By Rick Assad
Caitlyn Brooks is one of the most decorated athletes in Burbank High history, so it came as no surprise when the three-time All-CIF first-team pitcher received a scholarship from the University of Notre Dame.
During her four years playing prep softball, Brooks ended her career with an 80-17 won-loss record along with 1,011 strikeouts.
In terms of Brooks’ most dominant season, it was likely her sophomore campaign in which she fanned 309, went 25-3 with an 0.78 earned-run average.
Eye-popping numbers, for sure, but was the jump to Notre Dame seamless?
“The transition from high school to college was not bad,” said Brooks, who batted .304, smashed eight homers, with a .388 on-base percentage, a .506 slugging percentage, 39 runs batted in and 24 runs scored and was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Tournament team in 2017. “Softball wise, it was very smooth since it is a game that I have played since I was 5. However, academically Notre Dame has been more of a challenge, but one that is manageable.”
Caitlyn Brooks up looks up after hitting the ball. (Photo courtesy Notre Dame sports information).
Being on the South Bend campus offers challenges and also rewards. Are there added expectations?
“I definitely feel pressure to perform, but it is the same pressure I have dealt with since I was little,” said Brooks, a sophomore who plays first base, right field and pitches. “Due to the competition being so strong, I do feel that it is a little harder to excel at the college level, but the pressure is the same, it just depends on if I am going to let it get to me or not.”
Brooks, who batted .335 with a .416 on-base percentage and led the Fighting Irish with a .639 slugging percentage and 11 homers with 55 RBIs, the most-ever for a first-year Notre Dame player, and 28 runs tallied, went on: “I try not to think about the pressure and just focus on one pitch at a time, and like I said before, I have been playing this game since I was young and it’s the same game.”
Former Burbank High pitcher Caitlyn Brooks is also seeing time in the circle for Notre Dame. (Photo courtesy Notre Dame sports information).
Notre Dame finished this season 34-23 and 13-11 in the ACC after going 43-13 and 13-7 in 2016.
Deanna Gumpf is Notre Dame’s coach and feels that Brooks is going to get even better with time.
“She has become more of a leader for our team,” she said. “You become more comfortable in that leadership role, which will be a huge asset for us in her upcoming season.”
Does Brooks think she’s made strides since her freshman season?
“My past two years have been great, but the main difference between the two is maturity and knowing what to expect,” she said. “Freshman year I didn’t know how things ran from a strength and condition standpoint to the season and the academic.
“This past year I knew what to expect in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom. From my first year, this experience I have now is what helped me mature in all of these aspects,” she said.
How does Brooks, a film, television and theatre major with a focus on television, relax prior to taking the field?
Notre Dame’s starting pitcher/relief pitcher Caitlyn Brooks (16) celebrates her home run with her teammates during the quarterfinals of the 2017 ACC Softball Championship in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, the ACC.com)
“Before a game I just hang out with my team or listen to music,” she said. “I don’t really get nervous, but listening to music helps me get in the zone, ready to play.”
Brooks said her team has made it so much easier for her.
“My support group is my teammates, especially the girls in my class,” she said. “We all get along great and are always there for each other, which is very helpful. We can always lean on each other when we need it.”
How does Brooks, who went 5-4 in eight starts with a 4.22 ERA across 61 and one-third innings in 2017, retain a fresh outlook?
“Success is what keeps the game fun,” she noted. “We all love to win and crave success on the field, so when we succeed, that is what I live for on the field, and even when we fail, that feeling to succeed still burns within and makes us want to grow and get better.”
Brooks added: “My teammates make softball fun. Every year we lose a couple of girls and gain more which is awesome, because we get to play alongside the best girls in the country and I love being around them. They make what we do on and off the field fun.”
Because Notre Dame is nationally recognized, the Fighting Irish have been on television a number of times. Does Brooks notice the cameras?
“I don’t really know when I am on television or when our games are televised compared to when they’re not,” she said. “I usually get a text from family saying that they watched the game. That’s the only way I pay attention to it, if I was on TV or not.
“Sometimes we notice the cameras when they interview our coach and we try to get on TV and joke around in the back, but other than that we are pretty focused on the game and don’t see the cameras,” she said.
Caitlyn Brooks waits patiently in the batter’s box. (Photo courtesy Notre Dame sports information).
Gumpf really likes that Brooks is able to play multiple positions. “She’s versatile and wants to do anything she can for her team,” she said. “Cait is a competitor and focused, but also loves to have fun.”
Brooks said she still keeps in contact with Mike Delaney, her high school coach.
“He is a great guy,” she said. “We usually try to catch up when I am home. I loved playing for him in high school, so it’s nice to catch up every now and then.”
What did Brooks learn from Delaney? “High school definitely helped me these past two years in the sense that I am with the same people for four years and the camaraderie with your teammates on the field is crucial,” she said. “We fail together and succeed together, and that mind-set for me was formed in high school and I have carried it here with my team.”
Delaney said he expected Brooks to do well in college. “I had her during her junior and senior seasons and you could tell right away she was a different type of high school athlete,” he said. “She continued to work hard and has a great work ethic.”
“I always knew she was going to have success at the plate. She has a really nice swing, but she was going to have to make an adjustment when pitching,” Delaney said. “In high school there might be five or six good hitters. In college, they’re all good.”