NA softball: Keeping the winning tradition alive

The North Arlington High School softball team won 15 games a year ago, maintaining a tradition of winning during softball season, a history that was well established four decades ago.
Carol Dorazio was part of that great winning excellence
during her playing days with the Vikings in the early 1980s and still has that intense pride that comes with being a member of the NA softball alumnae.

Her daughter, Samantha Veneziano, was also a standout pitcher for the Vikings during her playing days about 10 years ago.

Together, they form the mother/daughter coaching tandem _ mother is head coach, daughter assistant _ that is trying to insure the winning ways remain a part of North Arlington folklore.

“She’s a good coach who knows her stuff,” Dorazio said of her daughter. “When softball season starts, it’s all that we talk about. We eat, drink, sleep softball. It’s constant. We live for softball. I can’t think of anything else.”

Despite losing players at key positions to graduation, including slugging catcher Marissa Piscal, who even pitched for a bit last season, Dorazio is confident that the Vikings will be a competitive bunch once again this spring.

“We couldn’t get out to practice much because of the weather,” Dorazio said. “So that made things a little difficult.”

Dorazio said that she knew replacing players like Piscal was going to be a chore, so she began last year when the replacements were performing on the junior varsity level.

“We started working on that last year,” Dorazio said. “We looked at our JV players and knew that they were going to be the varsity players this year. We’re trying to be as competitive as possible and I think we have the ability to do so.”

Leading the way for the Vikings is junior pitcher Alyssa Miller.

Miller is a left-handed hurler, a rarity in local circles this year, so that gives the Vikings a little bit of an edge.

Miller has impressed Dorazio with her work ethic and ability.

“She’s doing very well so far,” Dorazio said. “She’s also improved a lot since last year. She has good velocity and she has excellent control. She hits her spots. I think she’s only walked one batter so far. She’s also extremely coachable. Both Sam and I are working with her, but she also has a pitching coach she goes to. She’s handling the challenge and has a fantastic attitude.”

The catcher is sophomore Brianna Fernandez, who has made the leap up from junior varsity to replace Piscal.

“She’s handling everything great,” Dorazio said of Fernandez, who blasted a home run in the Vikings’ win over Wallington last Friday. “She has a big learning curve behind the plate, but she’s doing well.”

The first base duties are being shared by juniors Jordan Nelson and Kaylee Miller (Alyssa’s twin sister) as well as senior Katie Errico, who has been playing practically every position for the Vikings in the early going.

“Errico is a good utility player,” Dorazio said.

Junior Alessandra Pronti is the team’s second baseman. Pronti is a returning starter from last season at that position after transferring from Immaculate Conception.

The shortstop is senior Ariel Castellanos, who hit a major milestone in Friday’s win against Wallington. Castellanos, a four-year starter for the Vikings, collected the 100th hit of her varsity career Friday. Castellanos also needs less than 20 stolen bases to become the school’s all-time leader in that category.

“She’s one of my captains,” Dorazio said. “She’s the sparkplug. She’s our leadoff hitter. She gets on base and gets us going. She gets everything started.”
Castellanos is hitting an ungodly .714 over the first three games of the season.

“She’s a tough out,” Dorazio said of Castellanos.

Third base responsibilities are being shared by Kaylee Miller, Errico and junior Alia Elsaty, who also will see time in the outfield and on the mound as the backup pitcher.

Senior Samiah Tyler is the left fielder. It’s only Tyler’s second year of organized softball anywhere.

“She didn’t even pick up a softball before last year, so she’s very raw,” Dorazio said. “But she’s a phenomenal athlete. She’s lightning quick. She also gets on base and then gets going.”

Senior Megan Arb is the centerfielder. Arb has moved over from left field where she played last season.

Senior Alexandra Zaros is the right fielder. Zaros banged out four hits in the win over Wallington, a win that helped the Vikings improve to 1-2 on the young season.

“Alex is a good hitter,” Dorazio said. “She’s going to help us.”

Another player that will help the Vikings is freshman Kayla Francisco, who is another fast player.

“She has a lot of potential,” Dorazio said. “She’s playing the outfield and a little second base. She’s going to play.”

Unfortunately, there’s one key Viking who will not be able to play this spring. Senior Melisssa “Missy” Torres, a long-time fixture in North Arlington athletics, has been on the sidelines after tearing her ACL last fall, forcing the affable Torres to miss the soccer, basketball and now softball seasons during her senior year.

“It was a big loss to us,” Dorazio said. “But to her credit, Missy comes to practice every day and she’s at every game. She has a very big presence with us. She even helps the JV coach out. She’s just a phenomenal kid.”

Torres was North Arlington’s representative at Seton Hall University’s “Women in Sports Day” at the school in January.

Although the Vikings have started off slow, Dorazio is confident that her team will recover in time to make their presence felt in the NJIC-Meadowlands Division.

“The goal is to be competitive,” Dorazio said. “I think we have the team that can do that.”

With mother and daughter leading the way, the Vikings are bound to succeed.

CAPTION

Senior shortstop Ariel Castellanos (c.) is joined by her teammates Friday after she collected the prestigious 100th hit of her North Arlington softball career. Photo courtesy of Carol Dorazio

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer