VIRGINIA — Just a few days into practice, Virginia’s Ryan Hujanen was looking for a good year of baseball for himself and his Blue Devils team.
However, his hopes were sidelined when the season was postponed and later canceled due to concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can understand his disappointment of not having a senior culmination year,’’ said head coach Brian Skadsem. “Obviously he was bummed that we didn’t get to see him play’’ his final high school season.
Hujanen was the team’s only senior player, while Abby Moore would have been in her senior season of managing the squad.
Both added a lot to the team, according to the coach.
“Ryan’s been in the program at least the 5-6 years I’ve been around,’’ Skadsem said in a telephone interview. “We’ve just kind of seen him getting better and better each year.’’
Hujanen came into the season with a career batting average of .350, who had excellent base-running speed. Defensively, the senior pitched for the Devils and also played shortstop, second base, third base and outfield.
“He was a very good pitcher’’ that the other players counted on be in control on the mound. “He showed some very good versatility at third, short, and second base. And when needed he went right to the outfield and did a great job,’’ the coach stated.
Skadsem stated Hujanen was “an all-around great athlete with good sense of the game.’’ He was also an “excellent teammate who really started to help the team with his leadership skills.’’
The team only had six practices, but Hujanen’s leadership abilities were clearly on display. “He showed some realy true senior leadership coming into that and through those days. That was real encouraging obviously from a team standpoint, as well as his development.’’
How did the leadership show itself?
Skadsem said it was just the senior’s willingness to help direct the younger players or help them understand a drill. He pushed the team and didn’t leave the gym right away, as well. “He was always there to tell kids to put equipment away’’ and also helped putting things away himself.
“I think that really helped actually in terms of he knew this was kind of on his shoulders a little bit. He was willing to take that role on and be a leader,’’ Skadsem said.
What was Hujanen’s reaction to the season being postponed?
Skadsem said he didn’t have anything to say about it at the time because there was still a chance some sort of a season could have been played.
“You could kind of just see maybe on all the players faces that the possibility of not having a season was right there in front of them and being dejected right away. Throughout that whole process there was always that glimmer of hope that we could come back.’’
When the season was canceled for good, Skadsem contacted his lone senior. “He was very disappointed and just kind of thought this would be a great year for not only himself but the team. He thought the team would have done well this year. So it’s kind of cool he thought about the team first and himself second.’’
The last time Skadsem talked to Hujanen, the senior planned on attending Mesabi Range College and playing baseball there.
Regarding Moore’s managerial duties, Skadsem said she “was a pleasure to have in our program.’’
“Especially Abby, like most managers, they’re very reliable and they communicate well and Abby is no exception. She was consistently at every single game. If she couldn’t be at something because of a prior commitment, she was very good about communicating. These are lifelong skills we try to emphasize not just in baseball, but in all education.’’
The coach said she was very responsible, while also having a strong knowledge of the game and keeping accurate statistics. “That was just huge for the coaching staff and players.
Skadsem was disappointed to see the season wiped out, as well.
“Obviously, I thought our team had some serious potential’’ after a number of graduations one year ago. “We were still pretty inexperienced but we had some pretty good talent in our one senior and a handful of juniors.’’ He also expected a few sophomores and a couple freshman to push for starting varsity jobs.
With that in mind, he believes the future looks really good for Virginia baseball.