CEDAR GROVE, NJ - As a freshman, she stepped behind the plate in perhaps the most famous venue in American sports, Jules Cicala might have been a 15-year-old high school freshman, but she was never intimidated, despite the view from home plate, to the pitcher’s mound.
Waiting to throw a pitch to Cicala was Mia Faieta, a sophomore pitcher and teammate of Jules, at Cedar Grove High School. And while nearly 40,000 fans watched, including hundreds of family and friends in the stands at Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, on that June 10, 2017 evening, Cicala’s smile made it clear that she was ready for the moment.
Faieta, admittedly nervous, threw a perfect ceremonial first pitch at the Stadium. Once she squeezed the ball, Cicala popped up from behind the plate and ran to her batterymate. It was Mia’s night, as the New York Yankees had invited her to throw out the first pitch before a game with the Baltimore Orioles after she had struck out all 21 batters she faced in a state tournament game a few weeks earlier.
Fast forward three years and Cicala, now a high school senior, has made a major decision in her life. She will continue playing softball on the NCAA, Division 2 collegiate level, starting in September, 2020, at Post University, in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Jules made it official on Nov. 13, at Cedar Grove High School and was joined by teammate Gianna Kubu, who announced her college plans as well.
Playing at the next level was something that Cicala relished.
“Post, for me, really felt like home,” said Cicala. “It was the feeling of ‘this is where I want to be’ and ‘this is where I am going to start the next chapter of my life.’ Every person I met, from the admissions office to students walking on campus, were smiling and welcoming.
‘I knew that I wanted to take my softball career to the next level and Coach Tracey (Post head coach Tracey Garofalo) helped make my decision easy. She is a fantastic coach, and I am so excited to be playing under her.”
Cicala has gone from the precocious freshman with the perpetual smile to a mature young woman, with a tenacity for competition, along with an incredibly consistent bat. Yet, she still has that same smile, reflecting a happy person.
Cedar Grove head softball coach Nicole Velardi was pleased for Cicala and Kubu.
“They are both a vital part of keeping the program at a championship level,” said Velardi of Cicala and Kubu. “They have helped lead us to 75 wins over the past three seasons, along with three sectional titles, two Group 1 state championships, two league championships, one Essex County Tournament and 2 Tournament of Champions appearances.
“Jules and Gianna are both talented players, dedicated students, loyal teammates and most of all, good people who I know will go on to become great women. But until then, we have a title to defend (in 2020).”
Jules, the daughter of Michelle and Phil Cicala, batted .349 last season with 30 hits, 12 doubles, four triples and 29 RBI.
Along the way Cicala was the main batterymate for one of the best pitchers in NJ high school history, in Faieta, who is now a freshman at St. John’s University.
Cicala will see a familiar face when she begins her studies at Post next fall.
“One of the factors that made my decision easy was Bridget Betley,” said Cicala of the former West Essex softball star, who is a junior at Post. “I remember playing against her my freshman year. At the time, I was scared of her, but now we have a great relationship. I am so excited to spend next year with her as a mentor, teammate, and best friend. I am so excited for the next four years at Post University.”
Jules’ mom, Michelle, was also pleased with her daughter’s choice.
“When we looked at other colleges, there wasn’t that excitement that came when we visited Post University,” said Michelle. “Everything seemed to click, from the coach to the facility. And to have a friend that you play travel ball with as a junior, at the school, definitely helps.
“The future is extremely bright for Jules, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.”
TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.
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