UNDsports.com takes a look at the 2014 baseball team with a three-part installment leading into North Dakota's season opener on Friday.
Overall- Tuesday | Pitching staff- Wednesday | Lineup- Thursday
Preseason prospectus | 2014 schedule
Sixth-year University of North Dakota head baseball coach Jeff Dodson welcomes back a veteran ball team that makes the transition into a new conference this season. Along with moving to the Western Athletic Conference comes the opportunity for an NCAA Tournament automatic qualifier, UND's first chance to nab a league-owned spot in its brief Division I era.
"I'll never forget the day that I walked into the locker room and told the guys we were going to the WAC," Dodson said. "There's a huge buzz with getting into the WAC and having a chance at the NCAA automatic qualifier. It's a tough league and it'll be a grind but we're excited for it."
Dodson has just two holes to fill from the regular starting lineup from last season and welcomes back his entire starting rotation and the bulk of the bullpen. We'll preview the rotation Wednesday and the lineup on Thursday leading into Friday's season opener.
North Dakota is coming off its most successful Division I season, finishing 25-22-1 in the final year of the Great West Conference. At the GWC Tourney, UND again made noise, becoming the first team to ever defeat Utah Valley at the league tournament and defeating top-seeded Northern Colorado in its first two games. That playoff experience is one that Coach Dodson hopes will translate well into a deeper, tougher WAC schedule.
"We have a lot of experience, a huge junior class and some senior leaders," Dodson said. "We're hoping to capitalize on that experience."
The WAC schedule is a three-game series with each of the other nine schools to make up 27 of the regular season games. North Dakota was picked to finish ninth in the preseason WAC poll, but to have a firm grasp on how anything will shakedown in a league that features six new teams this season is premature. UND, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Northern Colorado, Texas Pan-American and Utah Valley all join for 2014 to join the two that came aboard last season (Bakersfield, Seattle) and the two stalwarts (since 2006) Sacramento State and New Mexico State.
One change from the Great West schedule to the three-game WAC series schedule is the ability to solidify a solid three-man rotation. UND is already strong there with returners Andrew Thome (threw a no-hitter last season), Alex Twenge (led team in ERA with sparkling 6-1 record) and Jeff Campbell (returning to the mound from an injury-plagued 2013).
Only graduating senior Kris Kwak and Patrick Vandoorne are among the regulars missing from last season's lineup. Infuse in some newcomers that could make a difference along with, among others, starting catcher senior Taylor Petersen, Campbell and Ryan Reese in the middle of what should be a potent offense.
We'll spotlight the rotation and the bullpen in part two of the season preview. Part three will breakdown the UND lineup and positional battles.