When Mike Hennessey started at Charlotte Country Day seven years ago, only 22 players tried out for the varsity and junior varsity baseball teams. Since then, Hennessey has built the program and that number has grown every year, up to 36 this year.
Last year, the Buccaneers had their best season since Hennessey started, winning the conference championship for the first time in more than a decade and making it to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championship series for the first time since 2006, where they lost in two games to Forsyth Country Day.
"Last year was obviously great for us," said Hennessey. "We had six seniors on that team that had been in the program forever. It was great for them to be able to cap off their senior year like that."
With those six seniors and two foreign exchange students gone this year, the Bucs have some holes to fill if they want to build on their 21-6 season last year and challenge for another state championship.
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The two biggest losses for the team were senior captains Lee Harrison (College of Charleston) and William Frazier (Western Carolina), the team's leading pitchers who also respectively played shortstop and right field.
"They definitely left some holes," said Hennessey. "But we've got another great group of seniors this year that I think are going to rise up just like Lee and William's class did."
That senior class starts behind the plate with all-conference honorable mention Brian Duncan, who recently signed to play football at Bucknell. Senior Colin Walls was all-conference and all-state last year, hitting .345, and will play first base.
Senior third baseman Patrick Langdon also was all-conference and all-state and Hennessey called him the anchor of the infield last year.
"He's probably one of the most solid catch and throw guys around," said Hennessey. "A really good stick."
All-conference senior lefty Tyler Holloway will return to the mound and senior Wade Leach will have an opportunity to play second after serving mostly as a role player last year.
Those seniors are joined by sophomore pitcher Drew Loepprich, who is expected to be a starter, and junior leadoff man Patrick Brady, who will move from the outfield to the infield. Hennessey called Brady, who was named all-conference last year, the team's "heart and soul."
"He's kind of a throwback kid to me," said Hennessey. "He reminds me of someone that would play on black and white TV. Always has a dirty uniform, that real determined look on his face."
Winning another conference title won't be easy for the Bucs, who have to play against perennial power Charlotte Christian, Providence Day, who Hennessey called "one of the toughest wins in the whole conference," and Charlotte Latin.
Hennessey said his team has had its best offseason since he started coaching at Charlotte Country Day. The players worked hard in the weight room. He will find out if that work paid off March 6 when the Bucs start their season at home against Marvin Ridge.
"For us, it's all about confidence," said Hennessey. "For a long time we were the team that was really trying to get some place and last year we accomplished most of the things we wanted to do. Now I think these guys are confident and they know what we're capable of."