The 2016 UCF baseball team officially assembled Thursday at the team’s first practice.
Having held individual workouts all semester, working in groups of up to four, the entire squad took the field together for the first time in a four-hour, nine-inning scrimmage.
”That was one of the best, if not best, first practices that I’ve ever been a part of as a coach,” head coach Terry Rooney said.
The team looked crisp and cohesive, which is a good sign since it features 18 new faces — more than half the team.
Growing together as a unit will be one of the main challenges for the 2016 Knights. Last season, UCF boasted experience, often using starting lineups that were mostly or entirely seniors.
Players like junior pitcher Trent Thompson are going to be leaned on to be leaders this season. He has more appearances on the mound as a Knight than anyone else on the roster, and agrees the first day of practice was a success.
“All the guys out here flying around, they’re starting to realize what the expectations are around here,” Thompson said. “Everything [is] just fast tempo, and that’s the way coach Rooney likes it; everybody going 100 mph all the time. It creates a tempo and creates an edge, and today we definitely did that.”
Another junior for UCF is Matt Diorio, who has the most hits as a Knight, with 74, among all current players. He knows how much help an older player can be when starting a collegiate career and wants to be the role model that others were for him.
“In the past falls, we’ve always had [JoMarcos Woods], [James Vasquez] and the older guys to kind of lean on,” Diorio said. “This year, we got me, Trent [Thompson] and all our returners … we’re those older guys.”
One of the new guys is infielder Brennan Bozeman, a junior-college transfer from Parkview Baptist in Louisiana. He can attest to how much an experienced player giving guidance can help.
“When I came here, I didn’t know a single person. So I really did kind of need somebody to take me under their wings,” he said.
Bozeman said that Brooks Morgan, a junior infielder in his third year at UCF, has been that person for him, helping make practice transitions at Jay Bergman Field smoother. He also said there are certain things he’s already noticing about being a Knight.
“We’re not going to get away with anything. And even at practice, we’re always getting evaluated and each teammate seemed to be ready for that today,” Bozeman said. “No one seemed surprised or caught up in the moment, everyone seemed to have their feet under themselves today.”
At the end of the day, the team is happy to leave the first practice with a good taste in its mouth.
The Knights don’t know how the talent they have assembled for the 2016 campaign will compete yet, but, for now, there are other things that they can control.
“You never know what you’re going to get the first day, but one thing we’ve been talking about is the attitude and the effort,” Rooney said. “With over half of the players out there in their first year in the program I think they’ve done a terrific job, I think in large part because of the leadership of the returning players.”
UCF will have its annual Black and Gold game on Oct 30.
Colin Bell is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.