A championship state of mind

Feb. 17, 2009

Iowa Baseball Media Day photo gallery

by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa baseball team’s confidence is soaring as it prepares for the 2009 season with one crucial goal in mind — to win the Big Ten Championship. That quest begins when the Hawkeyes head to Florida for the Big East/Big Ten Challenge on Feb. 20.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you always want to win a Big Ten Championship,” UI head coach Jack Dahm said. “That is our goal this year and I think that is a very realistic goal for our program.”

Whether it is staying after practice to take additional batting practice or field more ground balls, the Hawkeyes are doing what it takes to climb the standings of the Big Ten.

It is going to take persistence and putting in the extra hours. One thing is for sure, despite a 22-33 record last year, there was no blow to the Hawkeye confidence. Two years ago they nearly won the Big Ten with a 31-23 record.

“Being on that team two years ago was a great experience,” senior third baseman Kevin Hoef said. “I’m really looking forward to getting back there. I know that is what we will work for every day is getting back to that Big Ten Tournament and win a Big Ten Championship.”

“Going into every season we have high expectations,” senior first baseman T.J. Cataldo said. “We work hard and so we have high expectations. We go out, play the game, and the rest should take care of itself.”

Going from nearly winning the Big Ten to falling off in consecutive years provided even more motivation for this season.

“It’s a very big motivation for us,” Dahm said. “One of the things we try to strive for is consistency and we have had a couple of outstanding years since we have been here but we always followed it up with a struggle. We feel like we have a lot of depth right now. Even if we have a couple of injuries, we feel like we some other guys available to step up. This year we feel like we can make a big step. Not only because we feel like we are better but if you look, Michigan lost a lot and really there isn’t that one team that is sticking out that we feel is going to walk away with the Big Ten Championship. So, I think we have as good a chance as anybody.”

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you always want to win a Big Ten Championship. That is our goal this year and I think that is a very realistic goal for our program.”
UI head coach Jack Dahm

“As a team (our motivation) is a Big Ten Championship and making that regional run,” sophomore pitcher Zach Kenyon said. “Hopefully we can get to Omaha too.”

It begins when they set out to Clearwater, Fla., to take on Big Ten foe Illinois on Feb. 20. Unlike football and basketball where they don’t see Big Ten action for a few games into the season, baseball throws teams right into the mix to see what they’re made of.

“We want to just go out there and play good ball especially going down south,” Hoef said. “We’re really working on that Big Ten Championship. We have to bring a full team effort with pitching and hitting and do all that and we’ll see what happens.”

During the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, Iowa will see Illinois, St. John’s and Georgetown in three consecutive days.

“We start off playing Illinois and that is always a good game,” Hoef said. “Then we get to play St. John’s, which I have never played. I don’t think I have ever played another Big East team besides Notre Dame. It should be a good experience.”

The Hawkeyes would like to put a string of wins together to start off the season to be a table-setter for the rest of the year.

The Hawkeyes are ready to move to warmer conditions and get the baseball season underway.

“I’m extremely excited about it,” senior shortstop Justin Toole said. “All the guys keep talking about it and can’t wait to get down south where it is a little warmer. We’re excited to get out there and play outside and see some warm weather for once.”

As Dahm said, the Big Ten Championship is anyone’s to win. All eyes are on the prize.

The UI baseball team’s sixth-annual Lead-Off Dinner is set for this evening, Feb. 17, at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. This year’s event is headlined by major league umpire Tim McClelland. A special VIP reception begins at 5 p.m., with the dinner and program beginning at 6:30. .