CEDAR RAPIDS - The Cedar Rapids Titans and Sioux Falls Storm have met in the conference title game in each of the past four seasons.
If the Titans have any hope to make it five, they will need to dig out of an ever-increasing hole.
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Dennis Olejniczak has been coaching baseball longer than some varsity skippers have been alive.
After more than five decades and about three generations of players at Decorah, the 74-year-old is still going strong.
Olejniczak is in his 52nd season as a head baseball coach, including the last 51 with the Vikings, and still has a strong passion for the sport. He continues to have success, guiding a raw Decorah squad to a 7-6 record before Friday’s game against Waukon.
“I still feel I’m a good competitor,” Olejniczak said. “I really enjoy the challenge of the great game of baseball, because it is such a thinking and fine-skilled game that you have to be mentally strong to continue to have regular success.”
Olejniczak’s old-school approach has proved to be as timeless as the game he applies it. Despite the addition of an eighth-grade team many years after he started, Olejniczak has maintained the same rules, standards and philosophies established with the first group in 1963.
“We established a tradition early on in the program when I did it the way I wanted to do it and they let me do it that way,” Olejniczak said. “Truly, we haven’t changed hardly at all.”
The tradition speaks for itself, recording 1,326 wins during Olejniczak’s tenure. He has guided Decorah to 11 summer state tournaments, which ranks fourth all-time, capturing state titles in 1970, 1990 and 1991 and earning runner-up finishes in 1989, 1992 and 2012.
His winning reputation with older family members goes a long way. The community support does as well, consisting of fans attending games regularly for 30 years and a couple hundred students filling bleachers at a recent home game.
“A lot of kids playing now at different levels, their dads, brothers or uncles all played for me,” said Olejniczak, who also ran the Decorah Little League for 35 summers. “We’re a baseball community. Decorah really enjoys the great game of baseball.”
Olejniczak has been the obvious constant. He still has an infectious love for baseball that motivates his players.
“He’s excited to coach the game and it makes us excited to play the game,” Decorah senior Kyle Kane said. “It is always fun to play for somebody so passionate about what they are doing.”
Olejniczak admits he doesn’t have the same energy he did in his younger years, which is natural. He demands a high level of enthusiasm from himself, since he asks it of his players. Olejniczak enjoys the daily tasks and the long hours of being a baseball coach.
“He’s always at practice hitting ground balls,” Kane said. “He’s always on the gator dragging the steals and showing how to do something specific he wants done. He is still hands on doing a lot of the stuff he always has been.”
Kane said Olejniczak still relates and connects with players well today. Many of his stories and examples from his early years still apply today.
The athletes have played an important part of him suiting up each year. Olejniczak said there are more than 70 players in the program, including 25 eighth-graders.
“The second reason is because of the kids,” Olejniczak said. “This is pretty true in almost all of the sports in Decorah, but, for me in baseball, I still have coachable and cooperative kids.”
This season the Vikings are 7-6. They have lost some close games, needing to learn from situational mistakes. Olejniczak sees potential in a group that will grow with experience.
“We are getting better every ballgame,” Olejniczak said. “I’m hoping the pieces are going to come together pretty quick that we can be a pretty decent ballclub yet down the home stretch of the season and into tournament ball.”
Stekl’s something extra
Christian Stekl has been an offensive leader for the Marion Indians so far this year. Even more impressive than his team-high 13 hits, Stekl has seven extra-base hits before the Indians doubleheader Friday against DeWitt Central.
Stekl has three doubles, three triples and a home run, batting .464 through 10 games. He also leads Marion with 11 runs and seven walks.
Marion Coach Steve Fish said Stekl has a strong plate presence.
“He’s a baseball kid,” Marion Coach Steve Fish said. “He puts through in an incredible amount of time.”
Stekl is going to play baseball at Northwestern College in Orange City. Stekl is now a three-year starter at shortstop for the Indians.
“He is as good as he wants to be,” Fish said. “He’s his own worst enemy sometimes. He overthinks the game.
“He is very good. ... he’s a good little player.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Marcus Colbert and Iowa City West’s Devin Raffensperger lead the Mississippi Valley Conference with four home runs apiece, according to quikstats.com.
Raffensperger, a first-team Class 4A all-district selection by the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association, led the league with eight home runs last season. Colbert did not have a home run in 20 games last year.
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