Newark Academy coach Sergio Rodriguez put it best when he was informed of an interesting statistic about the Mount St. Dominic softball team, from 2014 through the end of last season.
The Lions enter Friday’s regular season opener with Livingston on a 32-game winning streak against Essex County opponents.
“This stat makes me feel like a women’s team in NCAA hoops having to deal with UConn,” Rodriguez tweeted.
Truer words may not have been spoken.
The Lions have not only won 32 straight, since a 7-2 defeat to Livingston on April 7, 2014, but many of those wins were by double digits.
Prior to the MSDA run, Livingston put up some gaudy numbers against Essex competition from 2012-2014. At one point, the Lancers were 48-1 against Essex teams, including back-to-back state sectional, Essex County and SEC titles, as well as seven straight wins against Mount St. Dominic, before the Lions began to turn the tables with a 7-3 win in May, 2014. MSDA then won three straight against the Lancers in 2015.
As the first set of FMTC Essex (pre-season) rankings are up today, there’s no question that The Mount is No. 1. Many will say they could be the state’s No. 1 team, as well, and why not? They have a marvelous pitcher in Kelsey Oh and an outstanding nucleus of players coming back, hungrier than ever.
And there’s no question that the Mount will be more than primed. Last year, they held the state’s number one ranking for most of the season. It finished a tremendous 29-2, to go along with a second straight Essex County and Super Essex Conference title, under coach Lorenzo Sozio, who loves to schedule the toughest competition possible, both in and out of New Jersey.
While MSDA is the team to beat, there will be plenty of popcorn to pass around in Essex County.
West Essex has a junior-laden team, and most of those kids have played two years of varsity heading into this season. Sami Huetter (Canonero II) is the team’s top pitcher and some quality players in the field, and at the plate, will provide plenty of excitement for the Knights. A state sectional title and the opportunity to return to the county final, will be high among coach Andrea Mondadori’s club priorities in 2016.
Cedar Grove will hit the ball, and they’ve got the pitching, to make a run at a second straight state championship in Group 1. The Panthers have a new coach in Nicole Velardi, and she’s excited about Cedar Grove’s prospects for another good season.
While there have been coaching changes over the years at CG, the winning tradition has never waned, going back to the days of Ray Van Der May and, later, Rob Stern. Last year, the program won its first Group 1 title in 36 years, with Velardi as an assistant coach to AJ Agnor.
Nicole Velardi (left), here with her sister, Jackie, during her playing days at Caldwell College (now University) is the new head coach at Cedar Grove. She’s the youngest coach in the SEC American Division.
Nutley and Livingston should once again field solid teams, as well. The Raiders, who won a state sectional championship, and were county semifinalists last year, are vying for even more in 2016, under the direction of coach Luann Zullo.
Luann Zullo is already in the NJSIAA Hall of Fame. She’s had tremendous success at Nutley, since taking over in 1999, and before that, at West Essex. Zullo is the only head coach in Essex County history to win county titles at two different schools.
Over in Livingston, Jason Daily’s Lancers are young, but they’ll pitch well, with Sydney McCormack (Syd The Kid) in the circle, and an aggressive team playing defense behind her. Question is, will the Lancers hit enough to continue their incredible run of success? Daily is a master of small ball, and if the Big Green Machine can get some power in the lineup, they’re definitely a contender.
Watch out for Montclair. The Mounties had a good pre-season, under coach Phil Delgado, and if ‘Living the Dream’ counts for anything, the Mounties will be an aggressive and much-improved team. And they’ll be playing each team in the SEC American, twice, meaning they could primed for a nice post-season, too. Delgado’s club had tee-shirts made up, with ‘Exit 140’ printed on the back, symbolic of playing at Kean University, for a state championship.
Speaking of Rodriguez and his Newark Academy team, they could also be in store for a big season. They’ll be among the teams favored to win the SEC Liberty Division title and will be a tough out in Non-Public B. Rodriguez, Delgado and many other Essex County coaching brethren are still coming to terms with the sudden passing of dear friend Anthony LaRezza, the Immaculate Heart Academy coach.
Delgado has often said he pays respect to LaRezza simply by coaching the game of softball, and seeing it played correctly. Rodriguez was a very close friend to LaRezza, and you have to think he, and his players will have the IHA coach in their hearts during the season, as will so many other teams and players throughout the state.
Newark Academy has a very talented team, led by Sophie Rosenberg (Arts And Letters). And I’ve always said they play in the nicest ball park, at their home campus in Livingston. That place could be hopping this season as the Minutemen have some big goals in mind.
Among some of the coaching milestones in Essex County are, possibly, two men earning their 500th win this season. Sozio and Bloomfield’s Bob Mayer aren’t too far away. Only Belleville’s Carl Corino and Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan have attained 500 among Essex County coaches, with Teshkoyan still with the Chiefs and passing the 600 win mark in 2014. Corino was the first to hit 500, and retired after the 2005 season with 507 victories.
The FMTC Top 10:
1-Mount St. Dominic
First Stud List for 2016 in Essex: These are the names carried over from last year. The list is small now, with graduation taking its toll in 2015. Obviously, the list will grow as the season begins. Pretty sure there will be new names within the first week of the season.
Sami Huetter, Canonero II
Sydney McCormack, Syd The Kid
Sophie Rosenberg, Arts and Letters
Out of Network:
Katie Kudlacik, Southpaw Secretariat
Olivia Sprofera, Southpaw Slew
Reese Guevarra, Sunday Silence