The defending Valley Baseball League champions will have a new manager next season.

The New Market Rebels announced over the weekend the appointment of Matt Schaeffer as the team’s head coach for the 2019 season. He replaces former skipper Zac Cole, who managed the Rebels for three summers and led New Market to the VBL title in 2018.

“Excited would probably be an understatement,” Schaeffer, an assistant coach at South Florida State College, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a good opportunity obviously for myself, but I think more so what I’m looking forward to is the opportunity I get to interact with some new people in a new area, a new league, I guess, for me as far as a coach and going back to my time as a player. Ultimately I’m looking forward to it. We’re gonna get a chance to do a lot of good things for some kids and ultimately that’s always been my goal as a coach.”

In Schaeffer’s first season at South Florida State, a junior college in Avon Park, Florida, the Panthers posted the program’s most overall wins (27) and most conference wins (13) in a six-year span, according to a news release from the Rebels.

He also served as head coach and general manager of the Palm Beach Diamond Ducks in the South Florida Collegiate League, leading the club to a record of 27-12 and first place in the North Division, according to the release.

Schaeffer, a Florida native, pitched at the NCAA Division-I level for Appalachian State in 2016 and 2017.

Bruce Alger, general manager of the New Market Rebels, said the organization’s coaching search began with 23 resumes, which the hiring committee narrowed down to three candidates. Schaeffer, Alger said, “jumped right through the phone right to us” and was a unanimous choice to the be the team’s next head coach.

“All three of them mentioned the passion about the game but when he said it, he said it with passion,” Alger said of Schaeffer. “He’s an incredible young man. He’s on the rise in the coaching ranks. His integrity and character are second to none, and his enthusiasm is just off the charts.”

Schaeffer, who played two seasons in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, said he was drawn to the VBL by the league’s history of consistently harboring Major League talent and by the passion for the game that fans and the local communities hold for the sport, something he added is unmatched in summer ball further south.

In New Market, Schaeffer will take the reins of an organization coming off its first Valley League championship since 2002, and it’s fourth league title overall.

“When talking to the ownership during the interview process I told them that this was gonna be a unique situation. I get to defend a title that I wasn’t really a part of, and I say that in the best way,” Schaeffer said. “It’s a challenge. I’ve always stepped up to challenges. I always kind of face them up front, but truthfully I have those expectations for myself regardless of what happened last year. The winning portion of the game for me as a coach is something that in the summertime we try to instill in our players, that idea of how to win and what to do to win, and all the good feelings that come with winning but also the struggles that come with winning, getting the target put on your back early or whatever it may be. There’s a lot of good things that come from winning and there’s a lot of valuable lessons.”

Cole, who led the Rebels to back-to-back playoff appearances after a four-year postseason absence, will remain in the Valley League next summer, albeit with the Waynesboro Generals, a team Alger said Cole had previously played for.

Cole originally intended to return to New Market for fourth season, Alger said, but resigned from that post to pursue a possible Division-I coaching opportunity.

Alger said Waynesboro asked for permission to speak to Cole about its coaching vacancy once word got out that Cole was no longer with the Rebels, to which Alger said he replied, “absolutely.”

“I said anybody in their right mind would wanna talk to him moving forward,” Alger said. “At that point I didn’t know if he’d changed his direction for his pursuit of a D-1 career or what had just happened, but Waynesboro reached out to him and his situation had changed and, according to Zac, they offered him a position and financial package he couldn’t refuse. So we wished him well, congratulated him and wished him well. I hope he does well in Waynesboro.”

Schaeffer is the newest addition to the list of new coaches that will take over VBL teams in Shenandoah County next summer. The Strasburg Express announced in August that Brock Moss will serve as their 2019 manager, and the Woodstock River Bandits welcomed Mike Bocock to the helm later that month.

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com