It's remarkable to think four months have passed since the Crusaders grabbed the attention of the college baseball world by dismissing the Florida Gators from the NCAA Regionals via a 5-4 nailbiter in Bloomington, Indiana.
Perhaps what's more remarkable is the heightened level of standards considering the sea of change that swept through Valparaiso in the summer of 2013.
Last year's associate head coach Brian Schmack now sits at the head of the table - and with his promotion came a brand new staff. Shortstop Spencer Mahoney is the lone rollover from an infield that won a combined 67 games in 2012 & 2013. Kyle Wormington, Chris DeBoo, and Mike Jacobs have recorded their final outs as collegiate pitchers.
"If anything, I believe we have higher expectations this year with Coach Schmack. In the past, our whole emphasis was on making the NCAA Tournament. Now, we are looking to start and do much better on our spring trip. We usually start off slow, but we would like to maintain a highly competitive level of ball for the entire season start to finish. We believe Coach Schmack and his staff will help continue our past success and build upon it. We're all very excited," senior Chris Manning said.
While a significant amount of productivity has graduated, core players still preoccupy the roster.
Karch Kowalczyk, last season's Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year, is back for his senior season as is Manning, a two-time All-Horizon League outfielder. A pair of 2013 All-HL Newcomers Cole Webb and Bryce Hara return for one more season as well. Starting pitcher Dalton Lundeen is just a few months removed from a freshman season where he posted a 5-1 record to accompany a 3.73 earned run average. Webb and Lundeen provide Schmack with ready-made options for the weekend rotation.
Furthermore, Valpo's recent run of success has boosted the caliber of recruits the coaching staff has been able to attract.
"Being able to mention a Regional victory over Florida along with back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances has definitely allowed us to target a higher profile student-athlete," Schmack said.
These new pieces will be on full display Saturday at 12:00 p.m. at Emory G. Bauer Field in Game 1 of the team's Fall World Series. Games 2 & 3 (if necessary) will be held on Monday and Wednesday at 3 p.m.
The two teams will be captained by seniors: Kowalczyk the Black team, and Manning the Grey team.