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March 5, 2014

Freshman Matt Thaiss has made a big impression in the early stages of the Virginia baseball season. A native of Jackson, N.J., Thaiss was the Cavaliers’ top hitter in their fall exhibition season and has carried it over into the spring. He is batting .333 with a team-high four doubles thus far while platooning at designated hitter. He sat down recently to talk about the start of his first year with the Cavaliers.

Talk about your first home weekend at Davenport Field, a sweep of East Carolina.
That was awesome. I’ve never played in front of a big crowd like that. Just seeing that and seeing how supportive the fans are and how much they love this team is pretty awesome. All that support really fires us up. It is a really fun thing to see and it is great to be a part of. We averaged 3,000 fans a game and that is in the middle of February.

What have you been able to learn from the veterans on the team?
This is a very tough system to learn. I think everyone knows that. Nate Irving and Robbie Coman have really helped me out big time throughout the fall and winter and into the spring defensively as well as offensively, particularly learning everything that needs to be learned with the pitching system. On the other side of the game, Derek Fisher, Mike Papi, Brandon Downes, Kenny Towns, some of those older guys really take charge. Every little thing that you think you don’t know, they will know because they’ve been through it. They have three years of experience and from their mistakes they know exactly what you’re going through and how to help you out.

What was it like participating in the Iron Cavalier Challenge this offseason?
It tests how far and how strong your mind is because you don’t have a body after one day into Iron Cav. I’m in the best shape of my life now because of Iron Cav and I’m sure everyone else is just because of the intensity of everything we do. They see how far you can go and then they push you further and I think it resembles, from what I’ve heard, how we’re going to feel three months from now at the end of the season 55 games in.

Was the transition between high school and college difficult?
I think the biggest part about the transition is how fast the game moves. That and how much more responsibility you have from high school to college. As a catcher, the whole position changes. As a hitter, in high school you maybe would only see one or two guys throwing 92 with three, four pitches. It is a big adjustment but like I said, the older guys have really helped me out and they’ve helped out all the freshmen.

Do you feel like you guys have a target on your backs this year coming in with a No. 1 ranking?
I don’t think we look at it as a target. It is a great honor to be number one and we proudly accept it and I think we just go out and play Virginia baseball. We don’t look at the rankings and say `Oh we’re number one, we have to stay number one.’ I think we just go out every day and prove how we play baseball and just play our brand of baseball.

Can you talk a little bit about the depth of this year’s team?
We have such a deep line-up. We have 14, 15 guys who are all great ballplayers, great hitters, great defensively. Coach O’Connor can kind of rotate them in and out whenever he pleases and he can count on every single guy on this team and we can count of every single guy on this team to get the job done because we have so many guys who will grind their teeth and get it done.

How did you know UVa was the place for you?
I think it was right when I stepped foot on the field over here. I was with Coach McMullan and I just got this overwhelming feeling seeing the facilities and meeting the coaches. They are just great people and they love baseball and they love to win. I love to win. I love baseball and it’s a great program with great tradition and I knew it was the best place for me. You can ask Coach Mac, I think I committed the night after I visited here.

What is your favorite part about Charlottesville?
The overwhelming support that the community has for all its sports programs and the school. It is really something when you see 3,000 people out in the crowd in February watching you. It is pretty awesome.

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