Senk loves being big fish in SBU's small pond
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Winning seasons and NCAA bids continue to enhance his resume, but Stony Brook baseball coach Matt Senk doesn't yearn to go elsewhere. All the advancement Senk needs has occurred during his 22 years at the university.
"There are so many things already in place and Stony Brook's been great to me," Senk said Saturday, a day after the Seawolves won the America East championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. "Everything that you would want in a job, I really have."
Senk, who graduated from John Glenn High School in 1976, was a star catcher at Cortland. He coached the high school teams at St. Agnes and Kellenberg before coming to Stony Brook in 1991. At that point, the program, which had enjoyed only six winning seasons since 1966, was in Division III.
Senk has excelled through the progression to D-I with a career record of 617-388. The team has four NCAA bids in D-I and one in D-II. With a record of 88-23 in the last two seasons, Stony Brook has the best winning percentage in D-I at .793. The America East championship was Stony Brook's fourth overall and third in the last five years.
"Matt Senk is a star," athletic director Jim Fiore said. "He's a great coach and a better person. The one thing we knew about Matt Senk was that the guy was passionate about Stony Brook, passionate about being a coach, and was introspective about getting better."
Senk's arrival predated state- of-the-art Joe Nathan Field. It was just a field.
"We made it a home-field advantage," Senk said. "We knew the bad hops. When I first got there, the outfield was so sloped, you could barely see your rightfielder from the sunken dugout. We had a terrific rightfielder named Scott Shermansky. When a ball would be hit to right, you'd see a little bit of Scott, then his hat, and then he'd disappear."
Shermansky, now an insurance claims manager in Fort Lauderdale, was a sophomore when Senk was hired.
"What he's done for that program, it's incredible," Shermansky said. "When he came in, the tone changed. It was more substantial to be on the baseball team. You could see a massive difference in what that program was going to be."
Senk initially was a part-time coach and did other jobs around the university to make ends meet. He was elevated to full-time just about the time that Joe Nathan arrived from upstate Pine Bush High School. Under Senk's tutelage, Nathan went from shortstop to pitcher and then on to major-league baseball. Senk kept the relationship alive and Nathan has responded in kind with large donations.
Senk's recruiting philosophy hasn't really changed over the years. "Come here and you'll be a big fish in a small pond," Senk said he tells recruits. "You'll get a chance to play and fully develop."
Thirty-five players have been signed to pro contracts since the program went D-I in 2000. Centerfielder Travis Jankowski heads this season's pro prospects.
Senk thinks the program's ability to win consistently has drawn players. That stability begins with the coach.
"I think players and families like the fact that there is continuity," he said. "I've been there a while. I wasn't going anywhere. I love Stony Brook. It's been great to me."