By Marty Farmer
Sarah James' first decision as the new softball coach at Fenwick High School was to take the Friars on the road.
"When I found out I got the head coaching job this year, I decided to plan for a team trip over spring break," said James, who served as an assistant coach at Fenwick for three years before her recent appointment. "We had six games scheduled last spring, and only played one, with the rest cancelled due to weather. We were able to play a lot of games this spring and develop team bonding as well."
After researching tourneys on the Internet, James chose one in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Ironically, Fenwick opened the tourney against Bartlett (another Illinois school all too familiar with cold and rainy conditions). The Friars, who went 3-2 overall at the tourney, also faced schools from Tennessee and Kentucky.
Fenwick beat Bartlett 3-1, Rossview (Tenn.) 6-2 and Montgomery (Ky.) 5-4, but lost a pair of international tiebreakers 2-1 and 3-2 against Dickson County (Tenn.).
"It was a good trip," James said. "We played five full games, I was able to juggle the lineup around and a lot of girls got playing time. The focus wasn't just on winning but rather team development.
"We took a full day for driving, the players went out to eat together, and we also spent about six hours in Nashville before our first game."
James' learning curve should be relatively seamless since she's been coaching in the program multiple years and the Friars return multiple varsity veterans.
Senior pitchers Cassie Lee and Alyssa Stramaglia make up a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
"They have different styles but both are very successful," James said. "You can see the difference in their mechanics. Alyssa has a really long and slow delivery while Cassie is like a whip."
Lee, who has committed to Barry University in Miami, Florida, also plays center field. Stramaglia will handle first base when not in the pitcher's circle.
Senior shortstop Rachel Martinez is one of the team's top returners as well. Although the University of Southern Indiana recruit missed the trip to Tennessee, she went 8-for-8 in wins against Ridgewood and Nazareth Academy.
Senior Alex Medina is extremely versatile as the Friars' top utility player and slap hitter.
"Alex has been on varsity three years and has moved all around the field," James said. "She had some timely hits in Tennessee and adjusts well at the place. She has really come along well."
Other notable contributors include senior third baseman/outfielder Caitlin Cruse, senior outfielder Mariela Nevarez, junior outfielder Ciara Herbert and junior catcher Tess LoGiudice.
"Mariela is a great outfielder and our most improved player over the last three years," James said. "Ciara is a young returner who is batting around .500 this season. Tess worked hard last year to beat out our senior catcher toward the end of the season. She's really made strides."
The Vaccaro twins, Ava and Elena, have also made an impact. Ava plays second base but may join her sister in the outfield at some point this season.
"They both hit so well," said James, "and they have great attitudes."
James feels the Friars are equipped to fare well in conference play.
"The GCAC always provides really good competition," she said. "We have Trinity right down the street and Resurrection is not too far away. I think we can come out of conference games with a pretty good record.
"There's a lot of chemistry on this team," she added. "I think our biggest asset is our hitting. We have spent a lot of time in batting practice and it's showed. Our pitching and defense have been strong as well, keeping our opponents' scoring very low."