There’s no question that the cancellation of the 2020 spring scholastic sports season had an effect on every single team in the area.
But perhaps there wasn’t a team that was hurt more than the North Arlington High School softball team.
That’s because the Vikings’ freshmen crop never got the chance to play at all.
“We are very young,” NA head softball coach Danielle Cibelli said. “But our sophomores are really freshmen again, because they didn’t play last year. Some of these girls had never stepped onto a high school field before.”
And then the Vikings had to endure a preseason that lasted only two weeks prior to the start of the 2021 campaign.
“With a limited preseason, we didn’t know who was going to play where,” Cibelli said. “We were basically teaching on the fly.”
So needless to say, the Vikings struggled a little bit to start the season, dropping their first five games, some by lopsided scores.
“But the interest was always there,” Cibelli said. “They all get along well together and that’s a bonus. You can see it, not so much with wins and losses. But just the little things that they get accomplished.”
After the five losses, the win came – and it was a doozy.
The Vikings defeated Snyder in a barnburner to say the least, coming away with a 28-25 win that sounds much more like a football score than a softball outcome.
“They’ve started to jell as a team and that helps a lot,” Cibelli said.
So does game experience. Since the win, the Vikings have won two more times and have played tremendously better. The Vikings knocked off St. Mary’s of Rutherford by a 22-2 margin and a day later, they defeated Paterson Charter, 11-0, in a game where junior pitcher Maira Gutierrez pitched a two-hit shutout, striking out seven.
“We’ve been varying the pitchers,” Cibelli said. “We have three on our staff, but Maira has stepped up lately. She throws the heat.”
Sophomore Shaelyn Males and freshman Jaylene Joza are also pitchers, but Gutierrez seems to be getting most of the work these days, especially after two stellar performances against Wood-Ridge.
The catcher has the same last name as the catcher on the North Arlington baseball team. That’s because they are brother and sister. Tony Alho is the standout catcher for the Vikings’ baseball team and younger sister Grace, a sophomore, is the catcher on the softball team.
“I think she’s learned a lot from her brother,” Cibelli said. “She looks up to him. She’s really grown a lot as a player and a person.”
Junior Gabby Kaminski is the team’s first baseman. She had three hits and two RBI in that wild win over Snyder.
“Gabby was originally our third baseman,” Cibelli said. “We moved her to first because she’s athletic and has been picking up the position well.”
Junior Viviana DaSilva is the Vikings’ second baseman.
“She’s one of our most unsung players,” Cibelli said of DaSilva, who had two hits and four RBI in the win over Snyder. “She does her job well. She’s also very quick.”
Junior Emma Pegales is the team’s shortstop.
“She’s probably our most versatile player,” Cibelli said of Pegales. “She’s also our backup catcher. We moved her from second base to shortstop. Her aggressiveness and attentiveness to the game helps everyone. Her game is much improved.”
Third base duties are held down by Males, who has been the Vikings’ big bat of late. She had five runs scored and three RBI against Snyder and added three hits and three RBI in the win over Paterson Charter.
“She does a nice job,” Cibelli said. “She has a grear approach at the plate. She’s very strong and has a strong arm.”
Joza, the talented freshman, comes from beating all the boys in the state of New Jersey in the Little League Home Run Derby, earning a trip to the Little League World Series two years ago. She’s the regular left fielder. Joza had two hits, five runs scored and three RBI against Snyder.
“She has that baseball swing,” Cibelli said. “Her knowledge of the game helps a lot. I can put her anywhere.”
Another freshman who is making waves is Rhi’Anna Gomez, the team’s centerfielder.
“She’s like a sponge, soaking up all we can teach her,” Cibelli said. “She absorbs all the information to get better. She’s becoming a great hitter. She also has a great arm. She’s already comfortable with the leadership role.”
Gomez had two hits, five runs and two RBI against Snyder and had four hits and four RBI against Paterson Charter. Gomez is batting .473 with one homer, 12 RBI and 13 stolen bases. She’s a player to watch.
Senior Elisa Fernandez is the team’s starting right fielder.
“She was originally the first baseman, but we put her in right field and found a spot there,” Cibelli said.
Katheryn Torres and Kaitlyn Molina are two other seniors who get playing time.
“They’re starting to feel more comfortable,” Cibelli said. “It took a couple of games, but once we got going, we’re doing better. One thing about this team is that they never give up.”
It’s a positive start, for sure.
The North Arlington softball team is playing better now after a slow start. From left are head coach Danielle Cibelli and seniors Katheryn Torres and Elisa Fernandez. 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.”