A Summer of Uncertainty Sparks New Hope for NWU Baseball Program

After the 2020 spring season was cut short for the Prairewolves due to COVID-19, uncertainty grew as players returned home and finished their semesters online. Questions circulated regarding the likelihood of their upcoming academic year, and the continuity of the program.

Would the Wolves return to campus in the fall? Would sports pick back up and continue on with extreme safety measures? Would a group of ten juniors heading into their final year be on the field or online?

All while recruiting freshmen, Head Baseball Coach John Rypel remained positive during his time away from the team, valuing the team’s unity. “It was extremely difficult because you get into a routine as a coach of being around the guys, and it felt like that was ripped away. It was really awkward at the airport. I remember the flight back [from Florida] was just really weird, like when were we going to see each other again?”

The Wolves had a positive season, producing high numbers offensively, defensively, and pitching during Rypel’s first year at the helm. “The most disappointing thing [for me], was not being able to play any conference games. I think we were going to be the biggest surprise in the league.” What has been described as a gritty pitching staff, strong lineup, and all-around-hard-working group of players, Rypel had reason to be excited for the team’s potential.

The impact that upperclassmen have on a program can ripple throughout the younger players as they continue their journeys. This was especially true for the Prairewolves since the team did not have any graduating seniors in spring 2020, which meant that the same group would be returning the following fall.

Derek Kolbush, senior first and third baseman, is beginning to prepare for his transition into adulthood after being viewed as a key member of the program during his time here. Kolbush, also an all-conference player, looks forward to his leadership role. “I want to do what I can to teach younger players the ways and teach them the new culture we are trying to build. [It’s important,] so when we are gone, they can pass on the knowledge we gave them.”

When asked about his excitement of going into his final year and being given the chance to play through all of the ups and downs of the situation regarding COVID-19, Kolbush had this to say. “I’m just excited that we get one more chance to play.” He recognizes that as a senior, this is his final shot. Further added,“I hope that it does not get cut short like last year,” in great anticipation of the upcoming season.

Mason Bennett, also a senior, weighed in on how his leadership responsibilities differ from junior to senior standing. “Honestly, this year you feel a little more responsibility since it’s your last year, as opposed to your second to last. Obviously, having no seniors last year, I felt more of an obligation on my shoulders, and I think the rest of the class can attest to that.” Bennett, among other senior returners, is weighing in on the possibility of using his fifth year option granted by the NCAA as a result of the shortened spring season. “Personally, I think this is my last year. Things can obviously change as far as academics go, but [as of right now] I don’t know.”

A common feeling shared among the juniors last season was the somber, but understanding reality of having to sacrifice playing games, for the safety of everyone. Remaining hopeful of a return in the fall, senior pitcher Drew Poulas felt the decision was righteous and just. “Kind of the way last year ended, it hit home really fast [that] this is all of our seniors last ride, so we are going to try to make the most of it and be the best team we can be.”

The program is unequivocally headed in a better direction than where it was during the pre-Rypel years. Jackson Cummins, also a senior pitcher, weighed in on Rypel’s outstanding job in his first year. “The direction in which the program is going right now, is significantly and astronomically better than where it was before.”

It is safe to say that NWU baseball will be a team to look out for in the coming years as they compete for a conference title, and on a much larger scale, a national championship.

Be sure to follow @NWUBaseball on Twitter for all team updates!