Fresh off the most successful Coast Guard Academy baseball season in recent years, coach C.C. Grant received a reminder Tuesday why the Bears took a giant step forward this season.
"I had a kid walk into my office today and show me his summer workout," Grant said Tuesday.
The Bears are already eager to start preparing for next season.
They should be.
They'll welcome back the heart of a team that tied the single-season school record for wins by going 21-16 and earned the program's first post-season berth since 2002, which also was the last season that they posted a winning record.
Fittingly, Coast Guard went down fighting in the ECAC New England tournament, losing 2-1 to Anna Maria College Saturday in the semifinals.
Grant loved the commitment, work ethic and competitive spirit of his team.
"We were able to compete no matter who we played," Grant said. "That, to me, is a lot of fun. … It's been a long time since we've been able to do that."
The program has experienced a string of lean years, posting eight straight losing seasons prior to this spring.
Grant, who just completed his fifth year as a head coach and previously spent seven years as an assistant, saw signs of progress last season. The Bears went 12-18 overall but finished strong, reaching the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament championship round.
"What we saw this year started last year," Grant said. "The last week and a half last year we played really, really well. … What it did is it gave the kids a lot of confidence and they finally realized how good they could be.
"We knew they had an opportunity to be good."
Still, the Bears returned a young team, relying heavily on a promising sophomore class. They set modest preseason goals that included a winning record overall and in conference play.
They easily achieved the first one and finished 9-9 in the conference, scoring a victory by earning one of four spots in the conference tournament.
In its ECAC tournament opener, Coast Guard beat Worcester State, 7-4, Wednesday, marking the program's second postseason win ever.
More sunny days are on the horizon.
Seven of nine regular starters are expected to return.
Junior centerfielder Eddie Kalankiewicz, a NEWMAC first-team selection, will headline a talented group. He batted a team-best .336 to go with 20 RBI.
Four of the team's top five hitters will be back, including Mike Massaro (.328, a team-high 31 RBI), Nolan Gallagher (.317, 19 RBI) and Tyler Babkiewich (.303).
Grant called Babkiewich the heartbeat of the team.
The Bears also are blessed with some strong young arms. Tyler Vieira (2-2, 2.01), who received all-conference honors for the first time, already is the program's career record holder for saves with nine. Nate Toll (5-1, 4.33), Derek Petty (4-3, 3.43) and Riley Beecher (3-3, 4.24) all will look to build on solid seasons.
Grant believes the program is ahead of schedule in terms of development.
"This group has an opportunity to do a lot of things and set a lot of (school) records," Grant said. "They're not afraid to work and really understand the game. If they're willing to do the same things (next season) and pay the price, they'll be pretty good.
"We're looking for big things the next couple of years.''