BROOKLYN, NY – Coming off a third place finish at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) last season the Lady Bears softball team is primed to take on the challenge of getting even closer to the first ever National Championship in St. Joseph's College history.
The bar was raised last season and the pressure is on to not only match, but surpass last year's record setting regular season campaign that produced 28 wins and even more impressive post-season run, which concluded with a thrilling victory in the 3rd place game. The expectations are certainly high, but all of the Lady Bears players and coaches believe this could be one of the most successful teams in program history.
One impressive feature that should differentiate the Lady Bears from the rest of the field is that they were fortunate to not lose any seniors off of last year's team, and are loaded with experience. Of the 14 girls on the roster, nine are in their junior or senior seasons and have played in the USCAA National Championship Tournament in each of the last two years. Having already achieved success on the national stage, the Lady Bears now know what it takes to win. That combination of experience winning and playing with each other is already paying big dividends and could produce even more significant results. "The team is focused and hungry to fulfill these lofty expectations", exclaimed two-time Association of Division III Independents (AD3I) Coach of the Year Frank P. Carbone. "We are fortunate to have an awesome group of young women who work hard, believe in not only their talents, but the abilities of each of their teammates; it truly is a special group that have all of the intangibles that lead to success!"
One player that gives the Lady Bears a tremendous advantage is reigning AD3I Player of the Year, junior Alyson Chiaramonte (Staten Island, NY/Moore Catholic). Chiaramonte dominated for St. Joseph's both in the circle and at the plate. She finished the season with a 17-5 record and a microscopic 1.20 ERA. In 134.2 innings, Chiaramonte struck out 179 hitters while walking only 20 and holding opponents to a .198 batting average. It'll be difficult to improve on those numbers, but if she gets even a little better, coach Carbone says, "Watch out!"
Perhaps just as important as Chiaramonte, is another All-Independent First Team selection, pitcher, Lisa Scheer (Bayside, NY/Mary Louis). Carbone says "it starts and ends with pitching" and the Lady Bears plan on riding their two aces to the top. Despite having a sprained labrum last year, Scheer still pitched to a 7-6 record and 3.25 ERA in 17 appearances (14 starts). In her freshman season, Scheer went 13-5 with a 2.46 ERA, while striking out 118. If she can bounce back from her shoulder injuries of last year, the Lady Bears will have an even more formidable 1-2 punch.
In addition to their pitching, the Lady Bears return a veritable "Murderer's Row" lineup that already has received numerous individual accolades. The middle infield combination of Millicia Malvasio (Brooklyn, NY/Bishop Kearney) and Danielle Marino (Maspeth, NY/Mary Louis) each brought back national recognition following their freshman campaigns. Malvasio, the team's leadoff hitter and shortstop, was named USCAA First Team All-American and the AD3I Co-Rookie of the Year. She was a catalyst for the Lady Bears at the top of the lineup hitting .421 with a .532 on-base percentage and drew a team-leading 27 walks. Although she was injured for part of the season, Marino still hit .333 and got on base at a .459 clip which was enough to earn Second Team All-Independent honors from the AD3I.
The middle of the lineup may be Carbone's version of "Murderer's Row." St. Joseph's brings back last season's RBI leader Emily Palmieri (Staten Island, NY/St. John's Villa), on-base leader Jackie Marinello (Brooklyn, NY/Fontbonne Hall) and lefty Andrea Sideli (Brooklyn, NY/Bishop Kearney) following Malvasio at the top. Chiaramonte and Scheer were also major contributors with the bat last season – Chiaramonte hit a team-high .437 and Scheer collected 12 extra-base hits to lead the Lady Bears.
The biggest hit of the year came from junior Caitlyn Kakavas (Bayside, NY/St. Agnes) in the quarterfinals of the USCAA Nationals. Kakavas' two-out, two-RBI single sent the Lady Bears from elimination to the semi-finals. The entire coaching staff is expecting a big year from the versatile Kakavas, who saw action last year at third base, shortstop and was the team's primary catcher.
With the number of veterans, the Lady Bears do not have feature many freshman on the 2011 squad. Megan Moran (Syosset, NY/St. Dominic's) and Christina Quintana (Brooklyn, NY/St. Edmunds) are the only new faces for St. Joseph's. Both will get their share of playing time, but Carbone expects an immediate impact from Moran, who can play all over the diamond, but could land a starting spot in the outfield.
The Lady Bears will have nine double-headers at home this season. Last year, St. Joseph's finished their home record 15-1. However, the team will be changing venues this season, playing for the first time at the Padavan-Preller Fields (H.B.Q.V.B.) Athletic Complex) in Bellerose, Queens. Following their trip in Florida, St. Joseph's opens their season up north with a five double-header home stand, concluding with USCAA foe Briarcliffe on April 3rd. The Lady Bears defeated Briarcliffe 1-0 in the third place game at the USCAA Nationals last season.
St. Joseph's will also host strong competition from Mount St. Vincent, Brooklyn College, Purchase College, and sister school, St. Joseph's College – LI.
Aside from Florida, the Lady Bears are light on travel this season, playing only two double-headers outside of New York. On April 10th, St. Joseph's heads south to Maryland to face the College of Notre Dame and on April 25th they'll travel to New Jersey to face former HVWAC rival, St. Elizabeth. The Lady Bears will also be on the road to take on familiar CUNYAC and Skyline opponents Lehman, Old Westbury, Farmingdale State, and John Jay. St. Joseph's will also split their Hudson Valley opponents, playing New Rochelle at home while traveling to Sarah Lawrence.
The Lady Bears plan on playing well into May, which would be their fifth appearance at the USCAA National Championships. The tournament will be held in Akron, Ohio, at Firestone Stadium, home of professional softball team, the Akron Racers.
For the 10th straight year, Carbone will have associate coach JoAnn Schmitt at his side. That sort of stability amongst the coaching staff has really helped the Lady Bears in Carbone's eyes. He'll also be joined by former AD3I Player of the Year C.J. Kavanagh. Her experience at this level is very beneficial to where St. Joseph's wants to get to. Volunteer coach Luke Klimaszewski handles the pitchers and catchers and has a "great rapport" with them, according to Carbone.
One of the challenges for the Lady Bears will be going from underdog to top-dog. No longer is St. Joseph's looked at as a small school for softball. Their opponents will be circling this game as a chance to take down one of the top teams in the USCAA. How the team handles that pressure will determine how much of a success the season is. Coach Carbone isn't worried however, saying, "when you combine talent with experience, that's a tough combination to beat." The Lady Bears have plenty of both as they get set to embark on what could be a very special season.