many student-athletes on her team with important jobs to do, yet, none may be more important than Laura Winter and Emilee Koerner. Those two were just recently named to the “Watch List” for the 2014 USA  Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. “It is great to have two such outstanding players on our roster,” Gumpf said. Those two upperclassmen will play big roles in Notre Dame’s success this upcoming season.

Underclassmen will play a role as well, especially Kimmy “Gibbler” Sullivan. “She has shown the most improvement among the freshmen since Fall Ball began last semester .” Coach informed me as to how Sullivan got her Full House nickname. “[Laughing] She is just as goofy and funny as the Full House character so when players started calling her Gibbler, it stuck.”

I later asked Coach if she had to describe this year’s team in one word what would it be. She replied, “Feisty… Very Feisty! Oh that’s two words isn’t it [chuckling]?” That is okay Coach; the very exemplified your opinion of your team this year.

Switching gears, Coach Gumpf talked to me about the team’s annual event, Strikeout Cancer. Strikeout Cancer is a weekend long event held each year (since 2011) by the softball team in order to raise money and awareness for leukemia. Gumpf told me the event was the brainchild of Kris Ganeff (associate head coach). It was created after Coach Gumpf’s daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

All of the proceeds made during the weekend are donated to South Bend’s Memorial Children’s Hospital (where Tatum started her treatments). It has become a special event to not only the players, Coach and her daughter Tatum, but to the entire community as well. To see how much the event has meant to Deanna Gumpf and her family, here is a video on her daughter’s brave journey:

“We can’t cure this thing, but we can help a lot of people.” Coach Gumpf said. In fact, she has helped a lot of people with this event. Not only has the event sponsored several things including “wish trips” to people battling cancer, but the players are also getting involved as well. This year the players will be doing a new fundraiser in the form of a hit-a-thon that will continue throughout the entirety of Notre Dame’s season.

In 2011, the Strikeout Cancer Weekend raised over $12,000. In 2012, the event raised well over $25,000. This past year, that amount increased even more when more than $40,000 was raised. “I hope this year we can raise even more money for people battling cancer,” Gumpf said.

This initiative has become as much as a success as the team’s winning seasons have been. Deanna Gumpf is a big part of the Notre Dame community. She is a coach who loves winning and her players know it.

The only thing that might surpass her love of winning is her love of the 80’s and, moreover, her hatred of the 90’s. “The 90’s were good, but they just weren’t the 80’s,” Gumpf admitted. “Hip-hop and boy bands is where the 90’s went wrong.” Gumpf recalled her favorite bands of the 80’s being U2 and New Order.

Coach will be most likely be listening to a lot of U2 and New Order this week because her and her team have a road trip to Auburn, Ala., to get their season underway as they take on Tennessee Tech this Saturday. Under the direction of their fearless leader, the Notre Dame softball team will try to increase Gumpf’s amount of wins as head coach to 509.

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