Steve Sollmann has accomplished a lot in his career at Notre Dame already. He was nominated as an All-American and an Academics All-American in 2003. He's one of the top all-time hitters for the Irish with a .370 batting average. Like every great player, his numbers rise during tournament play with a .487 average in 18 tournament games. He's considered a high draft pick for 2004 after being selected by the Oakland Athletics last year. What does Sollmann have left to prove?
Sollmann says he's very happy to be back for his senior season. "I think it was a pretty easy decision for me to make," Sollmann said. "Once it got past the first couple of rounds there was no doubt I was going to come back here. I think even from the beginning I wanted to come back here. When you have coaches like we have here and teammates like you do here, that's hard to turn down. I'm more than happy to be back."
A chance to play for the big prize one more time was also attractive to Sollmann. "I felt this team had all the components to be a great team. I think we have the hitting and the pitching needed to get back to the College World Series. I just wanted another chance because I think this team can go far."
Sollman believe this Irish team is very similar to the 2002 College World Series team. "I think we play the game the same way. One of the things about the World Series team that is the same here is the unity and the bonding that this team has. We're always doing everything as a team and we have a lot of fun. I can definitely see this team having the same success that that team had."
Sollmann is off to a slow start so far this season, but we're sure that won't last long. Sollmann says he just needs to finds some holes in the outfield. "My mechanics will come. I think my hitting will come. I'm more excited that we're 6-0. I'll hit .270 all year if we keep winning ballgames and guys keep playing as hard as they are right now."
When it comes to hitting, Sollmann knows plenty. His 255 hits are eighth all-time for the Irish and he'll surely be climbing that list this season. "You get into those times when the ball looks huge. Talk to Sean Gaston right now, he'll tell you all about it. I've hit a couple of balls hard that haven't dropped for me. I'm not striking out. I'm putting it in play. I'm doing what I need to do, and as long as I'm doing that, the balls will start to fall for me."
Leadership is another role that Sollmann will be responsible for. He says he leads by example, but we've noticed he's one of the more vocal leaders on the team. "I go out every day and just try to lead by example. I go out and work hard and do what it takes to win. When you've got guys like Javi Sanchez and Chris Niesel who play the game as hard as I do it makes it easier because it rubs off on everybody."
Sollmann will have to lead a group of young freshmen if this team will have a chance to get to the College World Series again. He thinks they'll step up to the challenge. "They're going to have to step up. They're going to have to play the game like they know how. That's our job as leaders to get them there. I think they'll be there."
The one area the Irish have really improved this season is hitting in the clutch. Sollmann says he believes anyone in the lineup can deliver that big hit. "I think we have that component. We have nine guys in our lineup that can go out there and hit the ball hard. We have the type of pitching that will make it easier on us, but I do think we have nine guys that can get a clutch hit any time we need it. That will help us this year."
When all is said and done, Sollmann's name will be plastered all over the leader board in hits, runs, steals, and career average. We asked Sollmann if he's happy that he'll be known as one of the best to ever play for Notre Dame. "I'd rather be known as part of one of the best teams that's every played here. If we go out and accomplish that, play in the College World Series, accomplish the goals that we've set for ourselves, I'll be more than satisfied."
For Sollmann, he's just living a dream right now. A dream he's had since his brother Scott wore the same jersey. "It's always been a dream of mine to play here—ever since watching my brother play here—I knew this was the place for me. I really feel sorry for the rest of players out there who don't get to play for a coach like coach Mainieri. He loves his players and gets the most out of your ability. He actually cares about how you are doing off the field and I'm looking forward to playing for him for the rest of the season."