Puppolo Headed to JuCo Powerhouse

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
What’s in a name? Not as much as you might think.
 
Recent Hoosac Valley graduate Kali Puppolo looked beyond a label she did not recognize and found an opportunity she could not pass up.
 
In March, Puppolo signed a letter of intent to attend and play softball at Herkimer College, near Utica, N.Y.
 
“I haven’t met anybody who’s heard of it,” Puppolo said this week. “People ask me where I’m going to college, and I tell them, and they’re like, ‘Where’s that?’ “
 
Put Puppolo herself in the group of people who had not heard of the junior college or its athletic program as recently as the beginning of this year.
 
That is when she was introduced to the Generals while representing her club softball team, the Greylock Thunder.
 
“I was playing in a winter tournament in Glens Falls [N.Y.], and after the game, the coach came up to me and told me I’d be a good fit for the program,” Puppolo said.
 
What followed was a January visit to the central New York campus, and the more Puppolo learned about the junior college, the more she realized it could be a dream come true.
 
“I’ve been thinking about playing college softball ever since I started playing the game,” she said. “I had committed to another school -- not to play but to go as a student and try out for the team. After I went to Herkimer, I withdrew my deposit.”
 
What she discovered was a softball program with an impressive resume.
 
In eight years at the school, Coach P.J. Anadio has led the Generals to one National Junior College Athletic Association Division III championship, three runner-up finishes and this spring’s third-place showing.
 
His team regularly faces off against Division I competition, including nearby Syracuse University, in a rigorous fall softball campaign. Under Anadio, the Generals have had 19 all-America selections on the field, and the last two years his players have maintained a team grade point average of more than 3.0 in the classroom.
 
“Everyone I talked to, all the players, they loved it,” said Puppolo, who plans to major in social science with an eye toward law school down the road. “They all said they wished it was a four-year school because they loved it so much.
 
“They run their program like it’s a DI program. You get the feeling of what it’s like to play for a DI or DII school before you get recruited.”
 
And many Generals do get recruited. This spring alone, six Herkimer sophomores signed National Letters of Intent to accept athletic scholarships and continue their careers at the “next level.”
 
This summer, Puppulo is continuing her career with the Thunder after her plans were sidetracked by a season-ending injury three games into her senior campaign with the Hurricanes.
 
Puppolo, who pitched Hoosac Valley into the Western Mass title game a year ago, was forced to watch her teammates lose five straight in the immediate aftermath of her injury before rallying to finish 9-11 with a berth in the sectional tournament.
 
“At first it was really hard, but I learned a lot more sitting on the sidelines and watching because I got to see the game from a different viewpoint,” she said. “I learned more about the game that way. I learned about baserunning decisions and defensive plays -- things I wouldn’t have picked up if I had been playing.”
 
Some of those lessons might stand her in good stead as she battles for playing time on a competitive Herkimer roster that counted three freshman pitchers on the 2017 squad with at least one more pitcher joining Puppolo in the incoming recruiting class.
 
“They have a couple of pitchers, and every team needs more than one pitcher,” she said. “But whatever role they put me in -- I can pitch, I can play infield, I can play outfield -- wherever they need me to go, I’ll go.”