CEDAR GROVE, NJ – She was a key part of last year’s State Championship team and hopes to repeat the feat this year.  She leads her team in hits and runs and is a defensive force at centerfield.  Rianna Marinelli is our TAP into Verona/Cedar Grove Panther Athlete of the Week.

“It feels great to have my hard work be recognized,” Marinelli said of her Athlete of the Week nomination.  “I work very hard at softball.   I play during the off season and I workout during the winter.”

Her hard work clearly pays off as she is currently batting .368, leading  her team in hits (21) and tied for the most runs scored (15).  The Panthers are currently 11-9 for the season and just defeated Millburn 4-0 in the first round of the Essex County Tournament on Saturday with Marinelli going 2-for-3.  However, she said the highlight of the season so far was defeating Verona in the “Lace Up for Pediatric Cancer” charity game on April 21.

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“Beating Verona under the lights was a highlight because it was a very neck-in-neck game going into extra innings and we ended up pulling off the win,”she said.  “Plus it was all for a good cause.”

Marinelli acknowledged her team faces challenges this year after losing several key seniors last year.  “We had a lot of spaces and gaps to fill because we lost Erin Stacevicz at short stop, but Kailey Weinstein is there at second now doing a great job,” she noted. “And we had openings at catcher and left field, but everyone has stepped up and is doing what they need to do for the team.”

The Panthers have also been adjusting to a new head coach in Nicole Velardi.  “I love her.  She’s really good and she’s young so we can relate to her,” Marinelli said.  “She works us hard.  She’s played softball her whole life so she knows a lot about the game.”

On the immediate horizon for the Panthers is the Essex County Tournament.  After defeating Millburn, No. 6 Cedar Grove will take on No. 3 Nutley in the quarterfinals.  “A county title would be great to take too and we will see some tough competition like the Mount, West Essex and Nutley,” Marinelli explained.  “If we play hard, we can do well.”

Looking ahead, Marinelli said she feels the pressure of their state championship title.  “A state title is a lot to live up to, but I think going back-to-back is something to strive for and is attainable if we work hard,” she noted.  “My personal challenge is to try and repeat and to keep motivated and keep the team pumped so we can play as well as we did last year.”

Editor's Note: The "Athlete of the Week" is a weekly reoccurring feature story that highlights an individual student-athlete's success. The Cedar Grove High School Athlete of the Week is selected with the assistance of the school's athletic director and coaching staff.