Nutley softball coach Luann Zullo wins her 500th game

Normally, Luann Zullo tries to ignore the scattering of fans beyond the third base dugout during games. But as more and more of her former players started to line the fence during Wednesday’s game, it became impossible for the longtime Nutley softball coach not to notice.

“I felt like every time I turned around I saw somebody different,” Zullo said. “I don’t usually pay much attention outside the fence during the games, but right by the third baseline, different players would walk up and we’re standing there, watching the game. Some of them I haven’t seen in years so it was great to see them.”

All of those former players came to Yantacaw Park for the same reason – to watch their former coach make history.

Wednesday’s 13-1 win over Payne Tech was the 500th career victory for Zullo prompting her to think back to the players and moments that led up to it.

“Five hundred is a very large number, but the thing is, you don’t really think about that number, you think about all of the players,” said Zullo. “I’ve been blessed with some wonderful, wonderful young ladies to work with and excellent assistant coaches. To me, the 500 wins aren’t about me, it’s about all of those players who bought into the system, worked hard and gave everything they had every day. That’s what this is about.”

While Zullo is quick to redirect the credit, the 28-year head coach sports a resume that few can match. Zullo, who was named The Star-Ledger’s 2010 State Softball Coach of the Year, is the fifth Essex County coach to reach 500 wins.

The bulk of those wins have come at her alma mater. Despite a stellar three-year run at West Essex in which her team won back-to-back Essex County championships in 1997 and 1998, Zullo made the decision to return to Nutley.

“When the move was made, it was extremely difficult,” said Zullo, who won a sectional title with West Essex in 1998, her last season there before moving to Nutley. “I loved those girls (at West Essex) and at the time it was everything that I wanted and where I wanted to be. But I had an opportunity to come to Nutley, teach in Nutley, coach in Nutley. In hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made.”

For Zullo, the success continued at Nutley. In 2011 she became the first coach to win an Essex County title at two different schools when the Raiders blanked Mount St. Dominic, 3-0, Overall, Nutley has won four state sectional championships (2006, 2010, 2015 and 2022) and reach the Essex County Tournament final in 2021 and 2022.

One constant during the 25 seasons has been the family atmosphere surrounding the program. During Zullo’s first year at Nutley, Michelle DiPiano was one of her players as her brother Mike attended nearly every game. Today, both Mike Michelle are among the six assistant coaches on Zullo’s staff, a group that includes former Nutley players Stephanie Ruffo, Breanna Condito, Michell Puzio and Morgan Gualtieri as well as former Immaculate Heart star Brielle Cosentino Ricciardi.

“It’s wonderful that they want to come back and they want to continue to be a part of it,” Zullo said. “It is a family. And seeing all of the past players I think was also nice for my (current) players to see that because it’s not (a situation where) they graduate and they’re gone and you never see them again.

“It was fun, it was overwhelming. It was very nice to see and hear from so many people. But again, it’s their accomplishment as well. They’re as big of a part of it as I am.”

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)