Felician University will enter the 2017 softball season guided by one the youngest head coaches in the nation in 2014 Rutgers University graduate Alexis Durando. The knowledge and passion Durando offers should be an asset to a Golden Falcon program that features only two seniors and two juniors on a 21-player roster.
"We have a great group of student-athletes, and I think we have an opportunity to continue to build something special here," said Durando, who spent 2016 as a Felician assistant on Chris Foye's staff. "After working with these players last year, I had no doubt about my love for them and for our team culture. They are willing to do anything we ask of them, and they work incredibly hard on and off the field."
The roster size is believed to be the largest in program history. That fact magnifies the preparation challenges any northern team faces, but also gives the Golden Falcons depth and options on both sides of the ball.
"We've been fortunate enough to get outside a handful of times, which is a huge extra that we can never really count on," Durando said. "Our pitching staff looks solid, and has been putting in a ton of work with our new pitching coach, Frank Fiore. Our lineup is going to be solid, and our bench has the potential to make a significant impact for us."
Durando sees the largest strength of the Golden Falcons being not in any one facet of the game, but rather in the intangible elements each player brings to the program each day.
"Each player has her own responsibility and opportunity to make a contribution," she said. "They have high energy and are utterly supportive of one other, and we remind them they we are 21 parts to the whole. We always talk about our goals in terms of 'getting a little better today' and 'doing something positive for yourself and your teammates.'"
PITCHERS: Junior right-hander Ashley Owens (Lockport, N.Y./Starpoint) earned all-conference honors in 2016 and set a single-season school record for innings pitched. Fellow returnees Erin Powers (Aberdeen, N.J./Matawan), a sophomore, and senior Dyonna Pagliocca (Wood-Ridge, N.J./Wood-Ridge) lend stability to the rotation. Felician will also look for contributions from freshmen Izzy Hilling (Sussex, N.J./Pope John XXIII) and Alexa Raba (Iselin, N.J./Spotswood).
"Ashley is the epitome of cool, calm and collected," Durando said. "Erin has battled injury, but has been working extremely hard to return and make a contribution. Dyonna is the heart of our pitching staff with a unique ability to motivate her team. Izzy and Alexa have truly benefited from the example set by our older pitchers."
CATCHERS: Sophomore Brynne Bauman (Hazlet, N.J./Red Bank) looks to have exited the fall with the starting role behind the plate. Classmate Brittney Lazar (Seaford, N.Y./Seaford) will also see time and is an accomplished pinch-hitter.
INFIELD: The middle infield is solid and experienced with the return of Jackie Dueñas (Riverside, Calif./Arlington), the Golden Falcons' only senior position player, at second base and sophomore shortstop Zeaenna Brackett (Woodbury, N.J./Woodbury). Duenas has been a consistent three-year starter, and Brackett's power/speed combination led her to last year's CACC Rookie of the Year Award. Sophomore Victoria Quercia (Monroe Township, N.J./Monroe Township) is also an option.
Returning starters Mia Montoya (Cypress, Calif./John F. Kennedy) and Racquel Manzo (Whittier, Calif./La Habra), both sophomores, looked to have retained their roles at first base and third base. Freshman Nicole Spiegelberg (Blauvelt, N.Y./Tappan Zee) will challenge at first but is also a leading designated player candidate. Another newcomer, Jaimie Parisi (Hackensack, N.J./Hackensack) can fill in at several positions.
OUTFIELD: Junior Jeannette Roldan (Hesperia, Calif./Oak Hills) is the veteran of the outfield unit and a returning starter in left. Roldan can hit for power, slap, or bunt, and is an exciting defensive player.
Freshman Bella Davis (Chula Vista, Calif./East Lake) has a chance to make an immediate impact in center field, while sophomore Steph Donah (Clark, N.J./Arthur L. Johnson) could take her strong arm over to right to compete with classmate Miranda Torres (Riverside, Calif./Eleanor Roosevelt). Freshman Monica Laverty (Lyndhurst, N.J./Lyndhurst) and sophomore Ashley Cusicanqui (Little Egg Harbor, N.J./Pinelands Regional) provide depth.
DESIGNATED PLAYER: Power threats Spiegelberg and Lazar are the leading designated player candidates.