Although Chinese New Year 2021 will be celebrating Year of the Ox, Italian baseball and softball supporters are confident 2021 will be Year of the Lobos at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque with the efforts of Team Italy's Giulio Monello and Andrea Howard. Mentored as a teenager by the late and great Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy director Bill Holmberg and encouraged by International Stars College Showcase technical director/San Marino Baseball general manager Mauro Mazzotti, 22-year-old catcher Giulio Monello has developed into one of Italy's finest exports. In a twist of fate, he now joins Albuquerque softball hometown hero Andrea Howard at UNM to collectively represent Team Italy baseball and softball on campus. Andrea Howard showcased her MVP talent for Italian manager Enrico Obletter when she made her Team Italy debut as a teenager at the 2017 Junior Women’s Softball World Championship and later helped the Team Italy senior softball squad qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after winning the 2019 Europe-Africa Olympic Softball Qualifier.
Italian-born and developed catcher Giulio Monello was named as a member of the 2020 JBB All-Americans Second Team by JBB Sports, a website dedicated to U.S. Junior College Baseball. After playing in his second season for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I Odessa Wranglers in Texas, Giulio Monello was worth his weight in gold by hitting .548 with five doubles, two triples, three home runs, eight walks, and 19 RBI. Leading his team to the NJCAA Division I Top 10, Giulio Monello had his eyes set on the 2020 NJCAA Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado before the pandemic ended the season abruptly. San Marino Baseball general manager Mauro Mazzotti, who took Giulio Monello on the International Stars College Showcase that scored him an athletic scholarship to Odessa College, seized the opportunity to bolster his all-star club roster with the addition of Giulio Monello.
Providing backup to starting catcher Simone Albanese behind the plate, Giulio Monello proved to be a great asset to San Marino as an injury sidelined the team's number one catcher. Giulio Monello stepped up to play an instrumental role in the 2020 Italian Baseball Series Championship. With this invaluable experience under his belt, Giulio Monello heads for UNM to help Lobos baseball head coach Ray Birmingham continue with his winning ways in 2021. Prior to the premature conclusion of the 2020 season, the UNM Lobos had won six straight with an impressive 14-4 record to rank in the Division I Top 25. In fact, UNM has been ranked in the DI Top 25 six times over the last decade. For the second straight year, UNM ranked #12 in U.S. junior college recruiting class according to JBB Sports. UNM assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jon Coyne believes Giulio Monello can be a gamechanger to the Lobos baseball program in 2021.
Before setting foot on the UNM campus or joining Team Italy, Andrea Howard was named 2017 New Mexico Gatorade Softball Player of the Year after leading La Cueva High School to an undefeated 29-0 record and the Class 6A State Championship title with a .598 batting average,10 home runs and 48 RBI. Wearing the Team Italy uniform for the first time in the 2017 Junior Women’s Softball World Championship in Clearwater, Florida, Italian 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 Team Italy’s 7-3 win over New Zealand. The New Mexico native also impressed while playing for the Team Italy senior softball squad two years later 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.
Starting every game at first base for Team Italy in the Europe-Africa Olympic Softball Qualifier, Andrea Howard was dependable in the infield with 32 put outs and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. She played an important part in helping the Azzurre softball squad qualify for the Tokyo Olympics when going 1-for 3 in the Team Italy 5-0 shutout over Great Britain in the Europe-Africa Olympic Softball Qualifier championship final game on July 27, 2019. Andrea Howard was later recognized for her contribution to the success of Team Italy when she and teammate Emily Carosone were honored at the 2019 Italian American Baseball Foundation Gala in Brooklyn, New York. Andrea Howard said, “I have been playing this game since I was eight years old, and to qualify for the Olympics now is such a dream come true. This game has given me so many opportunities to visit amazing places and meet amazing people, and I am thankful for this sport!”
Andrea Howard got her first look at what to expect in the Tokyo Olympics when she played for Team Italy in the 2020 Australia Pacific (AP) Cup. Battling against Olympic foe Team Japan, Andrea Howard got timely hits in two close games against the Japanese. The versatile outfielder was one of the Team Italy's best hitters in the AP Cup by going 5-for-16 (.312 batting average) with two doubles, one walk, three runs scored, and two RBI. One month later, Andrea Howard got a glance of another Olympic contender while playing for the UNM Lobos against Team USA in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, California on February 20, 2020. After striking out the side in the first inning, Team USA pitcher Ally Carda looked unhittable. UNM cleanup hitter Andrea Howard entered the batter's box in the second inning and slugged the first pitch offered by the American hurler over the left-center field fence for the Lobos only run in the 10-1 loss to USA.
Andrea Howard started in all 26 UNM games at center field during the abbreviated 2020 season. First in slugging percentage (.653), RBI (24) and home runs (7) for the Lobos, Andrea Howard was second on the team in batting average (.306), hits (22), stolen bases (2-for-2) and total bases (47). In addition, she had 12 walks and four doubles. The left-handed hitting slugger was named to the 2020 Mountain West All-Conference Team and to the Spring 2020 Academic All-Mountain West Team. Working to complete a bachelors degree in biology with aspirations of going on to medical school after graduating from UNM, the future Dr. Andrea Howard hopes to lead both the Lobos to a Mountain West Conference title and Team Italy to a medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Forza #Italia!
by Roberto Angotti