Ed Kahovec has always been a passionate student of the game. He moves with the step and balance of a former shortstop. Indeed, you’ll find his name listed among the All-Time Greats for the University of Rochester, a reputable DIII program in the cold highlands in upstate New York. So, in a sense, it’s not entirely different from Holy Cross, located in Worcester, Massachusetts. The winters get cold and the baseball programs walk with a balanced step on the line between academic and athletic.
Considering their full-time enrollment of 3,020 students, inclusion in one of the most selective NCAA Division I athletic conference (the Patriot League), and a program that Kahovec says offers neither academic nor athletic scholarships, Holy Cross baseball, at first glance, could profile more like a Division III program. Don’t let first impressions deter you; Holy Cross baseball is hungry for success.
“Our expectations are to play in the conference tournament and championship series every year,” said Kahovec. “Our goal is to win the Patriot League.”
It’s a bold goal, especially in a sport that’s predicated on failure more times than not. But those dreams were realized in 2016, a year prior to Kahovec’s joining of the Crusaders’ coaching staff. That’s not to say Kahovec would be out of place in a culture trying to establish a consistency in winning and success. Such accomplishments have followed Kahovec’s career as both a player and a coach. He helped lead the University of Rochester Yellowjackets to a Liberty League championship in 2008 while hitting .372, then was shortly after named team MVP after playing professionally in the German National Baseball league for the Erbach Grasshoppers. To his name, Kahovec has three All-Liberty League awards as a player, two All-UAA awards and one all-region nomination. After his playing days, his role as an assistant coach with Rochester led to two Liberty League titles, two UAA Championships, and a Coaching Staff of the Year award.
From established success with the University of Rochester, Kahovec took a chance when he signed on as the first head coach of the Bard College baseball program in seven decades. There, he had to establish a new culture cultivating it from the ground up. After four years, it was time for a change. He needed a transition to a program with more dedicated resources to the development of a winning team.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to leave Bard as I was really proud of what we had built there in a short time,” said Kahovec. “And I developed amazing lifelong relationships while coaching there. Ultimately, the opportunity to coach at a school and baseball program like Holy Cross was one that I couldn’t pass up.”
With Holy Cross, Kahovec became a member of a program with a long history. Instead of erecting the foundations for success, Kahovec now can influence what could be later recorded in the program’s history. He joins a staff with auspicious beginnings.
“One really cool aspect of our coaching staff at Holy Cross is that we all played and coached at the Division III level, and at one point or another, transitioned into the Division I world,” said Kahovec. “For me, the transition was pretty seamless because I came into a situation with great coaches and great people.”
Kahovec’s role was expanded with Holy Cross and not only does he serve as an assistant coach to the long-tenured Gregory DiCenzo, but he also serves as the recruiting coordinator for the program. The building of a successful program runs through him, and his search for versatile athletes expands to versatile minds off the field. There’s a lot of pressure to the craft of scouting and recruiting—a program can be set back with the wrong personnel—but Kahovec loves the responsibility.
“Recruiting is definitely a great passion of mine and we are always looking for players that are the right fit for our program,” said Kahovec. “As one of the most selective colleges in the country, it’s imperative that we recruit nationwide to find the right combination of academic and athletic ability in every recruit. We are looking for players with a strong desire to play professional baseball that want to be challenged on the field and in the classroom.”
Holy Cross has established a core of players they hope to lead them back to a Patriot League championship. Junior shortstop Chris Rinaldi and outfielder Austin Masel, first baseman Alex Volpi, Sophomore third baseman Cam Meyer, and senior pitchers Pat McGowan and Declan Cronin all were key contributors to the 2017 squad that not only won the Patriot League Championship, but also made it to the Corvallis Regional tournament.
Masel paced the team last year with a .322 average, slugging .477 with four home runs and driving in 25 RBI. From the beginning of his college career, he established a penchant for success. An All-American as a freshman, Kahovec describes Masel as “one of the best hitters in the league. He hits the ball to all fields and has real gap-to-gap pop.”
Rinaldi, entering his junior year, was only two points behind Masel with a .320 average that landed him a first team All-Patriot League. Kahovec is excited for Rinaldi’s further development, describing him as “a strong defender” who “has really developed his approach at the plate to one of the best hitters on our team.”
Both hitters played complementary roles in 2017 when the Crusaders beat #2 Nebraska in the Corvallis regional before losing to #1 Oregon State (who lost to LSU in the College World Series Semifinals) and #3 Yale. The same can be said for Pat McGowan, who went from bullpen arm to number one in the rotation, and Declan Cronin, who will be a conference starter for a second consecutive year.
“We take a lot in player development and that approach is no different heading into this season,” said Kahovec. “We return a lot of key players and after being 90 feet away from getting to the conference championship series last year, the guys have been really focused on our goal of getting back to a Regional.”
That pride, fueled by the previous year’s disappointing finish, could propel Holy Cross back to the top of the league. The Crusaders are still young, but a young wolf is often hungrier than the older. But such success begins with hard work, an unrelenting desire to improve in all facets of the game, and that often begins with the coaching staff. That’s where Kahovec has been a perfect fit with Holy Cross.
“We feel quite fortunate to have [Kahovec] on our staff and in our Holy Cross family,” said DiCenzo, who will be entering his 12th season as the head coach. “He has shown to be a tireless worker and someone who truly has a thirst for knowledge.”
For a program lacking the allure of other big programs like USC, Nebraska, and the University of Houston—all programs Holy Cross has defeated—and lacking the academic and athletic scholarships, the “tireless worker” mentality as described by coach DiCenzo will be crucial to the success of the team this year.
The season is unpredictable. It’s the nature of the game, but expect a blue—or, in this case, a purple-collared effort from the Crusaders of Holy Cross.