Swinging for the Fences with the NHS Softball Team
Softball season is an adventure for the girls at Nutley High School and is the perfect way for them to wrap up their school year. The team began their season in March with spring training in Disney World where they not only got to play eight games, but they also got the opportunity to visit the four theme parks. The Florida trip was able to show Coach Luann Zullo a glimpse of her prospering team. She was impressed with the two talented players that moved into town that gave the team a bit of a boost along with a couple of skilled freshman. Led by Zullo and captains Melanie Conca, Rebecca Granata, Jamell Quiles, and Courtney Wilde, the team is currently at a record of 18-10.
Each practice the team begins with a ten minute jog around Yanticaw Park. They then move into stretching and warm ups. After that, the outfield and infield go their separate ways to work on each individual position. If the weather is nice, the team will hit live in game situations, but on rainy or cold days, they use their batting cages located across the street from the high school at John H. Walker Middle School.
Rebecca Granata, first baseman, explains, “we prepare for a big game by focusing at practice the day before and getting as much fielding and hitting as possible.” Practice is most important for the players this year because there are several athletes competing for the same spots.
Zullo describes it as a, “very competitive environment.” She further explains, “the best group against one opponent might not have been the same for another opponent.” There was a lot of adjusting that Zullo needed to do in order to go into a big game that would guarantee their chances at winning.
The team unfortunately just lost in the county tournament May 11 against West Essex so their current focus is winning their section. Zullo expresses, “I believe we have the ability to to compete with anyone.” The team has played five of the top ten teams in the state so Zullo feels that the team is well prepared for these goals.
Melanie Conca, the team’s shortstop, hopes to win a state sectional title before graduating. She expresses, “everyday we are working toward this goals, so hopefully we achieve it.” The team is currently on a winning streak in the state tournament starting by winning their first two games against Ferris and Matawan. They hope to continue this and win their first state title since 2010. Granata had her own goal going into the season, too. She hoped that she would raise her batting average her senior year and she was able to succeed. She is now batting .500 and she expresses, “I am very proud of myself.”
The biggest loss for the team this year was not a specific game though. It was the injury of Division I commit, centerfielder, and team leader, Courtney Wilde. “It was a huge downfall for our team,” Granata says.
Wilde broke her leg sliding into third base, leaving her teammates and coaches shocked. Zullo explains, “She has been an inspiration during her recovery as she has been our biggest cheerleader and emotional leader from the dugout each and every game since.”
Zullo has high hopes for the team going into the more important games coming up. Granata expresses, “the day of a big game we get our nerves out by listening to music together and just having fun.” Zullo believes that having fun and making friendships that will last a lifetime is what the game is really about. Conca believes that softball offers a great environment because of this close bond between the teammates. She says, “softball has taught me to have confidence in myself as a player and to trust my teammates, which has helped me as an athlete.” With the end of the season coming close, Conca and Granate reminisced on the memories and opportunities that softball has brought them.