Most of BYU's baseball team returns from the squad that came within an eyelash of the Super Regionals last year.
The Cougars, who won 14 of their last 20 games last season to finish at 31-31-1, return five starters and 19 lettermen (11 lost). True, there are big holes to fill from three underclassmen who signed with the pro ranks in All-American first baseman Dave Jensen (third round Kansas City Royals), right fielder Matt Carson (fifth round New York Yankees) and second baseman Cameron Coughlan (18th round Texas Rangers).
"It is going to be tough to replace Carson, Jensen and Coughlan," says Coach Vance Law, who enters his fourth year at the Cougar helm with a 98-82-1 record. "They all brought something special to the table."
Those leaving and returning caught the vision of Law's potent offensive philosophy and hard-nosed play. That culminated in winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Provo after a third place finish in the regular season and winning two of four games at the NCAA Regionals in between very competitive games with host USC.
"Our guys have an added year of experience," said Law. "It took us a while to gel because we didn't have a solid relationship between players, we needed to work on confidence and trust. We got off to a slower start than we anticipated, but we learned teams in our conference are as good as the ones we faced in regionals."
San Diego State and Utah will battle BYU for the upper echelon of the MWC, but Law has some talent to build around.
"I like our chances and I like our conference," says Law. "Hopefully we can send two teams to regionals." The MWC Tournament will be played this season at New Mexico.
"We've got more depth on the team than I've had before," says Law.
Foremost among the Cougar returnees are the Hawaiian tandem of All American candidate Kainoa Obrey and Mountain West Tourney MVP Doug Jackson. Joining them are midfield juniors Rob Itri and Ranger Wiens who surprised many with their performance last season. The other starters returning are outfielder Ryan Chambers and designated hitter Jake Stubblefield.
Obrey, a junior third baseman, missed most of last season with a medical redshirt, but turned down the 11th round draft by the Kansas City Royals. He responded well during the summer, responding to trainers therapy to strengthen his lower back from bulging disks without surgery.
"We are hoping to keep Kainoa healthy as a mainstay on our team, we were hoping it wouldn't be a long-term injury," said Law. "He's a solid defensive player with a strong arm for a big guy.
"One of our strengths is we are a very solid defensive team. Ranger Wiens played as good at shortstop as I've seen in the MWC tourney. Itri came on as a role player with a left-handed bat and seized the opportunity when given a chance to play"
Law says Stubblefield, All-NCAA Regional, has the inside track at first base.
"Stubblefield was swinging the bat well at the end of the year," says Law of the senior who had key hits in the post-season tournaments.
Among the newcomers is Brock Jacobsen, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals (44th round) out of Dixie College. Jacobsen, Tim Law (returned after a year's absence) or newcomer Kory Knell are also in the hunt at first base.
"We have a lot of good players to choose from in the outfield with Jackson, Chambers, Jacobsen, Knell, Law and a speedy walk-ons Beau Seil and Wade Vest."
Joining Knell and Jacobsen as top newcomers are pitchers Clayton Barnes and Michel Bergeron.
"Knell is in great shape," says Law of the outfielder/utility man who joins infielder Blair Lucas as transfers from Saddleback Community College.
"Bergeron pitched well this summer and Barnes is a special talent our fans will come to enjoy," says Law.
"We have more experience at pitching this year, but we will miss the solid arms of Jeff Stone, Matt Ward, James Ray and Ryan Adams."
Law is looking for more of a contribution from 6-8 junior Jake Chrisman and expanding the role of ace closer Tyler Dabo, Academic All-MWC, who led the team with five saves last season as a junior with his good, running fastball. Junior Jeff Mousser brings the most wins to the table with a 9-4 record last season and a 3-0 mark as a freshman. Both Dabo and Mousser were second-team All-MWC selections last season.
Koffman has records of 4-4 and 3-1 as a sophomore and freshman. The pitcher with the next most victories is sophomore Curtis Rodriguez, 4-6 as a freshman, but he redshirted last season and had a second surgery last summer. Other experienced pitchers are senior Jason Garcia, who was 3-1 last season, including strong post-season performances, and junior Paul Jacinto, who was third in the rotation last season.
The catching position is up for grabs with newly-returned missionary Casey Cloward (Mexico), a sophomore competing with journeymen Mike Weingarten and Adam Wilkes . Law is giving a look to Koffman at catcher, too.
"Weingarten is one of our best-conditioned athletes, Wilkes calls a very good defensive game and handles the staff well.
"We start off with a tough schedule and it will be a challenge to get off to a good jump again," said Law, whose charges open play at Arizona and Arizona State, and also face Northwestern, Missouri, TCU, Washington State and Gonzaga in the pre-season.