He can’t change the weather, but Bob Rients, UMD baseball’s head coach, can change his team — and he did. Rients hopes a number of offseason additions can make the 2015 Bulldog baseball team contenders in the highly competitive Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Now, all they need is the weather to change.
While most NSIC teams have already embarked on the 2015 campaign, the Bulldogs are eager to begin after cold weather and snow canceled their season-opening tournament, in which they were slated to play Southern Indiana: the defending national champions.
“It’s unfortunate that we missed an opportunity to compete against the defending national champions, so I think that was something that kind of weighed a little bit heavier on guys,” Rients said.
Instead, the Bulldogs will prepare for NSIC play with an eight-game Florida road trip. These games will serve multiple purposes for UMD: A strong junior class aims to build on last year’s success, a number of freshmen pitchers hope to quickly adjust to collegiate baseball and two coaches — in their first season with UMD — plan to help make it all happen.
Though it may sound chaotic, Rients believes a strong group of upperclassmen can lay the foundation for success while the many new faces adjust.
“Where it takes us — I have no idea,” Rients said. “I know we’ve done a lot of new things this year that I think the guys are excited to get out there and compete, and to know that they have a great deal of ownership into how this unfolds.”
Coming into 2015, the Bulldogs return six starters and twenty-three letter winners. Last year’s top pitcher, Bo Hellquist, and power-hitting first baseman, Alex Wojciechowski, headline a strong junior class.
“I think they’ve definitely earned the playing time in the past,” Rients said of his juniors. “It is (about) finding guys to fit around them to ultimately solidify the whole lineup and the whole pitching staff as well.”
Michael Stocke, a fifth-year program veteran and one of three captains for 2015, will lead a young pitching staff that includes eight freshmen.
“(Pitching) was definitely an area where we felt we needed to get some more bodies (and) some more talent,” Rients said. “I think having a captain that’s a pitcher can help lead those fellows there in their training and their adaption to the college level as well.”
Joining Stocke as captains are fellow seniors Beau Goff and John Meyer. Rients hopes their experience can help to lead his players and hold them accountable, especially while his new assistant coaches, Frank Pufall and Taylor Peterson, adjust to a new team and routine.
“It only makes sense to rely on those juniors and seniors to really get the younger players aboard and to get them to establish the identity of the program,” Rients said.
Pufall spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach at Northland College in Ashland, WI, while Peterson has played the past two seasons for the University of North Dakota.
“It’s always a great situation to bring in new ideas and new energy. I think that’s always important for a program to continue to press forward with new staff,” Rients said.
Added to the list of changes for 2015 is their home field. While Bulldog Park remains their official home, the recent addition of a turf playing-surface to Wade Stadium gives them a dependable backup plan and a greatly improved chance of playing their first home game in two years.
“I think that situation with Wade stadium being an option as far as full turf is a benefit to our guys, not just physically but emotionally; this is a possibility to be able to play and sleep in their own beds, and not have to hop on a bus every day that we do play,” Rients said.
UMD hopes these changes will extend to their record — the Bulldogs placed at No. 10 in the NSIC last year, missing the NSIC playoff tournament with an overall record of (18-23).