Just one year ago, Cole Albers was one of the Champlin Park baseball team’s youngest players.
Albers and fellow junior Zach Loven were joined by 14 seniors that helped push the Rebels to the Class 4A state title game. While the Rebels fell just short of taking home the state title, Albers was motivated to bring his team to the state tournament for the second consecutive season in 2017.
After losing 14 seniors, including seven starters, Champlin Park wasn’t expected to be able to repeat as Section 5AAAA champions.
Albers, after being one of the team’s younger players the previous year, was suddenly thrust into a leadership role. While he does not consider himself much of a vocal leader, Albers said he looks to lead his team by example.
“On the field it wasn’t anything different, but I knew at practice I had to lead a little bit more and come out of my comfort zone,” Albers said. “Personally, I didn’t see much difference other than preaching to the team that nobody was going to believe in us, so we had to do something special here without people on our backs like last year.”
The Rebels posted a 13-5 regular season record and finished second in the Northwest Suburban Conference to Blaine, but the Rebels went 4-0 in the Section 5AAAA tournament to earn their second consecutive state berth. Champlin Park fell to Woodbury and Maple Grove in its first two games of the state tournament.
“It was two very different years,” Albers said. “Last year at the beginning of the year nobody really believed in us, but we started out 15-2 and we opened a lot of eyes early, and this year we had one vote and it was fun to play with that edge, that chip on your shoulder.
“It was two different years, but both years we got there and both years we didn’t get it done, which hurts.”
Despite not winning a state title during his Champlin Park career, Albers knows the Rebels accomplished a lot while he was on the roster, something he said he will not overlook.
“Going to back-to-back state tournaments for the first time in school history is a big deal,” Albers said. “Zach [Loven] and I are the only ones that were together for that, so that was a big deal, winning and creating a new culture around here.”
Making a difference on the Champlin Park baseball team is something Albers said he will look back fondly on in the future.
“My [Champlin Park career] has meant the world, I don’t have any regrets at all,” Albers said. “I feel like I went out there and gave my teammates everything I had, gave my coaches everything I had.
“You could always say we didn’t win a state championship over the three years, but we didn’t beat ourselves, we just flat out got beat.”
While Albers’ Champlin Park baseball career has come to an end, he will continue his playing career at University of South Carolina-Upstate. Albers pitched and played shortstop for the Rebels, but he play exclusively at shortstop at the next level.
“Some people know, not many people know, how much work I have put in,” Albers said. “It has been nice to see it pay off somehow, somewhere.
“Playing baseball at the next level is a big deal to me, but the biggest thing to me is winning. I could care less about my own stats as long as we’re winning.”
Albers said the lessons he learned at Champlin Park will only help him at the next level.
“I know at the next level they look for young leaders,” Albers said. “Once you get there everybody is good, everybody throws hard, everybody can hit the ball out of the park, so they look for little things that separate you.”
After three years of varsity baseball, as well as countless seasons at the youth and club levels, Albers said he continues to love the game of baseball.
“No, I don’t get sick of it,” Albers said. “When it’s a passion like I have, it’s just a blessing to go out there every day.
“Every time I step on the field I know it could be my last, you hate to think like that, but you have to. I cherish every game, every pitch.”
Follow Sun Post sports editor Chris Chesky on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris and on Facebook at SunSportsStaff.