Golden day for Lyndhurst seniors Venezia, Castagnetti

LYNDHURST — Frankie Venezia and Isabella Castagnetti have known each other for as long as they can remember.

Their mothers have been close friends since they were in grade school in Lyndhurst together, so when Jodi Castagnetti and Nadine Venezia became pregnant at the same time, it was only natural that they would raise their children to be friends together as well.

“Every step of the way, we grew up together,” Frankie Venezia said. “We’ve been real close friends since we were about three or four, before preschool.”

“He’s always been one of my best friends,” Isabella Castagnetti said. “I’ve always done everything with him. I think I’ve known him since I was born.”

Both Frankie and Isabella developed into excellent athletes in their respective sports – Frankie as a dominating pitcher for the Lyndhurst High School baseball team and Isabella as one of the finest soccer goalkeepers in northern New Jersey.

They became exceptional in their respective sports, so much so that they commanded attention from major NCAA Division I colleges to secure their services.

So last week, when it came time for the two long-time friends to make their college intentions official by signing a National Letter of Intent, it was only fitting that Frankie and Isabella did it together, putting their signatures on scholarship letters at the same time.

Venezia signed his letter of intent to attend the University of Massachusetts-Lowell next fall, while Castagnetti signed her letter with the College of Holy Cross and will play goalie for the Crusaders next September.

The crowning moment of their young athletic careers and the two friends got to share in that instance together with their parents, family and friends all present. It was truly a special moment to remember.

“It’s really a dream come true,” Venezia said. “I always dreamed of playing college baseball and now it’s officially going to happen. This feeling is surreal. Once I verbally committed, I knew I was going to UMass-Lowell, but now that it’s here? It’s surreal. I’ve been dreaming about this moment from the minute I picked up a baseball.”

Venezia posted a 4-5 record with a stingy 1.67 earned run average with 66 strikeouts in 54 innings. He has compiled a 14-7 career record with a 2.03 ERA over his three-year varsity career.

Venezia also batted .333 with 17 RBI last season, playing third base when he’s not on the mound. But his future is on the hill at UMass-Lowell. That’s why he was recruited.

“It’s crazy to think this all happened the way it did,” Venezia said. “I didn’t think I could always do it, but I worked hard and kept working.”

Castagnetti had a spectacular four-year run minding the nets for the Golden Bears. She was in goal for 79 victories during her career, 53 of those wins ending in shutouts. She registered more than 250 saves during her stint between the pipes and even scored three goals.

More importantly, Castagnetti is on target to become the valedictorian for the Lyndhurst Class of 2019.

Castagnetti knew she was going to Holy Cross for quite some time. She decided in the summer months after her sophomore year going into her junior year. So both Venezia and Castagnetti gave verbal commitments long before the signing day last week.

“I’m similar to Frankie in that we made our decisions a while ago,” Castagnetti said. “So it was all about just waiting for Signing Day. Now, since we signed, it’s all so real. Holy Cross is where I’m going to go. I was waiting for this day for a long time. I’ve always been happy with my decision, I’m 100 percent sure of it.”

Venezia is glad to have signed his letter, so his future is already etched in stone. He doesn’t need to worry about college recruiters calling and contacting him during his upcoming senior season. He can just concentrate on playing baseball.

“I can’t wait for the season,” said Venezia, who with his younger brother Adam, now a sophomore, should form one of the most potent 1-2 pitching punches in northern New Jersey. “I play baseball because I love the game. It’s going to be a great season this year.”

Castagnetti had been preparing for the golden moment with her buddy for a long time.

“We’ve shared a lot of memories together,” Castagnetti said. “And now I get to share this with Frankie. That’s what makes it special. It’s crazy. Now, we’re going to go schools a half-hour away from each other. It’s really insane.”

“It’s awesome that I got to share this with her,” Venezia said. “It’s really exciting.”

Castagnetti realized that the opportunities to secure a Division I scholarship are essentially minimal, even more so coming from a small school such as Lyndhurst. But having two in the same year is truly remarkable and a reason for everyone in the Land of the Golden Bear to be especially proud.

“There’s definitely a major sense of pride,” Castagnetti said. “Lyndhurst is a small school and we don’t get a lot of kids who get chances like this. To have two athletes who are good friends signing at the same time is great. I hope that other kids see this and try to follow in our footsteps.”

Castagnetti didn’t just share the day with her family and friends. She made sure that her four defenders who played in front of her on the field were part of the ceremony as well.

“I wanted to make sure that I shared this with them,” Castagnetti said. “I wanted to have them come and take a picture with me as well. This is all a dream come true.”

All in all, it was a great day for two standout Lyndhurst athletes, two young adults who should be role models for other Lyndhurst students for many years to come.




Lyndhurst athletes Frankie Venezia (left) and Isabella Castagnetti (right) signed their National Letters of Intent with their respective schools, Venezia with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Castagnetti with the College of Holy Cross. Photo by Jim Hague



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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”