Departed Seniors Laid the Foundation

May 28, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Each year in college athletics, teams say farewell to seniors who have made significant contributions to their respective programs. This year is no different for the Iowa baseball team. Seven Hawkeye seniors are preparing to move on to the next phase of their lives. Tyson Blaser, Zach Kenyon, Kevin Lee, Kurt Lee, Zach McCool, Jeff Pacha and Trevor Willis will all leave the University of Iowa with a degree in hand by the end of the year.

“The seniors have represented the University of Iowa, the athletics department, and the baseball program in a first class manner,” said head coach Jack Dahm. “They have accomplished a lot on the field and even more off the field in the way that they handle themselves. We are very appreciative. Each and every one of those guys is going to go on and be extremely successful in life and be proud representatives of our program and the University.”

The group was instrumental during Iowa’s spectacular run to end the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes won four of their final five three-game series, including sweeping Purdue in the final three games of the regular season to finish third in the Big Ten, their highest finish since 2005. Iowa carried that momentum into the Big Ten Tournament where the team reached the championship game for the first time since 1983. The seven seniors helped lay the foundation for future Iowa baseball success.

Blaser, a native of Taylor Ridge, Ill., spent five years in the program and is Iowa’s only five-time Unity Council member. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, the former Rockridge High School standout was named third team All-Big Ten this season and was Iowa baseball’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honoree.

The two-time ISAAC representative led Iowa and ranked tied for second in the Big Ten with 18 doubles, which are tied for the fourth-most in a season in school history. Blaser was a mainstay behind the plate for the team during his career, appearing in 159 games.

“Tyson had a rough start to his career with some significant injuries,” said Dahm. “He wasn’t healthy and lost a little bit of confidence through all the injuries. The last year and a half he has been the leader of our program. He did some outstanding things. He is very well-deserving of his All-Big Ten honors. We are very proud of him.

“He is going to become a teacher. I can’t think of a better, more energetic, person to be able to go out and work with kids and make a positive influence in the years to come.”

Blaser, who is on track to become a high school history teacher, will especially miss his coaches and teammates.

“They are great guys,” said Blaser. “They are a big reason why I came back for my fifth season. I definitely will keep in touch with them for the rest of my life.”

This group of seniors made a number of notable contributions to the program.

Kenyon was a ninth-round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals coming out of high school but instead chose to attend the University of Iowa. He made 61 appearances on the mound. Kevin Lee set a school record in 2010 with 13 saves, which led the Big Ten. A two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Lee made 55 career appearances in relief.

In Iowa’s victory over Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, Kurt Lee went a perfect 5-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBI. He was honored for his performance in the classroom this season, earning Academic All-District accolades.

McCool was recognized on the All-Big Ten third team at third base in 2010. He was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a two-time Unity Council member. Pacha, an Iowa City native, was also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.

Willis started all 52 games in centerfield in 2011 en route to being named third team all-Big Ten. He led the Big Ten and ranked second in the country with a career-high nine triples, which established a new school single-season record.

Today’s Hawkeyes are Tomorrow’s Leaders: it is safe to say this group will continue to show the truth behind this phrase.