Ryan Naccarato picked his team last week.
The Marlboro High School softball coach’s roster looks a little different than it did last year. It’s not laden with seniors, as it was when the Iron Dukes captured a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B title in 2015. It’s now decorated with underclassmen, led by senior infielder, relief pitcher and key returner Taylor Felicello.
On March 6, the Iron Dukes held their first practice. Naccarato admitted his girls were a bit nervous and shy, but eventually got acclimated to one another and got to work.
And, while the goal to stay competitive remains the same as last year, Naccarato expects a few contrasts to last season’s corps.
“This year will be different. We’re young,” Naccarato said Friday, on his way to team practice. “We have a lot of girls from junior varsity last year, an eighth grader and a handful of sophomores. They have big footsteps to fill. But I’m excited about the things we can accomplish this year.”
Felicello feels the same way.
“I’m excited to start a new season with a new bunch of girls,” she said. “It will be very hard to top the season we had last year, but we are working hard and coming together well.”
Last June, the Iron Dukes accomplished a lot.
After defeating Ellenville for its fourth-straight Section 9 title, Marlboro went on a Cinderella run, capped by a 2-1 win over Section 4’s Windsor in the Class B state finals. Marlboro did it in dramatic fashion — with a walk-off single by Ashley Votta.
Votta was one of 10 seniors who helped propel the Iron Dukes to glory. She and Ally Swartz, Sara Cerone, Melissa Sadler, Amber Mianti, Michaela Casey, Ashley DiMeglio, Alyssa Macario, Lily Moresco and Cassie Lapointe were lost to graduation.
“Last year was a year I’ll never forget,” Felicello said. “Not many people can say they’ve won a state championship. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
A year removed from championship status, Naccarato expects Felicello to carry the load. He called her his “one key returner and is expecting her to lead the way, step up and be the leader she is.”
She’s accepted the role, too.
“I encourage the girls to keep working hard, never give up and never settle for anything but the best,” Felicello said. “This team this year can achieve greatness.”
Naccarato said he’ll use Felicello in the pitcher’s circle “as needed.” He pointed to sophomore Victoria Sorace as his ace, succeeding Moresco, last year’s starter.
The Iron Dukes open their season on April 5 against host Red Hook. They will open at home, the following day, against Rondout Valley.
“We always go into each season knowing we can win,” Felicello said. “Our competitiveness is always going to be high. This year will be a lot of fun and I’m excited to see what’s in store!”
A.J. Martelli: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports