Mildred Piscopo has been coaching the Poly Prep softball team for 21 years with plenty of success. The Blue Devils are a perennial powerhouse in the Ivy League and always fair well in the NYSAISAA playoffs.
But this team, the core group she’s had now for four or five years, has been exceptional. So much so that Poly softball alumni – particularly ones from championship teams in the late 1990s – come to games now with questions.
“Is this team better than we were?” Piscopo said her former players ask.
She always dodges the question with a witty reply. There’s one thing for certain, though. If this isn’t the best Blue Devils squad in the last two decades, then it’s absolutely in the discussion. Poly Prep has won three straight Ivy League and NYSAISAA championships and is currently 7−0 in league play this season.
Senior Stephanie Caso is the team’s leadoff hitter and leader. The University of Pennsylvania−bound shortstop is excellent in the field and has improved her hitting every year. Juniors Victoria Capozucca and Erica Sollazzo split time in the circle and also make up the middle of the team’s batting order. They’re the ones who drive in Caso and No. 2 hitter and centerfielder Christa Wojcik.
There really isn’t a weakness in the field, either, and defense can be the difference between an average softball team and a good one and a good softball team and a great one.
“I’ve had years where you cringe when a ball is hit in a certain direction,” Piscopo said.
This is not one of them. But the main thing that separates this team from the Poly teams of the past is its closeness and chemistry. The Blue Devils have played together for an uncommonly long time. Caso and Capozucca played varsity as eighth graders and Sollazzo came on as a freshman. Wojcik, a junior, joined them last year. Sollazzo and Caso have also played together since tee ball and Capozucca and Sollazzo play travel softball with the NY Panthers.
“Whatever we do, it’s fun to be with them,” Piscopo said. “They all support each other. They respect each other. Sometimes, kids can hate the person who’s better than them and plays the same position.”
Not this group. It’s very tight−knit. The Blue Devils have a lot of laughs, like after a 5−2 win against Fieldston in the Bronx on Wednesday. Caso was posing for pictures with a photographer and she was getting constant ribbing from her teammates.
“We are so close,” Capozucca said. “When we see each other in the halls at school, we just smile and we know what each other is thinking.”
Their closeness gives them constant motivation. Poly Prep wins many league games by lopsided scores, so it can be hard to keep focus. But rarely does Piscopo have an issue with this group.
“I look forward to going to practice,” Sollazzo said.
It probably helps that the Blue Devils have gone as far as they possibly could in the last three seasons. The last time they didn’t win an Ivy League or NYSAISAA championship was when Caso was in eighth grade. That was a long time ago for someone about to graduate high school, but it has lingered in her memory.
“I don’t do well with losing,” she said. “I remember the losses.”