For Nicole Velardi, playing softball has been a family affair for nearly a generation.
The junior at Caldwell College and native of Belleville, NJ has been a key member of the Cougars’ softball team, which won the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference post-season tournament and will be among the favorites in the East Regional to advance to the NCAA, Division II, College World Series later this month in Virginia.
Velardi was graduated from Belleville High in 2010, where she led the Buccaneers to three solid seasons for coach Chris Cantarella.
An infielder at Belleville, she was moved to the outfield at Caldwell when Cougars coach Dean Johnson saw an opportunity to get her into the lineup after an injury to another player.
“She’s done a tremendous job for us,” said Johnson, who generally throws compliments around with the ease of tossing a manhole cover. “Obviously, I’ve known about her for a while, but to be honest, I didn’t think she’d make this kind of contribution. Her performance speaks for itself.”
Johnson ‘obviously’ knew about Velardi because Nicole’s older sister, Jackie (J.V. to her friends) also played at Caldwell and is now an assistant coach at her alma mater. Jackie Velardi was an All State catcher at Belleville High in 2003 and like her sister, switched positions upon going to college.
Jackie also played in the 2004 College World Series, which was the first time Caldwell advanced that far. The Cougars haven’t been back there since, although the program has achieved marvelous success, including conference titles and trips to the NCAA regionals.
Nicole Velardi (left) and older sister and Caldwell College assistant coach Jackie ‘JV’ Velardi after the Cougars won the CACC post-season title last weekend. Jackie played on the 2004 Caldwell team which made its only NCAA College World Series appearance and Nicole hopes to match that feat by helping the 2013 Cougars back to the CWS.
“It’s not easy getting there,” Johnson said. “We’ve been close, especially last year, but yes, it’s been nine years. I think we have a chance this season to get back, but you’ve got to play the games on the field. On paper, we look good, but that’s not how it’s done and these kids know that.”
Caldwell will take a 43-10 mark into Friday’s NCAA East Regional opposite Southern Connecticut State in Rockville Center, New York on the campus of Molloy College. The Cougars won its fifth CACC championship, and first in four years, last weekend and Velardi was a key component, hitting .364 and being named to the All Tournament team. She was also selected second team, All-CACC.
We’ll be following Nicole’s progress in the regionals this weekend as she attempts to make it two Velardis to play in the World Series.