BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Although the fans are screaming 'play ball,' Gov. Livingston athletics is on hold as they anxiously wait to hear how the season will play out.

"I don't think any coach was prepared for the current situation we are now in," said Erin Lanigan, who is in her second year as head softball coach and fourth year in the program. "Prior to schools being closed due to COVID-19, things were looking great. We had gotten outside a few times with great weather and the girls were really meshing well together.  We were seeing a lot of really good things, the girls were excited, and we were counting down the days to our first scrimmage."

Then the news came, the Governor closed the schools under an executive order until at least April 30. "That last day of practice on March 12th, having to explain to the girls that school would be closing the following day, was heartbreaking," said Lanigan. "The look of disbelief in their eyes brought tears to my own. I feel especially sorry for the seniors, who have been waiting to be the leaders and get out there and have some fun for their final season as a GL Highlander."

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In order to keep the girl's spirit alive, Lanigan created a Google Classroom as their platform to be able to "virtually coach" them throughout the days until they get back on the field together.  "Every coach on my staff is involved, posting daily softball drills and workouts (that can be done at home), along with motivational quotes and stories to keep the girls in a positive mindset."

The girls have all joined in by commenting on the posts, sharing birthday wishes to players, and just keeping the team together at time they can't be physically be together. This team, both coaches and players are "together" regardless of how separated they have to be at the moment.  

"Our hope is to get back out there and get back to doing what these girls love.  We are not giving up hope yet!" said Lanigan.

The NJSIAA is still hopeful for a season depending on the return-to-school date following the related public health guidelines. In a recent statement from the NJSIAA, they confirmed their commitment to doing whatever is possible to provide New Jersey’s student-athletes with some type of spring season.

Meanwhile, the Gov. Livingston softball team has been holding virtual catches and at home workout routines.

The Highlander softball line-up lost the following players to graduation: Jane Morabito, at second base; Juliann Lopes, starting pitcher who had one of her best years hitting last year; Jessica Schmidt, starter at third base and Sofia Mouchtaris, starting first baseman. 

"While we didn't get a chance to officially announce our Varsity roster, all the coaches were very impressed with what all players were bringing to the table," said Lanigan. "This year's roster will be a mix of all grade levels, with the hope that our Senior veterans can help lead the way for some of the newcomers."

Headlining the key returnees are senior captains Erica Kulback will be behind the plate again this year; Evan Pallitta at Center Field and one of the team's biggest threats at the plate; and Julia McConekey will be pitching and when not pitching, she will play in the outfield.  

Senior Gabrielle Lombardi will be a key player both in the outfield and at bat. Senior Catherine Lawrence will be a utility player who will see time at second base, third base and the outfield this year. Sophomore Lauren Kiesewetter, who settled into the starting spot at short stop as a freshman will be a key player this year, said Lanigan. 

Playing on varsity for the first year is senior Alisabeth Fiamingo, who will play first base and Lauren Monteiro and Sam Wallace who will get time in the outfield. 

"Our biggest strength right now is our resiliency in dealing with what is going on in the world right now and how it is affecting our season," said Lanigan. "These girls are all displaying a positive mindset, holding onto the hope that we will get out on the field, regardless of how short the season has now become."  

"Last year we overcame some tough losses on the field and I think these girls came in this year prepared and ready to prove they are real competitors.  They trained together throughout the winter, as well as last summer, and I think that paid off."

Lanigan said, "From the short amount of time in the first two weeks of March, we were able to see how well the girls were molding together, regardless of age/grade/skill level."  

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Valairco Heating & Cooling is the proud sponsor of the Highlander Athlete of the Week. Kevin McHugh, Valairco Owner and President and Berkeley Heights resident, is an alumni of Gov. Livingston High School.

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