With the opening game of the 2024 Nebraska Cornhusker baseball season less than two weeks away, it is time to take a look at what we can expect to see on the field this season. Change is a given in college athletics, and perhaps no changes will impact this year’s Nebraska baseball team more than those that were made with the coaching staff.
In his press conference at Charles Schwab Field after a 4-2 loss to Maryland in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, a disappointed Will Bolt said that while this year’s team took a step forward, he was going to do whatever is necessary to fix the problems it still had. Not long after that statement, it was very obvious that he was serious when he parted ways with pitching coach Jeff Christy. The relationship between Bolt and the former Cornhusker catcher was very strong going back to the days when they took the field together in the College World Series, but despite that, skipper decided he needed to find another first mate to steer the Cornhusker ship. And, he did not have to look far.
While naming a new pitching coach is a major move, there are other changes with the staff as well that have already impacted the makeup of the 2024 baseball team. Today we take a closer look and discuss the impact these individuals will have.
Goodbye and Hello!
Gone: Jeff Christy, Danny Marcuzzo
New Faces: Mike Sirianni, Rob Childress
Back: Will Bolt, Lance Harvell, Gunner Hellstrom, Caleb Feekin
Welcome back, Coach Childress! Who’s that with you?
For the devoted baseball fans at Nebraska, it was not much of a surprise to see former pitching coach Jeff Christy depart the program. While that had to be a very tough conversation for the two friends to have, Coach Bolt knew that a new approach was necessary. And, when you have arguably the best pitching coach in Nebraska history sitting in the dugout with you, it made a lot of sense to go to your Director of Player Development, Rob Childress, and ask him to take charge of the pitching staff. The former Texas A&M head coach returned to Nebraska when he was let go a few years back and apparently was ready to get back to focusing on pitchers. One only needs to mention a few names – Komine, Duensing, Chamberlain – for evidence of the impact Childress has had on Nebraska baseball.
With the return of Coach Childress to on-field responsibilities, one would expect an uptick in recruiting of promising pitchers. By reputation alone, Nebraska will see higher rated recruits at least take a good look. Just as important, Childress starters were known for tenacity on the mound, a tough mindset, and a desire to do battle against the hitter. Too many times in the past three to four years Nebraska pitchers shied away from challenging hitters and often seemed to pitcher from a position of fear. That will end with Rob Childress at the helm.
A very important change from the NCAA came into play July 1 when baseball staffs were allowed to have a head coach and three paid assistant coaches that would all be allowed to perform on-field coaching and off-campus recruiting. Due to that, Will Bolt opted to let volunteer assistant Danny Marcuzzo go and brought in Wichita State assistant Mike Sirianni to fill the third assistant position. Marcuzzo had coached first base and worked with infielders, but as a volunteer had little involvement with recruiting. Seeing opportunity to bring in a top-flight recruiter, Bolt sought out Sirianni. If the name is familiar, brother Jay played for the Cornhuskers back in the late 1990’s and is the current head coach at Sam Houston State. In addition to his recruiting chops, that is already showing results, Sirianni will coach hitters and infielders.
We’re Glad You’re Back!
Will Bolt is back for his fifth year leading the Nebraska Cornhusker baseball team. The Conroe, Texas native sports a 97-75-1 record since taking over the Big Red and continues the quest for a return to the NCAA regional tournament after getting his team there in 2021. His expectations have not been met over the course of the past couple of years, and it is evident by turning over a good chunk of his staff as well as bringing in 25 new players, that this must change.
After losing All-Americans Brice Mathews and Max Anderson, who provided a great deal of offensive firepower and experience, Bolt not only needs to replace them, but also find new leaders for a team that seemed to be short of mental toughness this past year. Bolt himself is scrapper and recognizes that a team has to have mindset to excel. It will be imperative that this year’s Cornhuskers take on his personality.
Assistant Coach Lance Harvell also returns and will command the third base coaching box as well as work with outfielders and hitters. Coming into this season, along with Coach Sirianni, Harvell was recognized by D1 Baseball as one of the Top 100 Assistant Coaches on the Rise. Known for a very aggressive approach with his base runners, Harvell also brought about significant improvement at the plate last year as Nebraska set a school record for home runs in a season with 97, and among all schools, had the ninth-best turnaround in batting average.
One of three Big Ten programs to have two of the top 100 assistant coaches on the rise in college baseball.— Nebraska Baseball (@HuskerBaseball) October 13, 2023
Congrats to Coach @LanceHarvell and Coach @SirianniMike on being recognized by @d1baseball this afternoon.
️: https://t.co/lhOFBWvUCJ pic.twitter.com/bahW4PNt8M
Don’t Forget These Guys!
Another familiar name is back on the staff in the role of Student Assistant. Former pitcher and Papillion native Caleb Feekin will be helping out Coach Childress with his pitching staff. Also, fan favorite Gunner Hellstrom returns for the Graduate Manager position, where his will most likely help with catchers among other duties.
Nebraska has 25 newcomers among the 42-man roster going into this season. That roster must be cut to 40 by the week of the first game. While they were able to work with them in the fall and throughout the off season, the biggest challenge the coaching staff faces is establishing a strong starting pitching rotation and figuring out how to replace two All-American infielders. We got a look at some of that in the fall, but a lot can transpire between then and the first game in Arlington, Texas on February 16 against the Baylor Bears.
Good players return and have been joined by some very good ones from the JUCO ranks, along with some transfers and high school players. Expect the pitching staff to throw strikes and get after hitters with a lot more confidence than what we have seen. Expect to see some pitchers who have struggled to get things turned around. And while there may not be close to 97 home runs this season, it will not be surprising to see a very aggressive and potent offense on the field, as well as a much-improved defense. Coach Bolt has set out to fix this program this season and I expect that he will.
Check back all week as Corn Nation continues to preview the 2024 Huskers, moving on to the different positions of the players, starting tomorrow with the infield.