The College of Staten Island women’s softball squad is coming off back-to-back City University of New York Athletic Conference championships, but if you think Head Coach Dr. Stella Porto and her squad is entering the season as a rebuilding team, looking to simply recapture the magic of yesteryear…think again. The 2015 installment of CSI Softball is one that Porto is thinking could be her best ever, and that’s saying something for a team that has amassed over 250 wins since she took over the program in 2003, complete with seven championships and an equal number of NCAA Division III National Tournament appearances.
“Every year we have kids that are very hungry to out-do what we did the year before,” said Porto, who has collected a 266-190-2 record over the last 12 seasons. “Together with bringing in great talent each year, the intensity is always high and it’s great to be a part of.”
Optimism is on high for the Dolphins, even after the squad graduated a pair of standouts in Stefanie Solari and Victoria Procopio, hallmarks to the starting lineup and the pitcher’s circle. Still, the Dolphins are bring back a bevy of talent, among them reigning CUNYAC Player of the Year Christina Tufano and Pitcher of the Year Jacqueline Cautela, who in their rookie season a year ago, blazed a trail through the CUNYAC and beyond. A year older and seasoned Porto thinks the sky is the limit for the pair.
“Our two CUNYAC winners are just tremendous for us,” said Porto. “They combine great play in the field, big bats and superior pitching. What’s impressed me the most is their tremendous leadership, and the fact that they are sophomores and still developing into their roles and expanding their roles, makes us very lucky to have them.”
Bringing back the pair is reason enough for excitement, but joining the fray as returners to the lineup are CSI standouts Brittany Smith, Chyanne Gilliam, Danielle Locke, Maxine Jasko, and pitcher Alexandra Conanan. The returning nucleus is more than enough to make CSI an odds-on-favorite to repeat in 2015.
“Our returning unit really guides our work ethic in practice and it has never been stronger,” told Porto. “Many of our returners took it upon themselves to work rigorously in the offseason on their hitting and conditioning, and it shows just how much they want to improve and not rest on what they have already accomplished. Thus far in practice our mental preparation is right where it needs to be and we can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”
As good as the core is, Porto’s bread-and-butter to success has been her recruiting, and 2015 brings with it the entrance of marquee players who all have the potential to hit the ground running. Transfer Kristy Colangelo, who doubled on the soccer pitch, provides a big bat with sound fielding in the outfield and behind the plate, while Samantha Bowbliss is an infield and pitching threat with a very heavy bat. Nicolette Trapani is a highly-decorated pitcher who can easily step in as an ace pitcher when needed. Porto feels they are just a small handful of a recruiting class that will shine all over the field this year.
“We are ecstatic about the recruiting turn we took this year,” she said. “We now have a lot of depth and we have the ability to interchange positions and go very deep with our pitching, which is something we haven’t had in a while.”
The goal for the Dolphins will be a CUNYAC title, which carries with it an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. CSI batted .331 as a team, and boasted one of their finest fielding percentages in history a year ago at .951. Together with a team ERA of 4.27, led by Cautela’s 3.62 mark and a robust 16-8 record, the Dolphins have no real weaknesses. That said, Porto knows her relatively young team still needs time to harmonize, having not earned the benefits of an outdoors practice yet in its five weeks of preseason. That will change on Tuesday when the Dolphins travel to Tucson, Arizona, for Spring Training, a stretch that will see them play eight games in three days.
“We definitely have cabin fever,” Porto said with a laugh. “We’ve tried to do a lot of different things over these last few weeks to break up the monotony of practicing in a gym, but that has been tough. Many teams like us are in the same boat, so it’s going to feel good to get out of here for a few days and get on an actual field and practice and play. We won’t have a lot of time to gel, but we will take what we can get.”
For Porto, the trip will be great preparation for what promises to be a grueling schedule. Porto never shies away from loading her schedule with national-championship caliber opponents, and 2015 is no different with stops against perennial powers Montclair State University, William Paterson University, Farmingdale State, Kean University, and Moravian College, just to name a few.
“We are playing great teams in Tucson and then we get right into it at home as well,” Porto said. “We are going right at the big teams in the region and nation right away, and the hope is that prepares us for our conference and gets us mentally ready for what is to come. This schedule is the toughest we have ever had in my opinion, but it benefits us greatly in the long run.”
All told, the Dolphins know they are in prime position for a CUNYAC repeat, but the next few weeks will determine how far they go. One thing is for sure, optimism has never been higher and with good reason.
“We are going for a three-peat this year in the CUNYAC, and we know that it makes us a big target to our conference competition, but that is our goal,” Porto explained. “In the end though, it’s always a building process with everything we do, whether it’s playing softball, recruiting, or getting out in the community; everything we do is done to progress our program and move us in a positive direction. So, we will keep trying to do that and hopefully by the end of the season, be right there competing with the best.”
All CSI home games are FREE and PG CLUE Certified for students. Many of CSI Softball games will also be covered by live video at www.csidolphins.com/watch. CSI officially opens play on Wednesday with a doubleheader in Tucson against Baldwin Wallace College and Alfred University. They open their regional schedule at Lehman College on March 20, and will score their home opener against nationally-ranked Montclair State on March 22, at 1pm, at the CSI Softball Complex. The season concludes with the CUNYAC Championship beginning April 29 and ending May 2, played at CSI.