LAWRENCE TWP. — Notre Dame High School didn’t have to go far to find a new softball coach after Marty Schafer stepped down earlier this year due to health reasons.

In fact, he’s been in the building the entire time and was willing to join the staff as an assistant this year if Shafer stayed with the program.

Front and center Chris Jackson, who is an employee of the school and was officially appointed as the new head coach of the Ireland national team earlier this week.

“I’m really excited,” Jackson said. “There is a lot of talent in the building; we are strong on all four levels. I am grateful that the school trusted me and gave me this opportunity.”

Jackson has never been a head coach of a high school team, but he has a lot of experience in softball. This includes years of travel ball coaching with the New Jersey Outlaws.

His daughter, Jordan, now a sophomore at Swatmore College, was also a standout outfielder for North Burlington’s 2018-21 teams.

In addition to his knowledge of the game, it also works in Jackson’s favor that he inherited a great team filled with talented juniors.

Among those returning from a team that started just two seniors a year ago is hard-hitting junior righty Riley Michalak. Earlier this fall, Michalak, one of the top pitchers in the state, received a scholarship to the University of Houston for softball.

Notre Dame has compiled a 36-7 record over the past two years and is the 2021 Colonial Valley Conference Tournament champion. He finished second in the MCT to Steinert last year and had a strong showing in postseason play before falling short against state champion Donovan Parish Catholic.

In addition to Michalak’s pitching, Notre Dame returns a team loaded with speed. Shaffer has used an aggressive running game during his time with the team, and you can expect the Irish to continue to try to make things happen on the bases.

“We’re going to use it to our advantage,” Jackson said. “We will use the forces that we have.”

Given the potential of this group of players, it’s understandable that Jackson is eager to get started.

“Now we’re focusing on getting the team ready for the first day against Steinert,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we can take it to the next step (winning the MCT and state titles). Expectations are high, that’s for sure.”

One of the strongest programs in the entire state, Notre Dame won two state titles under legendary coach Artie Kearns. The Irish also finished second at state twice with Kearns leading the way.

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