College baseball will sound different this season. How much differently it plays is under review.
Wichita State received its shipment of new NCAA-certified DeMarini bats on Sept. 20. Every team will switch to new bats this spring, and the difference may be quite noticeable. The metal bats will perform more like wood. The NCAA reduced the speed that the ball comes off the bat as a response to composite bats judged too bouncy to be safe.
"I don't necessarily dislike them," WSU junior Chris O'Brien said. "I just don't like the sound. You're used to the real high-pitch aluminum bat sound. This has a lot more dull sound. It's a lot less ear-friendly."
Coaches across the country are concerned that the change will reduce scoring and excitement. WSU players and coaches noticed a drop in home runs during scrimmages and in batting practice. Cheap home runs appear to be a thing of the past. Earlier this week, third baseman Erik Harbutz smacked a ball that one-hopped the wall in left field. He wondered if the old bat would have propelled the ball over the wall.
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"It takes some time to get used to," Harbutz said. "You definitely have less pop, there's not as much of a trampoline effect. You have to square one up to get it out there."
WSU coach Gene Stephenson wants to reserve judgment.
"There's going to be an adjustment period and we're in the middle of that," he said. "You're going to have to hit it well to get home runs."
The Shockers begin their fall scrimmage series on Friday, giving fans their first look at the new bats.
"I think a lot of people will notice the difference," O'Brien said. "Now it's going to be a completely different sound. And even if it sounds like (the ball is hit hard), it's not necessarily going anywhere. It's not going to be a little man's game anymore."
New Bear in town — WSU's volleyball team is in a three-way tie for second in the Missouri Valley Conference with Missouri State and Creighton.
The Shockers (10-3, 3-1 MVC) travel to MSU (12-3, 3-1) on Saturday for their lone match this week.
WSU, which has won five of the last six matches in Springfield, will face one of the MVC's top freshmen in outside hitter Christine McCartney.
McCartney is averaging 2.98 kills a set, best among freshmen and 10th in the conference.
One month away — WSU cross country coach Kirk Hunter wants his teams to peak in late October for the MVC Championships.
The women's team, ranked ninth in the Midwest Region, also needs to focus on bigger goals. The Shockers will run against several regional foes on Saturday at the Richard Clark Invitational in Springfield and on Oct. 16 at the NCAA Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind. Good performances could help WSU move higher in the rankings and help their case to qualify as a team for the NCAA Championships.
"We need to definitely run well on the women's side," Hunter said.
WSU senior Tonya Nero has won both her races this fall and Hunter liked the way her teammates narrowed the gap in the 3-kilometer Iowa Invitational. Leah Thompson, Danielle Walker and Scarla Nero all finished in the top 10 at the triangular.
"That's what we really needed," he said. "Now we're going to the 5-kilometer and we need to see the same type of aggressive running from the back group."
Hunter is waiting on junior Trace Kendrick and newcomer Jackson Toroitich to get healthy to help the men's team. Both could return in time for the MVC meet.