Before a practice in early May, Ed Servais stood down the right-field line and marveled at a jovial bunch of players who’d assembled themselves near first base.
They never start a practice before hearing from their coach. So they were all there, waiting.
And no one seemed to mind.
That caught Servais’ attention. He’s had teams that approach practice like a chore — squads that he’s felt it necessary to drag to the finish line or force out of the monotony.
Not this ballclub, though. On that particular May afternoon, Servais watched as veterans laughed with freshmen and starters interacted with bench players. Engaged and invigorated, the Jays could have hung out for an hour without complaint.
“The players deserve a ton of credit. I cannot say enough about it,” CU’s 16-year coach said. “It’s been an easy group to work with. And I can tell. I look in the mirror and I don’t look like I’m 100 years old.”
There is indeed an unmistakable harmony that the old-school, detail-oriented Servais has cultivated with players who grew tired of coming up short and found themselves willing to embrace sacrifice to reach their goals.
Creighton’s back in an NCAA regional — for the first time since 2012. It’ll open with Michigan on Friday.
CU earned a No. 2 seed for the third time since the tournament adopted this current format 20 years ago. It’s ranked in the Top 25 for just the second time in 12 years.
This is what the Jays envisioned months ago. They bought in to Servais’ blueprint for success — and held one another accountable to it.
Servais made concessions, too, relaxing some of his stricter requirements for player appearance and locker-room upkeep. He still prefers that shoes are polished, that guys are clean shaven and that hairdos are contained. But he’s looking the other way more.
“I’m not unwilling to make adjustments,” Servais said. “I’m interested in being successful. I’ve studied my coaching style a lot over the years. ... But I told (the players), there’s values I won’t give in on. That’s how you present yourself and how you play the game, how you respect the opponent and the umpires.”
And these Jays appreciate that.
They’re a cerebral group, one that prefers a hard hat and lunch pail over a briefcase and latte. They don’t deliver a lot of rah-rah speeches. Their shared objectives are so ingrained into their competitive souls, everyone seems to immediately recognize when they’re coming up short.
Servais’ demands fit well within the expectations the players have set for themselves.
“It’s pretty simple for me,” senior shortstop Jack Strunc said. “Do what you’re told. Work hard. That’s all (Servais) really wants.”
That’s what the players want, too.
About a month ago, Servais took some time to talk to the Jays about reaffirming their commitment to one another. If egos get in the way, he said, the journey will end before they’re ready.
He just wanted to remind them. The players, though, were all thinking the same thing.
They don’t want to waste this chance.
“Us guys who’ve been here, we’ve talked about going to a regional for three years and we’ve come up short,” junior right fielder Will Robertson said. “So now, for the players, it’s something really big. And also for the program, and for Coach. We’ve put so much work and dedication into this.”