By Andrew Garda
The Montclair Kimberely Academy girls softball team is rounding into form just in time for the start of the season.
Returning from a successful trip to Florida, where they played multiple games as a tuneup for the 2017 season, coach Jessica Sarfati has her team ready to go.
With what Sarfati says is the biggest roster she’s seen since taking over the program—a grand total of 25 kids will be available for the Varsity and Junior Varsity rosters—the team could be poised for a big season.
On top of the large pool of talent to pull from, MKA has moved divisions to the Colonial Division. They’ll still see some of the same faces from years past, like Glen Ridge and Caldwell, but will face some new challenges as well.
Chief among those challenges will be Belleville and Millburn.
Both have been powerhouses over the last two years, with Belleville 13-5 over that span and Millburn compiling a 28-0 record with two division championships.
Between those two teams and Glen Ridge, MKA will see some impressive squads.
Sarfati feels she has the right pieces to put together — she just needs to see how the positions shake out in the final week of practices.
There are a few places where Sarfati knows certain players will fit.
Freshman Geena Pacifico follows in the footsteps of her two older sisters, both of whom played for Sarfati. Pacifico will take the mound for the Cougars, and give them a reliable arm to center the staff with.
Sarfatis lauds Pacifico’s mentality on the mound xqand felt the pitcher really did well in Florida last week. She especially liked Pacifico’s composure during the games and feels with the mix of pitches at Pacifico’s disposal, she should have a lot of success this season.
She’ll also allow junior Grace Turvey to move back to first base after a year pitching. Turvey isn’t a pitcher by inclination or trade, but made the sacrifice last season when the team needed her arm.
It was the sort of leadership Sarfati looks for in her veteran players and she expects Turvey to be a great example for this year’s unit.
Along with Turvey, Sarfati expects captain Erin Nicholson to be someone the younger players can follow. Nicholson, a four-year starter, is also a big part of the MKA basketball team, as is junior Kerri McGuire (who actually plays three sports).
The team has several more four-year starters as well, with Lily Gorodensky and Lamara White returning for their senior seasons.
It’s not just all about the upperclassmen, though.
Freshmen like Amanda Mack will be integral in this team’s success. Sarfati said Mack is a strong hitter, who she expects will be a force in the heart of the batting order.
Meanwhile, despite being young, sophomore Jena Seslavo is someone Sarfati sees as another leader on the team, and someone who will be a positive influence on the freshmen.
The team looks to bounce back from a difficult 2016 season which saw them struggle at times. The Cougars struggled in the middle of the season, losing seven games in a row, but righted the ship for a four-game win streak right after. They then lost their last four games in the regular season before making the quarterfinals in the state tournament.
This season, the team makes the move from the Liberty division to the Colonial. Sarfati says they will still see a bunch of the usual teams despite shifting divisions. Verona, Millburn, Caldwell and West Orange are all still on schedule.
However, now those games will be out of division. While the Cougars want to win every game they can, the new faces — Belleville, East Side, Bloomfield Tech and Glen Ridge — are the series they have to win to take the division.
More than anything, though, Sarfati is looking for improvement and progress. She says she’s excited for her team and has already seen a ton of growth from them since last season.
Now it’s up to everyone to build on that going forward in 2017.