Last season first-year New Paltz softball coach Brooke Frey went out on a limb. A very precarious one. She inherited a program that had just won its first-ever Section 9 title and that had lost the majority of that team to graduation, including pitching ace Bridget Bennett. So Frey went with what — and whom — she knew: her JV players. Five of them. Freshman starters. It turned out to be not only a gutsy move, but a stroke of genius. The result was a 16-3 record, the Huguenots first-ever MHAL championship and a near repeat in Section 9 (a 4-2 loss to Goshen in the Class A final).
Well, everybody is back. All the major contributors to last season’s title runs return, including hurler Jill Harrison, who came out of the proverbial “blue” to be the best pitcher in the MHAL and arguably the best in Section 9. Harrison, now a senior, will be joined on the field by the returning Fab Five: sophomore catcher JoJo Tanzi, sophomore first basewoman (and backup pitcher) Paige Sarvis, sophomore second basewoman Mia Bonagura, sophomore third basewoman Katie Bennett and sophomore left-fielder (backup shortstop) Jordan Giancola. Rounding out the infield is solid junior defensive shortstop Anna McDuffie (now in her third year of varsity). In the outfield New Paltz returns senior centerfielder Grace Dixon and senior rightfielder Veronica Hill, with newcomers in sophomore outfielder Lizzy Byers, freshman outfielder Taylor Hill and junior utility-fielder Cassidy Thacker.
And that’s it. Not much depth — New Paltz lost DH Katie Finch to graduation and Allie Defoe and Daniela Sackett didn’t return this year — but the way the young kids played last year it may not make much difference. “As mature and solid as they were last year, they’re more so this year. Having nine returning starters is a big plus,” says the understated Frey. “Avoiding injuries and if everyone improves upon last year — the confidence is still there — there’s no reason we can’t be as good or better than last year.”
It would be a shocker if they weren’t.
The Huguenots open defense of their MHAL title at home against Division 1 foe FDR on Monday, April 9 at 4 p.m.
Over in Pancake Hollow, Highland softball is coming off a deceiving 7-12 season. Some games the Huskies were as good as any team in the MHAL; others not so. They were as erratic as their ace pitcher — since graduated — Emily Defini, who could throw a no-hitter one game and then walk 15 batters the next. She was often unhittable. The defense — not doing Defini any favors — was erratic as well.
This season, second-year coach Kathalene Canosa is hoping for consistency, because she has the players: returning first basewoman Mia Beck (a senior), second basewoman Sharee Mills (senior), shortstop Mollee Stafford (senior), slugging third basewoman/backup pitcher Paige Dauenheimer (sophomore), catcher Ella Cappolino (sophomore), infielder/outfielder BiancaRose Piscioneri (senior), outfielder Isabela Valentino (junior), infielder Kayla Feo (senior) and outfielder Dakota Wilklow (senior). Newcomers are Abbie Kemp, the new starting pitcher (an eighth-grader) — “She can bring it,” says Canosa, smiling — outfielder Adrianna Scalo (a freshman) and catcher Victoria Guidi (junior). Along with losing Defini on the mound, Highland lost starting outfielders Lucy Long and Taylor Farino, and utility player Nikayla Schlosser.
“We have our entire infield back from last year, with the exception of Emily on the mound. We have an all new outfield, but I expect it be just as strong as last year. They should be strong defensively. We’re in a tough Division (2 of the MHAL) with Rondout and Marlboro, who haven’t lost much from last year, but I expect to compete for the Division title and get back to Sections. As long as we can have a strong defense behind our pitcher we should be in every game,” says Canosa.
Highland softball opens the season at home against Rondout on Thursday, April 5 at 4 p.m.