By Mike Gurnis

For the New Jersey Herald

Free time is hard to come by in Olivia Vizzini’s world.

The Vernon senior admittedly is not one to enjoy sitting around. That’s why you’ll find her involved in some way outside of the classrooms at Vernon Township High School, whether it be on the softball diamond or volleyball court, in addition to other extracurricular activities such as leadership positions in various honor societies.

“I love to be involved with my school, especially, in athletics and in extracurricular activities,” Vizzini said. “I find myself to be a natural leader, so I assume those positions naturally. I love the grind. It’s something I’ve been very used to since I was very young. I kind of find myself bored without all the activities going on in my life. So, it’s nice to stay involved, help my school community, it’s awesome.”

She certainly excels in the classroom, holding a 98.79 GPA while being third in her class of 225 students, and was named Vernon’s Student of the Year in 2017. She is the president of the National Honor Society, and is involved in the English, Social Studies, Math, Italian, and Art Honor Societies as well.

But one particular area — science — is what interests Vernon’s 2020 Pass It Along scholar athlete the most.

That subject is not just a big part of Vizzini’s present, where she’s involved in Vernon’s STEM programs, in addition to being the secretary of the Science National Honor Society. Science is what she hopes will be her future, as she is set to attend the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study biomedical engineering this fall, where she will also be playing softball.

“I’ve always loved science since I was in elementary school,” Vizzini said. “I love just finding out how things in the natural world work, and how they function and the mechanics behind it. In high school, I knew I wanted to lean engineering, math, and science, so I took the first level engineering course. That was my freshman year, and I loved it.

“It was a lot of hands-on, building, designing things, and from that moment I immediately knew that I wanted to be some sort of engineer, doing the same sort of thing and designing with hands-on work. Then, I took biology sophomore year, and I loved that even more. So, to do biomedical engineering, I think that’s the perfect marriage of the two.”

She was the sole recipient of the Rensselaer Medal scholarship, which is a scholarship that RPI awards to outstanding math and science students.

As an added bonus, she will get to continue her already-stellar softball career in college.

She has helped Vernon’s softball team reach an unprecedented level of success in her first three years, leading the team to its first division title since 1982 as a sophomore in 2018, as well as the Hunterdon Warren Sussex Tournament title.

“It’s so surreal,” Vizzini said of the softball team’s success. “It’s just been crazy because I didn’t know softball in high school before obviously I came, so to come in and be a part of that new force that brought about a winning culture at Vernon is really awesome.

“It’s cool to see even now as an upperclassman, and see how the younger freshmen and underclassmen, how they respond to our leadership and just using what we learned as underclassmen to lead them.”

She has earned NJAC First Team All-Conference and First Team All-Herald honors for softball. Perhaps just as impressive is that she has gotten to put her leadership abilities to good use in a sport that she didn’t play prior to high school, which is volleyball.

Vizzini picked up the sport as a freshman because Vernon does not have a feeder volleyball program, and she stepped in and contributed immediately. She was named team captain as a junior, and holds a place in Vernon’s record books as its all-time career kills leader.

“It was, first, an honor to be chosen as a captain by my coach during my junior year,” Vizzini said. “It was definitely a learning curve, just trying to motivate and encourage my peers in a way that wasn’t overstepping my bounds. But then senior year, coming back and being familiar with everybody, and knowing how the team dynamic works and knowing more about the sport definitely equipped me with the skills that you can’t learn otherwise.”

But as successful as she has been in athletics, she knows that it is only part of her journey.

“Academics has always come first for me,” Vizzini said. “So I knew that if I didn’t get to play at a school that was very academic and very high-level engineering, I wouldn’t play softball. So, to get the opportunity to play at RPI, was amazing. It’s obviously one of the best for biomedical engineering, so it was almost a no-brainer.”

Added Vizzini: “I’ve always said that a good education paves the way to a good athletic career, so to have both and to do both well is something hard to come by. That’s why it’s an honor to be nominated.”