by Tom Pedulla –
When Sleepy Hollow High School’s varsity recently hosted a well-attended softball clinic and pizza party for girls in grades three through six, it was arguably more significant than any game-winning hit the team will produce this season.
Sleepy Hollow’s varsity fell on such hard times that there was no varsity last spring. The controversial decision was made after a series of lopsided defeats in 2017 prompted a focus on rebuilding by fielding only a junior varsity. That squad finished 9-10 but seemingly pointed toward a better future.
“Last year, I hated it. But I guess it did help a little bit,” said Peyton Koch, a junior outfielder-first baseman. “We got to grow as a team instead of playing against teams we had no chance against.”
Third-year coach Anthony Giuliano is intent on developing a program with staying power and appears to have everything pointed in the right direction. Sleepy Hollow had so many players turn out for softball this year that rosters needed to be trimmed at varsity and junior varsity levels. The modified team is well-stocked.
Giuliano recognizes that the key to long-term success is engaging girls when they are in grammar school.
“What we find here as a problem is girls trying out for softball for the first time on modified or even junior varsity,” he said. “I have some girls coming out for junior varsity, and it’s their first time ever playing softball. And we’re going up against girls who have played for 10 years at that point. Getting them involved young is very important.”
Giuliano, 30, brings needed stability at the top of the program. When he was hired, he represented the fifth coach in five years. Third baseman/catcher Emma Briante sees that as part of a larger issue. Recent Sleepy Hollow teams in major sports have struggled merely to break even.
“Having to replace coaches and just not sticking with coaches has been a disadvantage to a lot of the teams at Sleepy Hollow, not just softball,” she said.
Giuliano possesses infectious enthusiasm.
“I tell the girls it’s always on my mind. I have their backs 100 percent,” he said. “I want what’s in their best interests, and that’s to build this program.”
New uniforms and helmets helped to build enthusiasm. So did some early results. “We are way better than the year before,” said Genesis Quezada, a senior left fielder.
Pitcher Delilah McCarthy gained invaluable experience last year as an eighth grader. She continues to progress with every game.
“To have that for the next four years is going to be huge for us,” Giuliano said. “There are other places on the field where we have been solid when we haven’t been in the past.”
McCarthy noted the importance of building through the modified program and a true junior varsity. “I think we are going to grow through that if the girls stay committed,” she said.
Jaclyn Fallon, a first-year coach, oversees the junior varsity. “Having the ability to have a junior varsity team where we can slow things down and have them develop and having a varsity that can compete at a higher level is a big advantage,” Giuliano said.
The great hope is that current varsity players, for all of the adversity they encountered, are laying a foundation for the future.
“I would love to see the program go from where it was and take it to somewhere that is great,” Giuliano said. “This particular group we have now is a great way to kick that off. They’re all the things a coach wants.”