A coaching change can be a tough thing for any high school team to handle, especially one with eight upperclassmen. There are changes in coaching philosophies, the way practices are run and in many cases players must prove themselves again to the new coaching staff.
Villa Walsh senior shortstop Juliana Strelec admitted that those feelings popped up when she heard that there was going to be a coaching change for her senior year, after former head coach Rudy Simek decided to retire last spring.
“It was definitely a little nerve-racking,” she said. “You just never know what can happen with a coaching change.”
But those nerves were soon calmed when Strelec found out that Christy (Vuono) Vetere would be taking over the varsity job after spending nine seasons as the program’s junior varsity coach.
“It was great she had the opportunity to take the job,” Strelec said. “She has been in the program for so long that we don’t have to spend a ton of time assimilating to a new coach, we already have that.”
Vetere agreed that her time in the program made things much easier than a typical coaching change, especially since the team was as full of upperclassmen as the Vikings, who have four seniors and four juniors returning to the varsity lineup.
“The transition has been very easy,” she said. “The girls all know me; they know how I run a practice because some of them have played for me on JV in the past, so it has been really easy.”
Sophomore second baseman Almarie Brennan also credited the upperclassmen with making the transition easy for the younger players in the program.
“It really helps to have them because they have more of a bond with coach Vetere,” she said. “It really gives you confidence that she can lead us to good things.”
While some things have stayed the same, Vetere has changed the way the varsity program is run just a bit.
“I am just setting a high standard for the girls, challenging them, raising the bar,” she said of her philosophy.
“We are doing a lot of teaching,” she said. “We are teaching them to go through drills together and not just going through the motions, teaching them to compete every day.”
That team concept was something Brennan found to be the biggest difference in practices from last season.
“This year every drill is done as a team and it helps because it helps our skills and it helps work on team unity,” she said.
Strelec mentioned that Vetere’s background as a player — she was a star at Morris Hills in the late 1990s and played collegiately at William Patterson — is a great tool for her teaching.
“She has played softball in college and her whole life, so therefore we focus on mechanical stuff and strength and conditioning-type work for our hitting and fielding,” she said. “Her experiences can help us with what we need to get to the top because she knows, she has been there.”
While the Vikings do eventually want to get to the top, Vetere is keeping this season’s goals a bit easier to reach.
“If each girl improves individually and they work well together it will show, and just take every game at a time and hopefully it will show and we will have a winning record,” Vetere said.