Stephanie Mizeski likes to step on the softball field with a clear mind. But with Mizeski tasked with having to learn a new position — catcher — just weeks before the start of her senior season, accomplishing that desired mental state proved difficult for Lyndhurst’s talented hitter.
“When I don’t think, I play better,” Mizeski said. “When I think, that ruins my game. (Early on) I was just trying to adjust to the new position and dealing with being a catcher, being in the lineup and running the bases, it’s a lot. But once you make that adjustment and not think about it, you’re fine.”
With her mind in the right place, Mizeski’s play is more than just fine. In fact, it’s been dominant.
Las week, Mizeski scored eight runs and went 7-for-11 at the plate in wins over Secaucus, Leonia and Bergen Charter. Then, in Saturday’s Black & Gold Invitational against reigning Bergen County champion Ramapo, she roped a run-scoring double for her sixth-straight game with an RBI.
Mizeski’s scorching hot performance at the plate and rapidly improving defense behind it makes her the latest recipient of The Observer’s Athlete of the Week.
“Once I got the basics down and I got the fundamentals (of catcher) down after our first few games and some scrimmages, now I play with confidence and that’s all you have to do,” said Mizeski, who is now hitting .520 with 12 runs scored for the suddenly resurgent Golden Bears.
“She adjusted, in my eyes, super quickly behind the plate. I have absolutely no complaints with her behind the plate,” Lyndhurst head coach Sara Fusco said. “She’s been killing it for us. I’m super-proud of her for stepping up as a senior, not playing her normal position and taking one for the team behind the plate.”
Mizeski, a starting first baseman since her freshman year, only started working at catcher for two months. When incumbent catcher and fellow senior captain Meghan Docherty suffered a knee injury playing basketball in early February, Mizeski knew what had to be done.
“She came up to me and said, ‘I got this, I’m going to do it. I’ll do it, I’ll try,’” Fusco said. “That’s the type of person that Steph is. She’s just willing to help the team. She’s never playing for herself. She’s such a team player that she decided it’s going to be me and I’m going to be great at it.”
“It was tough just because it happened so suddenly,” Mizeski said, figuring it would be her or shortstop Jaylen Rivera, who would fill the void behind the plate. “One day I was a first baseman and the next, I was a catcher. It was the best decision because I had the best ability to fill that spot.”
Rivera, herself a one-time Athlete of the Week selection, and Mizeski have been a devastating one-two punch in the Lyndhurst lineup. Rivera, who hits in the three hole, one spot behind Mizeski, had eight hits and eight RBI during the three-game winning streak.
Together, with leadoff hitter Ella Tozduman and cleanup batter Reanna Ricigliano, Lyndhurst has scored five or more runs in all but two games this season and finds itself back in contention in a tightly contested NJIC Liberty Division.
Mizeski currently has 58 hits and 58 runs in her high school career. If not for Covid canceling her sophomore season, she would have had a great shot of reaching 100 in each category.
For Mizeski this hot streak is all the more meaningful knowing that this might be her last spring of playing softball. This fall, she’s set to enroll at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, to study Air Traffic Management.
Mizeski said she might try out for the softball team, which plays Division II.
“(Knowing this could be my last time) makes it so much more special to me,” Mizeski said. “I’m a senior, I know where I’m going (for college) so this is all I have to focus on. My main goal is just to have fun with the team and I want more girls to want to play softball. I want it to look fun and I want people to come up and want to play for Lyndhurst High School.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)