PDS Softball Enjoys Competitive Campaign In Coach Lano’s Swan Song with Program
SWINGING AWAY: Princeton Day School softball player Julie Patterson takes a swing in a game this season. Senior catcher and co-captain Patterson was a stalwart for the program over the last four seasons, providing leadership and production from day one as a freshman. PDS posted a 2-8 record this spring. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Paul Lano made a promise when he took the helm of the Princeton Day School softball team in 2012.
“When I came into the program they only had eight players the year before, they had to borrow a player from Stuart Country Day to play games so they were really struggling,” said PDS head coach Lano.
“I came to the athletic department and said give me a year or so and I will build it back up. I will get players to come out and play. I had 15, 17 players at times. I was able to build the program back up to where it needs to be in order to become relevant.”
With this spring turning out to be Lano’s swan song as he will be leaving PDS to become the assistant coach of the Rutgers-Camden women’s volleyball team, his final Panther squad lived up to his word, producing some competitive play with a mix of promising newcomers and senior stalwarts.
“What we saw progress in was the newcomers to the team, they were very impressive,” said Lano, whose team went 2-8 this spring.
“It was just fun to watch these new kids come into the game and embrace the difficulties and manage them well.”
Freshmen Courtney Richter and Veronica Vogelman made a lot of progress as they took up softball.
“Courtney and Ronnie were both able to hit the ball as freshmen; that is a rarity, especially when both of them are new to the game,” said Lano.
“They were just going off of what they learned immediately. Courtney had more than one multiple hit game. She also played second base, third, first and outfield. She was willing to play anywhere we needed her. Ronnie never ceases to amaze me; I just knew that she was hearing and understanding everything I was telling her about hitting. She was able to put it into action and get results. She was also the first switch hitter in PDS softball history; she got hits from both side of the plate.”
With the graduation of senior stalwart Julie Patterson, the Panthers are losing one of the best players in their history.
“Julie is a pillar of the program; she has been the best player on this team all four years because of her experience and the position she plays,” said Lano, noting that Patterson is heading to Wilkes University where she will be playing for its women’s hockey program.
“She is the best catcher I have seen come through there at PDS. There is no debate about Julie’s value and contribution. You never really understand the value of water until the well is dry. When you don’t have a really good catcher, you don’t know what you are doing without and then when you have one, you know you have it good. Julie had a nice hitting streak too, I think she got a hit in every game she played this year.”
Another senior, Elisabeth Berman, has made a big contribution over the last four years.
“Elisabeth is terribly special to me; she is an incredible person, player, kid, student athlete, and contributor,” said Lano.
“We just completed seven seasons together because she has played volleyball for me for three years. She will always do what she is asked to do. In those first two years, Elisabeth’s value was unmeasured, As a freshman she stepped into that circle because we had no one else to pitch. She had to do the pitching and even though she didn’t love that, she did it for the team. For her junior year, another pitcher came in Gia Massari, but she was only with us for one year. This year Elisabeth came in to close the games out and did a terrific job. She was the shortstop when she wasn’t pitching.”
Senior Brooke Smukler, a soccer and basketball star, emerged as a solid performer in the circle for the Panthers.
“Brooke basically carried us these last two years pitching, what an amazing job she did with the minimal amount of work put in,” said Lano, noting that Smukler is busy the rest of the year with her other sports.
“I was impressed with what she was able to do last year, finally getting over some injuries and having a pitching coach, Angela Parascando, work with her through the preseason. She showed me stuff I didn’t really expect from her. This year, she even got better.”
PDS boasted an unsung hero with the right stuff in senior Hailey Young. “The thing about Hailey is that she is the poster child for how to be a good student athlete; she is wonderful,” said Lano.
“She never let us down in anything. She is always the first one to practice and the last to leave. She always made sure that the player chores were completed and would do them herself when they weren’t. The last two seasons, she served as a co-captain with Julie. Hailey played multiple positions for us. She was basically our center fielder and she would become the shortstop when Elisabeth pitched. Then we figured out that Ronnie could play the outfield fairly well so we moved Hailey to first base.”
While Lano is excited to move on to college volleyball, it was tough for him to leave the student-athletes he coached at PDS.
“I am back at the college level. I never thought I was going to get another shot and I feel very fortunate that I did,” said Lano, who previously coached the Rider University women’s volleyball team.
“It is the second college volleyball opportunity I have gotten and I am looking forward to it. I feel very lucky; it is the only thing that would pull me away from PDS.”