DEKALB, Ill. – Northern Illinois University has just named Mike Kunigonis the head coach of its prestigious baseball program as announced Monday. College Baseball Central caught up with the new man at the helm on Wednesday, and picked his brain for a little insight as to what the former Virginia Tech Hokie assistant coach has in mind for the 2015 college baseball season.
“My plan is to win the MAC,” Kunigonis stated. “We have a pretty good group of guys here, and I will be looking for my veterans to step up and lead.”
The Huskies are coming off a 2014 season in which they went 17-36-1overall, with a home record of 8-11, an away record of 8-18-1, while finishing 11-16 in Mid-American Conference play under the helm of former head coach Ed Mathey. Mathey just took up residence as head coach for North Central College in Naperville, Ill., after a twelve year tenure as head coach for the NIU baseball program.
“I am a big fan of coach Mathey,” Kunigonis pointed out. “The success he had here is a testament to his ability. I have heard great things about the program here and I am excited.”
Kunigonis inherits a quality pitching staff that returns a lot of innings. Regardless of losing star pitchers Eli Anderson and Alex Klonowski to pro ball, the Huskies field a veteran group on the mound that can certainly hold its weight and more in the MAC. Junior LHP Jordan Ruckman (Kankakee, Ill./Herscher), and brother junior RHP Justin Ruckman (Kankakee, Ill./Herscher), along with junior LHP Ryan Olson (Sterling, Ill./Newman Central Catholic) head up a rotation that should prove game for the Huskies 2015 aspirations.
“I am excited for the pitching group here,” Kunigonis remarked. “These guys have had success and I will be looking for them to step up and continue that.”
At the fielding positions junior INF’s Brian Sisler (Dekalb, Ill./Dekalb), and Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central College) along with talented young Tommy Hook (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) make up an infield capable of putting up lots of runs and stopping lots of balls.
“I am excited to have four of our top five hitters back, and I expect big things from this group,” Kunigonis said. “Brian Sisler is a guy we can lean on and Fletcher is going in to a 2015 season in which I expect him to do really good things. With these guys returning we should experience success.”
Kunigonis is currently on the hunt to put his assistant coaching staff in to place, but Huskie faithful can take solace in the fact that whoever comes in to help the baseball program, the focus will be on a strong student-athlete approach that puts the student first.
“I have had great mentors in Pat Mason, and Pete Hughes, who taught me how to be a leader and stress academics,” Kunigonis concluded. “ As a team we are going to play to our strengths, maintain a hard work ethic, exhibit integrity, and learn to compete all the time while playing this game the right way.”
Northern Illinois baseball throws its first pitch Feb. 13 vs. South Dakota State in Clarksville, Tenn.