MORAGA, Calif. -- Eric Valenzuela doesn't need a reminder of how tough a conference he's stepping into in his first season as Saint Mary's baseball coach.
Having played at Pepperdine and coached as an assistant at both Saint Mary's and San Diego, Valenzuela knows the strength of the West Coast Conference. He knows that every weekend will be a grind, and that he'll need contributions from everyone on the roster to improve on last season's 11-13 conference record.
So, what was his reaction to being ranked ninth out of 10 teams in the preseason coaches' poll?
"They're right. I don't think we've proven anything. We have to make our own name," Valenzuela said. "USD, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount with their arms, Gonzaga's been awesome, USF obviously. Santa Clara and Portland are going to be better. You get Pacific in there now that's played in an unbelievable conference for years so they're going to be game ready. They're not going to be scared or fear anybody that they're going to play. And BYU is always good. It's a very, very tough conference that we're in and every weekend, there's not going to be any easy teams. We hope that we're not going to be easy either."
While the conference schedule will present its own challenges, the non-conference slate is far from easy. It all starts with a trip to Las Cruces, N.M. to take on New Mexico State before the Gaels come home to host Kansas State, UC Davis and Portland in the Gael Invitational.
Valenzuela's former employer, San Diego State, visits on the first weekend in March, then Penn State comes in the following weekend. A trip to preseason No. 1 Cal State Fullerton looms in March, as well as a visit from Minnesota. Mid-week games against San Jose State, Cal Poly, Stanford and UC Davis will also challenge the Gaels.
So, what exactly is the strategy for improving on last season?
"I think we have to be good on the mound and I think we have to be offensive," Valenzuela said. "I think the way you beat these teams, and I think Gonzaga's done a good job of this, is you have to really hit. They're able to maximize offense and get runs. I love the conference. All these coaches do a phenomenal job of coaching and building teams so every weekend is going to be a grind. Going to Las Cruces the first weekend of the year, hopefully these guys get prepared for what's going to be coming their way in conference."
Valenzuela's process-oriented approach has the Gaels focused on everything but wins and losses. If all goes according to plan, progress throughout the season will manifest itself in better play as the season goes on. And, if that happens, the wins will follow.
Nobody needs to remind him of that.