While the new scholastic softball season remains four days away, all college players have been competing for at least several weeks.
Two of them — former St. John Vianney outfielder Amanda Durham and former Wall shortstop Sydney Canessa, the last two All-Shore Players of the Year — have been playing for well over a month now, and so far they’ve made the transition from high school to Division I softball look fairly easy.
However, it’s a lot of hard work.
“On Mondays, I have practice at 6 a.m., then I go to class, and then it’s back to practice from 12 to 2 p.m. and lifting afterward,” said Durham, who’s playing left field and has started in 16 games for Bowling Green. “Then after that practice, it’s back to class and then to the library for study session. On Wednesdays, I have three practices. It’s been a challenge.”
Canessa, who has started in all of Fordham’s 30 games thus far and leads the Rams with 27 hits, including three home runs, said there’s not much time for anything but two things.
“At this level, you’re literally playing softball, going to school and that’s it,” she said. “Everything is fast-paced and your schedule is booked solid. Some days, I’ll go to a couple of classes and then have to get on a plane to fly somewhere. Sometimes, I just have to eat a banana as a meal while I’m going between class and practice. It’s very busy.”
In addition to the chaotic schedule of playing for a high-level college program, Canessa took on some extra work in preparing to switch positions. After playing shortstop her entire life, and the prospects of sitting behind a stellar senior shortstop with the Rams, Canessa chose to go after an opening in center field.
“I saw an opening and went after it,” she said. “So, I stayed after practice to work on everything that goes into becoming an outfielder. To me, our team needed somebody athletic out there, so I made a sacrifice. I could have just been the backup shortstop, but I feel as if I expanded my skill level while helping out my team.”
But with the long days and hard work come the reward of playing regularly at college softball’s highest level.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” Durham said. “It’s hard work, but I’m having a lot of fun. I’m with my teammates 24/7, and we have a really great chemistry. I can’t imagine doing anything else right now.”
Durham even offered some sound advice for this year’s high school seniors who may be playing in college next year.
“The summer before you get there, work your butt off and have the mindset that you can do and overcome anything,” she said. “And play for the love of the game. Play for that little girl who once stepped onto the field at 10 years old. That’s really where it all starts.”
Playing for a cause
The Manalapan High School softball program has done a fantastic job in recent years of raising money and awareness for multiple causes, and it will be doing so again early on during the new season.
On April 5, the Braves will host the Give Back Classic to raise funds for the NephHope Foundation on behalf of 8-year-old Kylie Wyers, who on March 4 had a kidney transplant following an ongoing battle with Nephronophthisis, a rare genetic disorder which affects children and leads to kidney failure.
“Last year, the girls held the Classic to help the Wyers family, so they wanted to do it again,” said head coach Chris Hoffman, whose program raised more than $3,500 during last year’s event. “Two years ago, the Wyers’ 10-year-old son, Logan, had the same disorder and had a transplant, and Kylie just had hers thanks to a family friend who had a perfect match for a kidney.
“It’s been 23 days and I’ve heard she’s doing well.”
This year’s Classic will feature eight games, starting at 9 a.m. with Manalapan hosting Toms River South and Howell taking on Toms River East. Barnegat will play Freehold Township and Monsignor Donovan will play Wagner (N.Y.) at 11 a.m.
At 1 p.m. Middletown South will face Wagner while Jackson Liberty will square off with Raritan. And the 3 p.m. contests feature defending Group II champion Robbinsville against Toms River North and Middletown North against Pinelands.
NJ Spirit Wear has provided 200 t-shirts and Martell’s Tiki Bar donated all the hot dogs and rolls so more of the funds raised can go to the NephHope Foundation, Hoffman said. All-day admission will be $5 per person.
“Our girls really care about this and that’s a great testament to their character,” Hoffman said. “The girls really deserve a lot of credit, because not many teams do something like this.”