John Vodenlich has worked to make the UW-Whitewater baseball program successful and one of the best each year in NCAA Division III.
The program has 17 regular-season titles, five WIAC Tournament titles and went to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 20th time last season.
This year’s squad is no exception. On paper, it could be one of the best ever.
The Warhawks are ranked No. 2 in the country, according to D3baseball.com, and have an 8-2 record after a nonconference doubleheader sweep of Ripon on Friday.
Vodenlich isn’t completely satisfied with any of that.
“We just haven’t played as well as we’re capable of,” Vodenlich said. “We haven’t met our expectations, but there is a long way to go. And the players are showing up every day.”
The Warhawks went 6-2 on their spring trip to Florida. Dayton Bryden has remained red-hot at the plate even with the team’s return to a chilly spring in Wisconsin.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior outfielder out of Rockton, Illinois, has blistered pitching. Bryden is hitting .619 with a 1.095 slugging percentage. In 42 at-bats, Bryden has 26 hits, including six doubles, four triples and two homers.
He has reached base in 65 percent of his at-bats, and has hit for the cycle twice in the past five days.
“He’s been really impressive,” Vodenlich said. “He’s been here a long time. This is his fifth year because he had a medical redshirt, so he’s really grateful to be out there.
“And he’s providing a leadership role for us.”
But the Warhawks are more than just Bryden. In seven of their eight wins, the Warhawks have had at least 12 hits.
In their two losses against St. Olaf (Minnesota, 6-3) and St. Thomas (Minnesota, 3-0), the Warhawks had a combined 11 hits, including just four against three St. Thomas pitchers.
Junior shortstop Nick Schrader, who was originally from Jefferson, is hitting .500 (18 of 36), with four doubles and a triple.
Cal Aldridge is hitting .486 with a .829 slugging percentage. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior infielder/designated hitter has a team-high 14 RBI and three homers.
“He’s one of the most impressive offensive players I’ve ever seen,” Vodenlich said.
Last season’s WIAC Player of the Year, Blake Fleishman, rounds out the quartet of regular players hitting over .400. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior first baseman is hitting .412 with two doubles, a triple and a homer.
“Even though he was the conference player of the year, he only ended up hitting like .307 last season,” Vodenlich said. “He’s working to improve that.”
Senior catcher Mike Aiello is hitting .353 with two doubles and a triple.
Pitching coach Tom Klawitter’s pitching staff is led by two returnees who earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America honors—Heath Renz and Austin Jones.
Renz, a Jefferson High graduate, is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA, a year after he went 9-0 with a 1.96 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 69 innings to earn the WIAC Pitcher of the Year honor. Renz was named as a preseason first-team All-America selection.
Jones is an honorable mention first-team pick and has started 2-1 with a 5.06 ERA. Jones struck out 83 hitters in 85 innings last season.
Kaska is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA. Kaska has 16 strikeouts with just three walks, while Jones has 17 strikeouts and just three walks.
Vodenlich admits with the number of quality players he has available, he has made many switches to find the best combination early in the season.
With the WIAC season scheduled to begin Tuesday, the Warhawks likely will find a groove.
They always seem to.