The College Baseball Blog continues our series of interviews with various head coaches around the nation. We recently had a chance to talk with Greg DiCenzo of Holy Cross who is entering his second season. His first season saw the Crusaders go 21-28 while going 11-9 in the Patriot League. They were eliminated in the Patriot League semifinals by the Naval Academy in three games.
1. Holy Cross is coming off a 21-28 campaign but went a respectable 11-9 in the Patriot League. The Crusaders lose two of their top five hitters and return three out of four weekend starting pitchers. What are you expectations for the 2009 season?
Our expectations are quite similar to what they were a year ago. Our players will compete with any team on our schedule and expect to win every game that is scheduled. Will that happen? Of course not, however, each player in this program, each coach in this program, and each player joining this program in the future needs to have that belief.
2. Catcher Brendan Akashian started 46 games last season with a majority of the starts behind the plate, Who do you expect to step into his leadership role behind the plate handling the veteran pitching staff?
We are lucky in that we have a senior in Tim Hughes who will take over for Brendan this season. He is a player that has shown to be very productive when called upon, and certainly a guy that is ready to handle the everyday operations behind the plate. He has waited three years for this opportunity, and I expect him to be eager to contribute on a daily basis.
3. Matt Shapiro was named the 2008 Patriot League Pitcher of the Year after going 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in Patriot League action. What makes him such a strong pitcher in conference action?
Matty was a guy who we had slotted for the mid-week/bullpen role at the outset of last season. As we trudged through our pre-conference schedule, he quickly became a player that we knew we could lean on in any situation. What makes him such a special player, is that he is unfazed in all aspects of the game. He never tries to do more than he is capable of, and he takes pride in his ability to attack the strike zone.
4. Have any of your incoming freshmen impressed you during Fall Workouts? Do you see any of them breaking into the starting lineup/rotation this season?
I am hoping that all of our first-year players are coming into the pre-season with a desire to crack that starting lineup. We certainly have a few guys that will contribute significantly in their freshman campaigns, and hopefully they will become the cornerstones for what we are building here at Holy Cross.
5. One of the biggest changes I have recognized with the Holy Cross program since you took over the team in the fall of 2007 is the schedule. Holy Cross will start the season with a three game set against Loyola Marymount which starts on Feb. 28th. You will also play Arizona and Arizona State on the trip. What is your scheduling philosophy for out of conference games?
I truly believe that you can learn an awful lot about your program and about your players, once they have been thrown into these types of situations. I scheduled these games because I feel it is important for them to see some of the best programs in the country. I also firmly believe that playing college baseball is about the “experience”. This trip to CA and AZ is an experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Our coaching staff enjoys creating lifelong experiences for our players…all while knowing full-well what the ultimate goal of this trip beholds. Undoubtedly, we have the utmost respect for every team on our schedule, but to be perfectly honest, our mind-set will not change while playing in Los Angeles, Tucson, Tempe, or Worcester. We are expecting our players to compete in every game on that schedule.
6. Last season we saw the implementation of the Uniform Start Date. What are your early impressions on it? Did you think it has leveled the playing field?
I did not mind the Uniform Start Date. My disposition is that the success of a program always comes down to recruiting and developing players. I do not believe that this rule levels the playing field as much as some might think. The best coaches will always go out, recruit the best players, and develop them as best they can. It would surprise me to see the Uniform Start Date having a direct effect on the success of any program in the country. It would be a discredit to the programs that are consistently winning and to the programs that have righted themselves.
7. With the removal of the one-time transfer exemption that allowed student-athletes to change schools once without having to sit out a red-shirt year, do you feel that there is more pressure on a coach to recruit with responsibility or for the student-athlete to be aware of what programs are the best fit for them?
I don’t feel that a coaches recruiting style should change whatsoever based on this rule. I am hoping that when we recruit student-athletes, we are doing so with the belief they will remain at your school for the duration of their careers. I just don’t feel that our responsibility increases or decreases based upon their inability to transfer without sitting out a year. Our job is to provide each prospective student-athlete with as much information about yourself, your program, and your school. If they choose to come play for you, it is because they have done their homework and have realized that your institution is the best fit for them and their family.
8. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced with turning the program around?
In order to answer this question correctly, I would have to rephrase it a bit. The term “turning a program around”, never sits well with me. I interpret that as meaning the entire 2008 roster, the recent Holy Cross baseball alumni, and the coaches who have come before our present staff, failed in some capacity. I don’t believe that to be the case. The players we have are good baseball players, good students, and good people. The previous staff recruited all of them. My job has actually been easier than some might expect…try to show them just how good they are at playing the game of baseball and believe in their abilities. These players want to win as bad as every other program out there. My goal is to get every last one of them to believe they can.
9. Final question, What is the best part of being the head coach at Holy Cross?
The academic integrity of the College, the coaching staff I work with, and the players we get to coach each day.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Greg DiCenzo for taking some time out of his day to talk with us about his 2009 squad. You can check out our previous interviews by clicking here and if you are an SID or Head Coach that would like to be featured on the site please email us by clicking here.