Spring semester means one of a few things on Elon University’s campus: baseball begins a new season. And this season is one of expectations for the Phoenix.
The star of the Phoenix this season is going to be junior right-handed pitcher Kyle Brnovich. The Milton, Georgia, native had his coming-out season in 2018 with an 8-2 record and an earned run average nearly one and a half points lower than his freshman year average. Brnovich’s 147 strikeouts led the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) and nearly for a long time was at the top of the NCAA in strikeouts, finishing fourth among all Division I pitchers last year.
With these accolades and a roster spot on the U.S. national collegiate team over the summer, there is no surprise Brnovich has been picked as CAA Preseason Player of the Year, a Golden Spikes player to watch and a Preseason All-American before he even took the mound to open the season.
Despite all the hype surrounding him, Brnovich is trying to keep his head down and do his job to help the team win.
“I don’t pay too much mind to it,” Brnovich said. “It’s awesome, I’m very happy for it, but there's nothing you can really do about it, I guess.”
Brnovich also knows that while being recognized is great, it means he needs to step up his game even more. There are going to be players Brnovich will face that want to be able to notch a hit against him and to try and take him down a peg. But Brnovich is ready for the challenge.
“If anything, it just puts a bigger target on your head, and you just got to live up to those expectations,” Brnovich said.
No matter how good Brnovich is, there is more than just one player on this team. It’s going to take a total team effort to bring Elon to the CAA Championship, which they have been picked to win by the rest of the CAA. While the recognition is nice from the rest of the league, head coach Mike Kennedy knows all too well that it doesn’t mean anything until they have actually won something.
“If they would give me the trophy, I would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go with that, and we’ll take the rest of the season off and show up for the tournament.' But they don’t do that,” Kennedy said. “The goal is to just get better and work hard every day and being ready. So we’re working really hard and staying focused on those things.”
One of the things Kennedy’s team is priding itself on is how the roster has bonded over the offseason. Junior outfielder Tyler Stanley noted that the long Winter Term session for the team really helped the new players on the team come together and form a cohesive unit with the rest of the squad.
“We had long practices, and guys got to know each other,” Stanley said. “In the fall, we realized we had 10 to 15 new guys added, and I don’t think we were as close as we should have been. But in the preseason, we started to grow together and become a team, and now we’re playing up to our potential.”
After bowing out of the CAA Tournament and seeing its season end earlier than it would have liked at the hands of Northeastern University, one of the biggest aspects of its game Elon has worked on is the energy it brings to the diamond every day.
“All we can do is worry about how we’re going about it and what type of effort we’re putting forward,” Kennedy said. For Stanley, he has learned to feed off the other energy other players bring no matter what to use as inspiration and competitive fire.
“The energy is always great — we never have to worry about it,” Stanley said. “We have guys like [Andrew] Tovsky that come and bring it every day regardless of [whether] it’s raining or it's sunshine. So you always want to match his energy. You can’t let him outdo you because we’re all competitors and we want to match each other’s energy at that point.”
Kennedy has already seen some great strides in the team since its fall season. “I didn’t think our fall was great early on, and there’s some reasons for that,” Kennedy said. “We had some pieces out, we shut some guys down, we didn’t have guys throwing. We kind of stumbled through the fall, but our guys have really stayed the course and bought into what we’re telling them.”
Elon got right down to it in the opening series of the season, sweeping Lafayette College in three games to get the season moving in a hurry. Brnovich picked up right where he left off on opening day. The righty went 5.2 innings, giving up one hit and one run en route to 9-1 win to start the spring campaign.
Kennedy knows it may sound generic, but he has faith in his team to do what it needs to do and get the job done.
“We’re not looking ahead,” Kennedy said. “We really have a good group of guys that understand that on a daily basis the importance of coming out and working hard and preparing and being in the moment and being where your feet are and really putting forth a good effort that day.”