Fall wrap-up Q&A with Coach Szefc

BLACKSBURG - The Virginia Tech baseball fall season is now complete as the student-athletes wrapped it up this week with the HOKIE Challenge – four grueling competitions that began Monday morning and ended Thursday. Final exams and the semester break are all that stand in the way of the Hokies before they return to campus on Jan. 15 to prepare for the 2018 season. Before that happens, though, the Hokies coaching staff reflected on its first fall in Blacksburg with a couple of Q&As. The final one is with head coach John Szefc.

Q: What did you like about this fall?
JS: “As a coaching staff, we’ve just got to evaluate an awful lot over the fall – throughout the practice part of it and also through the final best two-out-of-three Fall World Series games. I think we were a little bit limited because we had so many guys that were injured, but we were able to evaluate probably 65 percent of the guys you want to see. I thought it was good in general. We came out of it with a pretty good understanding of what we are looking at in the spring. Some of the guys that were injured, we’re gradually starting to get them back. By January, we should be pretty close to full strength, which is the most important thing. It was a solid evaluation time for a new staff with a whole bunch of new players.”

Q: Was there anyone that surprised you during the fall?
JS: “From a freshman perspective, I thought the two freshman left-handed pitchers had an exceptional fall in Ian Seymour and Ryan Okuda. Darion Jacoby had a very good fall too. I don’t know if I would say they were surprises. If you asked them, I think they would have expected to have those. I thought a guy like Jojo Odachowski improved dramatically throughout the fall from where he was. He made great strides as did Michael Fernandez. Honestly even a guy like Cam Irvine had a really good fall from where he started to where he ended. That class really made some good strides in general.”

“As far as returning guys go, I think for me, Sam Fragale. He is in a good place defensively. I know he played first base most of last year, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect there but I know he played third this summer. He was much further ahead than I thought he would be defensively at third. At the end part of the fall it was good to see a kid like Nick Menken, who I think is going to be a legitimate centerfield defender, go out there and play the positon pretty easily.”

Q: Does your coaching philosophy need to change from what you’ve seen from your players this fall?
JS: “No, what we do year-to-year depends on our player personnel. I think any coach has to do that in any sport. You can’t play a certain way if your player personnel doesn’t dictate it. We will prepare guys so that we have a lot of weapons available, short game weapons, defensive weapons, a lot of different weapons out of the bullpen. If you’re going to win championships, you have a lot of different ways to win games. It can’t just be one way, the same way. We will continue to develop guys in that respect and try to play to our strengths. We are not going to try to create something that’s not there either. I think if you watch the game enough, which I will always appreciate that college baseball is a spring sport, because it gives you a lot of evaluation time in the fall and preseason. You get to see an awful lot before you even start playing games that matter, thankfully. So no, we will stick to a general type of game plan but nothing outside of the box or anything like that”

Q: With a year under your belt is there anything you would like to change or do differently next fall?
JS: “Not really, the only thing that we will change is that our practice times will change. But, that was out of our control when we got here. We will go about it with the same type of approach. But, the times will change as far as what time we practice at, when we weight train, a lot of that stuff will be different come next fall. More standard than all over the map like it was this fall.”

Q: What’s next for this team?
“They will take weight-training plans and position specific plans home with them and they will start to work towards Jan. 15, when we start practice back as a team. So nothing really out of the ordinary with what any other college baseball team would be doing at this time of the year.”

Q: "Build It In Blacksburg" has been your moto, how have you seen it all come together so far?
JS: “It’s all coming together. When you look at what’s happening with that facility. The turf, the indoor part of it, the downstairs of the James C. Weaver Baseball Center, what they are doing to the upstairs in Weaver. The fact that we are gradually getting some injured players back. If you watch the workouts we have now, the individual hitting workouts, the individual defensive workouts, guys are much further along than they were at the beginning of September. So, basically what we are is – we’re at this intersecting highway where all of these exits lead into one so to speak. There are a whole bunch of roads that empty onto the interstate and a lot of these roads are starting to empty onto the same interstate, which would start Feb. 15. We’ll have a healthy prepared team and these facilities in place and the turf in place. The AstroTurf change in the infield is a big part of that facility. People wouldn’t think it. People are going to look at this beautiful stadium which is awesome, no doubt about it. As far as how the game is played, that infield turf change is a monstrous part in the difference of how the game will be played. It won’t be grease-lightning quick on the infield like it was. It will be more fair to the speed of the game which is going to be crucial for our pitching and our defense. But, yes all of those things are coming in where you’re starting to see it all come together.”

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