HERKIMER, NY – After an uncharacteristic third-place finish in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) championship last year, head coach P.J. Anadio was on a mission to create a team mentality at Herkimer College.
“We recruit the person before we recruit the athlete. It’s about fitting the mold; what we think is the best Herkimer athlete,” Anadio said. “I think the blend of different cultures has made us one of the tightest teams ever [this season]. That can bring you further than talent… we value each person for who they are as a teammate and as a human being.”
It’s that “we, not me” mentality that has Anadio’s Lady Generals sitting at 9-3 and near the top of the national rankings early on in the 2018 season. However, it wasn’t always that way, especially after last season. The 2017 season was the first in five years that the Lady Generals weren’t one of the teams in the national championship game. Several players, including sophomore pitcher/outfielder Alicia Swavely (daughter of former RFA head football coach Ted Swavely), cited a lack of team cohesiveness as a reason why the Generals only walked away from the national championships with only a third-place trophy to their names.
“The energy was there [last year], but it was fake energy,” Swavely said. “Like my dad, Coach PJ is a similar leader. He teachers that how you play will affect how you win.”
“I think [the loss] was upsetting because we didn’t do the little things,” sophomore catcher/outfielder Elizabeth Toscano said. “We talked about ‘holding the rope’ this season. The question they ask us is, if someone is falling off the edge, can you trust them to hold the rope and catch you? I don’t think I could have said that last season, [but] I think I can count on everyone this year. Everyone is buying in, everyone is doing the little things.”
Despite all of that, the Lady Generals will look to build on a season that, by everyone else’s standards, were through the roof. The team won all nine of their games at Wehrum Stadium last season, going 32-8 overall and producing two First-Team All Americans (both who are returning to Herkimer College this season), infielder Shannon Moore and pitcher Keeanna Wolcik.
A big factor in that 32-8 record was the Lady Generals’ performance at the plate. Herkimer was seventh in the nation in home runs, with ten, and hit an outstanding .425 average (which ballooned to an even more astounding .526 at home). In that .425 average hides not only an average of ten runs per game, but two games in which they racked up 30 runs, on both sides of a doubleheader against Clinton last April. (Those two games also helped raise over $6,000 for Hits For Hope, a charity that the Lady Generals created.) Though some of those bats are now gone, Anadio and his players both believe that they have the talent to pull that same feat again, though most don’t believe that’s the way they’ll win in 2018.
“Our batting lineup is disgusting,” sophomore catcher and Oneida native Morgan Sgarlata said. “The girls coming off the bench are crazy good. Every at-bat is a team at-bat. It’s the team this season, not the individual.”
“The thing that defines our team this season is our depth and athleticism,” Anadio said. “We can come at you so many ways…our short game, our power game. We can smack it out of the park, we have a great softball IQ and we have execution too. We’re always reloading, and I think we’ve reloaded bigger and better. We can deliver some jabs, but we can deliver some haymakers and uppercuts too.”
Despite losing several players, Anadio can boast 11 freshmen to replace them, including all-state outfielder Taylor Zaino from West Canada Valley. Despite going from a superstar in Newport to one of those 11 freshnmen, Zaino has found the transition to be nothing but smooth.
“From the first time I met everybody, we just clicked,” Zaino said. “I was always confident coming here…I knew a lot of these girls (six Herkimer players, including Zaino, are from the Mohawk Valley), and they helped me make the transition. They came from small schools too, so we’re all in the same boat. It feels good to have everyone looking up at us and to be a part of something bigger.”
“I think because of how we didn’t mesh last season, we wanted to mesh with the freshmen as much as possible,” sophomore infielder and Richfield Springs native Madisyn Butler said. “We wanted them to be comfortable and feel at home.”
Despite the new cohesiveness within the Lady Generals, they haven’t really been able to prove it on the diamond. Since coming back from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, eight of Herkimer’s first ten games have been canceled or postponed due to the wild weather in New York State, including this weekend’s doubleheader with Corning Community College. However, while the weather keeps Herkimer inside, most of the Lady Generals would rather be on the diamond.
“We try to find the silver lining…we’re getting more out of our inter-squad scrimmages,” Anadio said. “My pitchers are seeing some of the best hitters in the nation, my hitters are seeing some of the best pitchers. We’re champing at the bit to get out and play someone in a different-colored jersey. Right now, we’re playing the hand we’re dealt the best we can.”
One person that has no problem with the compacted schedule is Zaino. Her West Canada Valley Indians dealt with the weather quite a bit during the 2017 season, forcing the sectional committee to allow everyone into the Section III playoffs. Luckily, the Indians were able to rise above it all, getting all the way to the New York State tournament. “I’m used to it,” Zaino said. “In high school, we had to play so many games a week [due to the weather].”
No matter what happens, Anadio is confident the 2018 version of the Lady Generals will be able to do the same thing and make a run towards yet another national championship. “The game is funny,” Anadio said. “The best team doesn’t win all the time. That’s the reason I coach…when we don’t reach our goal, I’m there to teach them that that’s a part of life. When we fall, we fall forward. When you come to play softball at Herkimer, the goal is national championship or bust. We have a great group of young girls and I’m most proud of the legacy they leave off the field.”