Freshman Melissa Rothenberg stays focused in a game against Notre Dame April 3, 2014. (Photo by Albert Rende.)
Freshman Melissa Rothenberg stays focused in a game against Notre Dame April 3, 2014. (Photo by Albert Rende.)

There is a lot of newness with the Lawrence softball team this year, and that had resulted in an 0-5 start by mid-April.

But first-year head coach Ann DeGennaro—the third in four years for the Cardinals—is more concerned with playing for the future, and that’s witnessed by her faith in freshman shortstop Melissa Rothenberg.

“This is a very young team and a lot of them are in positions they never played before,” DeGennaro said. “But I’m excited about the season. I think we’ll get progressively better. “

One person who is playing her normal position is Rothenberg, the kind of player who DeGennaro feels she can build her infield around.

“With her taking on the shortstop position we’re making her the leader on the infield,” the coach said.

The obvious question, is why?

“I think she’s got good softball sense,” DeGennaro said. “She’s one of those natural athletes, you can see it. I think we’re going to see some really great stuff from her.

“I also think we’re going to see some really great stuff from some of our other freshmen too. I told them, if anything they’ll walk off this field as positive role models and good leaders.”

DeGennaro knows something good when she sees it, having played at perennial Division III power Trenton State College before serving as assistant coach at her alma mater after its named changed to The College of New Jersey. She left the Lions after last year to take a position at LHS, and isn’t afraid to roll the dice with her ninth-grader.

Rothenberg is actually the lone freshman in the infield, and she admitted after opening day to feeling a few nerves. Actually, more than a few.

“I was so nervous coming into it,” she said. “It’s very intimidating out there, varsity softball, but I just came into it and calmed myself down.”

It shouldn’t be surprising she was able to gather herself, since softball has been a part of Rothenberg’s life for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been playing for Lawrence recreation forever,” she said. “I started playing travel this year, but I’ve always played in rec, and I played middle school last year.

“When I was little, my dad signed me up for T-ball, and I guess I was stuck. I just loved softball.”

A lifetime shortstop, Rothenberg’s talent is justified by the fact that last year she joined the Newtown Rocks, the No. 2 travel team in its age group in Pennsylvania.

“We played throughout the fall and winter, played in tournaments,” Rothenberg said. “I’ve been playing a lot of softball, actually. Last year I started playing outfield just to have a secondary spot, but I really love shortstop.”

And it’s that love of the game that DeGennaro picked up on immediately. The rest of Lawrence’s infield is not super young, but it is relatively inexperienced when it comes to varsity play, with sophomore Oasis Rosado on first, senior Brianne Karcesky at second, junior Courtney Cunningham on third and freshman Amirah Hutchinson behind the plate.

It speaks volumes to Rothenberg’s savvy that the coach is counting on her to hold it all together.

“It’s just her grit, her scrappiness as a player,” DeGennaro said. “She works hard, she’s always out there, she’s scrappy and she thinks. She just always wants the ball. To me, that’s a ball player.”

Rothenberg figured she could make the varsity team this year, but wasn’t expecting to be placed in such a key role.

“I was actually surprised,” she said. “I heard of other shortstops in the program. I just came into it wanting to win. I was ready to beat them out but I was actually surprised I did.”

And now she is asked to be a leader among players older than her, at least when it comes to what happens in the infield.

“It’s very intimidating,” Rothenberg said. “As a freshman I don’t want to be bossing around the other players, but I’m ready to take that spot and see what I can do.”

However it works out, it won’t be due to lack of effort.

“I work on hitting and fielding probably at least four times a week,” Rothenberg said. “My dad hits balls to me. He’s been there all the time.”

As for Rothenberg’s bat, DeGennaro said, “That needs a little work, it’s a progress in the making. But with her fielding ability, she’ll take that leadership role out there.”

And with three-plus seasons remaining, she will have a long time to grow into it.