By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- For the Shenandoah University baseball team, the past seven months have been a healthy blend of living in the past and dreaming of the future.
The Hornets' South Region championship rings that hug their fingers are a shimmering reminder of their 2009 campaign (38-10, 5-5 USA South), which stands as the team's most successful season ever. After blazing through the South Region tournament at Salisbury (Md.) University and earning the school's first-ever NCAA regional championship, Shenandoah had a three-game stint in the Division 3 World Series in Appleton, Wisc.
"It certainly opened a lot of eyes around the community and in the conference with us doing what we did last year," junior outfielder Kevin Brashears said.
After getting knocked out of the championship tournament with a loss to Carthage (Wisc.), Shenandoah finished the season ranked seventh in the nation in the D3baseball.com poll.
With most of last season's starters returning for 2010, all thoughts at Friday afternoon's practice, the Hornets' first of the season, flipped toward the approaching months.
"We had a lot of accomplishments, but we ended with two losses," Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson said. "And it's not gonna be an easy feat at all to repeat what we did -- but can we repeat, or can we get better?
"We have a great group of seniors that are setting the tone, and if we can stay injury free and some new guys step up, we have a chance to be pretty good."
As of Dec. 21, Shenandoah was ranked No. 8 nationally in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason poll.
Like the region championship rings, SU's national ranking exemplifies the duality of Shenandoah's pride: Fond memories of the recent past blended with the knowledge that the program is still trying to build a strong baseball tradition. One season, no matter how successful, can't define an organization.
"I give a lot of credit to the guys that bought into [our system] at the beginning, because if they wouldn't have bought into it, there'd be another coach here," Anderson said. "This system would have never worked and ... the student-athletes are the key, and now we hope that they're passing that on down.
"Instead of having a team, we're starting to build a program."
To build that tradition, to solidify Shenandoah's position among the best, the Hornets will need, if not a run quite like last season's, then at least something similar. With the return of Brashears (third team All-South Region, Most Outstanding Player of the Salisbury Regional), junior Greg Van Sickler (first team All-South Region, third team All-America) and senior Jesse Henry (third team All-South Region), Anderson said his "expectations are high."
And they should be: For the first time, recruits are calling Anderson in the hopes of sporting Shenandoah's midnight blue, rather than vice versa. And for the first time, the pride of Shenandoah baseball extends beyond Winchester, and beyond the USA South.
The Hornets have gone national.
"I've always been a firm believer that when you put your jersey on or your practice shirt that says 'Hornet Baseball' ... you represent that, and you represent how you play on the team," Brashears said. "Everybody represented our pride, everybody did their job, and that's how we became so successful, because everybody bought into what coach [Anderson] talks about and preaches.
"... That [No. 8] ranking there makes us work a little harder just because we need to keep it there, and we need to show everybody that it wasn't a fluke, and we're here to stay on the national scene."