BY JOSH LASHLEY

We may be only a few weeks into the regular season, but the West Milford High school softball program is already proving they have the student-athletes and unity needed to be contenders within their division and beyond.

The fact that the Highlanders are playing so well isn’t catching anyone off guard, but it certainly shows that they’ll be competing at a high level throughout the spring.

In games played through April 15 West Milford had already won some impressive contests.

“We always have high expectations going into the season,” West Milford head coach Nicole Gwinnett said. “We want to finish things we didn’t last year. Last season we finished 23-4. We are going to be very competitive this year (even though) we lost some key players due to graduation. We have a younger team but we still have the same expectations.

“The girls did a lot of off-season work - hitting, strength and conditioning and winter league where we saw some competitive teams. As a team, we are excited to get back to winning games and advancing through tournaments.”

Paige Masiello (senior, pitcher), Jessica Utter (senior, center field), Kayla Yuhas (junior, second base), Abbie Porch (junior, short stop),Alexa Barca (junior, catcher), Jessica Perucki (sophomore, pitcher/first base) and Natalie Marzalik (soph, outfield) are among the varsity veterans on the roster this year.

Key newcomers to the varsity roster include Brooke Reilly (senior, utility player), Carly Love (junior, outfield), Mackenzie McGuinness (sophomore, third base), Jenna Moran (sophomore, catcher), Samantha Amundson (sophomore, outfield), Cassie Perez (sophomore, outfield) and Brielle Pelissier (sophomore, infield/outfield).

“Jessica Utter and Paige Masiello are the two captains this season, they have been on varsity since their freshmen years,” Gwinnett said. “They have experience on playing at the varsity level and can help our younger players. I will also call upon our junior class as well. We look for leadership on and off the field and our girls do a great job with that.”

The Highlanders play in the Big North Conference Independence Division along with Fair Lawn, Passaic Valley, Lakeland, Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley. West Milford has back to back home games scheduled against Wayne Valley and Passaic Valley on April 26 and April 28, respectively.

“I feel that we will be a contender this season,” Gwinnett said. “I feel that our division can go either way. All of the games are important and we need to play at the top of our game every day.”