In 2021, Rylee Michalak, Emma Marchese, Ella McColgan, Helen Woloshyn, Cara Mazzucco and Alayna Giampolo were highly touted freshmen thrown immediately into the starting lineup for the Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School softball team.

“We were told we were going to be the group to keep Notre Dame going,” McColgan recalled. “It was definitely a little pressure, but we had a good group of upperclassmen to support us and take us to where we are today.”

They are now juniors who have helped ND join St. John Vianney, Holmdel, and Donovan Catholic, Toms River, as Non-Public A state championship contenders.

Notre Dame is 17-1 entering its May 13 Mercer County Tournament semifinal with Hightstown. It recently experienced a six-day flurry that featured a massive win, a gut-wrenching loss and a brief No. 1 state ranking.

On May 3 the Irish beat three-time defending state champ Donovan Catholic, 3-0, in eight innings and, on May 4, replaced the Griffins as’s No. 1 ranked team. It was just DC’s eighth loss in 170 games since 2017, and it avenged ND’s 2022 state defeat.  

“It felt surreal,” said McColgan, a .475 hitter with 16 stolen bases and 26 runs scored. “Last year we put them on more of a pedestal. This year, with us believing in each other a lot more and being closer as a team, we knew we could stand a chance if we rallied together.”

McColgan scored the winning run on a wild pitch and sophomore Madalena Creo (.333 average) added a two-run homer. Michalak, a University of Houston commit, fired a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts.

Notre Dame celebrated its No. 1 ranking with a win over Conwell Egan, Fairless Hills, Pa., but on May 5 it lost to Hillsborough, 1-0.

“Definitely a little bit of a heartbreak, getting number one in the state and losing our second game after having that rank,” McColgan said. “But that pitcher (Sarah Davenport) was very good. She had a lot of movement we hadn’t seen previously.”

On May 8, ND defeated defending Group II champion Haddon Heights, but nonetheless slipped to second in the rankings behind unbeaten SJV. Donovan Catholic is third.

“Number one is a good spot but it definitely can be stressful,” McColgan said, adding with a laugh, “But still having that spot would be great. I can’t lie.”

Rankings mean nothing when tournament play begins and the Irish appear poised to make a run behind Michalak – one of the state’s top pitchers (13-1, 0.27 ERA, 163 strikeouts). The offense is led by Giampolo (.377, 19 RBIs), Marchese (.388, 5 homers, 18 RBIs), sophomore Bianca Pesce (.426, 12 RBIs) and Woloshyn (.340).  

Despite having just one senior (Isabelle Antosiewicz), ND wants to win now.

“We definitely support each other at a higher level than previous years, and that comes from playing with each other and growing as a team,” McColgan said. “If we continue to bond and grow from each win and loss, we could do some great things.”