Carisa Galyardo knew she was taking over a team with expectations when she was hired as Pearl River's new softball coach.
The returning players, a group that includes five starters, made that clear in explaining the team's goals to younger girls trying out for the team.
"They told them the goal this year is they want to win states," Gaylardo said. "They want to go all the way this year. They have that goal in mind. They need to stay focused."
Though teams already began open gyms and workouts, today is the first official day of practice for Gaylardo and Pearl River's other two varsity spring sports coaches -- Michael McCafferty for girls track and field and Ken Driscoll for boys tennis.
"It was an opportunity that would be great for me," Gaylardo said. "A co-worker recommended me and it worked out. I'm excited to be here.:
Gaylardo takes over one of the top softball programs in Class A. Last year's surprising loss to Beacon in the Section 1 quarterfinals ended a streak of four consecutive section championships.
The opportunity opened up for Gaylardo when after 16 seasons with the Pirates.
Pearl River Director of Athletics Todd Santabarbara expressed his confidence in Gaylardo.
"Carisa is an extremely well-rounded individual who brings a wealth of softball knowledge and experience to the Pearl River softball program," Santabarbara said. "Her collegiate playing experience, high school varsity coaching experience and background as a certified personal trainer, working specifically with baseball and softball teams, are just several of the variables that make her a great fit for this position.
"The returning varsity athletes are excited to begin this journey under the guidance of Coach Gaylardo. I too, am very excited about having her on board, as I am confident in her abilities as a coach. At the end of the day, it's evident that Carisa's credentials, her competitive nature and eagerness to win, will assist the Lady Pirates in achieving the goals they set forth this season."
As a college player, Gaylardo played in the 2004 Division III College World Series with SUNY-Cortland, where she was an all-region second baseman.
"Aside from the coaching experience she brings, she also has a sense of what it takes to get to the next level," Santabarbara said. "She has collegiate playing experience and ties to some local colleges and universities. That's another facet that is extremely important, to help our athletes move beyond high school. For those with aspirations to play at the next level, to have somebody there who has done it themselves is definitely a positive thing."
Gaylardo said learning what it takes to play in college can help her work with her current players.
"I (recently) ran a clinic with the Diamond Dolls (a travel team). We were working fundamentals, which is very important. That's what we did every day on the field at Cortland," Gaylaro said. "You work on the little things. Throwing and catching. You don't realize how important those things are until you are in a 0-0 game and getting that bund down or stealing that base makes the difference.
"Having that background and experience is great. I can compare and work with the girls. I can tell them how itw as to be there."
She previously brought that experience to the head coaching job at Manhasset High School, which she led to a 16-4 record and a conference championship in 2009. Last season, she coached the varsity at Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy, where she still works as a physical education teacher. She also worked as a junior varsity coach and varsity assistant at New Paltz High School from 2006-2008. She coaches the Diamond Dolls, a travel team based in the Bronx.
"I think the varsity coaching experience was definitely an important piece to the equation," Santabarbara said. "In a program like this, which has had such a high level of success, you want to make sure you find the best qualified individual. Having coaching experience so they can truly understand the ins and outs of the daily operation."
Gaylardo works as a strength and conditioning coach with ML Strength in White Plains, which boasts on its executive staff Dana Cavalea, Director of Strength and Conditioning for the New York Yankees.
"There are so many elements and pieces that go into a program," Gaylardo said. "It's not just softball. It's building team chemistry. It's working on and off the field in everything they do."
There is some chemistry in place built around Pearl River's returning group, which includes five players who started as sophomores last season -- pitcher/first baseman Mandy McCarthy, shortstop Sam Alicandri, pitcher/first baseman Caroline Kardashian, catcher Deirdre O'Malley and second baseman Erin Woods. McCarthy and Alicandri were both named third team all-state by the New York State Sportswriters Association. Alicandri was also named second team 2012 Louisville Slugger/NFCA High School All- Eastern Region.
Putting pressure on opponents with speed has been a key element of Pearl River's program for years and that seems likely to continue with Gaylardo.
"I'm big into speed and small ball is very important to the game," Gaylardo said. "it's important that every girl knows how to bunt. It's a crucial part of the game. Base running is another part of the game I will stress. Put the ball in play and capitalize on the opponent's mistakes."