In the early stages of a scrimmage on a cold March day, in Nutley, Immaculate Heart Academy softball coach Anthony LaRezza looked over to some friends standing by the third base line.
“This could be a tough season for us,” LaRezza said. “Seriously, we’re really young. The kids try hard, but I’m not sure how far they’ll be capable of going this year.”
Fast forward three months, and LaRezza and his team stood on the field at Kean University, holding up yet another state championship trophy in the storied history of IHA softball. And while in other years, a championship may have been expected. this year’s team was a work-in-progress. Back-to-back losses in late April may have actually helped this team’s resolve, and following a 1-0 win over Notre Dame in the Non-Public A championship game, there was no question how good IHA had become.
And the best may yet lie ahead.
The Eagles had no seniors on its roster in 2015, and as LaRezza told the jubilant group afterward, IHA will be coming back for more next year.
LaRezza’s coaching style has many facets. He laughs sometimes, gets mad on other occasions, throws the occasional clipboard up in the air, encourages his kids, when needed, tells stories that only a true historian could verify and has garnered the respect of his peers. He’s my choice as the state’s top softball coach in 2015.
“Anthony is an excellent coach, and it is years like this, with a young team, that truly show what a great coach he is,” said Nutley coach Luann Zullo. “It’s easy to move the chess pieces, but developing talent and getting a young group to mesh and believe in themselves and each other, and produce with the competitive schedule he plays, that’s the sign of a great coach.”
Livingston coach Jason Daily agreed.
“Anthony is a good man, a gentleman on, and off the field,” said Daily. “He is a tremendous coach that gets everything out of each player. He has a great rapport with his players, parents, fans, opposing coaches and umpires. Livingston has always enjoyed competing against IHA.”
Daily’s point about LaRezza’s rapport during a game, whether it’s with his own players, the umpires, or fans, shows how much he enjoys his work. His admiration for other coaches says a lot, too, about his own character. Quite often, he’ll tweet congratulations to the opposing team shortly after a game, whether IHA won, or lost. When his team lost its first game of the season to Butler, he was congratulating Butler on Twitter minutes after the game, as well as encouraging his own team to bounce back for its next game.
When Indian Hills stunned IHA in a classic 2014 Bergen County final, Indian Hills coach Joe Leicht immediately sought LaRezza to say congratulations on a great game, something which meant the world to LaRezza.
“If he was celebrating with his kids after that kind of game, that would be have been fine with me,” LaRezza said. “But he took a minute to come over, in the euphoria of a great moment for them, to say something to me. That’s not only a great coach, but a classy guy, too.”
A fun loving man, who enjoys the occasional trip to Rutt’s Hut, and can’t get enough trivia, whether it’s sports or politics, softball is indeed the fabric of his life.
His career record as a head coach is 338-51. He’s been at IHA since 2005 as the head coach after being an assistant there for many years.
LaRezza has also worked hard to support the Coaches vs. Cancer games, and was asked to throw out the first pitch before a game this season.
And when the high school season ends, you’ll find LaRezza back on the field, coaching summer ball. This, along with being a husband and father, as well as a firefighter, defines a man who most coaches will say ‘gets it’, when it comes to understanding his role as a coach and mentor.