By Jim Hague
Nikki Sammartino may be only a sophomore at Queen of Peace High School, but she’s a young lady who already has high hopes and aspirations for her future. “I want to study pre-med,” said Sammartino, who is not only a three-sport standout at QP, but one of the best students in the sophomore class. “I’m not sure what kind of medicine I’d like to study, but I’d want something in the medical field. Going to medical school is a driving goal for me. I just think it’s a good field to get into.”
For now, Sammartino is content being a fine soccer, basketball and softball player for the Golden Griffins.
“I’ve always been playing a lot of sports since I was younger,” Sammartino said. “I have always been able to balance school work and sports.”
Sammartino is currently the second baseman for the Golden Griffi ns’ softball team. Before the season began, Sammartino went back to a hitting coach namely Larry Triguero, who used to work for Artie Barone’s Baseball Performance Institute (BPI) when the learning academy was based in Lyndhurst.
“I went to take lessons when I was in eighth grade,” Sammartino said. “I didn’t know they moved to Secaucus, so I stopped taking lessons and I slumped badly. I then went back and started hitting great again.”
According to QP softball coach Mike Flynn, the lessons really paid off for Sammartino.
“She’s hitting the ball so much harder now,” Flynn said. “Her swing is so compact. She’s become so much more of a power hitter. The lessons really helped after they changed her swing just a little.”
Flynn also believes that Sammartino is getting comfortable with her athletic frame.
“She’s really growing into her body,” Flynn said. “She’s a good athlete, a big girl. She’s also one of the most competitive girls I’ve ever coached. She just hates to lose.”
Sammartino was an outfielder last year as a freshman, but Flynn moved her to second base this season.
“She’s not afraid to try anything,” Flynn said. “I just put her at second and she picked up the position right away. She’s getting better every game there.”
“I like it,” Sammartino said of playing second base. “There’s a lot of action there and I can’t stand being left with nothing to do.”
Sammartino certainly has been doing her share with the bat in her hand. She’s batting better than .400 for the Golden Griffi ns, who have struggled to a 2-7 record early on.
“She’s my best hitter,” Flynn said. “She’s hitting in the No. 3 spot and doing a fi ne job. She’s cut down on her strikeouts and has been making solid contact almost every single time up. She’s very aggressive.”
Sammartino likes the way she’s been hitting the ball.
“It’s a big difference than last year,” Sammartino said. “I really slumped last year and I knew I had to do better this year. I’m more patient at the plate. I’ve learned that I have to trust my hands, because I have quick hands. I just sit on the pitch and try to drive it.” Last Thursday, Sammartino did exactly that in a game against Weehawken. Sammartino delivered a double, triple and home run and had fi ve RBI in a big win for the Golden Griffins.
For her efforts, Sammartino has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I’m just doing what’s expected of me,” Sammartino said. “It’s not that big of a deal. I try to do that every game. I know I’ve been hitting better. A game like that will certainly build my confidence. I know I can do it again.”
Flynn has been impressed with the way Sammartino has emerged as a player.
“She’s really come a long way,” Flynn said. “She takes everything very seriously and she’s a good student of the game. She’s also obviously a good student in the classroom. What she did wasn’t surprising at all, because she’s worked so hard at improving. She’s now mashing the ball. Give me nine girls like Nikki in the lineup and we’d be in good shape.”
Flynn, who also serves as the head girls’ soccer coach in the fall and an assistant basketball coach in the winter months, convinced Sammartino to play soccer last fall. She came out for the first time and was a solid defender.
“She’s a good soccer player and a good basketball player,” Flynn said. “She hadn’t played soccer in a long time, but I told her we could use her. She didn’t have an attitude. She just played hard every game and if someone beat her, she would come back and get you. She’s just a good, strong competitive kid.”
Although she’s only a sophomore, Sammartino has already become a leader among the Golden Griffins.
“She’s not afraid to speak her mind,” Flynn said. “She’s a motivator and lets the others know what is on her mind. I like that.”
Sammartino said that she doesn’t mind competing in the three sports.
“It keeps you in shape from one season to the next,” Sammartino said. “It helps with your coordination in everything. I guess I love basketball and softball the most, but I guess I’m pretty balanced in all three. Each sport is different. I’m able to juggle my schedule.”
For instance, when the basketball season is in full bloom, Sammartino will go for hitting lessons on her spare time over the weekend.
“I just feel so much better at the plate now that this was really no big deal,” Sammartino said. “I want to be able to do it again. Things are going well. I’d like a few more wins, but we’re getting better. I just want to be able to hit like this all the time.”
With the way she’s shown her determination and drive, there’s no doubt that there will be plenty more offensive explosions from the slugging Golden Griffin second baseman in the future – a future that is obviously very bright already.