Herb Melendez has spent more than two decades coaching softball at various levels in the New York City tri-state area. Last summer, his efforts were rewarded when, for the first time, he was handed the reins of his own college program. He was named the seventh head coach in Felician University history in July 2019.
Melendez was a Golden Falcon assistant in 2012 and 2013 and had twice served as a collegiate interim head coach.
"Felician gave me my first non-volunteer college position and I have never forgotten that," Melendez said. "It was the beginning of a road which led to stops in all three NCAA Division and allowed me to learn a great deal along the way. Now I have the chance to run my own program and give back to Felician and bring a presence at the top of a strong Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference."
Throughout the fall season and early spring workouts, Melendez has been pleased with the ability of his veteran players to handle the transition. The Golden Falcon upperclass players have integrated the newcomers successfully in preparation for the Feb. 28 season opener.
"Our team has talented players with different skills," Melendez said. "We have worked hard at understanding how to bring our skills together. In the fall it was similar to laying out a puzzle for the first time, but we quickly learned and jumped in right away. So I'm super-excited to get started and see what we can accomplish."
One of the biggest changes that Felician has made under its new regime is to revamp the defense. Some newcomers will play immediately, but there will also be familiar faces in different places.
"Winning starts with great defense," Melendez said. "Ours is new and different but our players have owned the adjustments. I believe our overall mental focus has improved as well. I have thrown a lot at them, both on and off the field, pushing them to become more detail-oriented. We'll continue to get better the more we play."
Melendez has kept the Golden Falcons focused on daily goals. He is hopeful this approach will lead to positive results in the bigger picture.
"Since day one we have gone with the mantra of one pitch, one at-bat, one inning at a time," he said. "If we believe in ourselves and our skills, and have the will to do great things, the results will take care of themselves. We bring the same message to our fans: believe in us!"
PITCHERS: Felician will feature a five-headed pitching staff in 2020, headed by fifth-year senior Erin Powers (Aberdeen, N.J./Matawan Regional). After a year off, Powers will look to guide a stable of youngsters through the rigors of a 54-game season.
Sophomores Trinity Garcia (West Covina, Calif./West Covina) and Martarina Crumb (Branchville, N.J./Sussex Tech) logged the bulk of the innings last season and return tested and ready. Crumb is the only left-hander on the staff. The Golden Falcons will be bolstered in the circle by the additions of freshmen Alexis De La Cruz (San Jacinto, Calif./San Jacinto) and Abby Poirot (Winsted, Conn./St. Paul).
INFIELD: Record-setting slugger and senior co-captain Nicole Spiegelberg (Blauvelt, N.Y./Tappan Zee), the only two-time all-region player in program history, returns at first base. At the opposite corner, Ribaudo and sophomore co-captain Krystina Lorch (Hemet, Calif./West Valley) will see time at third base, with the other possibly assuming the designated player role. Junior C.J. Apacible (Long Beach, Calif./Lakewood) shifts from shortstop to second base, and freshman Johanna Rivera (Cliffside Park, N.J./Mount St. Dominic Academy) is the leading shortstop candidate.
"Nicole is a game changer," Melendez said. "She has a bat that can alter any game, in or out of conference. She is our rock. Putting Johanna at shortstop gives us two athletic middle infielders with good range. Krystina is capable of playing all over the diamond."
OUTFIELD: Freshman Vienna Chierchia (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) takes over for all-region selection Steph Donah in center field. Senior Monica Laverty (Lyndhurst, N.J./Lyndhurst) is the favorite to lock down the left field spot and bat leadoff. Another senior, Isabel Davis (Chula Vista, Calif./Eastlake) is a top candidate in right field, but De La Cruz will challenge when not pitching. Freshman Jailene Serrano (Bloomfield, N.J./Bloomfield) provides depth and a dangerous bat in late-game situations.
"Monica brings a never-quit approach to the plate," Melendez said. "We've added some new wrinkles to her game. Vienna offers a power bat and brings great energy to everything she does."