GENEVA – Geneva baseball coach Matt Hahn figures juniors new to varsity fall into one of two categories in the early weeks of each season.
Either they're simply happy to be wearing royal blue and white or they're yearning to compete for a spot.
Count outfielder Matt Guenther in the latter category after a breakout summer travel season with the Carol Stream-based Dupage Training Academy – just don't think he's completely stone-faced. The chance to flank seniors Jake Weede and Bobby Hess in the outfield and hopefully settle into a potent lineup excites Guenther to no end.
"There's so much talent on this team," Guenther said. "I just feel like there's so many guys around that can make me better and stuff like that."
Guenther arguably finds his greatest ally in senior right-hander Andy Honiotes, a Miami (Fla.) recruit. The pair befriended one another around this time in 2012, and Guenther charted Honiotes' stellar season – 7-0, 1.01 ERA – while a member of the sophomore team.
A few weeks later, Guenther was careful not to glare too widely when he smacked a liner against Honiotes during a summer bullpen session. Impressed, Honiotes spoke from more than one swing when he told Guenther he had solid talent, sparking a confidence-fueled summer that saw Guenther bat .429 for Dupage while leading the team in hits, RBIs, walks, runs and on-base percentage.
Invitations to offseason showcases followed, along with recruiting advice from Honiotes, who figures his friend will be fielding his share of collegiate overtures before long.
"I want him to be as good as he can be, because I know he's got a ton of potential," Honiotes said.
Guenther credits "a lot of repetition" in the batting cage last winter for fueling his summer run, along with the .350 sophomore season before it.
Limited to what Hahn called about 20 minutes of outdoor practice so far this month, the Vikings are especially eager for this weekend's season-opening trip to downstate Jacksonville. Guenther often has headed to the Dupage facility for extra swings after Geneva workouts.
"The ball just slows down a lot better, especially when you're getting extra cuts in the cage," Guenther said.
Guenther also is optimistic about the strides he's made defensively. He took fly balls whenever he could during the fall, a task made tougher as he saw extensive football playing time at defensive tackle after early-season injuries to Nathan Balettie and Jake Boser.
With Hess – a standout running back bidding to walk on at Indiana – penciled in at right field, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Guenther looks to return to left field, where he played for much of his developmental career before high school.
"He's going to see time in the outfield. He's going to see time at DH," Hahn said. "He's done a nice job improving on things we've asked him to improve on from the summer, so we've got to find some at-bats for him."
That sounds good to Guenther, who happily calls Honiotes "a really great role model for me" while considering the rest of the Vikings among his friends.
"I'm really confident about this season," Guenther said. "I think we're going to be pretty good."