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Fans of the Grant County High School varsity baseball team will notice a new face in the dugout and along the third base line as Van Duncan will look to improve on last season's 12-13 record when the Braves open their practice on Friday.
Duncan replaces Rich Williamson, who resigned after two years at the helm, and hopes his excitement will transfer to his players this spring.
"I am extremely excited to be the new baseball coach at GCHS and building a winning Braves baseball tradition. Scott Shipp (athletic director), the administration at the high school, and Mr. (Michael) Hibbett (superintendent) and Mr. (Ken) Gray (assistant superintendent) at the school board have entrusted me with the program, and that is something I take very seriously," Duncan said.
While this is his first season as the Braves' skipper, Duncan is no stranger to the game, having served as a player, coach, umpire and fan.
"All of these have given me a unique perspective on the game," he said.
During the preseason, Duncan has stressed the importance of conditioning, and he said that aspect has improved for his team.
"Our numbers have steadily increased and we're expecting a good turnout for tryouts. The players have been working on their speed, stamina, hand-eye coordination and strength. Due to KHSAA limitations, we haven't been able to work on any baseball skills, but we have made significant progress in non-baseball areas," Duncan said.
The first few days of official practice will consist of tryouts for the team with the idea of giving Duncan an opportunity to assess the players and their skills in order to choose the best players for this year's team. With the addition of a freshman team, Duncan says the coaching staff will be looking at numerous younger players with the hopes of upgrading the program from the recreation and middle school levels.
"Our first practices will focus on the fundamentals of fielding, throwing, running, hitting and game situations. We won't be a power-hitting team, so we're going to have to be a smart team. Therefore, that will be the focus with all of our practices. We'd also like to find out who can play where and focus on building team chemistry and team unity. We intend to create a culture of competition and instill a winning attitude in our Braves baseball program," Duncan said.
In addition to Duncan as varsity coach, other members of the coaching staff include: Justin Hollingsworth as junior varsity coach and Darrick Lee as the freshman coach. Todd Cummins has been assisting the team as a volunteer coach.
"Justin already has a strong rapport with the returning players to provide much needed stability. Darrick played minor league baseball for a year-and-a-half so he brings some upper-level baseball talent and knowledge to our team. Todd has been volunteering with our team during conditioning and will be involved in our program during the season. His help and assistance has been invaluable thus far. We'll be taking a team coaching approach as all coaches will be working closely with all teams," Duncan said.
The Braves will open the regular season on March 25 at Harrison County. The first pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.