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More Italian women than ever are playing softball at U.S. colleges and high schools

With the Team Italy women's softball squad heading to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the Italian softball revolution has just begun. In order to compete at a higher level than the European standard, more Italian women than ever from both sides of the Atlantic are playing at U.S. colleges and high schools.

Starting every game in the Europe-Africa Olympic Softball Qualifier at first base for Team Italy, Italian American Andrea Howard was dependable in the infield at first base with 32 put outs and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. She helped the Azzurre softball squad qualify for the Tokyo Games when going 1-for- 3 in the Team Italy 5-0 shutout over Great Britain in the Europe-Africa Olympic Softball Qualifier final game.

Having played for Team Italy in the 2017 Junior Women’s Softball World Championship in Clearwater, Florida, manager Enrico Obletter knew he had a special player in Andrea Howard when she went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in the Italian squad’s 7-3 win over New Zealand. Andrea Howard impressed once again in the 2019 European Softball Championship when she hit .440 with one double, one triple, three home runs, one walk, seven RBI, and 10 runs scored.

Andrea Howard embarks in her junior season at the University of New Mexico (UNM) playing for the Lobos softball team. Last season she was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-America Second Team and earned the honor majoring in Biology with a 4.05 GPA. In 46 starts last season with the Lobos, Andrea Howard racked up 24 hits (including 9 doubles, two triples, and three home runs) with 25 runs scored and 15 RBI. In addition, she demonstrated excellent discipline at the plate with 24 walks. To follow Andrea Howard and UNM Lobos softball this season, click HERE.

Fellow Italian American Sara Rusconi Vicinanza from Giovanile Collecchio Softball was listed on the preliminary Team Italy roster for the 2019 WBSC U19 Women’s Softball World Championship in Irvine, but she opted out at the last minute to pursue her dream of making the 12-time NCAA Division I National Champion and defending 2019 NCAA Division I National Champion UCLA Bruins softball team. 

Having signed a letter of intent to play close to home at the University of San Diego, catcher Sara Rusconi Vicinanza chose to jump ship in order to fill a void left behind the plate after one of last year's catchers graduated and the other decided to transfer to the University of Texas. The sudden catcher vacancy affords freshman Sara Rusconi Vicinanza a rare opportunity to compete for the starting position. UCLA head coach Kelly-Inouye Perez said, “Sara grew up in the San Diego area. She is very savvy as a catcher and works really well with people.” To follow Sara Rusconi Vicinanza and UCLA Bruins softball this season, click HERE.

melany sheldon umass university

Like her father David Sheldon did in playing for Team Italy in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Caronno softball star Melany Sheldon has proudly represented her country as a consistent contributor to the Azzurre squad at the U12, U16, U19, and U22 levels. Last seen wearing Italia across her chest in the 2018 Super 6 competition, infielder Melany Sheldon won the 2016 Italian Softball League Golden Glove Award. She played softball at Chipola College in Florida for two years before transferring to the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell to begin her junior-year season competing in NCAA Division I as a member of the River Hawks softball team. UMass Lowell head coach Danielle Henderson said, "She's a very good fielder, very good defensively, with good range and good hands. That was something right off the bat that we were able to see."

Melany Sheldon did not disappoint as she was named to the America East All-Conference First Team as well as to the America East Winter/Spring Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2019. Coming up just short of qualifying for the College World Series, Melany Sheldon started in 41 games and hit .277 with eight doubles, one triple, two home runs, eight walks, 15 RBI, and 18 runs scored. To follow Melany Sheldon and UMass Lowell River Hawks softball this season, click HERE.

Having led Team Italy to three European Championship titles on the U16, U19, and U22 softball squads, infielder Chiara Bassi has earned a reputation for being a winner. In the 2018 Super 6 competition, she went 4-for-8 with two runs scored. Chiara Bassi later represented Team Italy in the 2019 Asia Pacific Cup. The Parma native played for Collecchio in 2019 and hit .300 while registering an impressive .950 fielding percentage. To follow Chiara Bassi and the NCAA Division I South Dakota State College Jackrabbits this season, click HERE.

Sofia Cecchin collegeTeam Italy infielder Sofia Cecchin from Castelfranco Veneto begins her sophomore year season for the East Stroudsburg College Warriors in the NCAA Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). As a member of the Team Italy U19 softball squad in the 2016 European Championship and the Azzurre leadoff hitter in the 2017 Junior Women’s Softball World Championship, Sophia Cecchin always flashed her speed and agility in international competitions.

Sophia Cecchin continued to demonstrate her special talents on the field as a starter in all 48 games during her sophomore campaign at East Stroudsburg. She hit .324 with eight doubles, one triple, two home runs, eight walks, 15 RBI, and 18 runs scored.  Sophia Cecchin was named PSAC Softball Central Division Athlete of the Week on March 5, 2019 after going 5-for-12 with five stolen bases, four runs scored, and three RBI in a weekend series against Virginia State. To follow Sophia Cecchin and the East Stroudsburg College Warriors this season, click HERE.

Gloria Di Lauro kicks of her sophomore season at Colby Community College, a NJCAA Division I Region 6 school in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. In 40 games during her freshman year, the utility player from Bollate helped her team reach the post-season by compiling a respectable .351 batting average with 26 hits (including three doubles), six walks, seven RBI, and16 runs scored. To follow Gloria Di Lauro and the Colby College Trojans this season, click HERE

Utility player Alice Midiri comes off a good season playing for the Italian Serie A2 Jacks Torino softball squad (23 games played, .294 batting average, two doubles, two triples, nine walks, and 10 RBI) before making her freshman debut at McCook Community College, a NJCAA Division I Region 9 school in the Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference. The Lady Indians softball team reached the regional final last season. To follow Alice Midiri and the McCook College Lady Indians this season, click HERE

20190812 U19SWC Susanna Soldi Australia_Italia (MG-Oldmanagency)Bussolengo favorite Susanna Soldi heads to the Sunshine State to play of the Pensacola State College Pirates, a NJCAA Division I Region 8 school in the Panhandle Conference of the Florida State College Activities Association. Considered by many as the unsung hero who helped Team Italy win the 2018 U19 and U22 European Women’s Softball Championships, Susanna Soldi was summoned by Team Italy manager Enrico Obletter to join the Azzurre squad at the 2019 Asia Pacific Cup. She most recently represented Team Italy at the 2019 WBSC U19 Women’s Softball World Cup in Irvine, where she compiled a .353 batting average (6-for-17) with four doubles, two stolen bases, four RBI, and three runs scored. To follow Susanna Soldi and the Pensacola State College Pirates this season, click HERE

Benedetta Scotto from Cali Roma made nine pitching appearances in her freshman season at Odessa College, a NJCAA Division I Region 9 school in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference. The left-handed pitcher won in her only start for the Odessa College Wranglers against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on March 8, 2019 when she threw three complete innings. To follow Benedetta Scotto and the Odessa College Wranglers this season, click HERE.

Infielder Tara Melassi represented Team Italy in the U16 European Softball Championship and later played for the 2018 Stevensville High School Yellowjackets in Stevensville, Montana. A member of the Collecchio softball squad, freshman Tara Melassi crosses the Atlantic once again to join the Miami Dade College Sharks, a NJCAA Division I Region 8 school in the Southern Conference of the Florida State College Activities Association. To follow Tara Melassi and the Miami Dade College Sharks this season, click HERE.

Catcher and outfielder Giulia Cianfriglia from Verona has already played in some preseason games in her freshman year at Spoon River College, a NJCAA Division II Region 24 school in the Mid-West Athletic Conference. She hopes to help the Lady Snappers softball team to victory in 2020. To follow Giulia Cianfriglia and the Spoon River College Lady Snappers this season, click HERE

Giulia Koutsoyanopulos University of ArizonaHaving committed to the University of Arizona four years ago, 17-year-old Capistrano Valley High School Senior softball star Giulia Koutsoyanopulos was born to perform. Sister to Team Italy baseball sparkplug Aldo Koutsoyanopulos, Giulia Koutsoyanopulos spent time playing in Bollate before joining the Italian Junior U19 squad this past summer.

She made her debut for Team Italy close to home in Orange County, California at the 2019 WBSC U19 Women’s Softball World Cup, where she hit .375 (6-for-16) with one double, one triple, one walk, one stolen base, three RBI, and three runs scored. Since then, Giulia Koutsoyanopulos has been on fire playing for the OC Batbusters 18U Stith traveling squad with a .500 batting average. To follow Giulia Koutsoyanopulos and the Capistrano Valley High School Cougars this season, click HERE

16-year-old Team Italy hurler Maya Milano, daughter of legendary Team Italy and Fortitudo Bologna baseball pitcher Fabio Milano, continues to make positive strides in her promising career playing for the highly-regarded travel ball Chicago Cheetahs club. In addition, she plays softball while attending the Ogden International School of Chicago. The young and talented Team Italy starting pitcher excelled on the mound against Czech Republic in the 2019 U16 European Women’s Softball Championship semifinal by throwing a three-hitter with five strikeouts and one walk in four innings of work to put the Azzurrine squad into the final. To follow Maya Milano and the Chicago Cheetahs this season, click HERE.

Alexia Lacatena has played on the Team Italy U19 and U22 squads while attending Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope, New Jersey. Committed to the University of Kentucky, the high school junior all-star pitcher most recently represented Team Italy in the 2019 WBSC U19 Women’s Softball World Cup. She helped the Azzurre squad both on the mound and in the batter's box. Alexia Lacatena pitched 20.2 innings and struck out 18 batters in four appearances. She also hit .333 (4-for-12) with two doubles, one triple, one walk, one stolen base, one RBI, and one run scored. Her Newton Rock Gold Garvey travel club has consistently been a force to be reckoned with at the Premier Girls Fastpitch 18U Premier National Championship. To follow Alexia Lacatena and the Newton Rock Gold Garvey this season, click HERE.

The future looks bright for all the Italian players pursuing their passion for softball in the United States. It is just a matter of time before Team Italy enjoys the fruit of their hard efforts and begins to compete at the same level as the game’s elite on the world stage. Forza #Italia! #Tokyo2020

by Roberto Angotti