Oct. 8, 2013
Few college baseball programs rival NC State when it comes to former players on staff. Heading into the 2014 season, the Wolfpack will feature four former NC State players on its coaching and support staffs: Brian Ward, John Lambert, Andrew Ciencin, and Tarran Senay.
All four agree that remaining a part of the program creates a special atmosphere that envelops the team. NC State head coach Elliott Avent believes that these men contribute to a team environment based on respect and chemistry, and he's grateful to work with them on a daily basis.
"When you have four former players who have so much respect for this team, it becomes an exciting thing. These guys are able to offer a lot of insight and help to explain some things since they already know the ropes," said Avent.
Senay finished his college career last season, but knew that he wanted to stay involved in the sport. Avent found a way to help him out.
"It's cool that we all know each other on staff," said Senay. "It makes for a really relaxed, easygoing workplace, but we still all know we have a job to do."
The job Senay refers to is returning to Omaha for the College World Series. Assistant coach Brian Ward played for N.C. State in 1998 and 1999 as part of Avent's first recruiting class. He agreed that working together makes goals like Omaha more attainable.
"It doesn't happen very often," said Ward. "The people on our staff have been involved with this program long-term, and we've seen a lot of success together. We have that experience of the day-to-day routine for our players, and we know what it takes to accomplish our goals from both sides."
While Senay and Ward contribute as coaches on the field, Ciencin and Lambert operate behind-the-scenes with Baseball Operations and Player Development, ensuring that the season runs smoothly.
Lambert was a player during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, a teammate of Senay and Ciencin, and was coached by Ward and Avent. He is sure that having these previous players on staff has helped to develop a sense of understanding that might not be found at other places.
"It's awesome being able to work with all of these guys," said Lambert. "We all have one thing in common and that is the fact that we have all either played with or worked with [Elliott Avent], so we all understand each other and the importance of helping out the guys on the team. It's a unique work environment, and it ends up running really well."
Ciencin subscribes to a "player's first" mentality, and has seen the Wolfpack program grow from every angle. Ciencin's playing career finished in 2012, he spent the 2013 season as an assistant coach, and earned a position as the Director of Baseball Operations this year.
"Coach respects our opinions because we've been in the players' shoes," said Ciencin. "We have been in tough situations together and worked through them, so Avent trusts us to deal with a lot. Since we all worked or played together, it's easier for us to trust each other and communicate."
Ciencin and Lambert have already been working hard to ensure that everything is coordinated effectively before the season starts. Lambert focuses specifically on scheduling team events, and also being the academic liaison between players and staff. Ciencin takes care of all travel accommodations, runs camps, and helps out with recruits on campus.
Together, the staff has collaborated on upgrades to Doak Field at Dail Park, including renovations for the team locker room and training room. Lambert also explained that the program is in the continual design process of developing an indoor hitting facility, as well as a player development facility that will tie into a players' lounge and study area.
It's plans like these that are able to add to the success of N.C. State's baseball program. Avent stressed that coaching and working in baseball isn't all fun and games, but that the former players he has on staff love N.C. State and the sport that they played.
"If you want to coach or be involved in college athletics, it consumes a lot of your time. There are a lot of hours involved, and you are going to miss out on some social fun," said Avent.
It is former players like Senay, Ward, Lambert and Ciencin who have made sure to buy into the idea of wanting nothing but success out of this program.
"It's been genuinely special getting to watch these guys interact with each other and overcome obstacles," said Avent. "They have been a soundboard and sense of direction for new players, and they've bought into what we are doing here."
While Senay was able to participate in the College World Series as a player; Ciencin, Ward, and Lambert were able to be a part of the opportunity in a different way.
"Going to the College World Series is your dream growing up," said Ward. "Being able to be involved with the players that went and being a small part of that as a coach was special. I got to see their pride in what they had done."
Growing up with current Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland as his former coach, Senay hopes that some of his skills learned as a player will translate over to his coaching abilities.
"Our goal is to do well and make it back to Omaha," said Senay. "I think that I'm a pretty good communicator and hope to transfer those skills that I learned from Leyland and my coaches here onto these current players."
"The guys that went last year still have that taste in their mouths," said Ciencin. "That is our main objective, and we are working hard towards it. The players are making sure they are doing everything they can in their own hands to make it back there."
Avent mentioned how truly extraordinary it was for his former players to be able to experience the College World Series. "We took that trip for a lot of people," said Avent. "Tarran got to go as a player during his senior season, Ciencin got to go as a student coach, Brian Ward was in my very first recruiting class, and John Lambert pitched for us for two years, so he represented a lot of players that had played with him."
While each one of the former players on staff is one of a kind in their own way, they all agree that coaching together is something that can't be replaced.
Ciencin said, "It's a good feeling to come here everyday and know that the atmosphere we have created inside this program is unlike anything else."