A year ago, Jen Duell and Dom Lombardozzi were poised to replace veteran coaches in Platt softball and Sheehan baseball.
Mike Devine was about to do the same in Cheshire boys lacrosse.
In Southington, veteran shoes were being filled in boys tennis and girls lacrosse by, respectively, Steven Jasulavic and Dave Sargent.
That 2020 rookie coaching class, of course, never got off the sideline due to the pandemic, which wound up forcing the entire spring season to be cancelled.
A year later, with opening day of 2021 looming on Saturday, overdue debuts are about to made.
Duell, a seven-year assistant under previous Platt softball coach Trish Wodatch, fills out her first lineup card on Saturday when the Panthers open up the season against Wilcox Tech.
“It feels awesome to be back and I'm really excited,” said the 30-year-old Duell. “We have a very young program and have only five players who have every played Platt softball before and two that have varsity experience. We are young across the board.”
Colleen Gaffey and Jenixza Febles will be Duell’s assistants. Platt has 25 athletes between their JV and varsity rosters.
“The first week of practice has been great and I’m getting to know my freshmen and sophomores,” Duell said. “I have two senior captains, a junior and the rest are freshmen and sophomores that have never experienced playing in a high school program.”
The two Platt seniors are catcher/shortstop Tori Talento and third baseman Adriana Aponte.
“I’ve been coaching a long time outside of high school, but there has been a lot of administration stuff I’ve had to learn,” Duell said. “With COVID on top of it, it’s been a learning curve for me. But to step on the field and do what I love to do, it’s just exciting to get to that point.”
Dom Lombardozzi takes the reins of the Sheehan baseball program nearly two full years after getting the job in June 2019, when his checkered predecessor Matt Altieri retired.
Lombardozzi, 35, opens the season on Saturday at Neubauer Field against Xavier.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Lombardozzi said. “The kids have been really receptive to all of the new policies. They want to play baseball, work hard and are just excited to be here. To this point, I’m very pleased.”
Lombardozzi has already had a big week. He and his wife welcomed a baby girl, Sophia, on Friday.
Lombardozzi, who played baseball when he attended Sheehan, was an assistant coach at his alma mater for 12 years.
He said he will be relying on 10 seniors this season who have become team leaders in their own ways.
“Unless you were a freshman that played two years ago, the seniors are the only ones with experience,” Lombardozzi said. “We were lucky to have sophomores that had good varsity time and we are fairly experienced.”
Last year, spring sports were shutdown two days before pitchers and catchers were due to report. Lombardozzi stayed in touch with his team through Google classroom. Lombardozzi would update his team with every CIAC update that was handed down, including the ones that will govern the 2021 season.
“We want to make sure we are working diligently to follow COVID protocols,” Lombardozzi said. “If we go into quarantine, we will miss a third of the season. I’ve been impressed with the team so far. They’ve worked really hard and we will be ready to go on Day 1 despite not being able to work with them for two years.”
The Sheehan captains for 2021 are shortstop Joe Amarone, infielder Nate Cerasale and catcher Bill Gorry.
“From a life standpoint, I think the year off made everyone take a step back and realize what is important, like family and friends and a group of people you can rely on,” Lombardozzi said. “That translates to baseball as well. You don’t realize what you miss until it’s gone, and (in) losing an entire season the players experienced a hardship, and for them to overcome it is really impressive for high school kids.
“I'm excited and looking forward to getting started. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
In Cheshire, former boys lacrosse assistant Mike Devine was named head varsity coach in June 2019. Devine, an All-American during his Cheshire High School days, replaces the legendary he played under: Rich Pulisciano.
“It feels great and a long time coming,” Devine said. “I’m excited for the kids. They’ve been waiting for this season for a long time and have done a great job keeping a positive mindset. They are finding the good in everything.”
Devine, Pulisciano’s assistant from 2015-19, said he was excited to see his players together starting on March 27.
“You had to pinch yourself a little bit at the first practice,” Devine said. “The kids have really bought into the protocols and have come in with the same energy every day. They’ve done everything they could to better themselves.
“Nothing is guaranteed this season and we are leaving everything out there every practice. These guys are giving everything they can.”
Devine said he’s taking positives in everything, with little wins each day.
Devine’s varsity assistants are Quincy Pecora and Nick Palladino. The senior captains are attacker Brian Bouwman and defenseman Nick DiDomizio.
Cheshire opens up the season on Saturday at home against Southington.
“There’s more appreciation for the game and for teammates and just for the grind itself,” Devine said. “It’s a short, fast-paced season. We have an opportunity to play and we are not going to waste a second.”
The Southington boys tennis team will have a new coach upon taking the court on April 15: Steven Jasulavic.
Jasulavic is unlike his four “rookie” cohorts. He’s been a head coach before.
“It feels great to be coaching again,” Jasulavic said. “It’s not my first go-around having coached for 19 years. Then I took a year off and realized how much I missed it.”
Jasulavic said his athletes have been receptive and it’s been a positive start of the year for Southington.
The captains are singles player Kajetan Naworol and doubles player Pio Castellano. They’ll lead the Blue Knights through an 18-match campaign.
“Kids have been away from it so long,” Jasulavic said. “The kids are so passionate about the sport they haven’t played in two years. I’m learning them and they are learning me. We are returning one player with varsity experience.”
Jasulavic’s assistant is Antonio Raniolo.
“We are excited to be out there and it’s an exciting fresh start,” Jasulavic said.
Dave Sargent enters his first season as the Southington girls lacrosse team. He replaced Jill Pomposi following the 2019 season.
“Things are going well,” Sargent said. “Everyone is excited to be back and as coaches we are excited to be there. We are happy to get in whatever we can this spring. The CIAC is givng us 16 games and we are optimistic we will get all of the games in. The most important thing is to get on the field and having a chance to play after what happened last season.”
Southington has 44 athletes in across its JV and varsity programs. The pandemic has trimmed the Blue Knights’ numbers by about 10-15 girls.
“The first practice we had was great,” Sargent said. “Everyone’s mood was great. You can’t replicate that type of enthusiasm. It was awesome to be out there. We were missing the seniors from last year. They did a good job setting up the work ethic and leadership for this group.
“The girls understand how fragile the season is,” he added. “It can be taken away so quickly, so every day out there is a win.”
The Southington captains include CCSU-bound Talie Richardson, Salve Regina-bound Kayli Garcia and fellow senior Grace DellaVecchia. Southington opens up at home against Northwest Catholic on Saturday.