Celia Totaro is an extremely bright and talented athlete who surely knew exactly what she wanted in a college experience, but she was going to take her time with that “process” to make sure her school of choice checked off all the boxes.
As it turned out, Scranton’s then first-year coach Caitlyn Seamster didn’t seem in a big hurry to accumulate recruits who were still two high school seasons away from college.
“I first contacted Scranton in October of my junior year (at Hunterdon Central),” said Totaro. “I reached out to coach Seamster. She emailed me back in February and asked me If I was interested in Scranton.”
Totaro told Seamster she was interested in the Division 3 Pennsylvania school that not only boasted an attractive softball program with impressive facilities, but also had the physical therapy major she looked forward to embracing. But Totaro’s recruitment went a bit quiet as Seamster turned her attention to her first season at Scranton.
While it was not exactly a fast-paced recruitment, it was not unusual.
“We were in contact periodically,” said Totaro. “Then she saw me play at a tournament in the summer. She liked what she saw and invited me to their camp. I knew she was really interested at that point.”
Seeing Totaro play center field would convince any coach to hitch his or her wagon to her softball future.
Totaro’s recruitment by Scranton accelerated when she attended the camp in August. She then visited the school in late October, meeting the team over lunch that day. At the end of the visit, “coach Seamster offered me and told me to talk to my parents before making a decision,” she said. Two days later Totaro called Seamster and committed to play for the Royals.
Totaro’s list of college possibilities included Division 1 programs Seton Hall, Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac, each with an attractive physical therapy major.
Celia had made the Hunterdon Central varsity as a freshman in 2020, but lost that season, as did every other scholastic athlete in New Jersey, to the COVID pandemic. It did not take long, however, for her to turn heads as a Hunterdon Central sophomore in the spring 2021.
“Celia had the same skills she has now even as a freshman,” says Hunterdon Central coach Kelly Rieder. “Her work ethic, outfield play and strong arm stood out. She’s only gotten better since. Celia is one of the best outfielders to come through our program.”
Totaro should listen closely to what her coaches think of her and embrace their telling analysis. Finch’s Aces 18U coach Scott Cahill has mentored Totaro for seven years.
“I’ve coached Celia since 12U,” says Cahill, “and her growth over those years has been amazing to watch. She works so hard. She was great in the leadoff spot for us this summer.”
Totaro, in fact, had a terrific summer for the Aces, leading the 18U squad in batting (.438), hits (32), runs (27), on-base percentage (.539) and stolen bases (10). She also drew 16 walks and, as witness to her extra-base power, slugged at a .548 pace. Her OPS was a staggering 1.087.
“She can hit for power and is a threat to steal pretty much every time she’s on base,” said Cahill. “In the outfield she checks all the boxes. Her speed comes to mind because she can run down the ball anywhere.”
The image that comes to mind with slap hitters is a batter who utilizes the whole field from the left side, getting a couple-step jump from the batter’s box. Totaro is every bit of that and much more. It also helps that she is a natural lefty hitter.
“Celia is extremely versatile from the left side,” says Ami Iwicki, Diamond Nation’s assistant general manager. “She can read defenses in the box, slap, bunt, power slap or swing away depending on the situation. She’s definitely grown as a hitter and gotten a lot stronger. She just needs to be more confident in taking what she can do in the cage into games.” Iwicki has worked closely with Totaro “in the cage” for seven years.
While Totaro has a very quiet, reserved demeanor off the field, both Cahill and Rieder see a different side of their center fielder on the field.
“Celia is very vocal and a good leader on the field,” says Cahill.
Quietness off the field aside, Rieder thought well enough about how Totaro is viewed by her teammates to name her, along with catcher Riley Failla, as a Hunterdon Central team captain for the spring.
“Celia may not be the loudest person, but she communicates very well with her teammates on the field,” says Rieder. “She’s not afraid to take charge, as she should.”
Celia showed immediately as a sophomore she could make hard contact, batting .359 that season with a home run and 9 RBI. She also knew a few things about getting on-base and that would translate to 21 runs scored.
But a slow start to her junior season in 2022 caused Totaro to slip to the bottom of what was a potent Hunterdon Central batting order.
“I was overthinking things,” Totaro admitted. “I was in my head too much. I’m getting better at that.”
Rieder has a solution.
“Celia needs to believe in herself as much as we believe that she can get the job done,” said Rieder. “That will change the game for her. She can hit the ball anywhere on the field against anyone.”
That’s a frightening thought for Hunterdon Central’s opponents in the deep and punishing Skyland Conference, especially considering the way Totaro batted the second half of the 2022 season for her high school team and the Aces in the summer.
“I got frustrated last spring because I wasn’t getting on base,” said Totaro. “I stopped thinking and just started hitting. I started hitting better after that.”
Totaro would bat .377 in the 2022 season, score 19 runs and steal double-digit bases while earning Second Team All Skyland Conference. And she did much of her damage from the No. 9 spot in the Hunterdon Central batting order. Totaro actually created quite the headache for opponents acting like a double-leadoff batter with No. 1 hitter Emily Walsh, who was followed in the order by the team’s leading hitter, Samantha DelHoyo.
Walsh and DelHoyo are back this spring, as our eight starters in all from the Red Devils’ 19-7 squad a year ago. DelHoyo is utilizing an extra high school season granted due to the pandemic before she embarks on her college career at University of Central Florida. Walsh batted .370 last year and DelHoyo hit a robust .436 as she smashed through the career 100-hit plateau in just her third high school season. So, there is much to be excited about around Hunterdon Central softball.
DelHoyo, Totaro, Walsh and pitcher/hitter Emily Van Cleef return as All-Conference honorees in the Hunterdon Central lineup. Failla, outfielder Cora Gilio and sophomore infielder Zoe Totaro, Celia’s sister, help form a very strong nucleus.
Celia toured Scranton University during her August trip. “I like the size of the school,” said Totaro of the 4,600-undergrad school. And she got a nice feel for the full college experience thanks to the camp.
“The facilities are great,” she said. “We practiced for about two hours, doing fielding and hitting drills. It went well. Coach Seamster told me what she wanted to work on with me, both hitting and taking better angles in the outfield.”
Now it’s just a matter of Totaro carrying the momentum that began last spring and thrived throughout the summer, straight into this spring, which is now just a month away.
Totaro polished her speed as a sprinter, first with the Red Magic youth track program, then on Hunterdon Central’s indoor track team her first three years of high school. That speed will continue to serve her well this spring and at the next level.
Iwicki graduated Hunterdon Central in 2004 as one of the school’s all-time greats and left a major mark on the Wagner College record book. She believes Totaro has the right makeup to become an outstanding college player. “She’s tough on herself, but I see Celia shining in college. She will embrace the increased instruction she’ll get and turn her hard work into big results.”
Cahill agrees with that assessment.
“Celia will make an immediate impact at the next level,” he said. “She will adapt quickly to the speed of the college game and become a starter quickly. She’s absolutely a great teammate. Around her teammates she comes out of that shell.”
Totaro has been quite busy during the offseason, working five days a week either on her game – including in the cages with Iwicki – or in the weight room.
“I’m in the cages two days a week and I lift at Healthquest,” she said. “We’ve also had hitting practices with the Aces and we’ve started captains practices with Central.”
In the meantime, Rieder is excited to see Totaro’s development continue to bear fruit on the scholastic diamond.
“While she is vocal on the field, Celia really leads by example,” said Rieder. “She’s always hustling, never complains and is focused on the game. Everyone will follow her lead, whether it’s Celia being verbal or in her play.”
NOTES: Younger sister Zoe Totaro became Hunterdon Central’s starting shortstop in the middle of the season last spring when the original starter, DelHoyo, was relegated to a DH-only role after injuring her right shoulder. Zoe was mostly flawless at the key position and that experience and DelHoyo’s return to health gives Hunterdon Central impressive infield depth.
“It was a little stressful but having Celia there and my other Aces teammates – Gilio and Nicole Pontecorvo – helped me get comfortable,” said Zoe. Asked what she felt were her sister’s strengths, Zoe said, “Her versatility as a hitter and her great communication on the field.”
Celia and Zoe have two younger sisters, Evelyn, 14, and Gwyn, 11. Evelyn is a dancer and Gwyn plays soccer.