Playing two years on the varsity level as a catcher under former Naperville Central coach Bill Seiple before playing collegiately at Illinois Wesleyan, there’s little doubt Mitch Nowicki knows the intricacies of baseball.
Spending the spring on the varsity staff of Joe Skarbek at Lincoln-Way North as the hitting coach after spending time coaching at the sophomore level, Nowicki gets his chance to mold the varsity program into his own.
Officially named in May as the replacement at North for Skarbek, who left to become an assistant principal at Lincoln-Way East, Nowicki couldn’t have asked for a better situation to walk into as a first-time head coach.
“It’s been a pretty smooth (transition). Coach Skarbek did a good job of kind of walking me through things as the year went on,” he said. “It was more managerial side than it was the baseball side, but all the extras you have to deal with. So it’s been a good transition. We had a really good baseball camp, and the summer varsity team is doing pretty well.”
Nowicki, who learned of his promotion to the top job on May 7, inherits a program that has won at least 30 games in three straight seasons while winning four straight regional crowns.
“The program has been very successful in a short amount of time and I’m excited. I’ve been a part of it from the get-go, so that’s also a nice thing that I’ve always been associated with the program,” he said.
North was 33-3-1 in 2013, falling to Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A Providence Sectional. The Phoenix tied the program record for wins with 33 in the midst of staying at or near the top of the state rankings for much of the season.
The task for Nowicki, a 2001 Naperville Central graduate, is to keep the Lincoln-Way North train moving.
“It’s kind of been an ideal situation,” he said. “My guys that will be seniors ... I was their head sophomore coach, so we’re on the same page, as far as my philosophy. They understand kind of who I am as a coach. They were very successful. I think we were 34-2 as a sophomore group and now I have those guys as seniors with my first varsity year. I’m real excited about it. It’s an ideal situation.”
Nowicki becomes the fourth Redhawks baseball alum to earn his shot as a varsity baseball coach in recent years, joining Justin Cronin, a fellow 2001 graduate, Scott Lawler and Mike Stock.
Cronin spent two years as the varsity baseball coach at Hinsdale Central from 2011 to ’12, while Lawler and Stock each finished their second years at the helm of the programs at Benet and Naperville Central, respectively, in the spring.
Nowicki hasn’t been afraid to call on the wisdom of both Seiple and Stock, his freshman baseball coach at Naperville Central, as he has worked up the ranks in his coaching career at both Lincoln-Way East and Lincoln-Way North.
“(Seiple) has always been kind of like an extra father figure, ever since playing for him in high school and throughout my teaching (career),” Nowicki said. “He’s always been a guy where I could shoot an email and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ (Seiple) and coach Stock were the same way. I think my first congratulations email was from coach Stock.”