July 15, 2017 10:38:27 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Matt Wolfenbarger is looking for players who want to do big things.
That mind-set helped Wolfenbarger build a 35-player roster for the inaugural season of baseball at the Mississippi University for Women in 2018. As the countdown continues to the start of the 2017-2018 school year next month, a lot of work remains to make sure the program is on solid ground when the first pitch is thrown.
But Wolfenbarger likes the group that has committed to be the school's first baseball-playing Owls. Seventeen players are from Alabama, while another 14 are from Mississippi. Others are from Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee. There are nine transfers on the roster, including five who have previous college baseball experience.
"I am pretty excited about this year's recruiting class," Wolfenbarger said. "All of them fit the mold of the type of kid I like. They are hungry. They don't' care where they play, what the name of the college is, who is here, who is what. They just want to come in and play."
The W's baseball team will open its inaugural season Feb. 9-12 at a tournament in Cary, North Carolina. It will play host to Crowley's Ridge College, a private, four-year Christian school in Paragould, Arkansas, on Feb. 16-17, 2018, in its home opener. The matchups will be part of a 34-game schedule that will include trips to schools in Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. The W also will play state schools Tougaloo College, Rust College, Belhaven University, and Blue Mountain College. It hasn't released where it will play its home baseball games.
Wolfenbarger said he targeted players who are strong in the classroom and good citizens. He said he wanted players who are willing to work hard because there is a lot he and the Owls will have to do to get the program established. He feels the initial group will help set the tone.
"The type of kid I have gone after is respectful, well-mannered, and hungry and who want to play ball," Wolfenbarger said. "If you find those kids, those are the ones who are going to be there early for practice getting extra cuts. They are going to be the last ones to leave."
Wolfenbarger was hired in December 2016 after working as pitching coach at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale. He will join Roxanne Hernandez (volleyball), Tim Gould (men's soccer), Tatjana Matthews (softball), and Morgan Turnipseed (cross country) as the first coaches to lead The W's sports teams for the 2017-18 school year.
Women's cross country will start this fall, while men's cross country will begin in the fall of 2018.
Wolfenbarger, a native of Northport, Alabama, also was head coach for three seasons at Delta Academy in Marks, where he won two district championships, was named head coach for the Mississippi Association for Independent Schools (MAIS) All-Star Game, and was twice named Coach of the Year.
As a right-handed pitcher, Wolfenbarger signed with Shelton State (Ala.) C.C. in 2007. As a member of the Buccaneers, he was part of two Alabama Community College Conference championships, two top-five nationally ranked teams, and named 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Distinguished Academic All-American. Due to multiple injuries, he went on to earn his bachelor's degree from Alabama in 2011.
Wolfenbarger said many people in the state of Mississippi and in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, area knew athletics are returning to The W. He said he didn't run into problems when he met people and players outside of those areas who didn't know about The W's plans for athletics. In fact, he said that played in his favor because many of the players liked the opportunity to be part of history and a chance to play right away.
Wolfenbarger said his familiarity with the area helped make building a schedule and finding and attracting players to The W easier. He said he was able to use a lot of the contacts he had established in the state of Alabama and at Coahoma C.C. to identify players who might be interested in being a part of the school's first baseball team.
"It went a lot better than I thought," Wolfenbarger said. "With us not being able to offer athletic scholarships, I thought that was going to hinder some things. But when I got here and saw what the campus had to offer, I had a good feeling, and with the affordable rates we have. I felt if I could just get them here and get them to see the facilities and the programs and the faculty the university has to offer, it is extremely nice. It competes very well with some of the local colleges and in the Southeast in our ranks."
Wolfenbarger said The W will have a four- to five-week fall season that will feature 18 innings of game action. He said the players have received a summer workout program, so he hopes everyone will be ready to get to work when they arrive in Columbus. He said the team likely will start the fall season after Labor Day.
Wolfenbarger said The W's acceptance into the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) in June will give the players and team a chance to compete for awards and championships in its first season as the school continues on its path to securing membership as a NCAA Division III athletic program. The school's exploratory phase of NCAA membership begins Sept. 1. Dual membership in the USCAA and NCAA is permitted.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.