Tina Spithogiannis, the young lady with that perpetual smile and always upbeat personality, looked a bit melancholy when she acknowledged that her high school days are quickly waning.
“I know,” she said with a sigh when reminded that her final high school softball game as a Bloomfield Bengal will be on May 24, weather permitting, at home against Super Essex Conference (SEC) rival Mount St. Dominic. “I can’t believe it’s almost over. It’s been so much fun, especially this year.”
A four-year starter for the Bengals and coach Bob Mayer, the life-long Bloomfield resident won”t be going far in the next phase of her life. She plans to attend Montclair State University and hopes to try out for that school’s softball team this fall. She aspires to be a pharmacist or athletic trainer.
“I want to stay involved with sports,” Spithogiannis said. “I know my major is a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The 2013 campaign has been a good one for Spithogiannis and the Bengals (19-6). It won the SEC’s Liberty Division with a 13-1 record. Bloomfield also advanced to the Essex County Tournament semifinals for the first time in five years before losing to the eventual champion, Livingston. A disappointing loss to West Orange earlier this week ended the Bengals hopes in the state tournament.
“Losing the state game was tough,” Spithogiannis said. “We were excited about the states, but it wasn’t meant to be. It doesn’t take away from what we’ve accomplished.”
She knows that the final game, against Mount St. Dominic, could represent a 20th victory for the Bengals, which is a far cry from last year’s 6-15 campaign.
“It would be nice to get it against such a good team like the Mount,” she said. “And my summer coach (Rob Stern) is with the Mount, so that would be fun, too. But it won’t be easy, we know that. I do think we play well against the better teams.”
Spithogiannis is also a versatile athlete. She played tennis for Bloomfield and is also a standout bowler for the Bengals, where she was team captain and the top bowler with a 170 average.
“I just love bowling,” Spithogiannis said. “It’s so much fun. I started bowling in my sophomore year and I’m obsessed with it now. I can’t get enough of it.”
She has been Bloomfield’s starting centerfielder since 2010, but Mayer noted Spithogiannis could have played a number of other positions for the softball team.
“Tina is such a good athlete that if we needed her to play just about any position, other than pitcher, I know she could have,” Mayer said. “She’s that good a player.”
When asked for her most memorable moment in softball, she was quick to respond.
“In my freshman year, we were playing West Essex at Pulaski Park and I was in center,” she recalled. “I remember being a little afraid to dive for a ball, especially with the seniors on that team, because I thought they’d think I didn’t know what I was doing. But in that game, I dove and caught it and it felt great.”
The Bengals will graduate eight seniors next month, including Spithogiannis, Jenna Orlando, Debbie Mazzeo, Damariz Mercado, Stephanie Mancuso, Mayra Latheef, Alexis Olaya and Amanda Kelm.
“Honestly, this senior class may be the hardest working group of kids I’ve ever coached,” Mayer said. “We’ve had some really good teams here, and there may have been more talented players, but these seniors really put the time in to get better. A lot of them, like Tina, played summer ball, as well as in the fall. Most of them did the winter workouts and just kept getting better. This season has been really enjoyable for me, and I’ll admit winning certainly helps, but these kids were really something.”
When asked what three people she’d most like to have dinner with, she replied Caitlin Lowe, a standout collegiate softball player and Silver Medalist in the 2008 Olympics and singers Miley Cyrus and the late Tupac Shakur.
“I met Caitlin Lowe and most of that Olympic team and that was tremendous,” Spithogiannis said. “And I always liked Tupac’s rap music. It had a lot of meaning.”
Spithogiannis admits it will be different not being teammates with this group of seniors once the game with Mount St. Dominic is over.
“A lot of us have been playing since the travel team days when we were in middle school,” she said. “We’ll all stay friends, but everyone is heading in different directions. It’s going to seem strange when it finally ends. I’m really grateful for all the wonderful times here.”