by Tom Pedulla –
Sleepy Hollow High School hopes its girls softball program rebuilding will eventually take several steps forward after taking one step back.
When faced with an extremely young roster comprised of many players still working to master basic skills, the decision was made to not field a varsity team this spring in order to better develop talent at the junior varsity level.
“We just looked at it and said age-wise and ability-wise, we’re not where we need to be,” said second-year coach Anthony Giuliano. “A big issue we’re seeing is basic skills, throwing and catching. We’re not up to par with the rest of the high schools in the area.”
Sleepy Hollow was often its own worst enemy in enduring a 3-17 varsity campaign last year. Only two of a possible nine returning players from that team were willing to play again this spring.
Alaina Otto, a senior captain, knows the administration had little choice but to scrap the varsity.
“Being a senior, I was a little upset,” she said. “But I understand the perspective they we’re coming from, and I think it’s the best decision.”
Arielly Fontes joins Otto as the only seniors on the squad. There are just two juniors: Genesis Quezada and Ana Hilario.
The team’s pitchers are both from the middle school in eighth grader Delilah McCarthy and seventh grader Ava Guzman. McCarthy, in particular, is showing great potential.
“We definitely see her as a pivotal part in the future of the program,” said Giuliano. “Her skill level and leadership are impressive for someone that young.”
Peyton Koch, a sophomore, is another building block. “She’s a gritty player. After the game, she’s a mess because she’s sliding, she’s stealing, she plays extremely hard,” the coach said.
After a series of losing seasons and coaching changes, Giuliano is emphasizing player development and team spirit over wins and losses. He knows it is going to be a long road to respectability in a conference that features well-established programs in Rockland County.
“It’s not to say next year we’re going to come out and be this great softball team. That’s not realistic,” he said. “It’s still building, and we still have a way to go.”
The focus on the junior varsity level was immediately rewarded when Sleepy Hollow pulled out a 14-13 victory in eight innings against Rye in its season opener.
“That’s exactly the type of game we’re trying to get, battling back and forth, having to figure out ways to score runs. This was a game where we really earned the win,” Giuliano said. “That’s the type of stuff we’re trying to build on.”
According to Koch, the absence of a significant number of upperclassmen increases the challenge. “We don’t have that older generation to teach everybody,” she said.
But Koch does not regret her decision to compete in softball, which has often lost students to other spring sports. “It’s a really great sport. You make so many friends,” she said. “It’s an empowering thing to do.”
Giuliano knows that long-term success will depend on having girls play softball at a young age and continue to work on fundamentals. To that end, he had his players greet much younger girls when the annual TNT parade in mid-April ended at Pierson Park.
“I told them to stick with it and build their skill,” said Emma Briante, a sophomore.
Sleepy Hollow must hope to find other players as passionate as McCarthy. “I love the sport. You have to love the sport to do well in it,” she said, confident that better days are ahead.