By Wayne Witkowski
Jeanne Dickinson has seen it all in her 35 years as Mater Dei Prep softball coach, which includes Shore Conference division titles in 15 of the last 18 years and a state championship in 2008.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Dickinson said.
When asked about the biggest change of late, she said, “We used to have 60 girls at tryouts, and now we’re getting less.”
She said some are simply not interested in coming out for the team, while others are working or have personal commitments.
But Dickinson is dealing with an unusual change for this season: the addition of four transfers from Cardinal McCarrick High School, which closed last spring. She hopes they can help her team go beyond its NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public B championship game losses to St. Joseph High School of Hammonton the past two years. The Seraphs were third in Shore Conference B Central Division and lost their Shore Conference Tournament opener to Raritan High School during a 15-7 season last spring.
The transfers and freshmen had a good opportunity to adjust and bond during a recent spring training trip to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Mater Dei won three of four games, pulling out one-run victories over New York City schools Poly Prep Country Day School, 3-2, and John Jay High School, 8-7; routing Massachusetts’ Notre Dame Academy, 17-2; and losing to Nutley High School, 5-1.
Three of the four transfers are figured in the starting lineup when the Seraphs open their season at Keyport High School at noon April 1.
But the addition of those players helps ease the loss of six players from last season: four who graduated, including starters Brooke Trotta in center field and Jaime Luminosa, who played at third base or second base; and two others who transferred.
“They have blended so well with my returnees,” Dickinson said of the transfers. “They’ve already played another season of soccer or girls basketball here. They have mixed well so far on this team and are very talented. But there’s a learning curve — doing it the Mater Dei way.”
Senior first baseman Maggie Klatt is providing the leadership in her fourth season in the starting lineup after leading the team in batting with an average close to .520 and in RBIs as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. Klatt is one of two left-handed hitters, along with senior transfer and utility player Kelsey Edwards. Edwards drove in the winning run against Poly Prep with a two-run single in the fifth inning for the 3-2 lead. Klatt’s dad, Bob, is assistant coach and former boys basketball coach at Mater Dei.
Two other leaders smoothing the transition are juniors Kayley Anthony, who has played every position but shortstop and first base, and Tyrah Graves, who is starting at shortstop again this season. Anthony is expected to start at second base in the opener.
“[Graves] has grown to understand the position,” Dickinson said.
They’re looking to smooth the adjustment of transfers and new starters Vicky Zayas, a senior third baseman; Samantha Napoli, a junior catcher; and sophomore outfielder Alyssa Tipitone, who will play either in center field or right field. Tipitone is expected to start in center field when the season opens, flanked by returning starting left fielder Jayme Lewandowski and sophomore Valerie Zoda in right field.
“Lewandowski has come a long way and done well at the plate,” Dickinson said.
They’ll be backing junior Paige Fernandez, who has been the starting pitcher since her freshman year.
“She’s not overpowering, but she’ll keep us in every game,” Dickinson said of the blend of pitches thrown by Fernandez.
She also is a solid hitter in the upper half of the order. Edwards will back up Fernandez on the mound.
Senior Samantha Cavalli, the catcher last season, is the designated player whose bat and leadership are highly valued by Dickinson.
“We have a couple of holes on defense that we found ways to fill,” Dickinson said. “Team speed is something we did not have the past couple of years until this year. We have to learn to hit in timely situations and talk a little. We have a couple of good leaders for that.”
Napoli and Anthony bat at the top of the order, while Klatt, Fernandez and Graves are interchangeable in the next three spots of the order at this point.
Dickinson said she expects freshman Morgan Hurst to develop into a contributor more as she gets used to the high school level of competition.