Mother Nature hasn’t caught up to spring just yet in the New York metro area, but the skies look promising in Texas, where the College of Staten Island women’s softball squad will begin their season this weekend eyeing a repeat of championship glory that has become synonymous with the program in recent years. The Dolphins will take an eight-game southern swing this weekend in time for a March opening back home, embarking on a challenging schedule that they hope will lead them to a return the NCAA Division III Championship.
Head Coach, Dr. Stella Porto, who enters her 14th season and is on the cusp of 300 wins is anxiously awaiting the upcoming trip. The opportunity to be outdoors is still something relatively foreign to the team so far this season, so the coming days will be a new and very welcomed exercise for the team.
“Obviously, we are very excited,” said Porto. “We are playing some very good teams who all have NCAA Tournament in mind and we’re anxious to showcase in front of them. Since our opening day of practice our goal has been to get better with each day, including mentally and psychologically approaching the game and getting the chance to go outside and do that with great competition is something we’re very excited about.”
Of course, when the action does get underway, CSI will have their championship pedigree in tow. They are the back-to-back CUNYAC Champs, and the team scored a win in the national championship tournament for the first time in nearly a decade last year. While the Dolphins graduated a collection of fine stars, the nucleus remains for another spirited rum aimed at national prominence, and one thing is for sure, the Dolphins have one thing in mind for 2016.
“We want to come out of our region in the NCAA’s,” stated Porto. “Of course, it takes a lot of hard work and great results to even get there, so we are going to take our season one stage at a time. Without a doubt we feel that we have been getting more regional recognition, and we want to use that to really get to the next level. We know our conference will be better and stronger, so we want to start by trying to go out and win our championship again and build on that.”
The Dolphins have plenty to rely on heading into to the new campaign. Decorated junior pitcher Jacqueline Cautela is the anchor in the circle, and is joined by Nicolette Trapani and Samantha Bowbliss who are coming off terrific opening campaigns. The Dolphins also bring back the power and consistency of CUNYAC Player of the Year Christina Tufano and outfielder Chyanne Gilliam. They lead a squad built on the strength of 10 returners, each with their own complement of skills and valued experience all over the diamond.
“No question our returners are our nucleus, not just as physical players but through their leadership, experience, and how they mentally approach the game,” said Porto. “It’s been hard to get them to stop practicing on some days. “We know what they can do on the field and yet they are bigger, faster, and stronger than a year ago, and their commitment has been truly fantastic.”
What has kept the Dolphins at the envy of most regional schools is their ability to recruit some of the area’s finest talent, and 2016 is no different. Porto is boasting one of her largest classes in many years as a total of seven new faces join the fray. According to the coach, all can make a sizable contribution in a variety of ways. Look for the big bats and positional play of transfer Vanessa Joia, Kristen Meagher and Antoinette Galbo to make a difference, and according to the coach, the new input could make CSI a legitimate national power.
“Our new players are versatile, can hit absolute bombs, and play the field like you’ve never seen,” boasted the coach. “We have a great family environment, but they are all hungry, all competitive, and all looking to play. We have a great mix of some quality players that can really bring us to new heights this year.”
For Porto and the softball program, excellence doesn’t come easy. Each year, the Dolphins pack their schedule with some of the region’s toughest competition, and the four-day swing through Texas is no different. The Dolphins will open up against Schreiner University on Saturday, a team that already has three doubleheaders under its belt, and then will take on Trinity College, Austin College, and Texas Lutheran, teams with an already combined 11-3 record.
“You look at our schedule and the strength is there,” she said. “We always try to build a schedule that allows our team to play at their best. To be considered a great team you have to play the better teams and we provide that. I don’t ever care if we take our lumps here and there, because we know it only helps us get better.”
With that in mind the Dolphins, like most young teams, hope to be better by the end of the season than at the beginning, and that’s fine by Porto, who knows that early-May will be the deciding time for the Dolphins to make their most important run.
“As a coach we are seeking that top-seed in the conference standings,” Porto delivered. “That puts us in a position to be successful in the postseason tournament. From there, if we play our best softball we will see where that leaves us. Hopefully by the end of the season we will be ready to defend our title and make noise further down the road.”
CSI will open up the home portion of their season on Sunday, March 6, when they host Rutgers-Newark at 12 Noon at the CSI Softball Complex. They will usher in the CUNYAC portion of their schedule a couple of weeks later at Brooklyn College on March 19. Out-of-conference stops include doubleheaders against Montclair State, Stevens Institute of Technology, Farmingdale State, Moravian College and FDU-Florham, to name a few.
Admission to all CSI Softball games this season will be FREE and all of CSI’s home games are broadcast live on www.csidolphins.com/CSISportsNet (weather permitting). The season will conclude with the CUNYAC Tournament which will be played at CSI on the weekend of May 7-8.