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CHAMPAIGN — Jon Goebel glanced at the NJCAA Division II preseason rankings before his Parkland baseball team played its first games of the 2019 season in late February.

He couldn't help it, with the excitement of a new season just right around the corner.

The Cobras — coming off a national runner-up finish — were ranked second back then, behind LSU-Eunice, the team that beat Parkland in the World Series final.

But it didn't take long for Goebel — now in his first season in charge of the Cobras after Dave Garcia left in the offseason for an assistant coaching position at Division I Western Carolina University — to realize how "useless" those rankings were.

For Parkland, the end result is all that matters, and that means reaching Enid, Okla. — the site of the NJCAA World Series — and a place the Cobras have been for the past three seasons.

"You start to basically define yourself by whether you're at the World Series or not," Goebel said on Thursday's 'SportsTalk' show on WDWS-1400 AM. "We talked about before the season if we won 50 games as a program and we didn't go to the Series, from a team goal standpoint that was going to be a big letdown. Our ultimate goal is to make sure we're in Oklahoma come June. ... It's kind of a World Series or bust mentality."

With a talented crop of players leaving in the offseason, Goebel decided to test his young team with a difficult schedule, which included a trip to Vicksburg, Miss., where Parkland knocked off top-ranked LSU-Eunice 7-1 on March 2.

The Cobras (28-11), who host Danville Area for a doubleheader, starting at 1 p.m. today before meeting the Jaguars in Danville for a doubleheader on Sunday afternoon, have been up to their coach's challenge.

"We purposely set up a tough schedule this year to make sure our guys were battle-tested come tournament time," Goebel said. "We've taken our licks along the way because of that but our guys understand that's by design. We'll judge ourselves at the end."

Trevor Minder is a big reason why Parkland continues to hold down a top-five ranking, entering this weekend's four-game set against DACC.

The sophomore Minder — named the NJCAA Division II Player of the Week by the league office on Wednesday — has batted .380 and smacked five homers to go with 36 RBI and 26 stolen bases.

Goebel, who served as Parkland's pitching coach before being elevated to interim coach and eventually head coach this past offseason, is also pleased with his young pitching staff.

Freshmen Ty Rybarczyk is 6-0 with an 0.84 ERA and Ryan Culley has 61 strikeouts in 37 1 / 3 innings.

It's an adjustment for Goebel to handle the top job in Parkland's dugout, but he was quick to credit assistant coaches Jeff Lavin, Ryan Fox, Jeff Wetzler and Doug Earl for making the transition smooth. And for keeping Parkland relevant on the national scene.

"This year, I've learnd already to empower my assistants," Goebel said. "I couldn't even remotely function without them."

Sports Copy Editor

Joe Vozzelli Jr. is a sports copy editor at The News-Gazette. His email is jvozzelli@news-gazette.com.