Vodenlich preaches development ahead of 2022 season


Karley Garcia

During the first game of the doubleheader against UW-Oshkosh, Freshman Pitcher Donovan Brandl (34) throws the ball to home plate, Friday April 9, 2021.

Mason Thompson, Journalist

It is hard to stay at the top of a sport for a long time. For UW-Whitewater baseball coach John Vodenlich, it’s something he takes a lot of pride in. Vodenlich is entering his 19th season coaching the Warhawks and has seen an illustrious coaching career in Whitewater.

In his previous 18 seasons of coaching, the Warhawks have come home with 13 WIAC championships, qualified for the NCAA Championships 15 times, appeared in the College World Series six times, including two Division III Championships in 2005 and 2014. 

Following an impressive 40-7 record in 2021, which included a 24-4 conference record, Vodenlich has turned his sights to the 2022 season. 

“Last year was an extremely successful season, but because of the standards we have set, which is getting to a National Championship, it’s not acceptable,” Vodenlich said. “Our focus is on making a better long-term run and making National Championships.” 

The Warhawks cruised through the WIAC in the 2021 season, on their way to a berth in the NCAA Regionals. After wins against Luther and Penn State Harrisburg, Whitewater ran into trouble against Adrian, who beat the Warhawks twice in the regional competition, each time by only one score. With such an impressive season, coming up short may be something most spend time thinking about for a while. Vodenlich did not do that. 

“After the season, we do a self-assessment of our players and coaches,” Vodenlich said. “We ask ourselves, ‘where can we improve?’. We lost a pretty major group of players, so we’re really asking ourselves, ‘how can we get to a point where that hole created by a player isn’t there?’ Very seldom can you replace an All-American pitcher like Matt O’Sullivan, for example.” 

A player like O’Sullivan is hard to come by. He finished as the all-time leader and fourth in conference history in career strikeouts with 258, along with fifth in earned run average, and tied for 23rd in career wins. In his 2021 season alone, O’Sullivan finished with 125 strikeouts, which was second-most in one season in program and conference history. 

“Since you can’t just plug another guy in there, you try to improve performance on the entire pitching staff,” Vodenlich said. “We’ve tried to fill depth and set the right mindset for making improvements for the staff as a whole.” 

One thing all college teams need to have, no matter what sport, is development. Each year, plenty of seniors play their final games, which leaves multiple starting spots open for those that have been on the team to prove their worth and show how they have developed from previous years. 

“We’ve been very happy with where we’ve developed,” Vodenlich said. “You’re looking at always developing players so that you’ll have someone waiting in the wings when someone leaves. I’ve been very pleased with the development of our freshmen and sophomores. These guys have done a very nice job of moving through the offseason and getting ready.” 

The Warhawks will start the season by heading south to Texas to play four games against Trinity between March 3-5, before a spring trip to Pensacola, Fla., for seven games against a variety of different opponents. 

“Going south to Texas or Florida always challenges us,” Voldenlich said. “It’s a stretch for us athletically, but it’s a development opportunity for us. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but we’re pumped up for it.” 

It is expected to be another great season for the Warhawks and one that Voldenlich is excited about. Even with the knowledge of how good the team is, he is keeping things on a day-by-day approach. 

“Our goals are the same,” Voldenlich said. “We want to win the league, get to the NCAA regionals, and then win a national title. We don’t talk about it a lot because what really matters is what we do each day. We’re going to show up and try to get a little bit better each day, and if we do that, I think we’ll be in a position to make a run.”