Mildred Piscopo knows Poly Prep has the pieces to win its seventh straight NYSAISAA title.
“I think from what I’ve seen so far, we have the potential to be a stronger team than we’ve been in the past,” Piscopo said. “I think defensively we’re going to be solid. Our second pitcher, who was injured last year, is back so we’ll have a little depth in that area which I think will help us. We have some talented girls coming in, so I think having a little more competition on the team is a good push.”
The Blue Devils are coming off an up-and-down season that saw them lose four league games, their first losses in five seasons, and not win the Ivy League crown, something they also hadn’t been accustomed to in five years.
“We struggled through the season and we didn’t win the league for the first time in five years. To come back in the playoffs and to beat two teams that we lost to during the season was really exciting and quite an accomplishment.”
That accomplishment came in nine innings as Poly Prep ran away from a top-seeded Horace Mann team which beat it earlier in the season. The Blue Devils graduated all the players from their previous NYSAISSA title runs and had to find their mojo later in the season.
“I think once the regular season had ended, we had been playing better and there were some definite bright spots,” Piscopo said. “We won a couple of close games down the stretch and I think there was a feeling of confidence going into it. After we won our first game against Fieldston, it just gave us such a boost that after, everyone believed that we could do it.”
Most thought that with the lapse in leadership and the absence of Victoria Capozucca and Erica Sollazzo that the team would fall apart.
“One of the biggest issues for us was going down the stretch was that we didn’t really have a strong sense of leadership,” Piscopo said. “We had some seniors on the team that were kind of on the quiet side.”
“It was important for the team that I had last year because they were such a different team,” Piscopo said. “For a good part of the season, they didn’t really have an identity other than that same team that won the five previous titles. But a lot of the faces and personnel had changed and they weren’t that. I think it was a sense of ‘Can we do that?’ I feel like they also felt pressure to do it.”
Junior catcher Jacquie Kennedy hit a big-time double and was responsible an important tag-out against Horace Mann in the title game last year. Piscopo indicated that her growth was important to the team’s development.
“I have some pretty high expectations for Jacquie, I think she’s incredibly talented,” Piscopo said. “She has more talent and potential than she even realizes. She was a kid who towards the last quarter of the season really picked up her game and she became a leader on the field. So I’m looking for that to continue this year so we can be even stronger.”
Sophomore pitcher Amanda Grossman was just as big for the Blue Devils last season and Piscopo acknowledged that despite her performance, she is still very young.
“My expectations of her is that she continues to do what she has done,” Piscopo said. “She’s still young. She probably puts more pressure on herself and has higher expectations than I do. She realizes that what we did last year was something pretty great and she feels like she has to do that this year. I’m just trying to tell her to go out and play softball.”
Piscopo intends to implement a new approach to avoid last seasons mistakes emphasizing the importance of game management.
“We talked about this on probably the first or second day of practice, where in the close games that we lost last year in which we didn’t execute. We’re really looking to improve our defense and execution in the small game.”
Despite the blip in the map last season of not winning the Ivy title and losing four games in the season, Piscopo has no intentions on letting up on her lofty expectations for her team.
“It was disappointing last year that we didn’t win it all. Maybe that’s just who we were last season,” Piscopo said. “I think moving forward and putting it under our belts, we should be looked as the favorite to win it this year. I think the competition is going to be good.”