Mar 1st, 2008 @ 2:38 pm | Author: VCSU Sports Information
2008 Vikings at a Glance:

Expectations for the Valley City State University baseball team under first-year Head Coach Casey Olney are high for the 2008 season. This year's version of the Vikings will be an experienced one led by 10 seniors.

'Our goals will remain the same year in and year out. We will pursue a National Championship by taking care of the day to day. We work hard to continue to position ourselves with the elite in our conference and region in terms of our work habits and self-concept. Because our process is sound, positive results will continue to follow,' Olney said.

'We return quite a few players who played significant roles the past two seasons, and have done a good job of creating internal competition with a solid group of young players. Many of these younger players are game ready right now. The entire roster's job is to show everyone they're ready to take the next step,' Olney said.

The 2008 Vikings return most of the key contributors from an offense that scored over five runs per game and set a new single season team steals record in 2007 (97 in 38 games). The Viking offense will be potent this season and their numbers should improve with the switch from wood to metal bats for conference games. The 2008 lineup will be balanced from top to bottom with a good mix of speed and power throughout.

Coach Olney says, 'Our team is full of guys who have made themselves into legitimate college hitters; I am excited to see what they will do at the plate this year. We will continue to be aggressive on the bases and try to keep the pressure on our opponents.'

The 2007 Vikings finished the year ranked in the top 10 in the NAIA in team fielding percentage. Defense should once again be a strength in 2008. As with the offense the Vikings return nearly all of the position players that contributed last season and have added key freshman and transfers that are capable defenders to the roster as well.

The infield will be anchored by five seniors: Alex Wheal, Tony Forster, Matt Huonder, Reid Arnold, and Chris Olson who returns to the Vikings for his final season after missing the 2007 season. Freshman infielder Tanner Bombenger will also be a big contributor.

3B: Wheal is penned in as the opening day starter at third base and has been for three years. Wheal has battled the injury bug the last two seasons but looks to be healthy for his senior campaign. Olson, Forster, and Bombenger will back up Wheal.

1B: Arnold and Olson will each see significant innings at first base as both are excellent on defense and at the plate. Jason Beilke also has experience at first and can be called on in a pinch to hold down the position.
Middle: In the middle Forster, Huonder, and Bombenger will see time. Forster will begin the season as the opening day starter at shortstop while Huonder will open at second base. Both players were keys to the top ten fielding ranking last season and are capable defenders. Bombenger has the athletic ability to play both middle infield positions as well as third base and will see substantial innings in the infield.

Catcher: Junior catcher Braden Raskob-Smith is entrenched as the starter with RS freshman Stephen Gripentrog and freshman Dusty Brend working as backups. Raskob-Smith has improved his arm strength this season and has always been very good at calling a game and managing his pitching staff. Brend looks to be the top backup and has shown advanced knowledge of the game and leadership abilities for a true freshman.

Outfield: Second team all DAC outfielder and 2007 team MVP Jeremy Wiebe will be in rightfield, first team all DAC and DAC Gold Glove winner Chauncey Calhoun will be in center, and Senior Bryce Ingram will be accompanying them in left. Red shirt freshman Josh Evans and sophomore transfer Nick Spiess will make the 2007 outfield group deep and talented.

Coach Olney says, 'We have an excellent defensive system that has been consistent at VCSU for a number of years, the guys believe in what we are doing and work extremely hard at it. Our players make the plays they are supposed to and aren't afraid to make aggressive plays defensively.'

Pitching will be the key to the success of the 2008 season. The staff is largely unproven with the exception of two big senior right handers who will be depended on heavily. The group will be 16 arms deep and all will be needed during the season.

Leading the way for the Viking staff will be Seniors Jason Beilke and Mike Fox. Both pitchers have above average stuff and velocity. Beilke has been a starter throughout his career while Fox will move from the bull pen into the starter role this season. Junior Cory Arnason and sophomore Grant Kragness are penciled in as the other weekend starters.

The bullpen is well balanced featuring three lefthanders and a number of righties with a good mix of power and fineness. The closing duties will be given to junior Chauncey Calhoun this season. Calhoun brings a 90 MPH fastball and an abundance of confidence to the mound. Filling roles as spot starters and relievers are senior lefty Shaun Cameron, junior Nate Lutkemeier, freshmen Matt Gottwalt, Josh Evans, Andrew Herian, and Taylor Nelson. Rounding out the staff will be Travis Stiles, Nick Spiess, and Dan Hepner.

Coach Olney says, 'We know that the top of the rotation will be good and I am confident in the guys that we have to finish games at the end of the pen. We have to find the middle of the rotation guys who are ready to step up and throw against the top teams in the conference.'

The Vikings will open the season on the road on March 2nd with a double header at University of Texas at Brownsville. They will play four games against UTB, three against Viterbo (WI), and four more at Doane College (NE) before returning home from their spring trip.