Courtney Wilde knew exactly how important this softball season was to her future.
The Nutley High School junior was determined to make this year her best one to date.
“I was very excited for this year,” Wilde said.
Wilde has always been an extremely active athlete, one of the most diverse athletes in the school.
Since she was a toddler, Wilde was a volleyball player and soccer player in the fall, played basketball in the winter and of course, softball, her bread and butter, in the spring.
Through her hectic regimen, Wilde always had a goal in mind.
“I always loved softball,” Wilde said. “I want to play softball in college.”
So a dedicated Wilde spent hundreds of hours taking private hitting lessons from Kenny Oh, the father of University of South Carolina standout Kelsey Oh.
“I spent countless nights in the gym with my hitting coach,” Wilde said. “I would just hit all the time.”
Wilde also went to take extended lessons from a pitching coach Diana Schraer. Wilde wanted to work on her control, because she felt like she was a little too _ pardon the pun _ wild last year.
“I used to play volleyball or soccer just to get in shape for softball,” Wilde said. “So I had to give that up to concentrate on my softball. I am looking forward to playing softball in college. I knew that this year was very important for that.”
So Wilde did her due diligence to get ready for the current softball season. She went to receive hitting lessons three times a week and pitching instruction twice a week. Wilde didn’t know if she was going to be the Maroon Raiders’ main pitcher, but if she was being called upon to pitch many innings, she knew she had to be ready.
“Courtney puts in the time to get ready for softball,” said veteran Nutley head softball coach Luann Zullo. “She’s done more than what can be expected. She works hard in softball 365 days a year.”
So as the 2018 season began a few weeks ago, Wilde was ready, both pitching and hitting.
However, before the season actually began, Wilde hit a little bit of bump in the road.
While the Maroon Raiders were participating in their annual sojourn to the Sunshine State for some preseason scrimmages, Wilde was just miserable on the mound and at the plate.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Wilde said. “But it was bad. I was worried that what I was doing would carry over to the season. I was worried about what I was doing wrong.”
“You see when we were at (Walt) Disney (World), she was not right,” Zullo said. “I had a conversation with her at Disney. I didn’t want her to put pressure on herself. She said she wanted to win games. Whether it meant being on the mound or being in the outfield, it didn’t matter to her.”
But the good news was that the games in Florida did not count. They were just scrimmages.
Being the dedicated and determined young lady she always is, Wilde took the preseason slump to heart.
“Once we returned from Florida, Courtney has pitched in every big game,” Zullo said. “She didn’t let what happened in Florida to get to her. It didn’t rattle her. She can hit. She can pitch. She can play the outfield. We even had her at first base.”
But Wilde’s importance was toeing the rubber.
“I just started working on hitting my spots when I pitched,” Wilde said. “I had to be more consistent. Last year, I was all over the place, so my pitching lessons were paying off. I had to have better focus. I started to pitch much better than I expected. My control was much better.”
Wilde has been excellent for the Maroon Raiders, both at the plate and on the mound, this season. Last week, Wilde collected six hits in 14 at-bats, including two hits and two RBI in a win over rival West Essex, avenging an early season defeat. Wilde had five RBI to go with the six hits last week. She also was on the mound for victories over West Essex and Livingston.
For her efforts, Wilde has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Zullo is impressed with the way Wilde has turned her season around.
“When she’s hitting the ball, she’s doing so with a vengeance,” Zullo said. “In the past, she would just get into the box and swing away. Sometimes, she hit the ball hard. But now, she’s approaching her at-bats better. She doesn’t take those crazy cuts at the plate. You can see she’s come a long way. She’s hitting the ball to all fields. She has a better pitch selection. She is staying positive with her approach. She’s become a good student of the game, watching highlights of college softball. She’s really into it.”
Wilde thinks that her pitching helps her hitting _ and vice versa.
“I think I’m thinking more like a pitcher,” Wilde said. “I started to like pitching more. I used to think like I was an outfielder all the time. It’s grown on me. I’ve learned to think more at the plate. I definitely think getting to the plate and thinking about what I wanted to do instead of just swinging wildly has helped.”
Wilde has already begun the process about playing softball in college. She remains active in basketball, but her future is on the diamond.
“I’ve definitely started thinking about playing in college, making a list of my top 10 schools,” Wilde said.
Wilde also plays for the esteemed Intensity Softball program in the summer months. Intensity, based in Wall Township, has teams in five different states and places players all over the country in terms of college softball.
Zullo likes what Wilde brings to the table.
“She’s a great kid,” Zullo said. “She’s a great teammate. She’s always cheering for her teammates. She’s genuinely happy. When she succeeds, she gets everyone going. She wants to win every game.”
Wilde knows that her future in college softball will be in the outfield.
“I know that I’ll just be playing the outfield in the future,” Wilde said. “I’m not looking to pitch in college. I’m really happy with the way I’m pitching now. The hitting is there now. I’d love to hit a few over the fence, but I’m pretty happy with everything else.”
And Wilde will keep the busy workout regimen going. The Maroon Raiders have a crucial week upcoming, especially with an Essex County Tournament quarterfinal contest looming with Livingston Saturday morning in Nutley. The Maroon Raiders have two quality pitchers in sophomore Isabella Fogle (owner of four wins so far) and Wilde, but the ball will more than likely in Wilde’s hands come Saturday.
“I feel better when I’m doing something,” Wilde said. “I think we might be able to do some damage in the tournament.”
Sure looks that way.
Nutley junior pitcher/outfielder Courtney Wilde. Photo by Jim Hague