UNO isn't dwelling on what happened last season, but it can't deny that it occurred.

The Mavericks, coming off consecutive Summit League regular-season titles, opened their conference schedule with six straight wins. They then went to Oral Roberts, which returned to the league it long dominated after two years in the Southland Conference, and were swept in a key series.

UNO's season completely unraveled from there. It won only six of its 21 conference games after that ill-fated weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And it lost each of its last six Summit League weekend series.

The Mavs, who are now eligible for postseason play, say that all of that is now in the past.

"We had a couple of pretty good years in a row (and) didn't do what we wanted to do last year," said UNO coach Bob Herold, whose team went 21-31 overall (12-18 in conference) in 2015. "Now we're able to go to the postseason. We're looking forward to the opportunity to show what we can do this year."

There is plenty of reason for optimism. The players Herold built a championship culture around — starter Tyler Fox and all-Summit picks Clayton Taylor, Cole Gruber and Alex Schultz — are now seniors. The latter three will again occupy the top of the Maverick lineup while Fox will get the ball every Friday night.

"It's fill in the blank with the rest of the guys," Herold said. "We've got really good players. It's just that these guys caught the vision a little bit earlier that we can be about as good as we want to be. We spend the rest of the time trying to get everybody else on board."

That shouldn't be a problem with this year's squad, Fox said. A strong offseason has the Mavs ready.

"We have great team chemistry," said the senior from Thornton, Colorado. "(It was) a really competitive fall, really competitive winter. We'll have a lot of guys who will be able to fill in and mix in everywhere."

Fox was the 2014 Summit League pitcher of the year after going 9-1 that season. His tough-luck record was 5-4 last year, even though his 2.88 ERA was the second best in the conference.

As far as Friday starters go in the six-team conference, Fox has been as good as can be expected.

"That has to do with a lot of diving catches and a lot of diving plays on the infield," he said. "I gave up some bees out there, and they play behind me. A lot of it is just throwing strikes and letting your defense work. They're there for you, you're there for them. This year, nothing changes."

Herold said returners Brett Sasse and Corey Binger are among the top candidates to join the UNO ace in the weekend rotation. And he feels like the candidates for midweek starters are solid as well.

Offensively, the top of UNO's order — Schultz, Gruber and Taylor — is as good as any around. Schultz is consistently on base. Gruber hit .399 last year and is a nuisance on the base paths. And Taylor provides power and production in the No. 3 spot. The trio believes there will be plenty of offense behind them.

"We've got a lot of depth, both hitting and pitching, as opposed to last year," Gruber said. "We just need a couple of guys to step up here and there. We've got the bats, it's just whoever will fill in on defense."

There have been some position switches for UNO's returning stars. Taylor has shifted from shortstop to third base to maximize the defensive potential of the left side of the infield, while Gruber and Schultz swapped spots in the outfield. The former is now in center, the latter in right.

The moves not only should benefit UNO this year, but help the three players moving forward.

"Barring a major injury, all these guys are going to play professional baseball," Herold said. "I was in pro ball for 22 years. They're better than a lot of guys I coached."

Taylor's position change is the most noteworthy. His move leaves the shortstop duties to freshman Riley Herold, the coach's son, and means there will be no one on the infield returning at his former spot.

"I think we've got a lot of guys that can play," Taylor said. "It's going to be interesting to see the shuffle of guys that are going to be out there."

The Mavs open their season Friday against Eastern Michigan on the first of two early trips to Georgia. UNO also goes to Wichita State, Grand Canyon and Air Force before its conference slate opens in Omaha on March 18. Home-and-home dates with Nebraska and Kansas State and nonleague road games at Kansas, Iowa and Creighton all come while the Mavs are in the midst of Summit play.

UNO is chasing a top-four finish in the league, which would qualify it for the tourney in Tulsa.

"It's always nice at the end of the year to get an opportunity to compete for a championship. I'm sure it's going to be different for the players," Herold said. "The coaching staff sets the direction of the team. It's the players' team. They can make the most of it or the least of it."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1027,

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.