NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Coming off a State Sectional title, the West Essex High School (WEHS) softball team is looking to take baby steps in order to keep its season in prospective and get back atop the North 1 Group 3 Section.

“Our conference is really competitive—we all play each other really tough everyday,” said West Essex Head Coach Andrea Mondadori. “We’ve got to get it one day at a time and that’s how we’re taking it this year.”

The Knights will have Sami Huetter atop their rotation yet again in 2017. Fellow senior Bridget Betley and junior Amanda Schwartz join Huetter. The trio will be tasked with shutting down some of the top lineups in the State for the Lady Knights.

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“We’ve got a good group of pitchers,” said Mondadori of her staff.

Alexa Vardiman will be tasked with managing the pitching staff from behind home plate. The senior captain was impressive last season, averaging more than one run scored per game for the Lady Knights.

“She can dominate at pretty much any position, she’s an incredible hitter [who is] batting second for us,” said Mondadori.

West Essex will have a few up and comers on the left side of the infield, joining a lineup of eight accomplished seniors. Sophomore shortstop Julia Vardiman joins junior Lilly James to give some youth and speed to the Lady Knights.

“[Vardiman] plays a phenomenal shortstop [while] Lilly James is incredible at third base so we have a sophomore at shortstop and a junior at third base mixed in with all the rest of the seniors,” said Mondadori.

Senior captain Bridget Betley returns to complete the Lady Knights’ double-play combination at second base.  As previously mentioned, Betley will also do some pitching for the team coming off a year where she was named to the First Team All SEC Conference.

“She’s a really solid second baseman,” said Mondadori. “She made a lot of game saving plays for us last year and offensively she’s a really strong hitter [who] hits for power.”

Madison Gemma will move to first base for West Essex after becoming All Conference in the outfield due to team needs. Gemma is a dangerous hitter who averaged nearly one hit per game last season while adding multiple homeruns on the year. In 2017 Gemma takes the reigns as the teams cleanup hitter.

In the outfield, returning seniors Amanda Garafolo and Rachel Rodriguez will be everyday players for West Essex. In keeping with the team mentality Mondadori will employ a host of other outfielders including Gianna Waak, Alex Apito, Francesca Apito, Amanda Schwartz and Marissa Corso to keep her players fresh and opposing teams off-guard.

“We need everybody to do their part to win, we’re not a team that’s dominating in one area we all have to contribute,” said Mondadori.

Currently, the Lady Knights are fine-tuning their fundamentals with the season only a few days away. Both offense and defense has been a focus as any given game one small error can decide a critical win or loss in the Super Essex Conference.

“We’re trying to clean up every little detail,” said Mondadori. “We’re focused on hitting, obviously, because we see a lot of great pitchers. Our defense has to be a priority [as well].”

West Essex opens its season on Saturday against Bernards High School at home.