This past weekend, the Northern Kentucky baseball team competed in its first games at the Division I level. But, Friday night’s opener at Lamar wasn’t just the beginning – it was a reward years’ worth of work.
“The process started about five years ago then the NCAA put the moratorium on it so we all get up to go Division I then kind of the hit the balloon air popping,” Asalon said. “Once we made the decision, our administration called us together and we knew we were going Division I. Up to that point it was a feeling of relief.”
The feeling of relief didn’t mean a time of relaxation, as Asalon and his staff soon realized what was ahead for the program.
“The real lookout ahead was, ‘Hey man we’re going to do this so we’ve got to step up our game in a lot of different ways, in budgets, facilities, that kind of thing’. Right now we’ve been recruiting and getting geared up for everything,” Asalon said. “It’s a little bit scary, a little bit exciting and we’re excited for the challenge.”
The process included the addition of the Bank of Kentucky Center, a 10,000 seat multi-purpose arena that was completed in 2008, a $10 million soccer complex, additions of tennis courts and even more dorms on campus. But, by the new NCAA rule, a team must have a conference affiliation before committing to Division I. That’s when the Atlantic Sun came calling. Now, the Norse will compete with East Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson, South Carolina Upstate, North Florida, Mercer, Lipscomb, Kennesaw State and Jacksonville.
All new things aside, Asalon does have a very good relationship with the university and baseball program. Asalon arrived in Highland Heights, Ky., in 2001 and has since led the Norse baseball program to a record of 278-190-1 with four NCAA Division II Tournament appearances. He also has more than just coaching experience as a Norse, as he was a member of the team from 1980-83, where he was a three-year starter at catcher. From there, he was later as assistant coach for the Norse from 1991-94 before leaving for a coaching job at Thomas More College in 1994.
“Maybe it’s because I’m an alumnus of Northern Kentucky, but it’s really special; a historical event from when I played in the early 80s and came back as an assistant coach and then took the program over in 2001,” Asalon said. “So to see it come full circle from the early days to now is really incredible. It means a lot to me as an alum, and I know it means a lot to the University and all the other alumni.”
Northern Kentucky joins the A-Sun from the Great Lakes Valley Conference, where Asalon won 176 games – the most by any GLVC team over the last eight years. Last season, the Norse finished with a 38-24 record and picked up their fourth GLVC title in the last seven years.
“We came from a really good conference,” Asalon said. “I’d like to think we’d be really successful, but I’m realistic too. I expect success but I’m really going to focus on the process and get everything lined up. It’s a really good conference and I’m not a very good loser, so I hope we get this going in the right direction early.”
With just one weekend of Division I baseball in the books, the Norse have an entire season to look forward to, but must endure the NCAA’s four-year probation. Although they won’t be able to compete for an A-Sun title or NCAA Tournament berth until the 2016-17 year, Asalon is looking forward to his players hitting the field for their first action and seeing them work as a young team.
“We have so many freshman and we need to get them out there and see how they will react,” Asalon said. “We’re going to try and get a lot of looks from everybody and try and get some work in, because the weather has not been great outside for us up here to get some scrimmaging in.”
The Norse traveled to Lamar this past weekend and fought hard, but were swept by the Cardinals in four games.