Daniella Velluzzi has had sweaty palms and sore knees throughout her softball career.
On Saturday, she had to overcome goosebumps after walking to the circle in the seventh round.
Dumont found himself three outs from beating Ramsey to complete one of the biggest upsets in Bergen County tournament history. Velluzzi came back to protect a one-point lead.
“I literally got chills,” Velluzzi said. “Everyone was cheering. It was crazy. Some of our players from last year were there to watch. We were all so excited.”
The excitement level rose even higher after Velluzzi retired the team in order. Not only did that cap a 27-of-6 upset in the first round. He avenged a loss earlier in the week for the senior right-hander.
Another celebration took place hours later after her selection as Female Athlete of the Week. One of the first people to hear the news was his older cousin, Jennifer Sweeney. The Scranton ace and former Dumont star won the same honor in 2016.
“She was my inspiration through everything,” Velluzzi said. “I always strive to do as well as her, so I’m happy to be up there with her.”
Velluzzi admits her family history was both a blessing and a curse. This pushed her to improve and play with older girls, but she had high expectations to live up to this success.
Getting onto the pitch turned out to be the real hurdle. His path to diamond was delayed by three surgeries – one on his left knee and two on his right – between the eighth and ninth grades. The recovery seemed long and tedious for the teenage outdoorsman. She missed her first season, as well as valuable time with her teammates.
“My kneecaps weren’t staying up, so they were always coming out,” Velluzzi said. “So I tore my ligament and they were still dislocating.”
Her college debut was pushed back another year by COVID, which wiped out the 2020 season. She pitched 110 innings as a junior and returned as one of two starters returning this spring.
“I think this year she’s more confident in what she’s doing,” coach Kendal George said. “Last year she was always saying she had sweaty palms when it was time to throw. This year she wants the ball all the time and wants to be in charge. I think she’s grown a lot in a year .”
It can be easy to come into Ramsey with a defeatist mindset, but George said his team was too young to know more. The Huskies nearly beat Ramsey last Monday — going down 6-5 after taking a lead in the seventh — so they didn’t feel outclassed heading into the rematch.
Velluzzi entered Saturday’s game with a better understanding of how to attack the lineup, scattering three runs over seven innings. George applauded her for the way she looked after the young players.
“I think it’s very important,” Velluzzi said. “We don’t want them to be afraid of us, so we try to include them in everything. They love spending time with us. They are comfortable with us, ask questions and come to see us.”
As his softball career draws to a close, it won’t be the last time Velluzzi lends him a helping hand. Next year, she will be heading to the University of Delaware to pursue a career in elementary education. His neighbors have young children and Velluzzi enjoys spending time with them and watching them learn.
“I love little kids,” Velluzzi said. “I wanted to be a teacher since I was little because my teachers were the best ever.”
Sport: Soft ball
The school: Dumont
Classroom: Senior. Age: 18
Achievement: Velluzzi led Dumont upset against Ramsey by allowing three runs over seven innings in a Bergen County tournament game. She hit .545 on the week after going 1 for 3 with an RBI on Saturday against the Rams.
Also nominated: Sophia Brencovich of Glen Rock, Claire Guitmann of Tenafly, Alayna Hoffman of Indian Hills, Jordan Nista of Mahwah, Alexa Bigler of Cliffside Park, Abigail Tabaka of Wallington, Abbey Woodward of Waldwick and Ambrasha Monroe of Passaic for softball; Isabelle Benedict of Pascack Hills, Elizabeth Crames of Mahwah and Kaitlyn Davies of Wayne Hills for lacrosse; Ramapo’s Izzie Anzaldo for athletics; and Katie Bisgrove of Ridgewood for flag football