Azusa Pacific head coach Paul Svagdis is entering his 12th season at the helm of the storied Cougar baseball program after taking the program's past successes to a national level with back-to-back NAIA World Series appearances in 2007 and 2008. In those two seasons, Svagdis sent five Cougars on to the professional ranks through the Major League Baseball draft, two of which made Major League Baseball debuts in 2012 (Kirk Nieuwenhuis ('08) and Steven Vogt ('07). Svagdis has had 12 Cougars drafted by Major League Baseball organizations in his time at Azusa Pacific, with Ryan Henley becoming the most recent pick when he was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2013 draft.
Over the past two seasons Svagidis has taken Azusa Pacific from the realm of a perennial NAIA power, culminating with a 2012 Golden State Athletic Conference championships and a 47-12 record in the program's final year of NAIA competition, to the NCAA Division II ranks where the Cougars overcame injuries and a slow start to close their initial Pacific West Conference season with a 10-7 record down the stretch. After guiding Azusa Pacific into the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round in 2009, completing a three-year run in which the Cougars posted three of the program's top 8 single-season win totals, Svagdis had a young 2010 squad that showed plenty of promise despite a 20-29 overall record. Of its 29 losses, over half were by three runs or fewer, including 9 1-run defeats. Even so, Azusa Pacific still sent 3 more players on to the professional ranks in 2010, with two players selected in the MLB Draft along with NAIA career home run leader Brice Cutspec's free-agent signing with 2010 World Series champion San Francisco.
Svagdis came to Azusa Pacific in 2003, and he led the Cougars to a 26-24 overall mark and a third-place finish in the GSAC with a 17-11 conference record. Additionally, he guided the Cougars to their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance. He spent the next three seasons laying the groundwork for the 2007 campaign, keeping Azusa Pacific competitive within the tough GSAC landscape while building the program into a national title contender. Despite missing the postseason from 2004 through 2006, Azusa Pacific kept alive a streak of 20-win seasons that now covers a 24-year stretch.
The 2007 campaign was nothing short of a dream season, and when the Cougars clinched the NAIA Region II title on its home field with a 9-5 win over Concordia, it sent them back to a place no Azusa Pacific team had been in 23 years - the NAIA World Series. The 2007 squad reeled off a program-record 51 wins and set program single-season records for runs, hits, doubles and home runs. Svagdis was named the GSAC and NAIA Region II Coach of the Year after engineering one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college baseball that year, taking a 2006 squad that finished 24-25 and turning it into the runaway 2007 GSAC champion that finished 51-10 overall and 32-4 in conference play.
Earning entrance to the 10-team NAIA World Series just once is a tall order, but returning for a second consecutive season is a monumental task for any program that competes in the ultra-competitive Golden State Athletic Conference. In 2008, Azusa Pacific became the first program since 2001 to win consecutive GSAC titles, and the Cougars swept through the NAIA Region II Playoffs to clinch back-to-back NAIA World Series berths for the second time in Azusa Pacific history.
In that two-year stretch, Azusa Pacific placed two players on the NAIA All-American first team in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history, when 2008 GSAC Player of the Year Matt Venegas and the New York Mets' 2008 third-round draft pick Kirk Nieuwenhuis each earned the NAIA's highest honor. They followed behind 2007 NAIA All-American first-teamers and 2007 co-GSAC Players of the Year Scott Hodsdon and Stephen Vogt, who were both selected in the first 12 rounds of the 2007 draft to become the highest-drafted pair of Cougar teammates since 1983. Brice Cutspec was the 2009 GSAC Player of the Year, giving Azusa Pacific the conference player of the year in 3 straight seasons, and the Cougars have had at least one NAIA All-American first team pick in 4 consecutive seasons.
Svagdis came to Azusa Pacific after spending 6 seasons as the head baseball coach and an assistant football coach at Pomona-Pitzer, an NCAA Division III institution in Claremont, Calif., where he posted a 122-107 career mark.
At Pomona-Pitzer, Svagdis inherited a program that had fallen on hard times, but in a matter of three seasons, he brought the Sagehens to prominence and returned the program to the top of the SCIAC. After finishing a combined 21-53 in his first two seasons as a head coach, Svagdis led the Sagehens to four straight winning campaigns and three straight 20-win seasons. In 2001, he guided the Sagehens to a 24-12 mark and a 16-5 finish in the SCIAC, just 2 games behind conference champion and SCIAC power California Lutheran.
Then in 2002, Svagdis conducted Pomona-Pitzer to the finest season in school history as the Sagehens finished 36-7, including a perfect 18-0 record in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), as well as the institution's first SCIAC baseball crown since 1955. As a result, the Sagehens were the top seed at the 2002 NCAA Division III Western Regional Playoffs. For his efforts, Svagdis was named 2002 SCIAC Coach of the Year.
As a player, Svagdis was a four-year starter in baseball and football at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., from which he graduated in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in economics. He was an All-New England selection three years and was the team MVP twice. Svagdis was selected Tufts Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year as a 1993 senior.
Immediately after graduating, Svagdis spent three seasons as an assistant baseball and football coach at Tufts and earned his master's degree in education in 1996 before taking the Pomona-Pitzer position. He is an active member of COIN (Coach of Influence), the American Football Coaches Association, and the American Baseball Coaches Association. While at Pomona-Pitzer, he was a member of the West Regional NCAA Advisory Committee and was the West Regional Chairman of the Division III All-American Committee.
Svagdis and his wife, Catherine, have a daughter Emma, and a son Dominic. In addition to his coaching duties, he also teaches in the university's department of exercise and sport science.