Taking home titles from the Super Essex Conference, Essex County Tournament and North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 was certainly an impressive feat for West Essex, which finished the 2016 season with a marvelous 26-3 record.
And while coach Andrea Mondadori’s Knights were disappointed in losing its season finale to Middletown South, 5-3, in the Group 3 semifinal, it’s safe to say the future is indeed bright for the team from North Caldwell.
It was an especially good year for Mondadori. Her dad, Steve, joined the coaching staff and manned the first base box. And ‘Mondo, along with assistant coach Jason Ahmed, won their 200th career game in 2016.
West Essex loses just one starting senior in first baseman Kate Jencarelli, a very talented defensive player who also accumulated over 100 career hits. An outstanding student, she’ll be attending SUNY, Oneonta, through a program that could place her at Cornell University after a year.
The play of freshman shortstop Julia Vardiman over the last five weeks of the season was spectacular. Vardiman was the team’s leadoff hitter down the stretch. In the game against Middletown South, she tripled to lead off the game, later homered and finished with two runs scored and a pair of RBI.
Alexa Vardiman (Funny Cide) a junior was the team’s starting catcher and a big-time hitter, batting second in the lineup.
The biggest surprise may have been the play of junior second baseman Bridget Betley, who batted close to .500, had big hits in key moments and was a stalwart defensively. I often called her Bridge over Troubled Water, or B-Squared, and she always had a catchy quote after a game, but the bottom line was Betley was something special for the Knights.
Third baseman Lilly James was as good as they got defensively, and the sophomore became a dangerous hitter, as the season progressed. Centerfielder Amanda Garofalo might be the fastest player on the team, and the junior had plenty of clout at the plate.
Right fielder Madison Gemma was healthy in 2016 and the junior provided a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Rachel Rodriguez became a solid left fielder and boasted a steady bat.
And how about junior pitcher Sami Huetter (Canonero II)? Huetter threw four straight shutouts in the state tournament and was equally tough in the county tournament. She, along with Mount St. Dominic’s Kelsey Oh, were the best pitchers in Essex County.
Amanda Schwartz, a sophomore, is an up-and-coming pitcher.
High expectations can sometimes be overwhelming for players, but the Knights know that 2017 could be even better than this year.
The improvement from 2015 to 2016 went from losing a county final, by 17 runs, to winning the ECT a year later in dominant fashion. It went from an early exit in the state sectionals, to winning the program’s first state crown in six years.
And next year, the motivation will be to not only repeat as conference, county and sectional champs, but to add that final piece, en route to a Group 3 crown, and maybe a chance to play in what will be the first Tournament of Champions.