Stefanie Ziemer sat intently for the interview, smiling a little, locked in on the questions, but making sure she was comfortable with her answers.
Sort of the way the Nutley High School freshman plays shortstop for the state-ranked Raiders.
When asked how it felt to be the starting shortstop for a team ranked 19th in the state, Ziemer took it in stride.
“The team’s playing well,” said the 15-year-old daughter of Valerie and Bill Ziemer. “I’ve learned a lot about the varsity game so far. I love the competition and the challenge of getting better.”
Nutley coach Luann Zullo knew filling the shortstop role that was left vacated after Eileen Purcell’s graduation last spring wouldn’t be easy. Purcell was a four-time All County player, as well as a two-time All State selection. She’s now playing at Central Connecticut State University.
“You don’t replace someone like Eileen, obviously,” Zullo said. “We knew there would be kids competing for the starting job and I felt confident that whoever got the job would do well. Stefanie is also the point guard on the basketball team, and during the winter, she broke her nose and needed surgery. Her parents were trying to schedule the procedure so that it wouldn’t interfere with her coming out for softball. It worked out well, she got the surgery and was able to make the (pre-season) trip to Florida.
“Stefanie battled for the starting job, it wasn’t given to her. And I love the way she plays the game. Nothing flusters her. She’s so tiny that sometimes I can’t believe she’s already in high school. But let me tell you, she doesn’t back down an inch when it comes to close plays at second and diving for balls. This kid can play, and bear in mind, she’s doing this against some really good competition. She covers a lot of ground.”
Ziemer admired the way Purcell played the position, but knows she’s a different type of player.
“Eileen was tremendous,” Ziemer said. “I got a chance to watch her play last season and watched the way she prepared. I played a lot during the summer and fall, so I felt like I could be the starting shortstop here.”
Ziemer is one of four freshmen (Emily Holden, Danielle Pomponio and Alanis Concepcion the others) who start for Nutley this year. The Raiders also start two sophomores, Carly Anderson and Jenna Saporito as well as juniors Brittany Currie and Jenna Saporito. It has just two seniors, albeit key players in Victoria Malanga and Heather Williams.
Despite a very young roster, the Raiders were 15-5 heading into a game with North Bergen on May 8. And bear in mind, that’s 15-5 playing in the Super Essex Conference’s toughest division, the American. Nutley lost twice to Livingston and were shut out by its All State pitcher, Jess Peslak, in both games.
But in its other three losses, it took a state ranked team in Mount St. Dominic to nine innings before losing, 5-3, then dropped a 3-2 decision to the Mount earlier this week despite not giving up an earned run. The Raiders also lost a non-conference game to Gov. Livingston, 7-6, in early April.
“I can’t tell you how much fun it is working with this group,” Zullo said. “They just love to play. They practice hard, listen and want to get better. There’s no drama, it’s just great seeing them get better.”
Ziemer’s favorite subject in school is Science. She loves the New York Rangers, with her favorite player Michael DelZotto. If she could, she’d enjoy having dinner with Taylor Swift, Jenny Finch and DelZotto.
As for the remainder of what is becoming a tremendous season in Nutley, Ziemer takes that in stride, too.
“One game at a time,” she smiled. “We have a big game with Cedar Grove on Friday. One of our goals is to win the counties, an we’d like to make a run at the states. I remember the (2010) team getting to the (Group 3) final. We believe we can do that, too.”