During their offseason, the Wolves were dedicated to their rigorous training. With their new season right around the corner, they are ready to charge ahead and unleash the spirit of the wolf pack on the diamond.
During their offseason, the Wolves were dedicated to their rigorous training. With their new season right around the corner, they are ready to charge ahead and unleash the spirit of the wolf pack on the diamond.
THE MIRROR | GIANNA IOVINO

Swinging into action: Varsity baseball’s revenge tour 2024

Last year, the baseball team ended their season with dismay and resentment. Now, they’re back with a vengeance.

With baseball season around the corner, the Wolves are playing with a chip on their shoulder this time around. Following a season of disappointment and dissatisfaction, they return to the diamond with one goal: winning a championship. As the team finishes their final games of their fall schedule, they look towards the spring season with revenge on the horizon.

Led by varsity coach Andres Sepulveda and the rest of his staff, the Wolves practice to improve their skills and win it all. Sepulveda works with his players on anything and everything one can think of, ranging from baseball to personal issues like mental health to being a successful adult after high school.

“We’re all on the same page in terms of what our end goal is, which is winning the championship,” Sepulveda says. He adds on by making sure his players are prepared for either going to college or pursuing a full time career.

Sepulveda sees the changes in the program as black and white from when he first started coaching at Van Nuys to the present day. Both the field and the culture around the team have gone through major renovations under his guidance.

“I would say it’s night and day from the time that I stepped foot on campus because of the amount of equipment we’ve accumulated over the years, the quality of players that we’ve gotten, and the standard that we’ve set, especially since I’ve taken over,” Sepulveda says. “I have way more expectations for the program and the students themselves, especially with the experience I’ve gotten over the years and that’s what I’m trying to bring back over here.”

Having a good culture and healthy relations with one another is just as important as talent and skill on the field. Though the lineup and pitching rotations have been consistently deep, a toxic locker room can wash it all away like it did last year.

Looking at last year’s roster, it seems astonishing that a team like that wouldn’t have a chance of making it to the championship game, let alone missing the playoffs as a whole. Behind the scenes though, arguments were day to day occurrences and led to bad team chemistry on the field.

“Last year I’d say we did have a lot of talent, but of course we didn’t make the playoffs because of the attitude and the culture was kind of toxic,” JV captain Johnny Hernandez said.

The Wolves continue to work on their chemistry, as acknowledged by varsity captain Marvin Rivera. Sepulveda mentions Rivera as one who has stepped up and led the team as a captain should.

“ is a player who was injured last year and wasn’t able to contribute on the field, but as soon as he was healthy he rehabbed and worked his way back,” Sepulveda explained.

The chemistry of the team immediately improved when Rivera returned. Throughout the past season, players would often comment about missing Rivera both as a contributing player and a person who everyone enjoyed being around.

“I wasn’t able to play last year because I was injured but I think many players on varsity didn’t get along,” Rivera said. “That’s what we need to work on if we want to win it this year.”

“As soon as he stepped back onto the field you can notice an immediate gravitation of the younger and returning players towards him because he goes about his business the right way,” Sepulveda said. “He doesn’t make any excuses or complaints and he leads by example. He may not be as vocal, but when he knows players make a mistake, he will pull them off to the side and talk to them.”

Sepulveda briefly mentions Kevin Mata and Edward Islas as other players who he has noticed have stepped up.

“Each athlete has a special type of communication tool and they have different leadership styles,” Sepulveda said. “My biggest thing is I don’t want players to just be the best player on the field but they have to have some sort of leadership quality. I’m sure there’s countless amounts of players that I haven’t seen and can’t mention right now, but I think it’s a larger step among the whole team itself on them holding each other accountable and reminding each other what the expectations are. I think it’s a bigger jump this year compared to last year’s group.”

Varsity captain Kevin Mata and JV captains Matthew Herrera and Johnny Hernandez also take charge in improving the team’s chemistry.

“The culture we have and the family we have is better and there’s a lot less hating each other on the field,” Mata said. “We’re able to work better as a team overall and nine times out of ten we’re all going to get along.”

“The culture is for sure a lot better than last year’s,” Hernandez said. “This year we’re cleaning it up and we’re more disciplined.”

Sepulveda believes changing the culture for the better is just as important as improving the team’s skill.

“When we have a positive and welcoming culture, I know the players can lean on each other as brothers and persevere throughout the season when we perform at our best, but a simple error may cost us the game and I think that’s the biggest thing with culture,” Sepulveda said. “Even in my playing days that was an issue, and that’s something I’ve noticed over the years as I’ve coached here at Van Nuys. My biggest goal is to change the culture, not only here in baseball but athletics itself.”

With the departure of last year’s seniors and arrival of freshman and sophomores, the team gets a chance to make better relations with one another. Though the roster is younger than last year’s, the talent is very much still there.

Mata takes his job being one of the varsity captains extremely seriously by taking care of every player both on and off the field.

“It’s a big position,” Mata said. “My goal as a captain is to make sure everyone’s comfortable and everyone grows as individuals, not just as baseball players.”

A young core consisting of freshman Matthew Herrera and sophomores Kevin Mata and Anthony Navarro, along with veterans like juniors Joel Enciso, Joaquin Boche and Nate Renard and seniors Edward Islas and Marvin Rivera, make up an exceptionally strong team.

The team knows the talent they have on their hands and therefore hold tremendously high standards for themselves.

“I don’t think we are performing because we should be hitting better,” Herrera said. “One of our players who is known for hitting hard isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing and our varsity catcher isn’t hitting well right now. Our team just needs to make that adjustment and become better.”

Mata agrees with Herrera, saying, “I feel like we aren’t producing the way we should but that’s mainly because we haven’t had enough time to fully execute what we’re supposed to be doing. We haven’t played a lot of games in the offseason, we haven’t done a bunch at all yet, and I think we’re just waiting for it to be our time. We’re going to go and attack everything.”

While Sepulveda expects a lot from his Wolves, he sees significant progress being made with his players.

“In terms of the offseason, I think we are ahead of schedule with my plan on what we needed to work on,” Sepulveda said. “There still are things we need to focus a little bit more on with the details in terms of defense, but I think our offensive stride has not been hit yet. We are still hitting at a good pace and our pitching has been extremely good and has actually exceeded our expectations a little bit earlier than normal. In terms of defense, unfortunately we haven’t had a lot of time on our own baseball field. Especially now, since they’ve just reseeded our field we won’t be able to focus a lot more on the defensive side until we get the green light to use it. This particular season we’re a step ahead compared to previous seasons, so I have an optimistic mindset that we’re going to do pretty well and it’ll carry into the playoffs. Our conditioning, being in the weight room, and getting back in shape has improved vastly to where we can see a lot of our players are actually hitting personal records within the weight room and it’s starting to show on the field itself.”

Hernandez agrees that the team is at the level they should be at this point in the offseason.

“Obviously there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I’d say where we are right now is a lot more advanced than last year at this time,” Hernandez said. “I do think we can improve a lot more this season.”

“To go back, I think it would be night and day as well,” Sepulveda said. “I did have a goal in mind for the summer of where I needed the players to be in terms of skills as well as the environment among the baseball team.”

Off-season games don’t count towards the team’s record during the regular season, so Sepulveda uses the time to develop players individually. Varsity and JV players both get adequate playing time to ensure they get the experience they need to prepare themselves for the spring season.

“Although we didn’t get a lot of wins in the summer, I saw it more as a development phase so players can understand what their strengths and weaknesses are so we can move forward as a team,” Sepulveda said. ”My main focus was the development side and not so much the wins, and I see now that from the beginning of the summer up until now the progress has been night and day within each individual player. They’ll go and let you know that there has been a dramatic change in their skill level and their expectations.”

Although the team puts their blood, sweat and tears into improving the program as a whole, they get very little support from their peers and the school itself. While sports like football and volleyball get announcements about games, baseball unfortunately gets overshadowed by them.

“I feel like our faculty and athletics department don’t do a good job on informing people on it and instead cast us aside, leaving the majority uninformed,” Mata explains.

“I feel like baseball is brushed under the rug and the school doesn’t give it the recognition it needs,” Hernandez said, agreeing with Mata. “The student section is always dead, so I think promoting the games more will be a start.”

As well as support by the school itself, the baseball program struggles with outreach on social media. The official Instagram page for baseball was created this August and has amassed just 94 followers as of Nov. 1.

Mata explains why he thinks the Instagram account does not have the support it should.

“We don’t advertise ourselves and we don’t get advertised so people tend to not care about baseball,” he said.

JV captain Benjamin Rumball cites Instagram reels as another reason for the support issue.

“We need to make reels because that’s usually how I end up seeing those other teams,” Rumball said.

Throughout the offseason, the baseball program has put in tremendous amounts of effort to improve both their skills and team chemistry compared to years prior. With the help of Coach Sepulveda and the rest of his staff, the team aims to finish the job and win a championship this year.

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About the Contributor
Rogers Levitt, Staff
From playing Mozart’s sonatas on my upright Yamaha to watching a baseball soar into the bright day sky from my bat, I’ve always been driven to be the best. As a rookie journalist, I aspire to take my same dedication to become a noteworthy and dependable writer. With every story, I will report facts in an entertaining fashion with the hopes of drawing readers. When I am not honing my journalistic craft, I can be found at my piano, on the Van Nuys baseball field, or in my kitchen elevating my homemade ramen.
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