The capsule that ran with Mia Robb’s 2019 Courier Post All-Area honor included two very telling statistics. Robb, just a sophomore at the time, batted .415 and posted a 2.66 ERA in the circle for Ridge High School.
We should say those statistics were telling in two says. First, they showed Robb’s all-around ability and, second, it provided evidence she had elevated her game in the ultra competitive Skyland Conference.
“Mia works very hard to make sure she is always at the top of her game,” says fourth-year Ridge coach Jackie Tarulli. “She’s always looking for way to improve her game.”
In Tarulli’s third season at the Ridge helm the Red Devils continued their march from the middle-of-the-conference-pack to frontline competitor. That is no easy chore in a conference that is regarded among the very best in New Jersey and is stacked with perennial powerhouses.
That said, the 2019 season would prove to be ground breaking for the Red Devils.
Robb had four doubles, a home run, drove in 20 runs and went 9-6 in the circle as Ridge reached the Somerset County Tournament final for the first time and advanced to the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 semifinals. Ridge posted a 16-8 record and was 6-2 in the Raritan Division, defeating perennial league powers North Hunterdon, Hunterdon Central, Hillsborough and Montgomery (twice) along the way. Appropriately, Tarulli was named the conference and Courier News Area Coach of the Year.
As Robb’s junior season approached, she got down to business in regard to her college selection effort.
“During the process I was looking at West Chester, Ithaca and other Division 3 programs, but I kept comparing all of them to Scranton,” said Robb. “Scranton had everything for me. It was a very good fit.”
Robb put the finishing touch on her college selection process when she gave her verbal commitment to Scranton on Friday, telling her future head coach, Mia Collarini Wascura, she was coming to the Pennsylvania school.
“I had reached out to coach and we visited in January,” said Robb. “At first I wanted to play in the south but realized how important it was to me to be close to home. I wanted to play softball where my parents could come to see me play. It definitely makes the college transition easier being close to home.”
Scranton also offered an ideal academic scenario for Robb.
“The most important thing for me in the process was academics,” she said. “I’m interested in studying physical therapy and Scranton’s Health Sciences department is fantastic. They have incredible resources. I went to an open house there, talked to the people who run the program and talked to students who love it. The classrooms are small and that was important, too.”
Robb also fell in love with the campus, positioned close to downtown Scranton while offering that comfortable campus feel. And Robb and Collarini Wascura had an instant connection.
“Talking to coach Mia made the school that much better,” said Robb. “She’s an amazing person.” Collarini Wascura impressed upon Robb the importance of balancing athletics and academics. “She said it’s more than a game of softball. It’s about the people you meet.”
Robb will be joining a highly competitive program. The Royals won the 2019 Landmark Conference championship, the first for Scranton, as it posted the first back-to-back 30-win seasons in school history. Collarini Wascura has the Royals on a roll, registering a 172-120 (.589) record since she was hired in 2012.
Finch’s Aces connection
And as a bonus, Robb will have a bit of a comfort zone in Scranton aside from the short two-hour ride from Basking Ridge. Former Finch’s Aces teammate Olivia Burd, a 2019 Hunterdon Central grad, was a freshman at Scranton this school year.
“That was pretty cool. Coach brought Olivia and Megan Zinn in to talk to me when I visited,” said Robb. “I played with Olivia on the Aces last summer and got to know her.”
Zinn is a former Aces player, too, and had just started her senior season at Scranton. Zinn, an outfielder, batted .459 as a junior on her way to a Third Team All-America designation. Scranton opened 2020 at 2-0 before COVID-19 wiped out its season.
“I talked to Olivia and Megan right before a practice,” said Robb. “They were so open and honest about the school. And it was exactly what I wanted to hear. It helped to have Olivia, someone I know, tell me how much she loved the program.”
Robb, five years younger than Zinn, hadn’t met the Bridgewater-Raritan grad before she visited Scranton but was well aware of her lofty reputation.
“I heard all about Megan and read about her also as I was diving into the details about Scranton,” said Robb, who has the upward trajectory of a potential Division 1 player and that was certainly her original intent.
“I would say as an eighth-grader and freshman that was the goal,” says Robb. “That was the mindset. As time went on and I had more time to think about the realities of it, I knew how much happier I would be at the Division 3 level. I could still play the game but I did not have to focus entirely on softball. I wanted more focus on academics. Mostly, I am happy to have a chance to play at a school like Scranton.”
It will be interesting to see where Robb spends time on the field at Scranton. While pitching is her primary position, she has proven valuable at the plate and in the outfield. She also has experience at first base.
“Coach is aware my secondary position is in the outfield,” says Robb. “I’m used to being on the field every day and I’m capable of playing other positions.”
An unsettling spring that has seen Robb’s high school season canceled has left her aching to get back on the field. She continues her workout regimen to stay fresh for what has suddenly become a highly anticipated summer season.
“Luckily I’ve have been able to throw, hit and field in my yard,” says Robb. “My family has helped. My mom hits balls to me. I have a place to hit and a pitching set up and I try to keep to a schedule. I’m just trying to think of this as a time to get better. I’m just thinking about how great it is going to be to get back on the field.”
The loss of the 2020 season has Robb at a loss for those she had shared so much time with on the softball field.
“I have been playing with our seniors since sixth grade,” says Robb. “We played town travel ball together and I loved playing with them. I knew it would be sad playing our last year together but that never happened and this is obviously hard. To know the season was not going to happen is a lot sadder than I could have anticipated. I’m just grateful for the years we played together. I know the connections we made along the way will remain forever.”
Tarulli, who is also the director of softball operations at Diamond Nation, sees Robb all summer but is not permitted under NJSIAA rules to coach her high school player directly in the offseason.
“Mia is an amazing kid,” says Tarulli. “She is kind, caring, a great teammate and a joy to coach. She encourages her teammates all the time. Lauren Aspiazu coaches Mia on the Aces 18U Showcase team and I’ve been blessed to coach her in high school as well as watch her progress throughout the year.
“I can’t wait to see what Mia does at Scranton. I know she will be impactful the first day she steps on the field in college, whether she is in the circle, at the plate or in the outfield.”
Robb is appreciative of the many coaches who’ve helped to improve her game and instill confidence in her as she progressed in the sport from a young age.
“I think, at a young age, my coaches created an environment that made me want to keep going in the sport and improve,” says Robb. “So I really appreciate those first coaches for that. They wanted us to get better and take that next step to club ball. They were great coaches.
“Coach Lauren was great in the fall when we really had great team camaraderie. And I’ve had coach Jackie all through high school and she has a very different coaching style than other coaches. I believe she found a way to elevate my game, especially the mental game. It’s more than a physical game. It’s how you use your mind. That was a necessary next step for me to learn.”
Robb has always seems willing and prepared to take that next step.