New baseball coach institutes rigorous training program

Chronicle Staff

The athletics office took its first step in reinventing its struggling baseball program July 11 with the hiring of new Head Coach Matt LaCour. LaCour immediately has started to revamp the program, trying to turn around a team that in its last season under former coach Tim Cunningham went 0-12 in league, including 18-3 and 16-5 blowout losses.

LaCour has spent the last five years leading City Section power El Camino Real to a 127-32 record that included a 2005 section championship where the team was named the California State team of the year by Cal-Hi Sports.

He takes over the program from Cunningham, who took the team to the 2003 Division III CIF finals, but from there watched over the team’s steady decline; the next year the team dropped five of its last six games to finish 4-8 in league and out of the playoffs and in 2005 the team went 8-15 (1-11 in league) before last year’s struggle.

Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas believes that the program turned a corner with its hiring of LaCour.

“It’s a new day for Harvard-Westlake baseball,” he said in the school’s press release. “Coach LaCour is a great teacher, motivator and role model who expects excellence on and off the field.”

LaCour has said that he plans on changing many facets of the team, some of which have already been announced. The team is going to be doing a lot more physical training, both on the track and in the weight room. Before players even have met the coach, a tentative schedule has been set up for sessions that some players, including Daniel Ozen ’08, have said to be some of the toughest workouts for any sport at the school. In the off season, the team will be working out once a week at 6:45 a.m. During the season, the workouts increase to three times a week.

LaCour also hopes to make the team more cohesive than it has been in years past. Nick Meerson ’08 called the past season a disappointment, saying that the attitude of some players was lacking; that is something that will change in the new year.

“People look at baseball sometimes as being somewhat of an individual sport,” LaCour said. “It is not.  When we get all of our players on the same page we will see a drastic improvement on the field.”

LaCour views a new facility as a key turning point for his program as well. While the football team’s odyssey for a Friday night home game will end later this year with the installation of lights over Slavin field, LaCour plans on centering the team’s future on a renovated Franklin field.

His plan starts with a new surface and irrigation system for the field itself, and then wants to make additions to the rest of the facility.

“When you spend as much time on the field as we intend to spend, it needs to be a place that you like,” LaCour said. “We will make Franklin Field a place where the students, parents, faculty and administration want to be.”

Judging by his past results, LaCour’s methods can be expected to pay off; not only does the Conquistadors’ past record show a strong winning history, but LaCour has made his name well-known by winning both the Los Angeles Times and Daily News Coach of the Year award twice, once in his opening season with El Camino Real in 2002, and also in their 2005 championship.

Because of his fame in amateur baseball circles, LaCour was a more elite coach than most in the hiring pool. LaCour was drawn to Harvard-Westlake by the deep sports medicine and strength and conditioning programs, the vertical integration of the baseball teams that allow him to build a six year program and the support that the school was willing to offer in all aspects of rebuilding the team.

“What coaches want is support and commitment,” Barzdukas said. “At our school coaches don’t have to do bake sales or car washes every month because we’re at a fortunate place.”

With his new program starting to take hold this week, LaCour believes he can put Harvard-Westlake on the same level as El Camino Real.

“Players that achieve greatness all have the same things in common,” he said.“I think I will find that the players… have a determination to be great.  We [as a coaching staff] just need to lead the way and show them the process that it takes to achieve that goal.