Feb. 21, 2006
After finishing the 2005 season one game out of first place in the Big Ten, Iowa Head Baseball Coach Jack Dahm is looking for his club to use its depth to help contend for a conference championship this year. The Hawkeyes haven’t won a Big Ten title since 1990, but with a number of veterans and talented young players, the team is hoping to end the drought.
Last year, not too much was expected of the Hawkeyes, but they surprised a lot people by finishing 19-13 in the conference and 28-29 overall. With a season like that, teams will not be looking past Iowa this year.
“We’re going to have to earn it this season,” said Dahm. “Last year, I think we snuck up on a few teams, but I don’t think we’ll be able to do that this year.”
Last year’s schedule will benefit this year’s club. During the first 14 games of the season the Hawkeyes will face nine teams that competed in last year’s NCAA tournament. This all comes before heading into 2006 Big Ten competition.
“I think our schedule last year helped us prepare for Big Ten play. And, I think this year’s team will be able to handle it better,” said Dahm, now in his third year at Iowa’s head man. “We learned how to win a year ago. If we limit our mistakes, we should have a good chance to win often this year.”
With numerous players shifting positions, Dahm and his staff will be relying on players stepping up, namely the pitching staff. Despite the loss of junior Casey O’Rourke for the season, the Hawkeyes possess considerable pitching depth. O’Rourke will be out because of medical problems.
At the top of the pitching rotation will be seniors Luke O’Loughlin and Jeff Maitland. O’Loughlin is coming back from off-season surgery, but is expected to be 100-percert early in the spring. Dahm expects to start him in relief in order to allow him to build arm strength.
“We learned how to win a year ago. If we limit our mistakes, we should have a good chance to win often this year.”
Iowa Head Coach Jack Dahm
“Our starters will probably be going about five innings during the first go around,” said Dahm. “So, it’ll be nice to have Luke in the pen with sophomore Travis Sweet and Chase Stephens. They’ll hopefully get us to our closer, senior Tim Gudex.
“We’re looking for Jeff to be a consistent starter. I’d like to have more than one left-handed starter. He’s all we have and he’ll do a good job.”
The main advantage the 2006 pitching staff has over last year’s is experience in the bullpen. Dahm hopes this will lead to consistency. The Hawkeye pitchers can go 12 deep and still be comfortable.
“We’ll be a little more solid in relief,” Dahm said. “We have some experience as well as young talented arms. We won’t have to go to Gudex early as we did last year.”
Gudex took over as the team’s closer last season and ended up leading the Big Ten in wins and saves. He has been named 2006 preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. He’ll be used strictly as a closer and will benefit from the added help in the bullpen. Although he had a tremendous junior season, he’s putting it behind him.
“I’m going to pitch my game and be aggressive,” Gudex said. “I’m going to be confident and not let what problems I had last year get in my head.”
The pitching seems to be set heading into the season, but several other positions are up in the air. The team lost the left side of its infield to graduation. Sweet is expected to be the top candidate at third base. Junior Jason White, who earned all-Big Ten honors at second base last season, will slide over to shortstop.
“He’s going to be rock solid at shortstop for us,” said Dahm. “I think it’s going to be a smooth transition for him. He’s shown a lot more leadership and he’s more comfortable taking charge of the infield.”
Sweet will also be a contender for the second base position. It will depend on who steps up and where they fit best within the infield.
“We think Travis will be an everyday starter whether it’s at second or third,” said Dahm. “We’re going to play a lot of guys early, but Travis will be out there quite a bit.”
Sophomore Dusty Napoleon will split his time between first base and catcher
After having an excellent rookie year at first base, sophomore Dusty Napolean will split time between first and catcher. Looking to share starting duties with Napolean will be senior Skyler Moss at first and sophomore Ben Geelan behind the plate.
“It’s a lot more responsibility,” said Napoleon. “I’m really going to have to concentrate on my game for nine innings.”
In the outfield, senior Nate Price will be the anchor in center field, looking to have a breakout senior season after having injury problems last season. Junior Jeff Engel, who had possibly the best fall of all the outfielders, will be in right.
In left field, senior L.J. Mims returns after missing most of last season with a broken arm. He is competing with junior Matt Wooldrik for playing time against left-handed pitchers. Sophomore Ryan Considine will be looking for playing time against right-handed pitchers.
“Matt has been in the program four years,” said Dahm. “I think he’s just looking for an opportunity. I think you’ll see him step up and have a good year.”
With depth at virtually all positions, it is no wonder Coach Dahm is excited about the 2006 season. The schedule is demanding with home stands against traditionally strong Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota. Dahm hopes that with the top teams coming to Iowa City, fans will come out to show their support.
“Last year was fun when we started getting big crowds,” said Dahm. “We’re starting to create an environment at Duane Banks Field. Hopefully we can continue that this year.”
By Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information