Coaches key return of Hopkins Academy softball

  • Moe Madzunovic, left, who is an assistant coach for the Hopkins Academy softball team, tosses balls to Olivia Brighenti before a game against Smith Academy, April 25, 2019 at Smith Academy. Hopkins Academy coach Paula Cristoforo looks on. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Moe Madzunovic, who is an assistant coach for the Hopkins Academy softball team, chats with umpires while waiting for the start of a game against Smith Academy, April 25, 2019 at Smith Academy. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Bulletin
Friday, May 17, 2019

HADLEY — To be inducted into the New England Specialty Sports Association Hall of Fame, an inductee must possess the following: standard of excellence, winning attitude, unsurpassable achievements, commitment, passion, “and most importantly, a great respect for the game of softball and each other.”

Moe Madzunovic fit all of those categories — being a 2003 New England USSSA inductee — and when she got a call from Hopkins Academy softball coach Paula Cristoforo asking to come join her as an assistant coach, Madzunovic willingly accepted.

Madzunovic, who goes by Moe or Coach Moe to her players, has an extensive and comprehensive knowledge of the game of softball.

“I was 17 when I first started coaching. I was fresh out of high school,” said Madzunovic. “It was hard, though, at first because I was former teammates with some of these girls and there I was coaching them. It was a little weird.”

Madzunovic’s early start quickly equipped her with thrusting ambitions, not afraid to demand a high standard out of her pupils.

Madzunovic and Cristoforo’s relationship began long before a phone call, though, when Cristoforo — as a teenager at Northampton High School — stumbled upon a demanding coach whom she would eventually know to be “Moe.”

“I remember Moe as a coach,” Cristoforo said. “She was pretty tough — way tougher than I am now — when I was younger, she was really strict. She demanded a lot as a young coach and she had high levels of expectation. She instilled things inside us: respect for yourself, for the game, for others — it was huge.”

Both credit obtaining these values from the late Agnes “Gush” Valenta, who played an important role in advancing girls sports in western Massachusetts. Valenta founded and ran the Northampton Lassie Softball League for over 25 years.

“She ran the league; she coached at the high school,” Madzunovic said. “I played under her in high school for basketball and softball at Northampton High School. She worked in the recreational department and wrote up all the articles for the sports in town. She used to keep the books down at the men’s main softball field. So, she was always around.”

It was at Northampton High and in the shadow of Valenta where both Madzunovic and Cristoforo realized how important the game of softball can be for young women. It’s something that they have carried with them to Hopkins.

With a new culture in place, the Golden Hawks now want to make a splash in western Massachusetts. The gold standard is Turner Falls.

“If you look at the best teams in this area, Turner Falls being one of them, you travel to their field and you look and they have like six coaches,” Cristoforo said. “So, it really does take a lot of people to work with these girls to make a team develop.”

Hopkins snapped a six-year playoff drought last season and fell in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament quarterfinals, one round shy of reaching UMass’ Sortino Field, site of the semifinals and finals. This year, getting to the UMass Softball Complex for a postseason game is the goal.

The Golden Hawks were one step away from getting a postseason opportunity after Monday, when they beat Franklin Tech for their eighth win. Their ninth qualifies them for the postseason.

“It was really important to us that we took on a team that needed work,” Cristoforo said. “(Hopkins) had enormous potential, they just weren’t acting on having that talent.”