Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PORTSMOUTH — When Notre Dame’s seniors first walked onto a high school softball field, they knew their work was cut out for them.
Knowing the culture within the program, from the beginning of their journey, they felt pressure to carry the torch.
They knew that winning district titles was a standard, and that the Titans hadn’t won one since 2014, and they knew they had to play Clay twice a year to compete for an SOC I title.
So, the group did what it had always done … worked their tails off to continually get better.
“As a freshman, I knew I wanted to be in a class that would take our team out of that [slump],” senior pitcher Cassie Schaefer said. “Since then, we have set an example to the underclassmen that if you want something, then you have to work hard to get it. I think that through our past few seasons, we have set the stage for success and have heightened the expectations of our softball program for all of the upcoming groups of girls.”
Over the past three seasons, Schaefer and her classmates have led Notre Dame to two sectional titles, a district championship and a share of the SOC I title.
They were a favorite to win a second district crown this spring before COVID-19 sidelined their senior year.
To say they’ve carried the torch and have kept it well-lit is an understatement.
“When I think about the legacy the senior class has left in softball, I just think about the standard we have set for the classes to follow,” shortstop Taylor Schmidt said. “Over the last couple of years, we have really pushed ourselves to be better than we were the year before. I think we definitely did that. We can only hope that the leadership my class has provided has taught our younger teammates to set their goals high and never settle for anything less than their best.”
Schaefer said that “standard” was set during their sophomore year with a 2-1 win over Clay.
“Clay was a great team and had a long winning streak in the SOC. One of our main focuses for that year was to beat them, and get a shot at finishing at the top of our conference,” she said. “The game was super close the whole time, and I was the one who slid into home to score the winning run on a ball that bounced off the catcher’s shin. I will never forget the crowd’s cheers and screams during that moment. Although we didn’t win our conference that year, that win against Clay definitely put our name out there and set the bar higher for Notre Dame softball.”
This year’s seniors — Schaefer, Schmidt, Olivia Smith, Paetyn Collins and Karli Boland — then set the bar even higher last spring.
The Titans finished 22-3, won a Division IV district title with a 4-1 victory over Waterford, and clinched a share of the SOC I title thanks to an 11-4 win over Clay earlier in the season.
For Schmidt, winning the district title is the one moment in her softball career she’d pick to relive. Not just because it was a district crown, but because it was the third she won that year — the Titans also claimed district championships in volleyball and basketball.
“It was so fulfilling to finally achieve that goal that we had been working so hard for,” Schmidt said. “We had just won the district in volleyball and basketball that year, so winning our third district title made us the first team in our area to win all three district titles in one year. Getting that win for our community and fan base who have always supported us made that moment one I will never forget.”
Schmidt and company continued that trend, winning district titles in volleyball and basketball again this school year — the Titans’ fourth straight such accolade on the volleyball court and third consecutive such win in hoops.
And if they had it their way, they’d be raising their second straight district trophy on the diamond.
Unfortunately, that’s not the hand they’ve been dealt. But it doesn’t diminish what they’ve already accomplished and it cannot take away the memories they’ve made.
When their class is heralded in the history books, on its softball page, the entry should be accompanied by an asterisk, signalling what could’ve been.
This year’s team, led by its seniors, could have certainly competed for a regional title.
“Although my high school athletic career has come to a sudden end, I couldn’t be more thankful for all the memories I have made over the past four years wearing a Titan jersey,” Schaefer said.
Schmidt echoed those sentiments.
“Over the last four seasons, in every sport, I have played with practically the same group of girls. The bond we created over those years led to great chemistry on and off the field,” Schmidt said. “It has meant everything to me to be able to play the sports I love with some of my best friends. We have been through the ups and downs together and I wouldn’t trade them or our memories for the world.”