There are a number of unknowns entering this return-to-spring sports season of 2021.
On the softball diamond, however, Lowell High junior Giana LaCedra returns as the state’s two-time Gatorade Player of the Year.
Although the pandemic robbed her of a sophomore season, the 5-foot-7-inch righthander did not let the game pass her by. LaCedra played for the Rhode Island Thunder 18U team before joining the New Jersey Intensity 18U KOD Premier travel team last fall.
“It was a lot of fun,” said LaCedra, who participated in tournaments as far away as Texas.
“The majority of my teammates are actually from Florida so that was interesting having a big mix of girls and a new atmosphere because I’ve played with the same teams for such a long time.”
When fall ball was complete, LaCedra turned her attention to the 2021 high school season and started to arrange workouts with her teammates in January. The Raiders got in their swings at GameTime Sports and Fitness in Lowell on the weekends. Then, during the week, the players chipped in $5 apiece to rent a half soccer field at the Tyngsboro Sports Center to work on fielding.
“I’m really excited for this year, especially having all that time in captains’ practices working with the girls,” said LaCedra, who has verbally committed to East Carolina University. “We have a lot of potential.”
In 2019, LaCedra was named the Merrimack Valley Conference MVP after striking out 217 hitters in 147 innings while compiling a 1.00 earned run average.
Lowell coach Bo Durso believes his ace will be even better in 2021 with some added velocity.
“You wouldn’t think she throws as hard as she does because she’s a tiny little thing,” said Durso. “But she generates some speed and movement.”
Elsewhere in the MVC, 2019 Division 1 finalist Methuen is led by senior Stephanie Tardugno, a returning Globe All-Scholastic who has committed to Saint Anselm. The senior stayed busy by playing for the Northeast Hurricanes 18U team in the summer before playing soccer for the Rangers and softball for the RIP City Gold National team in the fall. She was also a conference All-Star on the basketball court this past winter.
“I love the grind,” said Tardugno. “I honestly don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t busy all the time. Whenever I have a day off, I feel like I should be doing something.”
Tardugno, Methuen’s only returning starter from 2019, is shifting from center field to shortstop as a senior. She is not unfamiliar with the position — she played short from fourth grade until her freshman year.
Like Lowell, Newton North also was ousted by Methuen in the 2019 North tournament. But the Tigers welcome back junior Ella Maher, who as a freshman, was the Bay State Conference co-MVP. A pitcher/middle infielder, Mayer compiled a 2.70 ERA in 75.1 innings of work and a .969 fielding percentage.
Last fall, Maher was a BSC All-Star in field hockey while also starring on the Concord Raiders 18U Premier Gold team. As winter transitioned into Fall II, she focused on volleyball instead of basketball.
“Our volleyball team is phenomenal so it gives you an idea of how great of an athlete she is,” said Newton North softball coach Lauren Baugher.
At Newton South, senior center fielder Stephanie Little spent the past two years honing her ability as a switch hitter; that should concern foes: she hit .688 in 2019.
As a freshman and sophomore, Little started making the switch by slapping as a lefty. When she mentioned that to her 18U Metrowest Thunder coach, he suggested that she only bat lefthanded for the club.
“It was a fun challenge for sure, I definitely struck out a bunch at first,” said Little. “But then I started hitting it and even if it wasn’t good contact, I was still able to get it in play and usually beat it out.”
▪ Taunton senior pitcher Kelsey White has faced her own unique circumstances in a return to the diamond; the 2019 Hockomock MVP was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, sustained playing basketball, at the start of the pandemic.
“I had surgery in January of 2020 and then went to physical therapy up until everything got shut down in March and then I was working with a family friend to kind of continue those exercises during the shutdown, so I was still getting the physical exercise I needed in order to be cleared for fall ball,” said White.
White was cleared for fall ball and played for the Rhode Island Thunder Gold 18U team although she made the decision to not run the bases to protect her knee.
▪ Another returning Globe All-Scholastic, Norton’s Destiny McGrath, focused on getting better.
“I took the situation and used it as motivation to want to improve myself by working out at home or trying to get out onto the field to practice as much as possible” said McGrath, who hit .500 with six home runs in 2019.
“I played on a club team in the summer and the fall called BNB Rox and doing that helped to bring some normalcy back to this situation with everything going on,” McGrath said. “To be able to do that brought a lot of people together during a really stressful time and we were glad to be able to be playing the game.”
Games to watch
Wednesday, No. 3 Bridgewater-Raynham at No. 14 St. Mary’s (3:45 p.m.) — A D3 North finalist in 2019, the Spartans host the D1 Trojans.
Thursday, Arlington Catholic at No. 4 Austin Prep (3:30 p.m.) — Prep swept the two contests against their Catholic Central foe in 2019.
Friday, Natick at No. 13 Newton North (3:45 p.m.) — In the 2019 season finale, the Red Hawks handed the Tigers their third loss of the year and will look to challenge NN’s supremacy in the Bay State Conference.
Monday, No. 7 Norton at Bellingham (3:45 p.m.) — The defending Tri-Valley League champion Lancers will have their hands full against the challenging Blackhawks.
Monday, Walpole at Braintree (3:45 p.m.) — The Wamps edged out Walpole for the Bay State Herget title in 2019.
Correspondent Colin Bannen also contributed.