The Horizon League released its preseason coaches' poll Wednesday afternoon. Valpo received 19 points in the survey, which landed them in fourth place in the now six-team conference.
Milwaukee received three first-place votes as coaches around the league anticipate the Panthers repeating as regular season champions. Wright State garnered one more first-place nod than UIC, but the Flames edged out the Raiders for second place.
Newcomer Oakland was slotted at fifth place ahead of Youngstown State. The Golden Grizzlies finished 20-35 in their final season in the Summit League.
The Horizon League also announced its Preseason All-League Team. Seniors Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro), Bryce Hara (Irvine, Calif./Northwood [Irvine Valley College]) and Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) were all represented.
Manning is coming of a 2013 where he assembled a slash of .304/.379/.410 coupled with adept defense in right field. The outfielder enters 2014 having started 176 games for the Crusaders.
Hara's speed and ability to get on base makes him a threat on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, his range in center field is a boost to the Crusader pitching staff. Last season, Hara enjoyed a 19-game streak where he reached base at least once, the longest of any returning player.
Few relievers in the country had a better 2013 than Kowalczyk. The closer didn't allow his first run until May 4th and his twelve saves were the Horizon League watermark. On top being named the 2013 Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year, he was one of just 50 relievers named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List yesterday. Kowalczyk was rewarded with MVP honors after his three saves in last year's HL Conference Tournament.
The Crusaders begin their season Friday night as they open a three-game series with the Samford Bulldogs at 6:00 pm CT.
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Milwaukee (3) -33
2. UIC (1) – 28
3. Wright State (2) – 27
4. Valparaiso – 19
5. Oakland – 11
6. Youngstown State – 8
*- First Place Votes in Parenthesis
Preseason All-League Team
C – Mitch Ghelfi, Milwaukee
1B – Michael Timm, Wright State
2B – Mike Porcaro, Milwaukee
SS – Alex Lee, UIC
3B – Sam Koenig, Milwaukee
OF – Kieston Greene, Wright State
OF – Chris Manning, Valparaiso
OF – Derek Peake, Milwaukee
DH – Chris Van Dyke, Oakland
UTIL – Bryce Hara, Valparaiso
P – Travis Hissong, Wright State
P – Karch Kowalczyk, Valparaiso
Preseason Player of the Year: Mike Porcaro, Milwaukee
Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Travis Hissong, Wright State