It was difficult to name just one Coach of the Year in Essex County softball in 2016, at it was for some other categories. So, why not just honor two coaches with the accolade, as well as remembering some tremendous milestones among other coaches in the county.
Montclair coach Phil Delgado is recognized for guiding a young team out from a tough start to the Essex County Tournament championship game.
While the Mounties did not qualify for the states, mostly in part because of that bad start, no team was tougher to handle down the stretch. It might have started with a 5-2 win, in 10 innings, over Bloomfield, as junior pitcher Jessie Masur struck out 20, on April 25.
Montclair was 3-13 at one point before embarking on a seven game winning streak, including victories over eventual state champions Lodi Immaculate, Livingston and West Essex, as well as the two-time defending county champions, Mount St. Dominic in the county quarterfinals, and good wins opposite Caldwell, Ridgefield and Cedar Grove.
The streak ended in the county finals, as West Essex won the title, 11-3, but it didn’t take away from the job Delgado, in his second season, did with a young team that seems primed for good things in 2017.
Delgado, who often said he was on an island (hence PDG Island) has often referred to Livingston coach Jason Daily as a mentor, and one of the best coaches he’s ever been around.
With that said, Daily shares the Coach of the Year award with Delgado. Livingston was a .500 team for most of the season before a late-season surge that resulted in a state sectional title in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4, which was culminated by a 13-3 win over Morris Knolls in the sectional final.
It was the third state title for the Lancers in the last five seasons. In the Group 4 semifinals, the Lancers played a tremendous game against Watchung Hills, before losing, 2-1, to the eventual Group 4 champs. (The game was tied, 1-1, in the seventh inning, before Hills scored the winning run).
Delgado was the first to laud Daily.
“The guy is a magician, brother,” said Delgado. “We’re all battling for second place, when it comes to coaching, when you discuss Jason. He’s had some great teams, and some good teams, but the bottom line is, he just wins. I’m not surprised they won a state championship today. Never count Livingston out.”
Ironically, Livingston’s run began after the Lancers were eliminated from the Essex County Tournament in an electric semifinal game at Ivy Park. It was the first time Livingston had lost to Montclair in six years. Daily had seen steady improvement in his team, and despite the 7-4 setback, felt his team was ready to make a run in the state tournament.
Earlier this season, Daily won his 300th game as Livingston’s head coach, when the Lancers defeated Newark Academy, 6-3, on May 14. He has been at the helm since 2001 and has guided the Lancers to three Essex County titles (2006, 2012, 2013), three state sectional crowns (2012, 2013, 2016) and back-to-back SEC titles in 2012 and 2013. From 2012 through May of 2014, Livingston was 40-1 in SEC play.
Some tremendous milestones were attained this year by Essex County coaches, all of which were well deserved.
Bloomfield’s Bob Mayer won his 500th career game, as the Bengals defeated Memorial of West New York, 12-3, at a tournament in Clifton on April 23. Mayer, who is as highly respected as they come in Essex, began his coaching career at his alma mater in 1989. He’s guided the Bengals to success in NNJIL, Essex County and state tournament play.
(Left) Bob Mayer joins his senior players on Senior Day. (Right) Mayer enjoyed win number 500 on April 23, with balloons from his players.
Mount St. Dominic’s Lorenzo Sozio also won his 500th career game, when the Lions defeated Bloomfield, 11-2, on May 2. A native of Bloomfield, Sozio had Mayer as a teacher, while growing up, and has held him in the highest esteem.
Sozio, a husband and father of three young sons, has been the head coach at Mount St. Dominic since 1996. He has led the program to unparalleled success, including six county titles, eight appearances in the last 10 county finals, a Non-Public A state title in 2014 and a phenomenal record of 121-29 over the last five seasons.
Sozio is also Mount St. Dominic’s athletic director and serves the school in many other capacities. As hard-working as they come, I’ve been privileged enough to see Sozio’s hard work at MSD and can say his passion and diligence speak for itself, as a coach, administrator and a good man.
Luann Zullo has been the head coach at her alma mater, Nutley, since 1999, after a tremendous run as West Essex’s head coach. Zullo is the only coach in Essex County Tournament history to win championships at two different schools, having guided West Essex to crowns in 1997 and 1998 and Nutley, in 2011.
Zullo has also led Nutley to multiple state sectional titles, the most recent in 2015, and in 2010, guided the Raiders to the Group 3 title game.
This season, Zullo won her 400th career game when Nutley defeated Sayreville, 9-4, on May 20.
Andrea Mondadori won her 200th career game on April 27, when West Essex defeated Mount St. Dominic, 5-1, in North Caldwell.
(Left: West Essex players with balloons, celebrating win number 200. Right: Bridget Betley holding a cake for Mondo’s milestone).
‘Mondo’ has been the head coach at West Essex since 2005. This year, she led the program to a second state sectional title and a second county championship, during her tenure, as well as a marvelous 26-3 overall record.