NEWBURYPORT — When the Newburyport softball team takes the field this year, it will be doing so with only three seniors and a new coach in Lori Solazzo.
Some might say this is a daunting task, but to hear Solazzo and her players tell it, they're ready for the challenge.
"I'm excited," Solazzo said of her debut of the varsity stage. "The girls are awesome to work with. We have a very young team, but it seems like they're really ready to go. It's exciting."
Solazzo grew up playing softball at Putnam High in Connecticut. From there, she went on to play volleyball in college, but she admits she wishes she played softball as well.
After college, Solazzo played in co-ed softball leagues before accepting an assistant coaching position at NHS in 2004. She started as an assistant varsity coach and changed roles to lead the junior varsity in 2006. Solazzo, a math teacher at NHS, has also been the 2012 class adviser since those students were freshmen.
The Clippers, under retired coach Pete Murray, sported a record of 17-5 last year, eventually making a second-round exit in the state tournament against Reading. Murray declined to comment on his retirement when contacted by The Daily News. Solazzo knows she has some big shoes to fill.
"(Newburyport) has had some great teams in the past," Solazzo said. "We have some big holes to fill, to be honest. We lost Cassaundra Davis, Rachel Webster and Eleni Kacher at centerfield. (But) we have two veteran pitchers, Molly Rowe and Beth Castantini, who have been solid pitchers. So, I'm expecting good things from them."
This will be Solazzo's first time working on the diamond with co-captains Rowe and Castantini. But she has worked with fellow co-captain and senior Madison Stanton when she was on the JV softball squad.
"She's full of energy," third baseman Stanton said of Solazzo. "She's going to work us hard. I could get into some coaching."
"She's been with us in basketball and she's one of my teachers, so we're close with her," Rowe said.
"She's been in the program for a long time," Castantini added. "So, we've been able to see her and work with her a little bit."
As co-captains (along with junior and left fielder Leah Tomasz), Castantini, Rowe and Stanton know they have to motivate the other players, as well as themselves.
"(Beth and I) were basketball captains," Rowe said. "And (Maddy and I) were field hockey captains. So, we all know how to be that role model that those young girls need. On those days when practice is dragging by, when we're doing sprints or something, they look up to us to be there for them."
"We have to motivate each other, too," Castantini added. "As a captain, you have to motivate the other captains and motivate the younger girls to work together and show that we're all strong."
These captains know that the competition in the Cape Ann League is fierce. But they also have a little more on their minds going into the last sports season of their high school careers.
"I think the competition is going to be great," Solazzo said of the CAL. "Wilmington's gone, but we're going to scrimmage them in the beginning. We have seven scrimmages right off the bat. I'm pretty sure Pentucket is going to be great. Triton again and Amesbury as usual."
Solazzo added that she's very fortunate to have a very experienced and motivated group of coaches, including assistant varsity coaches and NHS alums, Mark Rowe and Sara Castantini. Junior varsity coach Nicole Twomey and freshman coach Tom Smolski, also an NHS grad, will also provide some familiarity.
"This year, there is a huge group of freshmen," Solazzo said. "So, there is a whole group of girls I have not seen before. But we have a coaching staff that has seen some of them. They coached them in the younger leagues. So, that will be good to have at our back."
Solazzo knows a terrific opportunity when she sees one, and she is looking forward to getting the season going.
"It's something that I've been wanting to do for a long time," she said. "I can't wait."