Veteran-laden Mathews eyes regional return
By Greg Gulas
The Mathews High School softball team has advanced to regional play in six of the past seven seasons.
In three seasons as Mustangs head coach, Jim Nicula has a 69-19 record. With a veteran unit returning this season, Nicula is hoping his team can duplicate the success it enjoyed in 2012 when the Mustangs finished as Division IV state runner-up.
Speaking at Monday’s Curbstone Coaches weekly luncheon, Nicula said the Mahoning Valley has a bevy of softball talent with quite a few area teams primed to make a tournament run.
“Fast-pitch softball in our area is very much alive,” Nicula said. “Fast-pitch is growing by leaps and bounds, despite the weather that we have.”
Being flexible when the weather wreaks havoc on a season is Nicula’s specialty.
“Northeast Ohio is really tough, so you have to be creative with your kids to keep their interest peaked until you get toward the latter part of April when the weather breaks,” Nicula said. “That’s one of the things I try to do by getting into these various tournaments in different parts of the country.”
The Mustangs are three-time, defending Northern Athletic Conference champions. The Mustangs have eight seniors (five of whom started as freshmen) and two juniors that Nicula will count on this season for leadership.
His four-year starters are shortstop Maddie Williams; third baseman Maddy Nicula; catcher Jenna Siefert; center fielder Paula Sponseler; and pitcher Cheyenne Eggens.
Eggens is 63-8 over three varsity campaigns and has signed a national letter-of-intent to play softball next season for the University of South Florida. Ken Eriksen, a Team USA and Olympic gold-medal winning coach, is the South Florida coach.
Other Mustangs seniors are second baseman Karli Romesberg, designated player Marissa O’Dell and utility player Brittany Brown.
Juniors are first baseman Meredith Grimes and right fielder Lenna Hoff.
“In order to get back to regionals, we must stay focused and remain confident,” Nicula said. “We cannot take anything or any opponent for granted.”
A 12-U coach as well, Nicula said that it is important that a high school program have a feeder system.
“I love working with the little kids,” Nicula said. “I think any good, strong program, regardless of what the sport is, has great feeder programs and in fast-pitch, that’s very important to have as well.”
An assistant football coach under Mustangs head coach Mike Palumbo, Nicula said Austintown Fitch, Canfield, Poland, Ursuline, LaBrae, Champion, South Range, Columbiana, Western Reserve and Windham are area programs looking to make a lot of noise.
Nicula is assisted by Alesha (Argeras) Perry, a former member of the Greek national girls fastpitch softball team who made it to the final cut for the 2004 Olympics. His other assistants are Bill Eggens, Steve Sponseler and Tom Williams.
Nicula’s team will open their season on April 1 at home against McDonald.
Next week, Joe Scalzo, award-winning sportswriter for The Vindicator will be guest speaker.