by Jordan Lee
Missouri College Media Award: Third Place, Sports Writing
The Longview Lakers baseball team is in full swing as they prepare for the 2009 season. After an enviably successful season resulting in a trip to the National Championship tournament, the team hopes to continue the trend.
Of the 29-man roster, only six players return from last year and the team must call upon some new talent to fill the voids. Most would be apprehensive when faced with the task of replacing a 2007 championship roster, but the Lakers are confident in the new roles they will assume.
“Our goals are the same as always—we’re going to try and win another National Championship,” said head coach Clint Culbertson. “I think the advantage that we have this year is that we have a bunch of new guys that bring a new energy. There’s not a chance of becoming stale or resting on our laurels.”
Culbertson said he is convinced that this year’s group is highly capable of performing at or above the same level as their predecessors. He also feels that with such a young team, it will take time for them to mature into their game.
“Athletically, this might be the most athletic team we’ve had in the three years that I’ve been at Longview,” said Culbertson. “They’re just young and we’ll have to see how that talent plays out in a game.”
The handful of returning players who look to guide this young team down the same path they traveled last year will use their experience and understanding of what makes a championship team. They realize the potential to obtain another title.
“The only thing we lack is obviously experience, but as the season goes on, the young guys will get [more innings],” said sophomore relief pitcher Adam Randles. “They’re going to have to play and they’re going to have to mature over the course of the year.”
With an already refined program, the expectations are set high for those who are new to the team. The prestige that they are associated with is understood and many look forward to the challenge of competing at such high levels.
“I know that I’m going to learn more [things] from players that are good,” said freshman third baseman and outfielder Taylor Didier. “It’s actually a learning experience and I know that I’ll be improving.”
The roster adjustment is not the only challenge the team may face this year. The competition will also be new, due to a change made in postseason matchups. If the Lakers advance beyond the Missouri bracket, the team will no longer play Illinois teams, but instead compete with teams from Oklahoma.
“Last year Western Oklahoma put up some gaudy Nintendo-type numbers. They’d be some pretty good competition if it were that team,” said Culbertson. “Until you’ve played in [the post season] you really don’t appreciate it. If you prepare the right way, you practice the right way, and you plan on it, then you have a pretty good chance of being successful.”
The Lakers begin the season traveling to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M on Feb. 14.
Slideshow: Practice, Jan. 22, 2009.
Lakers Baseball Updates Blog