By: Sam Oppenheim
It’s not often that a championship team has a new manager the following season. But that’s exactly the situation the Southland Vikings are in. Coming off their third Midwest Collegiate League championship since 2010, the Vikings are under new leadership. Now, Dave Letourneau takes the reins of a ball club looking to go back-to-back.
Letourneau, a Chicago native and St. Rita alum, played collegiately at Moraine Valley and Graceland and spent time as a graduate assistant at Graceland, which is in Iowa. After graduating from college, he became the head freshman coach at St. Rita and was promoted to head sophomore coach two years later. He’s now in his fifth year on staff with the Mustangs and his third year guiding the sophomore squad.
The importance of St. Rita to Letourneau is obvious, and he will have his fair share of fellow Mustangs on this year’s squad. The Vikings roster includes six recent St. Rita graduates (David Gleaves, Frank Napleton, PJ Raines, Mike Rios, Justin Ruthrauff and Jake Zylman), something Letourneau sees as a boost for team chemistry.
“The comfort level is really strong for them,” Letourneau said. “It helps (St. Rita players) have been taught baseball the right way from the right people.”
He believes his experience developing these players in high school will translate well to summer ball, especially for a young squad.
“My expectations for myself are going to get these kids ready for college baseball,” Letourneau said. “We’ve got a lot of kids just coming out of high school, but they get the opportunity to play college baseball before they go to college.”
Those guys who are already playing collegiately are coming off long seasons with their college-level team. As a former junior college player himself, Letourneau knows how to connect with his athletes, many of whom play at that same level.
“JUCO is the best fit for a lot of these college athletes,” Letourneau said. “Some kids get embarrassed to mention that they go to a junior college, but you get an education, get to play baseball and you bet on yourself to get the chance to play for the final two years.”
The junior college and other collegiate-level players will have to mesh together with the many recent high school graduates on this year’s roster. That inexperience the Vikings may have is reduced by a solid core that they return. Southland is bringing back four players (Joe Curci, Angel Figueroa, Andy Lopez and Chase Pearce) from last year’s championship squad. Despite the roster turnover, the desire to repeat is not lost on the team.
“It’s basically a whole new team, new roster and new coaching staff, but the fact that we won it last year motivates them,” Letourneau said. “I’ve got 10-15 guys who have already said it would be cool to repeat.”
At the end of the day, winning or lose is inferior to the most important aspect of summer ball – improvement.
“The message is come every day and work on something every day,” Letourneau said. “Develop yourself, to compete, and have the will to win.”
Those may be words to live by if the Southland Vikings plan on making it two MCL championships in a row.
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