When Jim Koerner took over the Medaille baseball program three years ago, his mandate was simple -- remold the program into a stable and competitive one.
With an emphasis on recruiting better players -- including several all-state and all-Western New York selections -- Koerner guided Division III Medaille to a 17-17 record this season after the Mavs finished just 2-24 the year before.
College Baseball America calls it one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA ball this spring. The positive buzz has produced some exciting byproducts.
Word of the improvement helped Koerner hook up with the organization USA Athletes International -- a non-profit organization that gives amateur athletes and coaches the chance to play in international Olympic-style events while gaining some educational and cultural knowledge.
The contact produced the opportunity for Koerner and four of his players to join the United States team for an international tournament in Belgium at the end of June. The round-robin tournament is sanctioned by USA Baseball.
"I don't think we would have the opportunity if we continued on the path that we were going on before this past year," Koerner said. "I think our success this season directly led to this opportunity."
Medaille's jump into the baseball world's consciousness came with an extraordinary turnaround. The program that had won seven games in three years finished second in the North East Athletic Conference, had the player of the year in sophomore outfielder Erik Saladin, the pitcher of the year in freshman Alex Domaradzki (North Tonawanda) and the coach of the year in Koerner. Additionally, sophomore catcher Steve Grieco (St. Mary's/Lancaster) was a conference first-team selection while first baseman Derek Raichel (Iroquois) was a second-teamer.
"Coming in my freshman year we only had a couple recruits," Grieco said. "This year, we had a lot more incoming freshmen and we just really seemed to pull together. It seemed like everyone had a common goal to win games."
"We just had a lot more confidence," Saladin said. "I think we had the confidence coming into the fall season. With all the recruits and all the freshmen coming in, I knew we had a good team the first day of practice."
"You could see during practice our whole attitude changed," Grieco said. "We had confidence during practice and we just knew. We wanted a game to come because we knew we were going to win. We just wanted to play."
Grieco and Saladin will get to keep on playing this summer as part of the U.S. contingent in the Belgium tournament along with teammates Jeremy Callahan and Tucker Lind. The USA roster includes players from all NCAA divisions. It's a chance for the players to not only enjoy a high quality playing opportunity, but a rare chance to travel overseas.
It will be the first trip abroad for Grieco and Saladin, who believe their experiences this summer will help their Medaille team continue its improvement as it moves into the Allegheny Mountain Conference next year.
"It's always fun meeting new people and other players and seeing how they play the game and interact with the game," Saladin said.
"We're not only going to be able to play with some of the best players in the world but we're going to have some of the best players in the U.S. on our team," Grieco said. "It's going to be a great experience to bring back."
And it's not just the overseas experience that will help the players -- and Koerner -- develop better baseball skills. The chance of playing with some high quality players on Team USA will help, too.
"For me, I'd like to see what some other coaches do with their programs, especially on an international level," Koerner said. "We're going to be having most Division I players with us and I'd like to see what they do with their programs and pick up things that way.
"For my players, they talk about confidence and I think going over there and playing against other countries with Division I players is only going to boost that confidence, especially if they have any type of success."