The smile is perpetual.
The intensity never wanes.
And those attributes are why Cedar Grove High School senior Ava Fernandez is not only a leader in the classroom and athletic fields, but will find success at the next level, and beyond, epitomizing the term student-athlete.
Fernandez will attend Springfield College, in Springfield, Massachusetts this fall, where she’ll continue playing softball while pursuing a major in Sports Management.
But listening to Ava, there’s much work to do, before college begins. First is to help Cedar Grove match, or repeat last year’s success on the softball diamond, this spring. And as one of the Panthers leaders, the first baseman can’t wait.
“We’re really excited about the upcoming season,” said Fernandez. “I think we can be a very good team.”
Her college choice came down to a comfort level.
“My parents were so supportive during the process,” said Ava. “I knew when I made my official visit to Springfield that it was the right place for me. I felt it in my heart. I really liked the head softball coach at Springfield, Kate Bowen. And when I had a chance to spend the night there and meet some of the players, I knew this was the place for me. Springfield has my major, and that, of course, was also very important to me.
“So I knew I had to go there.”
Springfield, whose moniker is the Pride and mascot is Spirit, The Majestic Lion, was founded in 1885. It is an NCAA, Division III school and plays in the highly competitive New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC).
Getting the college decision done, before the start of softball, was something Ava was happy to wrap up.
“It makes it much easier to focus on the season, with my teammates,” she said.
The eldest of two daughters born to Dina and Joseph Fernandez, Ava has long been a crazy sports fan.
“As a kid, I was that girl in gym class who always loved sports,” she said. “I really enjoy the NCAA basketball tournament and March Madness. To me, it’s the best time of the year.”
Cedar Grove head coach Nicole Velardi has a lot of respect for Ava.
“I think Ava made a great choice for college,” said Velardi, herself a standout player at Caldwell University before becoming a high school coach. “She’s such a hard worker and a perfectionist. Last season started slow for her, with an illness, but when she came back to our lineup midway through the season, we took off, as a team. And when it came to the post-season, she was outstanding.”
Cedar Grove would win the Group 1 state championship in 2017 and played in the first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. The Panthers won an exciting first round game in the TOC before losing to the eventual champion, Immaculate Heart Academy, in the semifinals.
“Ava is another coach on the field,” said Velardi. “She’s always helping the younger kids out, and is very humble. So when she steps up her game, I think it has an effect on everyone. She’s quiet, for the most part, but she gets her point across.”
Velardi also noted that the team has five tremendous seniors, who thrive in a leadership role. In addition to Fernandez, there’s Ava Mandala, Kelly Toomey, Kali McCabe and Michaela Kennedy.
Fernandez was also an outstanding basketball player this winter for the Panthers, and in addition, was honored in February, at the ‘National Girls and Women In Sports Day’, at Seton Hall University. She was also a constant at Cedar Grove football games in the fall, working on the sidelines and helping the coaching staff.
The smiling Ava was on the sidelines during Cedar Grove football games. (Click on photo for larger image)
When asked who she’d most want to have dinner with, the reflective Fernandez thought for a bit, then responded, “My grandpa (John Reliah) because he’s my biggest fan and makes me laugh, my 14U coach, Mark Durando, because he always has new things to tell me about how I can improve and (singer and actress) Selena Gomez, because I just like her.”