Head coach Rob Vaughn has built Maryland baseball around mental toughness, grooming his players to be the best athletes and men they can possibly be. This season more than ever, that pillar will need to be on full display for the Terps to succeed in an unprecedented year.
The Terps are looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017 and the first with Vaughn at the helm. Last season, Vaughn’s group was making strides 15 games into the season. The Terps were 10-5 with conference play around the corner. Instead of finding out if this was the team to make the leap in the Vaughn era, Maryland, on a road trip at the time, and all of collegiate athletics were shut down due to COVID-19.
When the Terps take the field on Friday, it will have been almost a calendar year — 359 days — since their last outing. While this team, mixed with established veterans and newcomers with unlimited potential, is poised for a breakout season, Vaughn recognizes that won’t come without extensive challenges. But he believes this group has what it takes to attack those challenges head on.
“One thing we talk about with these guys is trying to make everything you do important,” Vaughn said. “Your routines take you through the trying times. It doesn’t matter how good they are coming in, they are going to hit rough patches. There are going to be tough times. What the great ones do is they don’t panic.”
While the older, experienced guys on the team lead the clubhouse and know how to deal with hardships, Vaughn has seen remarkable resilience from younger guys as well, even before the first official pitch is thrown.
In a preseason media availability, Vaughn remarked on the maturity and mental toughness of his freshman, particularly infielder Matt Shaw.
“He had a great summer. I mean I’m getting calls all over the place about what a dude he is. First day, we have the hack attack [pitching machine] set up and he can’t hit a ball out the cage. Next day, we come back, same thing. Not one ball out of the cage,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn went over to him to offer encouragement and make sure he was keeping his head high. Shaw responded by saying, “Coach, we’re good. I just got to get my timing right. I’m good.”
“Zero panic. Zero Anxiety. Just supreme confidence that he could handle it.” Vaughn said.
According to Vaughn, Shaw absolutely destroyed the baseball the following weekend in scrimmages. That resilience and toughness is what the Terps will need to carry them through the next few months.
There will be many ways this season looks different than ones Maryland teams have previously embarked on. Those changes start with a shortened schedule and no games against out-of-conference opponents. While Maryland hasn’t played a Big Ten opponent since the spring of 2019, the Terps will become familiar with their conference counterparts in the months ahead.
With 44 games scheduled, Maryland will strictly play weekend series consisting of three or four games. However, as evident across all college sports, those games are certainly not guaranteed with the ongoing pandemic. Vaughn is confident in his group’s ability to be remain diligent and his message is simple:
“’You guys have worked so hard. You’ve sacrificed so much. How important is this season to you?’” Vaughn said he told his team. “If it’s important to you, we’re going to make sacrifices.’ I think this is going to be a real test of maturity and resiliency of our team”
The Terps recognize long pauses have derailed teams throughout college sports. But they know the importance of making sacrifices this season to ensure they can play as many games as possible.
“I think everybody is really, really excited to open up this weekend, and because of that, everybody on the team is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to be able to have a full season,” senior outfielder Randy Bednar said.
Chris Alleyne, another senior leader and powerful voice in the locker room, echoed similar sentiments.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about that [remaining diligent through COVID] and it’s just trusting one another, trusting the coaches, trusting the training staff and everyone doing the right thing and holding each other accountable,” Alleyne said.
Every year since Vaughn took control of the program, his teams have finished with a better winning percentage than the previous year. Entering his fourth season, Vaughn is expecting more from this group than any of his previous ones.
“I hope we do things that have never been done before,” Vaughn said. “I think this team’s got a chance to be pretty special. I think there’s a blend of experience and youth that is really good.
“They haven’t been able to experience great amounts of success in their first few years here,” continued Vaughn. “And I think we would have had a pretty good run last year, but more than anything, I want these guys to leave here and experience what it’s like to do some special things. I think the pieces are in place for it. Now it’s time for us to go out and run it all.”