Nice Meeting You
the country, pregame handshakes will be more than exchanging
year, thanks to conference realignments from coast to coast,
many coaches – and teams – will be making introductions to each
American Athletic Conference mixes Big East brothers with
Conference USA cousins and an Atlantic 10 uncle to form a modern
family of today’s college athletics. Louisville, meet Houston;
UCF, this is UConn.
very exciting going into the American Athletic Conference,” UCF
coach Terry Rooney said. “There is some familiarity with some
teams from the Big East and Conference USA, but there are
Temple coach Ryan Wheeler: “It’s exciting, I think it’s a little
scary not knowing a lot about the other teams, their style, how
they play. When you’ve been in a league for a number of years,
you know the style and how a team plays.”
exciting, for us it’s certainly a step up in competition level.
You always want to play against the best. I feel like we’re
going to be learning something new every weekend in the
the Owls and the rest of the league will learn is that their new
home has some serious talent at the top and serious depth in
quality of teams.
think one of the strengths when you look at the new conference,
from top to bottom, it’s outstanding teams,” Rooney said. “Look
at the success that all these teams have had.”
starts with Louisville, fresh off a trip to the College World
Series in 2013.
Cardinals went 51-14 – including 33-5 at home – and swept
second-ranked Vanderbilt in the Nashville Super Regional to
reach their second College World Series in coach Dan McDonnell’s
Louisville is loaded again. Offensively, outfield stars Cole
Sturgeon (.339/1/33) and Jeff Gardner (.337/9/43) and slick
infielder Sutton Whiting (.308/1/30). If there’s a question
mark, it’s that the Cardinals must replace 43 starts in trying
to find a way to All-American closer Nick Burdi, whose fastball
can reach triple digits.
“Louisville’s obviously the front-runner, they’re the team to
beat,” Houston coach Todd Whitting said.
league’s coaches picked UCF, UConn and Houston to follow the
Knights – like the AAC
teams – have been making plenty of introductions. Rooney’s squad
has 24 new players out of 35 on the roster.
been a very exciting fall and preseason putting all the pieces
together,” said Rooney, whose team finished 29-30 a year ago.
“We are going to defend. And we’re very athletic. I think our
immediate strength is up the middle.”
Huskies captured the Big East’s final conference title and
earned their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years.
Senior Anthony Marzi and junior Jordan Tabakman give UConn two
veteran starters, but it will miss starter Carson Cross, a 24th
round pick by Pittsburgh, who will miss the season with a
Houston narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament field with a 36-22
record. The Cougars return every position player, and they also
will get a boost at the plate with the return of Casey Grayson
and Jacob Lueneburg, both of whom missed 2013 with injuries.
the other coaches, Whitting is looking forward to the new
experiences the new conference will bring. But is it exciting or
a bit nerve-racking battling a bunch of teams you don’t know
doesn’t really change the things we do,” Whitting said. “It’s
pretty exciting. Ask me that in a couple of months and I’ll tell
you the difference.”