Q&A with Coach Olean

Baseball is a sport often best defined by numbers. And when it comes to telling the tale of the 2013 MIAC season, the numbers don’t lie. The University of St. Thomas steamrolled its way through the weather-punctuated season, using a near-perfect 19-1 record to claim the conference title. Then, the Tommies continued their dominance in the conference postseason, outscoring Bethel and Concordia by a combined 21-5 en route to the MIAC Playoff title as well.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the Tommies led the MIAC with a remarkable team batting average of .348 in overall games. UST also ranked first in runs (302), hits (401), doubles (74), home runs (30), RBI (277), walks (150), stolen bases (65), on-base percentage (.432) and slugging percentage (.523). St. Thomas also ranked first in ERA (2.84), strikeouts (267) and fielding percentage (.976). In conference play, UST was somehow even better, hitting .368 as a team with a 1.94 ERA and a .983 fielding percentage.

To top it off, St. Thomas had the MIAC MVP in outfielder Tim Kuzniar, Dylan Thomas repeated as MIAC Pitcher-of-the-Year and Head Coach Chris Olean was voted the MIAC Coach-of-the-Year. In all, eight Tommies were selected to the All-Conference team, and UST also had three All-Defensive Team picks.

However, the numbers rarely tell the whole story, and they certainly didn’t with the 2013 Tommies. The fielding percentage, batting average and ERA don’t accurately describe how crisp UST was in the field, how staggering their talent and depth was on the mound, how explosive the offense could be. And the scary part is … almost all of the team is coming back.

The MIAC Media Blog wanted to look even closer at UST’s remarkable season on the diamond, so we’re proud to bring to you another installment of Championship Coach Q&A with the MIAC Coach-of-the-Year, Chris Olean.

MIAC Media Blog Championship Coach Q&A
Chris Olean, St. Thomas Baseball

MIAC: First of all, congratulations on your 2013 MIAC Championship. What made your team so successful this season?

Olean: We had a very balanced team, we played strong defense (second in the country in fielding percentage), had a deep and talented pitching staff and offensively we were very productive from top to bottom.  In addition, we had a great deal of experience on the team and the main core had very valuable experience in the Division III College World Series.

MIAC: Your team had a number of star players, including MIAC MVP Tim Kuzniar and Pitcher-of-the-Year Dylan Thomas. What made those two players so special this season and how did they contribute to your success?

Dylan is one of the best UST pitchers to ever wear a uniform.  He was dominant throughout the year and gave us very consistent outings on the mound.  In addition, I felt he was a much more complete pitcher this season as his walks decreased significantly and he was able to work deeper into games with a lower pitch count.

Tim is steady. Every time you look at a box score he seems to get at least two hits. He is very mentally strong and knows his game and his swing. This allows him to be a steady player for us and a guy we can count on in the clutch.

MIAC: Talk about some of the other players that helped your team have an outstanding season.

Olean: Really this year’s team was solid from top to bottom.  Between Ben Podobinski, Ryan Gerber and Kelvin Stroik, in addition to Tim Kuzniar, our outfield really was very solid both offensively and defensively.  We have guys who can beat you with power or speed and it just allows us to score runs in many different ways.  In the infield, we played great defense, up the middle Sam Miller and Jon Kinsel were as good as it gets. And on the corners we got great production from Tyler Peterson and Jack Hogan. The pitching staff as a whole was outstanding and as deep as we have ever been. We were able to run six different starters out there and not have too big a drop off; that was huge given the difficult and compacted schedule.

MIAC: Are there one or two special moments that stand out from your 2013 championship season?

Olean: Just like many of our players, I feel it really was a methodical type of year in that we played pretty steady from start to finish. The guys took the mindset that we would apply consistent pressure throughout ballgames and, with that, do our best to play outstanding defense and not give up and free bases. Just a steady year filled with a great group of guys all contributing.

MIAC: Obviously, this was an extremely challenging spring due to the horrible Minnesota weather in April and May. How was your team able to remain focused and persevere through all the weather issues?

Olean: Our guys were fantastic in this regard.  Despite several layoffs and a very difficult 18-day stretch in the middle of the season, I felt we stay focused and disciplined throughout. Despite being back indoors, our players took the mindset to improve everyday and maintain their focus. This was huge for us as we played extremely well after the break and finished off the MIAC season and MIAC tournament very strong.

MIAC: You lose a few key players but will bring back a lot of talent next year ... what's next for Tommie baseball?

Olean: Every year is different and we know that we have to earn it all over again. The MIAC is on the rise and I feel from top to bottom the conference is as good as it ever has been. With that, we have a very good core of players coming back many of whom have played the past three seasons. In addition, we have added high-end pitching and some more athleticism at a few key spots.  This will be a senior heavy team with very high expectations, but we know that like every year starting this fall we have to start over again and find our team identity and find the best guys to put on the field. I am excited at the team’s potential, but potential does not win ballgames. We are looking forward to working hard and the challenges that will come in 2014.

MIAC: Thanks to Coach Olean for giving us a better look at his 2013 team, and congrats again to him and the Tommies on an outstanding season. With the lull between sports seasons going strong right now, it’s easy to start looking ahead to next year and hoping for just as much outstanding, competitive action, as well as much better weather!

MIAC Summer Vacation
The MIAC Media Blog would like to know where the conference community is traveling this summer? Dan is in Chicago right now for meetings with other Midwest Division III commissioners, and we were both in Indianapolis earlier this month for meetings at the NCAA headquarters. I also spent six days in Texas – including a nice night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington – and am headed out west to do some hiking in July. Sent me an email at mhiggins@miacathletics.com or better yet, send me a photo of you on vacation for a blog/social media feature later this summer. Bonus points if you’re wearing gear from the MIAC or one of our schools!

The future is coming…
You may have noticed in that previous paragraph my email address is now “@miacathletics.com” and no longer “@miac-online.org.” The MIAC’s new web site will be launching next week … there will be an updated design and several cool new features to hopefully make your online MIAC experience even better! Stay tuned for more details/sneak peeks in the coming days…

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