Leadership deficit hurt Ducks last year

Nick Cote

It’s not very often that a major Division I school decides to start a program from scratch.
Most fans didn’t know what to expect last year with Oregon bringing back baseball after 28 years. Some expected it to compete for the conference title after it hired head coach George Horton and brought in a nationally acclaimed recruiting class. But others — more realistically — assumed a new program filled with fresh faces would struggle in the best
baseball conference in America.

One problem no one saw coming was leadership. Everybody on last year’s team hadn’t played together before, and lumping them all together and expecting them to mesh proved a bigger challenge than Horton had originally thought. Things like senior leadership never developed because there wasn’t a hierarchy of experienced players in the program, and everyone struggled with who to look to for advice in the struggles.

“It was a shock for everyone,” sophomore K.C. Serna said. “We didn’t have the older guys to go to and ask, ‘What is this like?’ We didn’t have them to tell us, ‘this is what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be faster paced, more on your mind.’ Opposed to this year, the younger guys have us. I love talking to the younger guys and saying, ‘Listen, when you get panicked, just relax. It’ll be alright.'”

For the older guys on this year’s team, leadership has already been something that distinguishes this year’s team from last year’s. With nine new freshmen and a few junior college transfers, incorporating those guys into the team is a critical part to success.

Freshman Jack Marder, who Horton has pegged as a starter in the infield, says having a guy to ask for help is a huge part of any team sport.

“The difference is they didn’t have someone to crutch on if they didn’t know something,” Marder said. “This year, we have our teammates that have helped us mold into the Oregon Duck baseball way. It’s not really a new mentality, it’s just easier for us to pick up on things and get into a mentality of Coach Horton’s baseball.”

But while the team dynamic is coming together, the Ducks are still battling some injuries. Marder, an infielder from Calabasas, Calif., is recovering from a high ankle sprain and has just started to take ground balls and hit in the batting cage.

“The ankle is doing a lot better,” Marder said of his recovery. “Just going through the process with our trainer and coach to get it healthy. It’s taken a lot longer than I would have liked, but I’m ready to get back into practice and hopefully I’ll be ready by the first game.”

Junior college transfer Stephen Kaupang is also nursing an injury that held him out of winter drills and fall camp. He hurt his upper thigh in the fall and bruised his tibia on the same leg sliding into second base during a scrimmage a few weeks ago.

“Saturday was my first day hitting off the tee,” Kaupang said. “I only took about 60 swings. Just trying to easily get into it and stretch it out.”

For Horton, it is unfortunate some of the injuries have come to guys who are trying to break into the starting lineup in their first seasons. Kaupang was a projected starter at first base because of his size (6 feet 5 inches, 235 pounds) and performance at the plate, but if he can make a good recovery by next Friday, Horton will play him at designated hitter.

“Both of them are getting closer to being back on the field and being hundred percent,” Horton said. “The focus (a couple of weeks ago) was on injuries, and now I feel like we’re coming out on the other side of that. Regardless, you move on with the athletes you have healthy.”

The Ducks also got some bad news in the case of Darrell Hunter. The Springfield native suffered a severe concussion in the fall and lately has been battling severe migraines and blacking out. Because of this, he hasn’t practiced since the fall and Horton says the team will most likely redshirt him this year so he can get healthy.

“What we’ve asked him to do is just get healthy in the classroom because he missed some time with his issues, and so I told him to come back out here when he gets caught back up with school, and that’s where his emphasis is right now,” Horton said.

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