Dave Serrano knows what it takes to win at Tennessee and in college baseball.
    
As an assistant coach with the Volunteers in 1995 and ’96, Serrano was a part of teams that went 97-36. The ’95 squad made it to Omaha, Neb., site of the College World Series, a feat only accomplished two other times in program history (1951 and 2001).
    
After head coaching stops at UC Irvine (2005-07) and Cal State Fullerton (2008-11), guiding each school to an appearance at the College World Series, Serrano returns to where he calls home.
    
“For me, it’s a dream come true,” he said.
    
When he was hired in June, Serrano inherited a program vastly different than the one he left 15 years ago. The Diamond Vols had just one winning season in the past four years, and haven’t qualified for the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. since 2007. This year’s squad was picked to finish last in the league by SEC coaches in the preseason poll.
    
“We’ve been at places that the expectations have been higher right out of the gate, but I don’t know if we’ve ever been more excited about what’s going to start Friday,” Serrano said of his coaching staff. “That could tell you that we’re pretty excited.”
   
 In addition to new coaches, many first-year Vols will take the field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium Friday afternoon when UT opens its season against Northern Illinois.
    
“I remember walking into the first team meeting: I was like, ‘Man, I feel like a freshman all over again,’” junior centerfielder Chris Fritts said. “I really didn’t know a lot of the guys, whether it was freshmen or junior college guys.”
    
With the new coaching style and roster turnover, Serrano expects to have a lineup with plenty of moving parts, especially early in the season, before the Vols begin conference play in the middle of March.
   
 “There’s nobody right now that’s pegged as our superstar,” Serrano said. “We’re going to have to have a lot of different stars each and every day. In our first year here, we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
    
After an offseason together, this year’s team is already closer together than previous squads were under former coach Todd Raleigh.
    
“They feel this is as good of a team — and what I mean by a team is a unit together — that they’ve been on in the last few years,” Serrano said. “That’s important to know. We’re going to battle. We’re going to control our effort each day. We’re going to play the game extremely hard with passion.”
    
Senior shortstop Zach Osborne credits the new coaches for the added enthusiasm within the program.
   
 “I would definitely say this coaching staff brings a tremendous amount of energy every single day,” Osborne said. “They want you to play your hardest and play with a passion that maybe wasn’t there in the past.”
    
But for a program with a renewed outlook, it’s about the future.
    
“We want a team that’s better at the end of the season than it was at the start,” Serrano said.
    
And getting better in gradual steps is what Serrano hopes returns the Vols back to the place he remembers the program being.
   
 “It’s kind of like coach says, ‘You can talk about Omaha, but we want to get to the place before that,’” Osborne said. “We want to get to Hoover, so that’s obviously — for myself, being my fourth year here — not being able to experience Hoover, that’s a huge goal for me.”