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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Building a culture key for baseball ahead of 2024 season

Tim Dodge
Then-junior outfielder Eric Erato (5) waits on deck on April 7, 2023. (Tim Dodge | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Coming off a 10-43 2023 campaign, NIU baseball looks to rebound in 2024 under new leadership. After nine years under former head coach Mike Kunigonis, Ryan Copeland is the newest head coach of the Huskies. 

“Coming into a program where we haven’t had a lot of success lately, we’re just trying to build a winning culture, a winning environment and trying to elevate the expectations for our players in the program in general,” Copeland said. 

The Huskies finished in last place in the MAC in 2023, posting a 5-24 conference record, and are in search of their first winning season since 2011. 

“In a perfect world we want to be big, physical, mean,” Copeland said. “We want pitchers with stuff on the mound, guys that can miss bats. And then offensively, we want relentless, dangerous one through nine guys that can compete.”


It’s no secret 2023 was a rough year for Huskie baseball. While there were many reasons for the team’s struggles last year, none is more glaring than pitching. 

“Certainly our pitching has to be better,” Copeland said. “We have not pitched good here and you just can’t win very many games pitching at a 9 ERA.”

The Huskies pitching staff pitched to a 8.95 ERA, allowed opponents to record a .325 batting average and gave up a staggering 75 home runs, all good for worst in the MAC

“Our Friday night guy (starting pitcher) will be (redshirt sophomore pitcher) Adam Brouwer,” Copeland said. “I think a couple guys to keep an eye on that are returners that struggled last year are (junior pitcher) Tommy Meyer and (senior pitcher) Jacob Wilde.”


After spending the last four seasons at the NCAA Division II level at the University of Illinois-Springfield, Copeland now gets his first chance to coach at the Division I level. 

“The intensity of practices has gone way up since last year,” said senior catcher and outfielder Colin Summerhill. “I think the intensity of practices will lead to on- field performance because people are trying harder, they want to get better, they’re putting in the extra work. I think that all that is a product of Copeland and (assistant head coach Joe) Kelch.” 

Senior infielder Eric Erato was a bright spot for the Huskies in 2023, setting the NIU record for walks in a season (51) and leading the team with a .424 on base percentage. Erato finished second in the MAC last season with 25 stolen bases.

“I love the team and every guy here,” Erato said. “We’re just getting after it each and every day. The goal for the year is just go out and compete. We have a great group of guys, great coaching staff, I think we can make a run this year.”


“Exciting baseball,” senior infielder Aaron Harper said. “Our media is doing a good job putting us out there with a lot of fan stuff going on in the stands and then expect exciting baseball from us. I think we’re going to do really well this year and we’re just really excited to get out there.”

While Copeland said he is more focused on building a culture rather than hitting a certain win total in 2024, Huskie fans should still be excited to watch this team. 

“We’re going to play extremely hard,” Copeland said. “I come from a place where we eventually were just more talented than everybody but one of our biggest emphases was making sure that we also played hard. I think that’s the biggest compliment that anyone can give you when they watch you play.”

NIU baseball will kick off its season with a four-game series against Abilene Christian University. The Huskies’ first game will be at 2 p.m. Friday in Abilene, Texas. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

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