There’s something about this time of year that speaks of excitement. The winter is definitely going away. As my pal, Bob Behre always said after the final match at the NJSIAA wrestling championships in early March, “break out the bats and balls.”
There’s something about that sound, when a ball connects with that bat, usually with the aluminum ping, but the occasional wood sound, that says it’s time to be outside a lot more. And before you know it, the sounds of the ocean hitting the surf will indicate that my friend Anthony LaRezza’s favorite holiday, Memorial Day, is around the corner.
So, with that piece of nostalgia, it’s been great to get out and see some New Jersey high school softball teams in the early going. The weather has been more than cooperative, for the most part.
A few high school teams, like Nutley, Newark Academy, Bloomfield and Belleville have ventured south, to Florida, for scrimmages and practices, so here’s hoping that the weather is sunny and hot, every day, and the teams have a great time at the Magic Kingdom.
I spoke to Newark Academy coach Sergio Rodriguez the other night, at a local pizza establishment, and he’s really excited about his team’s chances in 2016. He’s got one of the FMTC studs, Sophie Rosenberg, AKA, Arts and Letters, so that’s a good place to start.
Back here in somewhat balmy NJ, the scrimmage season is well underway. Last Friday, I went to Westwood to see IHA play its first scrimmage, against Ridgefield. (That, of course, after a trip to Rutt’s Hut to kick off the season).
The score didn’t matter, as much as seeing the banter of the players, even during warmups. If you know the setting at IHA’s field, when you park your vehicle, you’re literally above the field, so as you walk toward the complex, there’s a downward trek to the field level.
You could literally hear the players yelling and having fun from the parking lot, during pre-game routines. It was certainly a release, not only for the kids, but for the fans and parents of the IHA players. Needless to say, it’s been a long winter.
Time to get outside.
I watched most of that scrimmage from the second ‘deck’ as I like to call it at IHA, because it felt weird to walk down to the field level. I guess that’ll change, with time. But it was fun catching up with former IHA stud Alyssa Sceppaguercio, who now works at Duke University, in its athletic department.
Alyssa is great. She still has that competitive fire, and loves her high school alma mater. We talked about a lot of games she played in at IHA from 2006-2008. ‘Scep’ was home for spring break, and didn’t want to miss that first scrimmage.
The conversation ran the gamut, from yelling at a college teammate, to Cousin Anthony, to how this year’s IHA team should fare. In the sixth inning, we both saw a certain bird fly overhead during the scrimmage and kind of thought the same thing. “That’s him,” we both said, and laughed, because that’s the way Cousin Anthony would want it.
Anyway, I also spoke with some of the parents of the current IHA players, who have some fun things planned for this year. It’s great to see the energy, but it’s not hard to detect the level of parental support for their daughters, because, well, kids are kids. They’re extremely resilient, but that comes with family love and support, and seeing the crowd on hand for what would normally be a meaningless scrimmage, spoke for itself.
On to Montclair, where second-year head coach Phil Delgado can’t wait to start scrimmaging. His Mounties were slated to face Bayonne on March 16, and two days later, Phil will take his team to IHA, for what should be a few hours of fun and a lot of comedy.
Watching Delgado coach is worth the price of admission. And he’s pretty excited about the upcoming season. It’ll be fun to catch up soon.
I was at North Caldwell to see West Essex practice last week. The Knights have just about its entire team back from the squad that made the county finals a year ago. Sami Huetter, AKA Canonero II, is back in the circle, healthy and ready for a big junior year. And her teammates, such as Alexa Vardiman, Bridget Betley, Amanda Garofalo, Madison Gemma, Kate Jencarelli and Julia Vardiman (Alexa’s younger sister) appear fired up for a big year. (There’s gotta be a few studs in that lineup, yes?)
Head coach Andrea Mondadori has a new coach on her staff, but it’s quite a familiar face. Steve Mondadori, Mondo’s dad, and a long-time head softball coach, is an assistant and he’ll be a huge asset for the program. (See a related article on Steve’s hiring. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/father-knows-best-andrea-mondadori-announces-the-hiring-of-a-new-softball-coach-at-west-essex/)
As most who read this blog know, I like to tag some of the stud softball players with horse names. With a lot of the studs from last year graduated, we’ll have some new ones coming soon. Here’s the short list, for now. It’ll expand, as opening day nears.
Sami Huetter, Canonero II
Sydney McCormack, Syd The Kid
Sophie Rosenberg, Arts and Letters
Katie Kudlacik, Southpaw Secretariat
Amanda Ayala, (DePaul), Whirlaway
Looking forward to seeing Livingston play its first scrimmage later this week. The Lancers will host Hanover Park, which has a new coach, but a familiar name in former West Orange head coach, Jamie Galioto.
The Lancers will be tough, as usual, with Syd The Kid in the circle and a well coached squad behind her. Head coach Jason Daily begins his 16th season at Livingston. Time does fly by.
So, yes, it’s time to get your popcorn ready.
The 2016 season is underway, with regular season games in a little over two weeks.