Led by preseason All-American pitchers Dylan Thomas and Steve Maher, the 2013 St. Thomas baseball team is ranked second in the nation by College Baseball News.
While individual accolades are rewarding, the team is focused on a common goal.
“First place is what we want; (it’s) what we are definitely striving for this year,” Thomas said.
St. Thomas is coming off a third-place finish in the NCAA Division III World Series last season and while the preseason ranking is significant, the players know they can’t rest on prior achievements.
“That’s something that we also worked extremely hard for,” Thomas said. “We have to show it first. We have to prove to people that we can be there.”
Last season, the Tommies won a conference-best 41 games and captured their 10th-straight MIAC title. Thomas said the team knows it has a target on its back.
“Teams are going to be coming after us,” Thomas said. “We’re going to have to face a lot of ones and twos (opposing teams’ top two pitchers).”
While the Tommies are perennial conference chart-toppers as of late, the players know they will have to face tough competition scattered throughout the MIAC.
“St. John’s is going to be a powerhouse,” Thomas said. “Hamline is always a fun game to be there for, too. Every team in the MIAC is going to be good this year, we just have to go out and prove that we’re gonna be the best.”
With expectations and goals surrounding St. Thomas, players aren’t short of drive.
“There’s a lot of motivation,” outfielder and team captain Tim Kuzniar said. “We’ve got a lot of guys returning from that third-place team last year. We know what it’s going to take, we know how the road is going to be getting back to the World Series.”
Success often brings stress, and Kuzniar said players must stay focused to win a national title.
“Being No. 2 this year, it adds a little more pressure,” Kuzniar said. “We can’t really sneak up on anyone. There aren’t going to be teams who don’t throw us their best guys or give us their best stuff.”
The Tommies won’t be relaxing during spring break; the team will fly to Florida for more training.
“All we do is eat, sleep, and play baseball. We really bond and become closer as a team,” Kuzniar said. “That’s where we show what we’re made of.”
Coach Chris Olean said it is a new year, and that means working together for a new goal.
“The message to our guys was certainly ‘don’t believe the hype,’” Olean said. “Remember that we have to re-earn that ranking all over again.”
Olean said his team will open the season with a very challenging schedule, facing some top-25 teams.
“We’ll know where we’re at (after that),” Olean said. “We don’t have a whole lot of gaps in the schedule this year in terms of competition. We’re going to have to earn every single one of them, and that’s the way I like it.”
The Tommies have won two national titles in baseball: 2001 and 2009.
Winning another national title would be meaningful to coaches and players alike, Kuzniar said, especially with all the other athletic success across the departments.
“We (the baseball team) kind of get overlooked with how well the football and basketball teams have been doing lately,” Kuzniar said. “So, bringing that third title to the baseball program would be a nice cap off to let everyone know that baseball is still here.”
The Tommies’ season opener is Sunday, Feb. 24, in doubleheader action against Coe College (Iowa) at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn.
Trevor Walstrom can be reached at email@example.com.