Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Husker Baseball Prioritizing Experience, Sense of Urgency as Fall Practice Begins

September 01, 2022

Bringing in a large number of newcomers isn’t new for Will Bolt.

The Husker baseball coach did so in his first two seasons at Nebraska, and the roster this fall features 25 new faces.

However, there’s been adjustments made in who exactly the team brings in, Bolt said Thursday. His second year at Nebraska wasn’t nearly as successful as his first, and he said that was a result of how young the team was in 2022 with many experienced players no longer on the team. Many of last season’s additions were freshman, but this year, the goal was to get the team older and more experienced through the transfer portal.

“It’s never good to be young in college baseball,” he said. “Today’s day and age with the portal, and we still have some of the COVID exemption guys, like the average age is as high as it’s ever been. So that was definitely a big piece of it was the experience part.”

As has been a trend in college athletics, more and more players enter the transfer portal by the year. With that in mind, Bolt and his staff didn’t waste time looking for potential additions.

“It was like reading a ticker on the bottom of SportsCenter,” Bolt said. “It’s just like guys’ names were popping up, we’re looking at their video as soon as that happens. We’re getting on the phone. We’re making calls… it was a whole ‘nother beast.”

The Huskers have entered the fall with 16 new transfers and nine freshmen. That being said, Bolt’s staff wasn’t just looking for players with high-level experience. Multiple newcomers last played at another Division I school, but the majority are coming from junior college.

“My entire staff has spent time in junior college, you kind of see the value there,” Bolt said. “You get the experience, number one, you also get guys with a chip on their shoulder. They typically mesh well with the way that we coach because they love the game, they love to play. If you don’t love to play, junior college definitely is not the place for you.”

Bolt has been happy with how the additions are fitting in. That “chip on their shoulder” attitude he mentioned is something that’s been a priority for the whole team after a 23-30 finish in the spring. He wants his players to know that other players will be pushing them for their jobs and have a sense of urgency.

Returning players, such as junior Brice Matthews, understand their coach’s expectations.

“It’s a really big chip on our shoulder,” Matthews said. “Nobody likes to lose and we all like to win. So that’s the main goal, just winning as many games as possible and being a team together while we’re doing it.”

Matthews and fellow junior Max Anderson said the newcomers have meshed well with the rest of the team. Those two are now some of the longest-tenured Huskers on the roster, having came in as freshman for Bolt’s first year as coach and contributing immediately. Anderson was second-team All-Big Ten in 2021 and the conference’s Freshman of the Year, while Matthews also made the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Last season, they both finished among the top four Huskers in batting average.

Going into the fall and the 2023 season, the two are looking to step into leadership roles on the team. Matthews said that leadership is nothing new to him, and it’s something he’s taken on since high school. He’s someone who likes to lead by example, although he’s willing to speak up if needed. Anderson’s self-described style of leadership is similar, although he mentioned it as something he wants to get better at.

“I think I can get better at being also a leader on the field as well,” he said. “I think there’s some young guys, some freshmen, maybe some younger JUCO transfers that maybe just need to have an older guy put an arm around them, and I feel like that’s something I can improve on.”

With fall practice just starting, there’s a long way to go before the start of the next season. Nebraska will hope to have a team that improves from last year and experiences success even above the level it had in 2021. While much about the program is changing, Bolt’s methods in coaching will stay consistent.

“The message has always been very similar since we’ve been here,” Bolt said. “Just use today as a day to get a little bit better than we were yesterday.”

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