When Elmhurst baseball coach Joel Southern learned that Dave Wolak, the Bluejays standout senior outfielder, had been named to D3baseball.com’s Preseason All-America Team, he sent Wolak a congratulatory text message.
Wolak’s response pleased his coach almost as much as the good news had.
“He texted back, ‘Now I have to do it for real,’” Southern recalled. Not satisfied with the preseason honors, Wolak had already set himself a new goal: having the sort of senior season that would again place him among the nation’s best.
The senior criminal justice major from Carol Stream has made a habit of aiming high—and delivering.
“Being an All-American was a goal I set for myself, and I put in a lot of hard work to get there,” Wolak said before heading off to one of the Bluejays’ preseason indoor practices on a subfreezing February afternoon. He called making D3Baseball’s All America Second Team “a great honor.” But he won’t be satisfied stopping there. “It’s great, but if I can make the All America team at the end of the season, that would be an even bigger accomplishment.”
And it would mean that Wolak had turned in another impressive season for the Bluejays. Wolak earned all-region honors in each of his first three seasons at Elmhurst. In 2013, he hit .379 and led the Bluejays in runs (38), totals bases (80), extra-base hits (16) and stolen bases (12). He ranks among Elmhurst’s all-time leaders in several offensive categories, and he has a chance to finish his career as the Bluejays’ career hits leader.
“He has been hitting for us ever since he set foot on campus,” said Southern. “He is as good as advertised.”
Wolak can impress with his speed, with his throwing arm and with his bat. But his coach also likes his determination and his work ethic.
“He’s supremely confident, but he’s not cocky,” Southern said. “He works very hard, respects the game and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Improving his game has been a year-round pursuit for Wolak. He has been a consistent presence in the Elmhurst weight room and at off-season workouts. And for the past two summers, he has played in summer collegiate leagues that attract some of the best players from around the country. He spent the summer of 2013 in Newark, Ohio, playing for the Licking County Settlers of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. His teammates included players from higher-profile college programs like Ohio State, Indiana, Bradley and Bowling Green.
“And there I was from little Elmhurst,” Wolak said. “But I learned I could play with those guys. I was just as good.”
Indeed, Wolak earned a starting outfield spot and hit .348 in six playoff games for the Settlers on their way to a league championship.
He hopes his hard work pays similar dividends for the Bluejays. The team’s official practices began in late January, with a month of indoor workouts that Wolak and his teammates affectionately call “the grind.” The Bluejays took their practice swings in the batting tunnels set up inside Faganel Hall and used the indoor facility of the Chicago Bandits softball team in Rosemont for infield practice. But the historically snowy and frigid winter sometimes made even some indoor workouts impossible. The Bluejays’ first indoor practice was cancelled when arctic cold closed the Elmhurst campus.
It’s no wonder Wolak and his teammates were counting down the days to the team’s season-opening road trips, including a mid-March stop in sunny Florida.
“It’s always a little tough being cooped up inside,” Wolak said. “But you can still get a lot of work in.”
And, as Wolak has learned, hard work can take a ballplayer a long way.