Lyndhurst softball welcomes new coach in Fusco

Sara Fusco wasn’t expecting to become the new head softball coach at Lyndhurst High School this spring. Fusco was content with her role as being the assistant to Emily Ringen and planned on keeping everything status quo with the Golden Bears this spring.

But then in late February, Ringen took a position as an assistant principal in her home district of Pequannock, ending Ringen’s fine tenure as a coach and teacher in Lyndhurst.

Just like that, Fusco was elevated to the role of being the new head coach. There was no warning, no elongated farewell with a ceremonious departure. Ringen was gone, the Golden Bears were without a head coach and there was Fusco, an assistant coach the last two seasons, to take over the reins.

“It all happened very quickly,” Fusco said. “Emily was a great mentor to me over the last two seasons and she gave me the confidence I needed to take over. She really believed in me and I was very appreciative of that.”

Fusco, a former standout player at Cedar Grove and a product of that school’s fine softball program, has been coaching for the last 10 seasons, first as an assistant at Columbia High School in Maplewood and then with Ringen at Lyndhurst.

Now, it’s Fusco’s job to take over what Ringen helped to build, taking over a program that posted a 16-7 record a year ago, including a fine 14-2 mark in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference’s Liberty Division. This year will mark Fusco’s first attempt at being a head coach, but there’s no need for any concern with the 2020 version of the Golden Bears.

“I definitely feel like I’m ready for the position,” Fusco said. “There are always challenges with a new season, but there’s nothing really that I can’t handle. I’m sure I’m going to run into a few obstacles, but I’m absolutely sure we will be fine. I think I can handle it.”

It helps that Fusco is inheriting a program with a ton of talent, including a brilliant performer in the pitching circle.

Ella Tozduman returns after her incredible freshman campaign. The former Observer Athlete of the Week last spring, Tozduman not only took the start in every single Golden Bear contest, striking out 163 batters in just 140 innings pitched. but she also led the team at the plate with 36 RBI in just 23 games. She also had 10 doubles, two triples and one home run.

“She’s a great kid who has been working hard all winter,” Fusco said of Tozduman. “She’s really prepared for this year. She’s a great asset to the team. She’s definitely ready for this season, preparing all winter for the opportunity.”

And then, just like that, the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak occurred, putting a delay on the entire year for every spring outdoor activity. Todzuman will have to wait her turn to be a sophomore sensation.

Tozduman’s battery mate last season and fellow sophomore Meghan Docherty also returns. Docherty is an excellent defensive receiver and works well with Todzuman. The two have been working together for ages on the lower levels and now have a full varsity campaign together under their belts.

“They really work well together,” Fusco said. “I think Meghan is ready to pick it up offensively.”

Another solid returnee is junior Gianna Alberti, who was absolutely fabulous a year ago, batting .529 with 26 RBI. Alberti also had eight doubles, six triples and three home runs.

Alberti moves over to shortstop to replace All-NJIC honoree Angela Downey, who is currently playing basketball at FDU-Florham.

“She’s a great team leader,” Fusco said. “She works hard. She plays softball all year round.”

Senior Mackenzie Kelly is the team’s starter at third base. Kelly hit .375 with 15 RBI last season.

“She’s a very intense player. She catches everything at third.”

Junior Alexa Borino is the team’s centerfielder.

“She’s motivated to be the best player she can be,” Fusco said. “She’s a great leader and the rest of the team looks up to her.”

Senior Alyssa Musto and sophomore Stephanie Mizeski are battling for time at first base and designated hitter. Both fared well with their respective chances to play last season. Musto hit .355 with 14 RBI while Mizeski batted .414 with seven RBI in spot duty last year.

Sophomore Jaylene Rivera is the second baseman. Rivera was batting .533 with three homers and 23 RBI before she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, requiring season-ending surgery. Rivera is making her way back to the field after doing the extensive rehabilitation to get ready for this year.

“She’s been working very hard,” Fusco said of Rivera. “She hits the ball hard. She’s a great player and a great student.”

The Golden Bears’ outfield consists of seniors Elaina Henning and Madison Schaefer and junior Carley Martin, who just joined the softball team after a brilliant basketball season. Martin can also play first base if called upon.

“She’s a very good athlete,” Fusco said.

Also battling for playing time is a trio of sophomores, namely infielder/outfielder Jaylinn Colon, outfielder Reanna Ricigliano and outfielder/first baseman Claudia Lapinski.

The Golden Bears fell two games shy of Butler in the race for top honors in the NJIC-Liberty Division. If and when the season begins, the Golden Bears should be there in the fight for the top spot again this year.

“It’s going to be a good season,” Fusco said. “The girls are going to hop right back into it. We have a talented team. We’re looking to go far with this team.”

As long as Tozduman has the ball in her hands, firing away, the Golden Bears have as much chance to contend with anyone in the NJIC, even the overall honors in the league when the league’s playoffs eventually begin.




Lyndhurst junior Gianna Alberti moves over to become the Golden Bears’ shortstop, hoping to keep the offensive prowess that enabled Alberti to bat .529 with 26 RBI last season. 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.”