J.D. Chaplain has enjoyed an impressive career in the sport that he loves. The former Brevard College Tornado was the South Atlantic Conference 2015 Scholar-Athlete of the Year after helping the team return to the postseason for the first time in three seasons.
But before taking the mound for a NCAA Division II program, Chaplain was the player of the year in the Western Highlands Conference for his hometown Owen Warhorses. On his way to earning all-state honors, he led his team to a 21-5 record and the second round of the state playoffs.
Chaplain has returned to the Swannanoa Valley for the next chapter of his baseball career, coaching. Instead of wearing Owen High School’s maroon and white, the first-year coach is wearing the navy blue and gold of Asheville Christian Academy.
“It’s a little weird, because we didn’t really like ACA when I was playing at Owen,” he said. “I mean there has always been a kind of quiet rivalry there.”
Chaplain takes over a baseball program that has struggled in recent years. The Lions were 6-9 last season and have not finished with a record above .500 in at least five years.
“We’re going to compete every game,” Chaplain said. “Every game we’re going to play with intensity, enthusiasm and competitiveness. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
They’ll also earn a spot in postseason play — another goal he has set for the team.
“I like to win, and one of the things that I think we need to get as a team is what it takes to win,” he said. “I think a lot of that comes from having competition in practice and guys getting used to that kind of environment.”
Chaplain is relying on the increased level of competitiveness to propel his team to a winning season and postseason bid, both of which he said the Lions’ five senior players deserve.
“Those guys have been great,” Chaplain said. “It can be tough for seniors to buy into a new coach, but these guys have and that has really helped me in my first year.”
One early season test for Chaplain and his team will be the home game Wednesday, March 9. The young coach will face one of his mentors - Anthony Lee, his former coach.
“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” Chaplain said. “I hold Coach Lee in such high regard. It’s going to be a little strange.”
The history between Lee and his former player will add an interesting dynamic to the rivalry between the two schools, which are less than five miles apart.
“J.D. comes from a great baseball family, and I have no doubt he’ll be successful over there” at ACA, Lee said. “It will be great to match up against him as he gets started in his coaching career.”
Owen - and every other team that the Lions face this season - can expect a team with an intense focus on fundamental baseball, according to Chaplain. That strategy will allow the team to be competitive immediately while continuing to improve as the season goes on.
“We want to be good early but great late,” Chaplain said.