Kayla Cosentino’s dilemma consisted of much more than the usual pluses-and-minuses debate high school students undertake when selecting a college.
It came down, for Cosentino, to one big question. Was she prepared to stop playing softball? That answer would determine the immediate direction of her life come June, 2020.
“My top college choice initially was University of Rhode Island,” said Cosentino. “But if I went there, I wouldn’t be playing softball. I really wanted to keep playing.” Cosentino had good reason to include softball in her college experience. She’d made a mark for herself at Hunterdon Central, one of the state’s premier high school softball programs, and with the Finch’s Aces out of Diamond Nation.
Those experiences proved much too fulfilling and Kayla had worked too hard to put softball behind her at this early juncture. So her ears remained open this past summer for other college opportunities.
“It’s probably the hardest choice I’ve had to make,” said Cosentino. “I knew the choice I made would determine the direction of my future. College sets you up for the rest of your life. What it came down to is I couldn’t picture myself not playing softball. It’s something I still really love.”
Kayla would soon get an intriguing inquiry from an unexpected suitor.
“The Montclair State University staff got in contact with my brother after they heard about my high school season and heard I was doing well in the summer,” said Cosentino. Kayla’s brother, Pete Cosentino, had just completed an outstanding freshman season with the Montclair State baseball team.
“They started following me and assistant coach Brooke Powers contacted me because they wanted to see me play,” said Kayla. Pete Cosentino, a former Diamond Jack, had gone through the college recruitment process before a senior campaign at Hunterdon Central that included winning the NJSIAA Group 4 championship.
“My brother gave me a lot of input about the process and about Montclair State,” said Cosentino. “It’s weird going to the same college as your brother but I couldn’t find any negatives at Montclair.”
Kayla visited Montclair State in October and felt like she had found both a softball and academic home. “It was like a hurricane the day I visited,” said Kayla. “It was a downpour, so we stayed inside for much of it. I met coach Powers in Panzer Athletic Center and went with her to meet coach Kubicka and some of the players.” One of those players was former Hunterdon Central teammate Claire Jernigan, a junior infielder. “Knowing Claire helped. We talked and she said she really loved it there.”
Kayla committed on Oct. 17, just four days after her visit.
“Pete did have input about the school, playing a sport and what life was like on campus,” said Kayla, “but, honestly, he wasn’t persuading me to come to Montclair. He wanted me to make my own decision.”
The decision that had weighed heavily on Kayla’s mind became clearer when she thought about the time she put in with softball and the joy the game had continued to provide. From playing rec ball as a five year-old, to joining travel ball at the age of eight, and finally her high school and Finch’s Aces experiences, Cosentino’s love for the game prevailed.
The lefty-hitting Cosentino batted. .372 with six doubles and a home run last spring from the No. 9 spot in the deep Hunterdon Central lineup. The Red Devils (20-2) went 12-1 in the Skyland Conference and won the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex championship before falling in the Central Jersey, Group 4 semifinals to Montgomery. It was Cosentino’s second straight season as Hunterdon Central’s starting left fielder.
“Kayla was moved up to varsity as a sophomore,” said Hunterdon Central coach Kelly Rieder. “She has shown so much improvement after being moved into the outfield, which was a position she was not familiar with. She did what was best for the team.”
Rieder was tickled when she learned Cosentino chose Montclair State. “I was so happy when she told me she decided on my alma mater. I know she’ll do great there.” Cosentino says she is leaning toward majoring in business and Montclair State’s business program has an outstanding reputation.
Her high school season’s sudden end meant it was time for Kayla to get to work in the summer and improve her all around game.
“I really loved this past summer,” she said. “I did exceptionally well on our Colorado trip with our Showcase team. I just love my Aces teammates.” Cosentino had played some second base with the Aces in the past but was inserted as a full-time outfielder this summer.
“Kayla is a great teammate and a very strong player,” said Jackie Tarulli, Diamond Nation’s director of softball operations. “She is one of our most solid outfielders. She is lethal hitting in the middle of our order because she can bunt for a hit, slap and hit for power. She is the definition of a triple threat.”
Cosentino says she went through a little hitting funk at the plate this fall before making a slight adjustment that has her back on track.
“Softball hitters normally have their elbows closer together,” she said. “I moved my back elbow up to see if I could get stronger to the ball. I had some trouble with the timing of it at first but now I’m comfortable and hitting better.”
Tarulli appreciates Cosentino’s efforts to take control of her own growth and maturity as a player. “Kayla always takes the initiative and is a leader in all aspects on and off the field. I couldn’t ask for a nicer, more respectful player.”
With the fall season behind her, Cosentino focuses now on staying fresh this winter during the Aces’ winter practices and workouts at Diamond Nation. Meanwhile, her senior high school season peeks around the corner.
“We have big shoes to fill,” says Cosentino of the quest to continue to meet the high standards of the Hunterdon Central program.
“Kayla is the type of player who always gives 100 percent and always wants to improve,” says Rieder. “She has now become a leader in our outfield and also brings consistency to the plate. Kayla has earned her spot as captain this year with Lea Kosinski.”
Cosentino will join a successful Montclair State University program that has produced a 903-361-5 record under coach Kubicka, entering her 30th season with the Red Hawks.