By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Although Harrison graduated five seniors from last year’s team that won 12 games, veteran head coach Dave Nankivell feels like his young team could be improved over a year ago.
“We are very young and have only one senior starting,” said Nankivell. “But a lot of our young players are very solid. We have some character on this team and I like that. They’re a fun bunch, a little light hearted when they have down time, but serious when it counts. It might be the most athletic team I’ve ever had. Athletically, we can match anyone.”
Leading the way is sophomore pitcher Fiona Slattery, who earned 10 of the team’s 12 wins last season.
“Her velocity has improved from last year,” Nankivell said. “She’s definitely put her time in. She’s been throwing since I started the (Harrison) Rec program. She’s benefitted from throwing all last year. She keeps people off balance with her different pitches. She has better control now. She’s not going to blow people away, but she’s a competitor. Nothing bothers her and that is one of her best characteristics.”
Another key returnee is sophomore Amber O’Donnell, who gets moved to shortstop this year after playing centerfield a year ago.
“She really started to hit the ball well at the end of last year,” Nankivell said. “I hope she has a carry over. I’m also hoping that her leadership comes around. Confidence is also an issue. But I think playing basketball helped her mature a lot. I don’t see any of the traits that sent her back last year. She’s turned around 180 degrees. I think she has the potential to be the best player in her family.”
There already have been three O’Donnell sisters to play softball at Harrison, so that’s a compliment.
The catcher is junior Alexandria Hidrovo, who started behind the plate last year.
“She started every game and learned a lot,” Nankivell said. “She’s a decent hitter who hits the ball to all fields. Her defensive play behind the plate has improved tremendously and that comes with experience.”
Two seniors, Michelle Zea and Zemaida Miranda, have formed a platoon at first base.
Senior Genevie Andujar is the second baseman. Andujar is a complete bundle of energy who does a lot for the Blue Tide.
“It’s her third year of playing second base for us, so that’s a big plus,” Nankivell said. “She’s our leadoff hitter and can do a lot of things for us. We’re expecting good things from her.”
O’Donnell has handled the transition to shortstop very well.
Junior Jenna Ferriero is the third baseman. She’s the younger sister of former baseball standout Anthony, currently playing at FDUFlorham.
“She’s our slugger,” Nankivell said of Ferriero. “She grips it and rips it.”
Sophomore Kayla Montilla is the starter in left field. Montilla could very well be the fastest player in the NJIC Meadowlands Division.
“She sure can run,” Nankivell said. “She amazes me with the way she runs after the ball.”
Kayla’s younger sister, Abby Montilla, is the starter in centerfield.
“She has a very strong arm and she can move around out there as well,” Nankivell said.
In right field, sophomore Fayth Hartkopf and sophomore Nicole Colon are battling for playing time.
The Blue Tide will learn quickly how improved they are, facing Leonia, Lyndhurst and Snyder in the first week of the season.
“We graduated some big players,” Nankivell said. “We lost our No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 batters, so we have a lot of holes to fill. But I like the way they are coming together.”
Nankivell, who was the Harrison football coach for the last six seasons, resigned for family reasons in December after a winless campaign.
“I tell these girls all the time that they got to get me a win,” Nankivell laughed. “I haven’t won in a while.”
But Nankivell will win with this team, far more than once.
“We can be successful if we can just harness their ability,” Nankivell said. “Athletically, we’re very good. We just have to try to translate that into wins.”