Walsh Jesuit baseball's position among the elite programs in Ohio has long been established.

Last year, the Warriors finished the season at 20-8 and reached the Division I Struthers district final before bowling out with an 8-5 upset loss to Stow-Munroe Falls.

"No question that it wasn't the way we wanted to the end it, but it is what it is," said Walsh Jesuit coach Chris Kaczmar.

Another aspect of Walsh's 2016 team was the fact Walsh lost eight seniors who moved to college baseball for the second straight year. That class included Ohio State recruit Dominic Canzone.

Thus, as he enters his 21st year in charge of the Warriors, Kaczmar is approaching the season from a different angle.

"We're excited to get rolling with a new, young group," Kaczmar said. "I guess we're looking at it from the prospective of its going to be a great experience seeing these young men grow.

"It's the first year in a handful of years where there's not much expectation on us," he added. "It's really a different outlook I've had since 2012. Every year since then we've been pretty solid. We have not quite the depth that we've had in the past."

In short, by Walsh's standards, this is a rebuilding year. Kaczmar actually seems energized by the prospect.

Last year also marked the first time since joining the North Coast League in 2012 that the Warriors did not win the league title. Walsh competes in the Blue Division of the NCL with Archbishop Hoban, Benedictine, Lake Catholic, Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin and Padua Francisan. Kaczmar expects another dog fight in the division.

"It's going to be extremely competitive this year," Kaczmar said. "I think it's pretty balanced this year. Padua will be solid. NDCL is always towards the top."

Walsh's coaching staff remains intact this spring, as Steve Gresovich returns as varsity assistant and Joe Bowers returns at pitching coach. Trey Bennett will be Walsh's head junior varsity coach, while Michael Palange is Walsh's head freshman coach.

With so many new faces, Kaczmar said there could be some serious switching this year with the Warriors' pitching staff.

The good news is Walsh's No. 1 spot is locked down by returning starter Jace Burke. Burke has committed to play baseball at the University of Evansville next year and is likely to focus solely on pitching this season.

"He'll step into that role," Kaczmar said. "Jace has looked really good this spring."

What will the staff look like behind Burke?

"That's the big question at this point," Kaczmar said, with a laugh. "It is very wide open."

Among the prospects to start are senior Brendan Regan and senior Kasey Anzelc, a southpaw who recently committed to John Carroll University.

Sophomore Nate Shahl is one of the program's best prospects, after not allowing a run in limited innings last season. Left-handed junior Kevin Jarvis, sophomore Riley Feltner and sophomore Yasir Kahook also are in the mix.

Junior pitcher Andrew Funtash could be used in the closer role for Walsh, as he has been showing a fastball in the mid to high 80s so far this spring.

With Dan Mendenhall graduating, Walsh also has a hole to fill at catcher. Junior Easton Kindall has been showing a lot of promise offensively and might also see some time at designated hitter. Sophomore Thane Ocel and freshman Stanley Kaczmar -- the coach's son -- also could see time at catcher.

First base will be by committee this spring, though Jarvis likely will get the nod most often after hitting .308 last season. Stahl also will see time after hitting .333 as a freshman.

With Burke concentrating on pitching, junior Drew Wilkinson will get the nod at second base.

Regan is back to start at shortstop this season after signing with Michigan State University. He returns as Walsh's best offensive player, having hit .409 with three home runs and 22 RBIs.

A cadre that includes Stahl, Kahook and senior Alex Weitman will compete for time at third base.

Walsh's outfield will be anchored junior Nolan Quinn, who hit .310 as a sophomore and was named honorable mention all-NCL.

In the corner outfield spots, senior Josh Bennett, junior Matt Lobeck and sophomore Nick Vaccaro all will see time. Vaccaro hit .400 as a freshman.

While it may be looking at rebuilding, Walsh got its season started with a bang March 25 with a 12-1 win over Youngstown Ursuline at Bob Cene Park in Struthers.

Burke pitched three perfect innings, scored a run and had multiple hits in the win.

Stahl led the Warriors' offense, going 3-of-3 with two doubles and three runs scored, while Weitman added a single, a double and three RBIs.

Walsh was set to host Strongsville March 30 and Massillon Jackson April 1, but results were not available at press time.

The Warriors will host Lake Catholic April 3 and travel to Archbishop Hoban April 4. First pitch for both games is set for 4:30 p.m.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC