While Sunday marks Senior Day for the softball team, for Danielle Zanzalari it’s a day that may never have had the chance to take place.
The valedictorian of her class, Zanzalari chose to attend Seton Hall for the name and academics rather than accepting scholarship offers from lesser known Division II and III schools. Her decision to try-out came at the end of summer after her father ran into Assistant Coach Bob Guerriero and alerted the coaching staff that his daughter would be attending the school.
“She came into this program as a walk-on,” head coach Ray Vander May said. “She was not recruited, never recruited. Her dad bumped into Coach Guerriero who was coaching a summer ball team.”
Since then the senior from Carteret, N.J. nicknamed “DZ” has become a consistent presence for on the mound for Vander May and a Pirates team that clawed its way into the Big East Tournament with the eighth and final seed a year ago, and looks to do so again in 2010.
In only 18 games so far this season Zanzalari has set personal bests with nine starts, 69.1 innings pitched and 38 strikeouts and her complete game shutout of Central Connecticut State in March was the first of the season for the Hall. Her three wins this year beat her career total of one entering the season while 3.74 ERA is second on a team sitting No. 6 in the 12 team Big East, eight of which make the conference tournament.
For Zanzalari though the fun was not always there. Out of high school she received no interest from Division I programs and admits she was indecisive about trying-out in the first place.
“The weekend before I came here I decided I was going to walk-on to the team,” Zanzalari said. “I don’t really take rejection well, but I decided I’d try it.”
A short pitching staff allowed Zanzalari to earn a roster spot that wouldn’t have been there with a deeper team. She finished the season 0-3 with a 7.81 ERA. In 37.2 innings pitched allowing 49 hits and walking 51 batters.
“She came in to mop games up and get some experience,” Vander May said. “In her first two years here she was a batting practice pitcher more than anything else.”
Her sophomore year proved to be even tougher on the field as she made only eight appearances and posted a 10.96 ERA. Despite the adversity Zanzalari persisted in being a part of the team, and in her improvement as a player.
“Through all this she never stopped working,” Vander May said. “She kept working at it and spent hours in the summer trying to hit her spots pitching.”
Working out four hours per day would be necessary for the right-hander.
According to Vander May, Zanzalari throws about 57 mph, a velocity he says is lower than most high school pitchers.
“She has an incredible work ethic,” senior starting pitcher Ashley Forsyth said. “At this level it’s really about hitting your spots and movement.
Speed isn’t everything on this level. She’s very successful at hitting her spots and making her pitches move.”
DZ’s hard work paid off last year with four scoreless innings of relief against Syracuse in her first collegiate win and first of the Big East season for the Pirates, who would make the Big East Tournament by a single game.
“The one win was a giant win for us,” Vander May said. “Without that win we wouldn’t have went to Big East.”
As a senior, Zanzalari now has the confidence she didn’t have previously, so much so that coming into the season she persuaded Vander May to keep her as a starter, despite his inclination to use her primarily in relief.
“I told him that I was a starter and that I could start,” Zanzalari said. “The more I throw the better I am.”
That confidence from the coaching staff hasn’t just translated on the field, as after three years Zanzalari was awarded an athletic scholarship from Coach Vander May.
“It’s fascinating because what’s happening is that you have a player that had some skills, mastered them, and has more and more confidence,” Vander May said. “Now in her senior year she’s the spirit of our team and she’s a Division I pitcher now.”
Although Senior Day will be this Sunday, the journey for “DZ” and the Pirates is not over. Not only does she want to make the Big East Tournament again, but to finish higher than the eighth and final seed, and to be a big part of getting the team there.
“It’s nice knowing that in the end things work out and hard work pays off,” Zanzalari said. “I think it just means that you can do whatever you want to do if you put your heart into it.”
Zachary Cziryak can be reached at email@example.com.