Kean University's baseball team was recently picked to get the top spot in its division on the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Preseason Coaches' Poll. The team made its 11th straight NCAA tournament appearance last year, and has no plans of letting up.
The baseball program was included in two preseason national polls with rankings of 15th and 19th in the Collegiate Baseball and the D3Baseball.com polls as well.
The Cougars finished last season on high marks wile accumulating many honors, awards and wins with a 30-18 record. As the team won 30 games last season, it extended its long-time streak of winning 30 or more games in a single season for 12 consecutive seasons.
From a team-wide batting average just under .300, to becoming a team that had 11 different players field their positions nearly without error, the program has plans to set the bar of excellence even higher this season. Junior business management major and first baseman Matthew Krupa, a returning player, credited the team's defensive success to the coaching staff around Head Coach Neil Ioviero.
"Our first base coach Gary Galvach has really taught me a lot about the position and is always giving me pointers on what I can do better, especially with the small nuances that tune my game to be the best it can be," Krupa said.
Coach Ioviero, the leader of the 2007 National Champion Kean University baseball team, earned his 600th career win last year. Additionally, he picked up NJAC Coach of the Year honors with the team that was able to get four wins in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Regional Championships last year.
"The 600 wins definitely speak to the kind of guy Neil is," Krupa added. "Having a record that good doesn't come easy and it represents all the hard work and dedication he has given to not only the baseball program, but the school."
Although 12 seniors have left this talented roster, Coach Ioviero's confidence in his returning and freshman talent will not falter.
"With all the success Neil has had, it doesn't take much to inspire a group of freshman who are hungry to win. The wins just show the freshman that this guy knows what he is doing. As long as they listen and buy in to his philosophy, there will be a lot more winning," said Krupa.
The starting catcher for the Cougars, sophomore finance major Brian Cole attributed the team's success to Coach Ioviero's belief in the 20th Kean University baseball team he is coaching.
"Every time that we come into the fall, we always set a goal of winning the entire national championship, and that doesn't waver regardless of what we look like as we come into the fall. Last year we had the 12 seniors, and we were supposed to be this great team on paper and we did not even get to the College World Series," Cole said.
"This year, on paper, they say that we are not supposed to be as good, but we still have that attitude of working hard to get to where we need to go because that's the expectation around here. It is always to succeed, regardless of who is on the team," Cole said. "Right from the fall we set that goal and we worked towards it until we reach it."
Opening weekend started on Friday, February 17, 2017 against the Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) as a slew of Kean University's best players returned for their upperclassmen seasons. The team would win a hard-fought battle with a score of 5-3 while letting up ten hits as a team. They would then proceed to win two games after that against the Griffins of Gwynedd-Mercy and the Golden Eagles from The College at Brockport. The Cougars are showing their effort to make it back to the postseason with a fiery 5-1 start.
Three All-NJAC award winners have returned to the team: first baseman Matthew Krupa, pitcher Ritchie Ferguson and as well as catcher Cole.
"As a leader, I think that having the accolades is a good thing, but I think the respect level that we have for each other helps that along as well," All-NJAC recipient Brian Cole said.
"I think that other younger players look up to me and instill that hard work ethic in them and hopefully they see the same success that me and a lot of my teammates have," Cole said, "because no one player can win games or do everything for us. It is really going to take that team effort to help us achieve this year's goal."
The players have returned to the Kean University baseball field with this season's plan to lead the way for this program to another trip to the NCAA tournament, and a shot at another National Championship.