Vikings look to improve after winless softball campaign

Danielle Cibelli knew that things weren’t exactly going to be a breeze when she took over the North Arlington High School softball program a year ago.

And sure enough, the Vikings certainly struggled, losing all 16 of their games.

But this year, things are beginning to look up. After all, the Vikings have already given Cibelli her first victory as a head coach, a solid 16-5 win over Paterson Charter in the second game of the season.

“I would say it’s a little bit easier this year,” Cibelli said. “The girls all know who I am and I know them. This team is still very young with a lot of girls new to the varsity program. But because we’re rebuilding the culture, I feel good about how things are going.”

Cibelli took the job last February, right before the season was about to begin.

“It was a little bit rough, but I think after changing the culture and rebuilding a little, we will be able to hit the ground running. I’m trying to infuse my knowledge of the game as much as I can.”

Cibelli had 11 freshmen come out for the team this year, so there is a level of excitement going on.

“The youth that we have is a blessing,” Cibelli said. “They are all going to work with me to get this turned around.”

Cibelli and her staff – which is basically new this spring – have been working on techniques and fundamentals more than anything.

“It’s more about teaching,” Cibelli said. “It’s more about teaching them how to play more than one position, because it’s better off for our team, but better for them to get them a chance to play.”

Cibelli wanted to make sure that the returning girls didn’t forget what it was like to endure a winless campaign.

“We don’t want to forget it,” Cibelli said. “We want to use it as a stepping stone. I hate losing more than I like winning. But we all know now that the only way to go from here is to go up. We have to learn from it and move forward.”

Cibelli said that she was blessed to have returning players, who endured the tough times of a year ago, yet managed to return for another try.

“I would say that it would have been easier for them to walk away,” Cibelli said. “But we’re gaining enough strength in our legs just to stand up.”

Sophomore right-hander Ashleigh Hall is the team’s top returning pitcher.

“She was the heart and soul of the team last year,” Cibelli said. “I give her tremendous credit because she showed how steady she was. She didn’t get rattled at all.”
Freshman Maira Gutierrez is another right-handed hurler.

“She throws the ball hard,” Cibelli said of Gutierrez. “She just needs to calm her nerves. She gives us good balance with Ashleigh on the mound. The best way for her to learn is to get out there and see what she can do. She complements Ashleigh well.”

The catcher is junior Alexa Paparelli.

“She played a little bit on the infield last year for us, but wanted to become a catcher,” Cibelli said. “She has a cannon for an arm. She’s handling the role well for us. She’s a work in progress but she’s embraced the role.”

The first baseman is sophomore Elisa Fernandez, who played left field last year.

“She has moved to first and has handled the transition very well,” Cibelli said.

Second base duties are being shared by junior Marissa Bunnell and sophomore Marianna Molina.

“They both get after it pretty well,” Cibelli said.

Junior Kayla Francisco, the team’s leading hitter last season, is the team’s shortstop. Francisco played second base last year.

“She’s our most consistent hitter,” Cibelli said. “She has the arm and range to play shortstop.”

Senior Brianna Fernandez, the team’s catcher last year, has been moved to play third base this season. She is the sister to the first baseman. She has been slowed a little by an ankle injury, so freshman Gabriella Kaminsky has been a pleasant surprise there.

“She’s very coachable,” Cibelli said of Kaminsky. “She’s familiar with the game and she’s been making the plays.”

Another freshman Emma Magalhaes is the left fielder. Magalhaes has five RBI in the early going.

“Like Gabby, she’s been a great addition to our team,” Cibelli said. “She’s a solid player who has a good knowledge of the game.”

Senior Jennifer Garcia is the centerfielder.

“She handles centerfield well,” Cibelli said. “She leads by example.”

Sophomore Kaitlyn Molina gets some time in centerfield as well.

Right field duties are held by junior Marissa Burnell. Lauren Velasquez is the team’s designated player.

“She hits from both sides of the plate,” Cibelli said of Velasquez. “We’re going to take advantage of that.”

Seniors Maria Bautista, Briana Ugaz and Gianna Gugliuzza are key reserves. Bautista and Ugaz are outfielders, Gugliuzza is a catcher.

Junior Samantha Tortorello is a utility player for the Vikings.

If there’s one thing Cibelli and the Vikings desperately need this year, it’s…
“Patience,” Cibelli said. “We need to have patience. If we can keep the faith and weather the storm, we should be alright. I just hope they learn something.”

Spoken like a true teacher.



The North Arlington High School softball team, led by junior shortstop Kayla Francisco (left) and sophomore first baseman Elisa Fernandez (right), have already surpassed last year’s win total, when they didn’t win a single game. Photos 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.”