For UH, NCAA tournament expectations rise with more competition
Whether you speak to the head coach, players or support staff, the goal is to make a summer trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
For 2014, the Cougars consider themselves one of the elite teams in the American Athletic Conference and expect to make the NCAA tournament. The team looks to improve on last season, during which UH was a bubble team that narrowly missed out on an at-large bid.
When UH made the jump from Conference USA to the American, the consensus was that the competition level would rise.
The Cougars think they will meet the requirements.
Playing new teams with the prestige of Louisville, Cincinnati and Connecticut allows UH the opportunity to measure where it stands. With a tougher schedule this season, the Cougars could find themselves in the NCAA tournament if they match last year’s 36 wins.
“This is a really good conference. I can see this league sending two to four teams to the NCAA tournament. You have a team like Louisville who is coming off a trip to Omaha, and UConn has been to a couple Super Regionals in the past couple of years,” said head coach Todd Whitting.
It’s not just the Cougars’ conference opponents that are tough. UH will face three Big 12 teams during the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park, including Texas Tech, Texas and TCU. Throw in Baylor, Texas A&M and Rice, mixed with the trip to California with USC, UCLA and Pepperdine, and UH has a diverse schedule with many recognizable names.
The level of competition has caught the eyes of the players, too.
“We’re excited about the level competition that’s ahead of us. Mostly because I feel like we have a good team, and we can compete with everyone on our schedule. Our goal from the start has been to get into the NCAA tournament,” said sophomore third baseman Justin Montemayor. “People assume that this conference is better because of the names, but Conference USA was a tough league. They had stud pitchers, so we’re aware of what it takes to win.”
The expectations are high, and it bears out in the team’s motto for this year: M64, or Mission 64.
With the amount of returners, the new FieldTurf and the quality of opponents coming to Cougar Field, watching the Cougars could be worth the price of admission. Only time will tell whether UH is on the road to Omaha. Until then, fans will have to see if its mission unfolds.
“It’s good; there’s a lot of competition. Whether it’s in the bullpen or on the field, there’s a lot of competition regardless,” said senior pitcher Chase Wellbrock. “There are a lot of older guys that come in and a lot of younger guys that come in. There’s always some guy pushing you, whether it’s a younger or your same age.”