BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — More depth, a healthy dose of underclassmen, and a sense of optimism.
That’s what Niskayuna softball is bringing into its 2016 season, which gets underway April 6 with a nonleague game against Scotia-Glenville and a Suburban Council opener April 8 vs. Mohonasen.
Off a 2015 season in which the Silver Warriors advanced to the Section II Class AA quarterfinals, head coach Jules Paul’s squad is starting to reap the benefits of a growing feeder program. Besides eight seniors, Niskayuna also has three sophomores and two freshmen on its varsity roster.
“They stepped up in tryouts and that’s helped us upperclassmen to push ourselves more,” Niskayuna senior Julia Favata said of the team’s youngsters. “We’re competing with them for spots in the field.”
“We’ve formed close bonds with the underclassmen, too,” senior Gabby Schaffer said. “I think [some of them] are a little nervous coming into a varsity sport, and we’ve tried to help them ease into it.”
One of those underclassmen, sophomore Amelia Canestrari, is expected to team with Favata to give the Silver Warriors a one-two punch in the pitcher’s circle.
“That’s something we really haven’t had,” Paul said.
The rest of the team’s freshmen and sophomores are also expected to contribute, giving Niskayuna more firepower and a chance to utilize its full roster throughout the 2016 season. Last season, Niskayuna counted on Stacy Gordon to carry the pitching and offensive load for the Silver Warriors. Injuries, though, hampered senior year for Gordon, who is now playing at Lafayette College.
“But the thing we took out of Stacy’s injury last year was a lot of girls got playing time that we didn’t know they would,” Paul said. “Like, Favata pitched so well for us. She had a two-hitter late in the season.”
Battles for defensive positions are ongoing for the Silver Warriors, but the squad left its first scrimmage — against Troy — encouraged with its offensive showing.
“Our underclassmen scored a lot of our runs and had most of the hits for us,” Schaffer said.
“Our offense was way better than we thought it would be,” Favata said.
With many of last year’s top teams in the Suburban Council returning top players, it will be tough for Niskayuna to break into the league’s upper echelon. A strong base of experienced veterans teamed with underclassmen slated to become the program’s leaders of the future, though, will keep the Silver Warriors competitive throughout a 2016 season in which they hope to peak at the end.
“We need to tweak some things still, but I think it’s going to be a great season,” Favata said.