High Tech High School softball coach Ravon Anderson knows fully well that things change after you win a state championship.
After all, there have only been three in the history of Hudson County softball – and two have come in the last two years, with Hoboken winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title in 2007 and the Lasercats of High Tech taking the title last year.
So now that High Tech is a defending state sectional champion and a team that made the journey to the overall Group I state title game last June in Toms River, it’s just almost taken for granted that the Lasercats can have a repeat performance in 2009.
“I think now that the expectations are a lot higher,” said Anderson, the former Hoboken High and Rutgers University football standout who has now entrenched himself as a top-flight softball coach. “With our scrimmages, we’re playing a lot of the top teams in the state. We’ve already played Immaculate Heart Academy, Cranford and Wayne Valley. Coaches come up to me and say that they know who we are and know who our players are. We’ve been invited to a lot of in-season tournaments like Mt. St. Dominic and Cedar Grove. We were never invited to those tournaments before.”
Added Anderson, “But when you’re on the big stage, you start to get noticed a little more. We have noticeable players. We have players that others want to see play. It definitely changes the scenery. It changes a lot of things.”
The Lasercats were 26-6 last year in winning both the HCIAA Seglio and the state sectional crowns, beating rival Hoboken in both final games in thrilling fashion with late-inning hits.
“But by being a top tier team, there are teams that are going to want to come and beat us,” Anderson said. “I think we all understand that. That absolutely comes with the territory.”
Part of the reason why the Lasercats will wear the bulls’ eye all season is the play of two talented returning All-Area performers, namely pitcher Erica Colon and transplanted outfielder Justine Mateo.
Colon, who was named both the Hudson Reporter Pitcher of the Year and Most Valuable Player last year, was a downright force for the Lasercats, winning 23 games on the mound and striking out 299 batters. At the plate, she batted .460 with 39 RBI.
“Erica’s playing softball all year round,” Anderson said of the junior hurler. “Because she’s been pitching the bulk of our scrimmages, I already believe she’s in mid-season form. I’ve watched her develop and I’m so blown away with how much she gets better every year. I can’t predict it, but if she pitches better than she did last year, then the sky’s the limit.”
Mateo, who has been a three-time All-Area performer, twice at High Tech and once at Hoboken, moves from the outfield to second base. Mateo had 61 hits last year and has amassed 162 stolen bases in her three years of varsity softball.
Mateo has received a host of college scholarship offers and is deciding between offers from Dominican College or Manhattan College.
“The two of them played together all summer and got exposure in places like Colorado and Virginia,” Anderson said of Colon and Mateo. “They’re both ready for big years.”
Junior Bianca Arroyo returns as High Tech’s starting catcher. Freshman Nicollette Martinez has earned the nod as the Lasercats’ starting first baseman.
“She’s a very good left-handed hitter and she’s fitting in nicely,” Anderson said.
Mateo moves from centerfield to second base and returning starter Jennifer Martinez, a senior, is back at shortstop. Martinez batted .436 last year and made only five errors at short.
Sophomore Angie Nieves is the team’s third baseman. Nieves is a transfer from St. Joseph of the Palisades.
“I’m really excited about her,” said Anderson, who was the Hudson Reporter Softball Coach of the Year in 2008. “She’s going to be really good.”
Junior Natasha Nieves (no relation to Angie) returns to her left field slot. Natasha came through in a huge way down the stretch last season, delivering two home runs to defeat Hoboken in the HCIAA Seglio Division finale and then an extra-inning blast that knocked off the Red Wings in the state sectional title game.
Freshman Natalie Classen is the new centerfielder with a whole heaping help of promise.
“I feel really good with her out there,” Anderson said.
Junior Jessie Northgrave is the starting right fielder, with senior Erica Cruz and freshman Jovanique Meneses getting playing time off the bench. Meneses can play third base, first base and catch if needed.
The Lasercats will once again battle Hoboken for supremacy in the HCIAA Seglio, but there is a major change this year. Defending Coviello champ Holy Family Academy is now part of the Seglio due to enrollment, so there is another team in the hunt.
“I think it makes it more exciting,” Anderson said. “Right now, no one knows how good Holy Family is, but if they bring some of their basketball talent to softball, then they’re going to be good. It’s always good to have another good team in the league.”
But mark the words now. The Lasercats are the team to beat.
“We’re going to be in the hunt,” Anderson said. “No doubt.” – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.