College players find coaching fulfilling

Howell Hurricanes softball players enjoy summer season

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

When Cole Callahan and Christie Novatin signed on to coach the Howell Hurricanes recreation allstar softball team, they did not know what they were getting into.

The Howell Hurricanes softball team, a group of players age 12 and under, enjoyed their summer season and received instruction from current college players Cole Callahan (l) and Christie Novatin (r). The Howell Hurricanes softball team, a group of players age 12 and under, enjoyed their summer season and received instruction from current college players Cole Callahan (l) and Christie Novatin (r). The college softball players had no idea how much they would enjoy coaching the 12-and-under players, or how much they would learn about the game of softball and themselves.

“I liked it a lot,” said Novatin, a Howell High School graduate who will be entering her senior year at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y. “I never coached to that extent before. It’s something I’d like to do. It gave me a new perspective about coaching.”

Novatin and Callahan have been friends since their middle school days in Howell when they played on the same Howell Middle School North team. It was Dennis Callahan, Cole’s father and the Hurricanes’ manager, who asked the two friends to coach the team this summer.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Cole Callahan, who starred at Freehold Township High School and will be a sophomore at Fordham University in New York City. “Coaching girls (who are) not that much younger than you was different.”

Callahan said that seeing softball from the coaching and teaching perspective will make her a better player.

Callahan and Novatin weren’t the only ones to benefit from the summer experience. They took a group of recreation players and, against the odds, turned them into a winning team against travel team programs.

In the Hurricanes’ final tournament of the summer, the Lacey Summer Storm in Lacey Township, they went 2-1-1 in their first winning tournament.

“It’s hard to put a recreation team in a travel tournament,” Callahan said. “It’s a step up. It’s a challenge.”

But Novatin and Callahan had the Hurricanes ready for the challenge after two three-hour practices a week in which they started with the basics and then passed on what they had learned in college to the younger girls, who were quite receptive.

Three-hour practices will quickly separate players who are serious from those who are not. The Hurricanes did not lose one player.

“The biggest part of all was that they were willing to work and were very respectable,” said Callahan. “They were really good recreation players.”

Novatin saw the same commitment in the Hurricanes.

“They acted very serious,” she said. “They all came to every practice. Most of the girls were very athletic. They were really competitive.”

Callahan and Novatin had all 12 girls play every position on the field in order to determine where each player could best help the team defensively.

In addition to the softball, there was team unity.

“We did a lot of team bonding,” said Callahan. “We took a bus trip to see a semipro team in Philadelphia.”

There were some growing pains in the team’s early tournaments, but right before their coaches’ eyes, the Hurricanes began to jell.

“We had pretty good hitters and good pitching,” said Callahan. “The key was keeping the defense together.”

As the Hurricanes played more tournament games, they cut down on their errors and became a dangerous opponent.

With the number of errors decreasing, the wins began to follow and a team that had never experienced success left the Lacey Township event with a winning record in a tournament for the first time.

“It was a great tournament for them,” said Novatin, who played for the Hurricanes when she was younger. “They were so excited. I think coaching was more of a success to me when I saw how excited they were.”

Callahan said the team’s winning experience at the Lacey Summer Storm was “extremely fulfilling.” She said she had a “proud-mother feeling.”

The excitement and pride wasn’t restricted to the coaches, and Novatin and Callahan weren’t the only ones to find the summer rewarding. The Hurricanes’ players and parents were equally thrilled with the way things turned out.

Dennis Callahan said the players’ parents had talked to him and e-mailed him to compliment the young coaches on the positive impact they had made on everyone.

One thing the college players did was to turn the young Hurricanes into serious players. Callahan and Novatin are continuing to hold practices with the team as they look ahead to their college softball seasons and the Hurricanes look forward to fall tournaments.

All, it would seem, are better off for having experienced the growth the Hurricanes displayed this summer.

The Hurricanes are Valerie Siragusa, Shannon Cestero, Alex Hartman, Madison Conner, Taylor Crawley, Natale Benkert, Ellie Scano, Dana Dwyer, Megan Callahan, Cynthia Howell, Lori Brennan and Valerie Wilson.

Ricke Cestero is also one of the team’s coaches.