Head coach John Anderson looked across Siebert Field this fall and saw a whole new man at shortstop.
No, the Gopher Baseball program hasn't brought in a freshman prospect or collegiate transfer to take over the position. Instead, it's a familiar face: junior Terrin Vavra, a year removed from a stress fracture in his back that sidelined him for much of his freshman season and fall ball in 2016, is ready to be a leader for the Maroon & Gold on and off the field.
"The best news we have had this fall is that Terrin Vavra's back has been healthy for an extended period of time," said Anderson. "He played the whole summer in the [Cape Cod League and] through the whole fall without any problems. This is the longest period since he's been that we haven't had any problems. That's a big takeaway this fall."
Vavra was limited to 32 games as a rookie, and while he did play in 50 games last year, he still dealt with back spasms occasionally throughout the season. "Last year, I would get sore, and I could definitely feel it," said Vavra, but back spasms were nothing compared to what he dealt with the year previous. "I couldn't really swing. I could start my swing, but as soon as I would get into the follow-through, it would send a shock right through my back. Obviously, I couldn't play through that." The cure was changing up his training regimen. "It was mainly just getting after it in the weight room, doing a ton of core exercises and stability [work]. Those kinds of exercises really helped me strengthen up my core which, in turn, strengthens up my back."
Vavra batted .308 a season ago, down from the .358 mark before his injury in 2016, but still a major contributor for the Gophers. He really shined in Big Ten play, batting .395 with 10 RBIs in 21 games. Now healthy and coming off a strong season, Vavra has reason for confidence. "At this level, anything can happen. Everyone is talented," Vavra said. "I don't take that for granted. I just go out there and try to put the bat on the ball and let the rest take care of itself. It's never been an issue when I step in the box as far as confidence goes. I've always been pretty comfortable in there."
Despite Vavra's humility, his head coach saw confidence and ease of play on the field this fall. "He looks more comfortable out there on defense," said Anderson. "He has more flexibility, more movement. His swing is more fluid. We know that he is a special player when he's on the field. He's a junior now and has experience."
Vavra gained that experience playing in the Cape Cod League this summer, one of the premier collegiate summer leagues in the nation. He played 24 games for the Cotuit Kettleers, batting .279 with four doubles, 10 RBIs, 12 runs, four steals, and one home run. "It was an awesome experience just being able to see that caliber of pitching day-in and day-out," Vavra said. "I got to see a lot of other players out there doing their thing, too. So, I learned from different people and different coaches, and I really just got all-around better in the game."
Heading into the winter training season, Vavra's focus shifts to becoming an all-around player. "A big area of focus is working on the things outside of the batter's box. That's defense. That's baserunning. All that stuff is really important to me as well," Vavra said. "I feel like I have a lot of room to grow in every category of my game." As a team, he and the Gophers are working on getting stronger both physically and spiritually. "We're in the weight room doing our work there. We're in the fieldhouse getting conditioning and spring work in. Really, we're just trying to build a good culture here."
Looking back on the experience, Vavra knows despite the injury that quitting was never an option. "I obviously have some family background with baseball, and one thing that always stuck with me was just to never stop working," said Vavra. "It's a lengthy process, and you don't want to ever look back and say, `Oh, I wish I worked harder. I wish I put in more hours.' My best advice would be, just don't stop working."
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