Tag Archives: University of Notre Dame

Caitlyn Brooks, Notre Dame Graduate, Caps College Career In Style

By Rick Assad
 
 

 

There are certain qualities or assets that one needs in order to be successful in life and in sports.

In the case of athletics, physical and mental gifts are essential and they go a long way. But even if one possesses these attributes, it’s also helpful, and perhaps necessary, to put in the time and hard work in order to get better.

For Caitlyn Brooks, who played four seasons on the University of Notre Dame women’s softball team and before that was a highly-decorated standout on the Burbank High softball squad, had all three in her tool box, but like the very best, always wanted to improve.

Caitlyn Brooks swinging from her heels. The former Burbank High star hit 48 homers over her career at Notre Dame. It’s tied for the second-most all-time.

“Caitlyn put in a lot of hard work other than just normal practices,” said Mike Delaney, who was the Bulldogs softball coach who oversaw Brooks during her tenure at Burbank which began in 2012 and ended in 2015. “Extra hitting lessons and pitching lessons weekly.”

Delaney, who recently stepped down from that post, added: “She had a great work ethic and was always quick to praise her teammates,” he said. “She loved the individual matchups. Pitcher versus pitcher. Pitcher versus batter. Caitlyn understood her swing and pitching motion extremely well.”

There is a small percentage of people talented enough to play sports for the Fighting Irish. What was that experience like?

“Being at Notre Dame exceeded my expectations for sure,” said Brooks, who capped off her college career by being named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2019 after breaking the school’s single-season home run record with 20 and leading the team in five offensive categories. “It is such a magical place and I really started to understand and experience that throughout my four years.”

Brooks was also an effective pitcher for the Fighting Irish and before that a stellar hurler for the Bulldogs, where she went 80-17 over a four-year career.

Getting selected ACC Player of the Year had to be an unexpected surprise for Brooks.

“Being named ACC Player of the Year was a total shock to me,” said Brooks, who was also named to the ACC All-Academic team. “I never look at stats and this year I knew I was doing well, but that wasn’t anything I thought that I would achieve. Earning that title was really cool and I remember calling my parents [Shari and Roger] and we all were so excited and cheering. It was also really cool to see all of my teammates excel too and also support me. They are what made it special because this team was so amazing and special.”

How difficult was college compared to high school, both scholastically and athletically? “The hardest part of transitioning was the academics,” said Brooks, who received a bachelor of arts degree in film/cinema and video studies and will work in social media marketing. “For me that was the hardest part of Notre Dame. Softball was the most consistent and smoothest transition.”

What was it like for Brooks, who carved out a staggering 80-17 record with 1,011 strikeouts as a high school hurler, to actually put on the spikes for Notre Dame?

Brooks was selected Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2019 after leading Notre Dame in homers with 20, the most in a single season.

“I was definitely nervous my first time putting on the Irish uniform, but I wanted to compete and that was really exhilarating,” she said. “Once I got my first hit, I felt completely comfortable.”

Brooks said she was at ease from the outset. “Our team is like a family and that starts from the moment you’re introduced when you’re a recruit,” she noted. “I always knew Notre Dame was for me because of the team culture which is cultivated by our amazing coaches. From the moment you first speak to them, you know that they are great coaches and even better people. I felt part of the Irish team as a recruit and from the moment I stepped on campus as a freshman.”

This feeling of security and care begins with Deanna Gumpf, the Notre Dame head coach.

“She is so inspiring and is like a second mom to us all,” said Brooks, who paced the Fighting Irish in homers with nine and runs batted in with 38 as a junior. “I love how direct and passionate she is. She truly wants to see us succeed on and off the field. Notre Dame develops us into great athletes and even better women and that starts at the top by always being an example of excellence and kindness. Coach Gumpf knows us better than we know ourselves sometimes and that is what makes her such an incredible coach and person. She is definitely a role model for me.”

Brooks was a threat in the batter’s box and in the pitcher’s circle at the high school and collegiate level. Which one was more appealing?

“For sure the batter’s box. Being in the box I can fully relax and be laser focused, but have no pressure,” Brooks said. “Or at least I tell myself that there is no pressure. I also know that the girl behind me is going to get it done and having that confidence and support takes all of the pressure off. I found my stride in the box and really loved softball and the game.”

Brooks ended her college career tied for second place all-time with 48 home runs. “Most of it was from this year,” said Brooks of her senior season. “I wasn’t trying to hit the ball out, but I was really focused on my timing, pitch selection and mechanics this season and I had a great result.”

There was a lot of celebrating when Brooks was at the plate. Here Brooks (No. 16) crosses the plate and is congratulated by teammates.

Brooks, who clubbed 21 homers during her final three seasons as a Bulldog, then added: “When it came to pitching, I definitely put too much pressure on myself, but I loved competing. I think my role as a reliever and just come in and do my job on the mound took the pressure off and really let me focus on hitting during the game,” she said.

Brooks said her approach to hitting was vastly different from pitching.

“My main thoughts were to focus on my breath and my approach,” she said. “I watch a lot of film before a game on the pitcher and saw what they threw and adjusted my plan to the pitcher and my strength. Usually I was looking inside and attacking that pitch if it was a strike. In the circle, I would just focus on my routine and breath. I would visualize the pitch when I got my sign and go for it.”

Brooks, who batted .304 with eight homers and 39 RBIs as a sophomore, said even if the team struggled, which was rare, they were always unified.

“I really relied on my teammates and talking it out with the sports psychologist. A lot of athletes benefit from the sports psychologist and it was a resource that is always very encouraged,” Brooks said. “It really helped me with the challenges of softball and life.”

Did one hit or game stand out for Brooks, who batted .335 with a .416 on-base percentage and 55 RBIs, the most-ever by a Notre Dame freshman?

“I think the game that I broke the single-season home run record was huge,” said Brooks, who bashed a team-high 11 homers with a team-best .639 slugging percentage as a freshman. “It was against Pittsburgh, and when I broke the record it was my first collegiate grand slam which was super cool. It also could be the farthest ball that I’ve ever hit.”

Brooks continued: “After that game they gave my mom the ball and having her and my dad there to see it was awesome,” he pointed out. “My team was so pumped for me and seeing them at home plate going crazy is something that I will never forget.”

Did Brooks have targets she wanted to reach? “I set goals with myself and our coaches,” she said. “My plan had more to do with my approaches and learning from the previous year. For pitching, it was understanding my role and really capitalizing when I was called upon. Being that consistent force to get us out of a jam and always be ready. For hitting, my approach was about attacking the first two strikes. Once I started doing that I noticed a massive difference in my swing.”

Because of their lofty status, youngsters often look up to athletes. There may be local girls who admire Brooks, who posted an 18-5 mark, with a 0.66 earned-run average, 264 strikeouts, 18 walks in 149 and one-third innings as a high school senior, and would like to emulate her. Does Brooks have any advice?

“I would say that you should get the best grades that you can because grades get you into any school you want and you can always try out,” she said. “I would also say to go to camps and get on the best travel team that you can. If you get great grades and compete at the highest level, with the best competition, then you are marketing yourself in the best way that you can.”

Delaney thinks that Brooks is an inspiration to young girls who want to play softball, even if they don’t play for Notre Dame.

“Caitlyn is a great example for younger athletes in Burbank,” he said. “She was a great student and a great athlete.”

Looking back and reflecting on her college career at Notre Dame, Brooks is extremely thankful for the opportunity and wouldn’t do anything differently.

“So far there isn’t anything I regret during my four years,” she said. “I did more than I expected to academically and athletically.”

Former Burbank High Standout Brooks Shines At Notre Dame

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.”