Mike DiLuzio sure had a debut season to remember.
In his first season as the Avon Grove softball coach, DiLuzio guided Avon Grove to the PIAA Class AAAA state championship final for the first time ever.
He is also a runaway choice as the 2016 Daily Local News All-Area Softball Coach of the Year,
“The kids deserve the credit,” said DiLuzio. “I had the privilege to coach not just a great group of kids but an extremely talented team. They brought to the field a collecting of talent and skills. My job was simple, it was to organize their talent and then put them in the best place to be successful, as any coach would do. My saying was, ‘I steer the bike, you do the pedaling.’”
The Red Devils captured the Ches-Mont National League title and the District 1 Class AAAA championship. But to DiLuzio, the most memorable moment of the season was when the team began to believe in itself fully.
“For me, the most memorable moment will always be the day the light went on, and it registered on them that they could accomplish anything they wanted,” said Avon Grove’s first-year coach. “I saw their confidence grow and from that point on they not only played to win but expected to.”
Going to Penn State for the PIAA Class AAAA state championship game was quite an experience too.
“What I remember most about the experience was the look on our players’ faces when we first arrived and saw the Penn State field,” said DiLuzio. “They had their phones out, taking pictures, and it began to sink in that they made it to the state championship game. It was the look you see when someone goes to Disney for the first time.
“I wanted our players to take it all in. I wanted it to be more than a game or a trip. I wanted it to be an experience for them. From the moment we left school on the bus there was excitement in the air and on their faces. When we arrived we were treated like royalty by Penn State. We had our own liaison, locker room and facilities. Our school did a first class job with the accommodations and our principal, Mr. [Scott] DeShong, and our AD, Vanessa Robitson, made all the arrangements. We had a coach bus with our driver, Tom, the same driver from our prior game who we requested. Mrs. Kunitsky made us breakfast and packed us sandwiches, snacks and drinks for the ride. Thanks to all our parents who helped make it a great experience.”
The 61-year-old DiLuzio started coaching high school softball at Academy Park and coached for 11 years at Garnet Valley before coming to Avon Grove.
“I was familiar with most of the players on Avon Grove — I had coached the majority of them for the past couple years when they played for [travel team] SWAT,” said DiLuzio. “Every coach will tell you that success in softball starts in the circle with the pitcher, and we have been blessed to have in my opinion the best pitcher in the state and arguably in the country, in Maggie Balint, who has set new standard and records for pitching that I believe will stand for a long, long time.
“From a coaching point of view, no matter what teams I coached, I have three core principles for success which have always worked for me — atmosphere, preparation and adjustments. It is up to the coach to create the right atmosphere, which in my opinion must be positive for players to grow. You prepare players by teaching them the fundamentals of the game, preparing them for anything they may face in the season, and having a game plan for each opponent you play. Teach players to make adjustments during the game. Not everything will happen the way you planned so it is vital to make adjustments as the game goes on.
“But the greatest thing you can do for any player is to build their confidence. Making them feel like they can do anything. If I can fill every player I coached with confidence I done my job.”