In terms of stability, Jess Sarfati’s tenure with the Montclair Kimberley Academy (MKA) softball program is more than noteworthy.
Sarfati, in her third official year as the head coach, also assumed those duties for a good part of the 2010 season and helped lead that team to the North Non-Public B finals. She was also an assistant coach to John Odell in 2009 when MKA won its last state championship to date behind the pitching of Molly Herforth and catcher Andrea Huelsenbeck, who now plays at UConn.
A native of Montclair where she was a standout for the Mounties from 2001-2003, Sarfati has an ambitious group of youngsters this spring who seemingly love the game.
“I really enjoy working with these kids,” said Sarfati, who is a kindergarten teacher at MKA. “I’ve watched some of them grow up in the Montclair Kimberley school system and they enjoy being a part of the school. They’re aware of some of the tremendous teams that have been here in the past and want to bring that back.”
MKA dominated the Non-Public B, or Parochial B (whichever you prefer) landscape for most of the last decade. It also won a pair of Essex County titles in 2001 and 2002. A number of coaching changes seemed to affect the program’s equilibrium, but Sarfati has settled in well to the job.
“We’re really young,” the coach said. “And with that, we haven’t been as consistent as we’d like, but we’re getting there.”
MKA was 5-3 following an 11-1 setback to Bloomfield on April 17. The Cougars had won five of its first six, including a 1-0 win over Glen Ridge before dropping a 6-2 decision to Newark Academy and the aforementioned Bloomfield game.
The lone senior on the roster is left fielder Lexi Lordi, a team captain. Centerfielder Nadia Uberoi, a junior, is also a captain. The pitching staff features freshman Bella Calandra along with sophomore Morgan Katona.
“Morgan had a streak there when she pitched 25 innings without allowing an earned run,” Sarfati said. “She keeps the ball low and has good control. Bella throws a little harder and keeps batters off balance. They’re both throwing well and it’s nice to have the ability to go to two pitchers, both of whom are young and will be a big part of our program.
“Two years ago, we were in the (Super Essex Conference’s) American Division, with really no established starting pitching,” recalled Sarfati. “Now we have two kids who want the ball and continue to improve.”
Paige Pacifico, a junior, plays first while her freshman sister, Emma, is behind the plate.
Freshman second baseman Izzy Mendez has sparkled in the field and also as the team’s leadoff hitter.
“She’s so much fun to watch play,” Sarfati said of Mendez. “She loves the game and plays with a lot of confidence. Honestly, it’s very enjoyable to work with these kids and see them get better game by game. We ran into a tough game with Bloomfield and Newark (Academy) is always tough for us, but that will make us better. We’re looking forward to competing in the (Essex) County tournament next month, too.”
Sarfati’s coaching staff includes former MKA standout Andrea Piela, who later played at Siena University and the Italian National Team, as well as Donna Bruno.
“I think we all click well as a staff,” Sarfati said. “We want to make this fun for the kids, and give positive reinforcement. So far, it’s been great.”