The Leavenworth Pioneers will have a new face in charge of the program in 2019 with Justin Bode taking over as head coach.

Bode was announced to replace Joe Allison in August after Allison left to coach at Blue Valley West.

The former assistant said the biggest adjustment in taking over as head coach is finding the balance of adding new things without changing too much.

“The program was left in good shape by former coach Joe Allison,” Bode said. “These boys have played the same way for several years under coach Allison and I didn't want to come in and overhaul all they know about baseball. We added a few things and adjusted a few things and we feel pretty good about where we are at and where we are headed as a program.”

Bode said the team has made the best of the situation they have been dealt with for practices. Due to weather, the Pioneers spent the first weeks of practice in the gym.

“But our guys have embraced the challenge to stay focused and motivated,” Bode said. 

Bode said the big thing that he wants to push in his first season as head coach is for the players to buy in what the coaches envision for the program with the team playing a tough and aggressive style of baseball with a fearless mindset.

“We want all of our guys to play with a ‘desire to excel with no fear of failure’ mentality,” he said. 

Other goals this season include a push to have fun and compete.

The 2019 Pioneers return five seniors and two juniors from last year’s team. Bode said seniors Kruz Wahwahsuck and Steele Sadler and junior Eric Harding anchor the pitching rotation. Offensively, the team will rely on junior Ja’Hawn Byrd and seniors Wahwahsuck, Sadler, Christian Torres, Robert McKinley and Dylan Shaw. All these players return after significant playing time last year.

Along with a new head coach, the Pioneers will also have a new conference and classification. Leavenworth is moving to the United Kansas Conference and jumping up to the 6A classification. 

The Pioneers are the smallest 6A school with only seven more students than the largest 5A school, Wichita Heights.

Bode said the UKC is no slouch with good coaching and solid teams. He also said it will allow Leavenworth to compete against more teams around their size. 

Bode mentioned how the Pioneers were competing with teams that could draw from around 1,000 more students than the Pioneers when they were in the Sunflower League.

“Most SFL teams cut more players that we have on our entire roster,” Bode said. “The UKC schools have similar student body pools to draw their players from and that will potentially even up the playing field for us a bit.”

While Bode said the smaller conference will help, he also said the UKC conference will work against the team too. The Pioneers will play more schools around their size before postseason play, when will have to jump up to the bigger schools. The Pioneers do face Shawnee Mission North and Lawrence Free State during the season, which Bode said will give the team a good look at top-notch 6A competition.

Looking to the season, Bode was asked what games he is looking forward to the most.

“Obviously the two games against Lansing,” he said. “We love the cross-town rivalry feel and the excitement it brings to our communities. It has always been a close, hard-fought game in the years past and this year we get to do it twice. I am a Lansing alum. I wore the red and white for the Lions so that adds a degree of excitement for me as well. I have known Coach (Michael) Basler for a long time, prior to either of us being baseball coaches. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he is doing over there at Lansing and it will be a great atmosphere when our two teams hook it up this spring.”

The Pioneers will play in the River City Classic.

“I’m also looking forward to our game against Belton (Missouri) in the River City Classic,” he said. “One of my former college teammates, Cody Newman, is their head coach. So I will get to catch up with him and see how our guys compete against a very good team from the Missouri side of the border.”

The Pioneers open the season Thursday at Pembroke Hill. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Bode said he cannot wait to show the new Pioneer brand of baseball.