| May 18, 2023
By CCL Reporter Sean Brennan
(THOUSAND OAKS, CA) – The 2022 California Collegiate League summer was one to remember for the Conejo Oaks. During his twelfth year at the helm, manager Dave Soliz led his team to a 20-14 conference mark – its best since a 2018 season that concluded with Conejo claiming its first league title – and clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the 2022 CCL State Championship tournament.
And this success wasn’t limited to the regular season. The Oaks showed they were deserving of the top seed, making it all the way to the final game before falling just short of their second championship in franchise history.
As is the case with any dominant team, there are many factors that went into Conejo’s winning ways in 2022. But for General Manager Rebecca Willson, a key force that fueled the Oaks’ success is the sense of family among the players; a collective bond that only strengthened as the season progressed.
“I think we had … overall a great group of guys,” Wilson said. “You never know what you’re going to get when you have players come in that have never played with each other before… There can always be mishaps or differences of opinions, but for the most part, I think the players meshed really well. That showed on the field.”
Perhaps the most apparent benefit of the camaraderie in the Conejo dugout – aside from earning the third-most conference victories in the entire league – is everyone’s attitude on the diamond. While summer baseball is centered around played development, the Oaks also fostered a fun, easy going atmosphere that helped keep morale high throughout the summer sprint that is the CCL season.
Conejo’s sustained prowess last year can also be attributed to coaching, which is not only a major time commitment during the summer, but a responsibility requiring year-round involvement. In short, being the Oaks head skipper goes far beyond instructing his team for a two-plus month campaign.
Quote about recruiting - follow-up with Rebecca.
In addition to recruiting, Soliz is tasked with creating relationships with colleges. The proof is in the progress – players returning to their schools improved is the best way to build a strong reputation. And this year’s incoming squad is highly reflective of the pipelines Conejo has established over the years.
Given the positive overall experience last summer, it should come as no surprise that ten players are coming back to Thousand Oaks for another go-around. One of these returners is infielder Zach Daudet (Regis), who had the CCL’s fourth-highest batting average in 2022. Because Daudet improved while playing under Soliz, he isn’t coming back alone, as he’ll be accompanied by two additional members of Regis Baseball. This is only one example – the Oaks are welcoming multiple players from the likes of Oregon, Hawaii and Grand Canyon.
But how can schools be sure that each player they send will get better? For the Oaks, the answer is simple. While on-the-field results are important, development matters most, meaning everyone on the roster is guaranteed to get in-game reps throughout the summer.
“At the end of the day, you want to win,” Willson said. “Whether it’s baseball or any sport, you’re going to put your best players out there. But you have to think this is summer baseball … [The players] are here to get more at-bats, they’re here to get more playing time. Yes, there are some players that get more playing time than others. But coach Soliz does a fantastic job of making sure that everyone plays.”
It also helps that Conejo’s players have the opportunity to learn from a professional baseball icon: former Major League Baseball catcher and manager Mike Scioscia. The three-time World Series Champion founded the Oaks in 2004 along with Amateur Baseball Development Group (ABDG), a nonprofit which aims to expose young athletes in Southern California to baseball. While he isn’t in the dugout during every game, Scioscia is heavily involved with his team – as he is in contact with Soliz on a daily basis and is always willing to help players during practices.
“First, he’s the greatest guy, he’s so present,” Willson said. “He’s fully committed … He shows up when he can and is there working the guys, and you can see a shift in the players when he’s there … They’re really soaking it in as much as they can. He’s not just there to be like, ‘I’m here.’ He works with the guys, he’s out there.”
Between strong relationships with college baseball programs, a player-friendly environment and heavy emphasis on development, it’s easy to understand why the Oaks have achieved great success during their time in the CCL. There’s no telling where Conejo will finish in the standings this time around, but it’s likely another tight bond will be formed between the players – just as it was last year.
“The players loved being around each other,” Wilson said. “Whether it was their first-time meeting, they’re lifelong friends now … Some of them didn’t want to say goodbye … I definitely know some of them wanted to stay as long as they could.”
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