The Robbinsville High softball team has exactly one senior on the roster this spring.
And, boy, is Sara Motusesky hungry for a state title.
“My freshman and sophomore year, we got right to the state final and ended up losing,” the senior outfielder said. “That’s continued to be my goal throughout this entire thing, and I want to get it this last year. Nobody really understands the whole journey I’ve been through with this team. But I think everybody here knows what it takes to get that championship.”
The Ravens actually return as defending champion of the Mercer County Tournament, but their state run was halted when top-seeded Robbinsville was stunned by 8th-seeded Voorhees, 3-0, in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals.
“It was great winning counties, but I know that (state loss) makes me a lot more hungry to get at least to the sectional final,” Motusesky said. “Last year was definitely a blow, but I knew coming into this season it wasn’t going to faze us. We have the same goals as always.”
Which is to win every title possible, as Robbinsville has been one of the county’s top programs over the past decade.
“That’s definitely a big part of our game,” Motusesky said of the tradition. “I knew coming in as a freshman that softball had a good image, and I feel that has never changed throughout the years. I’m happy to be part of a team that’s so successful every single year.”
Five seniors and four starters graduated from last year’s 19-5 team, but there is a lot of young talent back, as Lisa Rich played plenty of freshmen in her first season as head coach. Three 9th-graders were in the starting lineup, and two others got varsity experience.
“I have high hopes this year,” Rich said. “I feel like we have a lot of good team chemistry with a lot of returning players from varsity. We have a lot of young leadership this year; I’m looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.
“We lost some really good leadership with our seniors who graduated, but this year I think we’ll bounce back with that. I really feel like people are stepping up, like (sophomores) Alyssa Whitman, Olivia Moser (and juniors) Sophie Billings, Kate Hunter. I’m not too worried about filling the shoes. They’re just going to fit a little bit different this year.”
Hunter is one of two new pitchers Robbinsville will count on, along with sophomore Mackenzie Medders. Hunter is a right-hander, and Medders a lefty. With more height, Hunter has better velocity, but Rich likes that contrast.
“It’s really exciting to see them,” she said. “The speed difference is great. They do throw different pitches, but just the fact they are lefty and righty gives us a lot of versatility. It’s going to be a little bit of figuring it out as we go, but I’m very excited to see how we can match those two up throughout the year and get success.”
How quickly the pitching comes along could make the difference for Robbinsville, which has a more balanced lineup, according to Rich. The Ravens have the fastest girl in the CVC from home to first in sophomore Chelsea Manto, and sprinkle in more speed throughout the batting order.
‘We’re just looking at everything in a positive way. We’ve got some great players on this team and we’ll look to make a run, as always.’
Rich hopes to use that to apply more pressure on teams than she did in 2016.
“Last year was my first year as a head coach, and I was a little hesitant at first just to see what we were up against,” she said. “But now that I kind of know more of who we have and who we’re playing against, I really want to make it a point for us to be as aggressive as possible. A lot of my girls want to play in college, in order to be successful there you have to be aggressive, so I’m really hoping to get that be a focal point for us.”
Motusesky agreed, saying that, “definitely our speed is a strong suit. We’ve got a young team but we’re so fast. I think our baserunning and our hitting is going to be really good this year.”
But the coach feels Robbinsville will have more than just burners on the base paths.
“We’re introducing some power into the lineup, which is different than our normal small ball team,” Rich said. “I’m hoping to have a lot more versatility throughout the lineup this year than we’ve had in the past.”
There have been some hot battles for varsity spots. Due to several upperclassmen leaving the team, the Ravens could not field a JV squad so there are 17 players on varsity.
Sophomore Shea Walsh returns as catcher, Moser is at first and Whitman is battling sophomore newcomer Allie Taylor for the second base job.
“There’s a good competition going on there with those two,” Rich said.
Billings moved from outfield to third base, while sophomore newcomer Alexa Petito and freshman Ashley Veisz may see time there as well.
Sophomore Sarah Mazalewski is in leftfield, Motusesky returns at center while junior Emily Rubino and sophomore Devon Witt will see time in right. Medders, sophomore Jaclyn Goodman and Billings can also play the outfield. Freshman Gina Mollica will provide middle infield depth if she is able to return from a wrist injury.
Rich feels she went through some growing pains as a first-year coach and attended several clinics in the off-season. She also feels that things have run smoother this spring because she knows the players better after being hired three weeks before last season started.
“I had never met 90 percent of my players, none of them were in my classes in school,” Rich said. “They came in to try out on Day One, and I don’t even know their names. That was the most difficult hurdle to get over. It’s tough to build a coaching-player relationship in two weeks before you open with Steinert.
“That’s been a big progression this year, having them from last year, getting to know them more. Having them understand me and my coaching style more will help us this year.”
As usual, having talent can be the biggest difference-maker, and the Ravens seem in good shape there.
“We’re just looking at everything in a positive way,” Motusesky said. “We’ve got some great players on this team and we’ll look to make a run, as always.”
If Motusesky has her way, it will be a run like no other in her high school career.