Bulldogs off to great start in search of division title

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

 Metuchen High School catcher Sam Hoffman, left, fields a bunt against J.P. Stevens High School during a tournament hosted by South Brunswick High School on March 22. The Bulldogs are off to a 5-0 start this season. Metuchen High School catcher Sam Hoffman, left, fields a bunt against J.P. Stevens High School during a tournament hosted by South Brunswick High School on March 22. The Bulldogs are off to a 5-0 start this season. METUCHEN

T he Metuchen High School softball team enjoyed an outstanding season a year ago, finishing 18-7 overall and 10-2 in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Blue Division to place second behind Spotswood High School, which went unbeaten. The Bulldogs are hoping to win it all this spring, and are off to a great start.

In early season action, Metuchen has vaulted out of the gates by winning its first five games. That record includes a 9-1 victory over Spotswood and four double-digit wins against Mother Seton Regional High School, 14-2, New Brunswick High School, 17-0, Middlesex High School, 14-3, and McNair Academic High School of Jersey City, 11-0.

Seven players, including outstanding senior pitcher Nicole Camera and junior catcher Sam Hoffman, are back to help accomplish what last year’s team couldn’t — capture the division and make a serious run at winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I title.

“Nicole has excellent control and a full range of breaking pitches,” said head coach Melissa Jennings, who takes over for Lauren Anderson. “Sam is also a quality catcher, and the pair work extremely well together. They should be a force to reckon with this year.”

In addition to their chemistry on the mound and behind the plate, Camera (.629) and Hoffman (.418) provide the Bulldogs with big bats and will be keys to the offense. Camera was first team and Hoffman was third team All-GMC a year ago.

Junior Liana Cifrodelli (.442) has slid over from third base to shortstop to take advantage of her defensive skills. She, too, possesses a strong bat. Infielders Kaitlin Hueston (second base), Allie Chalker (utility), Sam Hong (first base) and Chyanne Houck (outfield) will reinforce the Bulldogs’ defense.

“Our defense will play a key role this season,” Jennings said. “Our experienced players understand the importance of that aspect of the game. We also plan to utilize some new faces as well.

Freshmen Alanna Benderly (utility),

Brooke Bandola (outfield), Gabby Dermondy (outfield), Molly O’Connor

(pitcher/utility) and Tina Czochanski (utility), as well as junior Oliva Freed (utility), will also look to make an impact this year.

“Our goals this spring are to win our division and have a strong showing in both the GMC and state tournaments,” Jennings said. “We also want to move up in the conference rankings even though we’re a Group I team. I believe we have the potential to go far this year.”


Last season was an uncharacteristic 3- 19 for the Edison High School softball team, which also included a last-place finish in the Red Division. That dismal year is now behind the Eagles, and first-year head coach Rachel Ruch is confident the return of six regulars, in addition to six newcomers, will help turn this year into a successful one.

“I’m not looking at this season as a rebuilding one,” Ruch said. “We have tremendous potential and have a great opportunity to be successful. Our defense, especially, is very strong and will definitely help us win games.”

In early season action, Edison is 2-4, which indicates the Eagles are making progress. Contributions have come from senior Mackenzie Valeriani (third base), sophomore Tatiana Yourstone (second base/shortstop), senior Alex Gonzalez (outfield), senior Kelsey Reilly (first base), senior Christina Roe (catcher) and junior Amanda Mercuro (outfield). Newcomers to the lineup are junior Destiny Berencsi (outfield/ second base), junior Laura Flynn (pitcher), junior Alyssa Maurath (utility), junior Sarah Goodman (outfield) and freshman Bianca Newsom (shortstop/pitcher).

“Laura will be leading us on the mound,” Ruch said. “Mackenzie will be our offensive leader. She is a great player, who will especially help us when we’re at bat. She has the ability to produce runs, and that’s what we need.”

Newsome is the most promising new player. Although lacking in experience, she is smart and possesses athleticism, which will enable the freshman to play multiple positions.


When St. Joseph High School golf coach Ryan Lechner was asked about who had graduated from last season’s 17-1 team, which included another GMC Tournament championship, he replied, “Almost everyone.”

“We lost Brian Fitzpatrick [defending GMC Tournament titlist], Steve Taraska, Matt Ulrich, Eric Brown and Greg Dua,” he said. “They were all important contributors to our success.”

The two top returnees are Teji (Hartej) Gill, who finished fourth at the Cherry Valley Tournament this season, and Gabe Rivera, who placed in the top 20, with a 79 for 18 holes.

Junior Josh Singer and sophomores Tom Summers, Peter Coronato and Chris Taraska are the promising newcomers Lechner hopes will keep the Falcons in the GMC race. However, he points to continued improvement of Monroe Township High School as the team to beat in the GMC this season.

“Our goals will never change,” he said. “We try and take the appropriate steps to win, whether it’s our [Red] Division, or competing for [what would be a fifth] GMC Tournament title. Another goal is to make some noise in our sectional state qualifying tournament.

“We are a team that has a good ceiling, but we are young,” Lechner continued. “We graduated some very talented, highly decorated players that were the keystones of our lineup. But we’ve been preparing our younger players since they were freshmen by giving them experience. Now it’s their opportunity for them to step up.”