In his first three seasons in the program, senior Michael Ellingsen never played for Chris Ackels (pictured above).
However, there was one game during his freshman season that Ackels served as a substitute head coach for the sophomore team. Ellingsen vividly remembers the impact Ackels had on the team that day, and it’s one of the reasons he said he believes the Ramblers hired the right person to be their next varsity head coach.
“He would run through a brick wall for us, and we would do the same for him,” Ellingsen said. “We know he’s going to be there for us.”
Rewinding back to 2017, Loyola trailed Brother Rice by six runs after the first inning on the road. Ackels recalls talking to the players and reassuring them they could still win the game. Sure enough, the Ramblers rallied to earn a 7-6 victory.
“We fed off of his positive energy,” Ellingsen said.
Added Ackels, “I told them we’re fine and to trust us.”
Three years later, Ackels was named head coach after Nick Bridich resigned following his seventh season. The Ramblers went 14-16, losing to New Trier 8-4 in the Class 4A regional final at Niles North. It ended a run in which the they won at least 21 games three seasons in a row.
“Nick built a competitive program and left it in great shape,” Ackels said. “He brought an energy and a culture that I hope to carry on. I’m inheriting an incredibly healthy program.”
Loyola Athletic Director Genevieve Atwood thanked Bridich for his contributions, which included a Class 4A sectional title in 2018.
“[He] has left the program positioned for success, and coach Ackels will collaborate with [him] to ensure a smooth transition of leadership,” she wrote in a statement.
A native of Dallas, Texas, and 2009 graduate of Jesuit (Dallas, Texas), the 28-year-old Ackels first arrived at Loyola in 2015 after graduating from St. Louis University. He was head coach of the freshman team in 2016 and 2017 while also pursuing a master’s degree at DePaul University.
Ackels left Loyola to work at St. Patrick, where he taught English and coached baseball for the 2017-2018 school year. He returned to Loyola in 2018 when the school hired him as a full-time teacher. Ackels was the head coach of the sophomore team last season.
“Nick taught me that baseball is a tool to teach life lessons,” Ackels said. “My primary job is to be a role model for these young men. If you do things the right way, the winning takes care of itself. Nick proved that.”
As a product of a Jesuit education, Ackels understands and appreciates Loyola’s overall mission.
“First and foremost, I want every kid who spends time in the program to have a phenomenal experience,” he said. “I want them to leave as better people. The second goal is to continue being a consistently competitive team. I want us to be in the conversation for conference, regional, sectional, state championships every year.”
The Ramblers had several juniors who performed at a high level last season. Michael Ellingsen and Thomas Schafer, both right-handers, were among the top arms on the pitching staff. Mikey Bednarek, Ryan Nevins, Andrew Smart and Colin Summerhill all found success at the plate.
Bednarek led Loyola in batting average (.372), on-base percentage (.570), runs scored (37) and stolen bases (25). Summerhill, who’s verbally committed to Ohio University, was first in doubles (15) and hit .337 with 25 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .430. Smart hit .280 to go with two home runs and 26 RBIs and a .445 on-base percentage. Nevins batted .299 with 21 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .449.
On the mound, Schafer made nine starts and threw a team-most 38 2/3 innings. In eight starts, Ellingsen struck out a team-high 40 in 31 innings.
“We have a good core back, and we are excited to see what we can do,” Ellingsen said. “But beyond baseball, we know [Ackels] is going to be there for us.”
Photo credit: Scott Radtke