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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Sports

How UH athletics can add to its legacy in the AAC


As UH athletics heads to the Big 12 in 2023, the Cougars have one more year left to compete in the American Athletic Conference. | File photo

As UH athletics heads to the Big 12 in 2023, the Cougars have one more year left to compete in the American Athletic Conference. | File photo

As Houston prepares to transition to the Big 12 at the start of the 2023 academic calendar, UH athletics will compete in the AAC for one final season across all of its sports.

Heading into its 10th season as a member of the AAC, UH has reached tremendous feats and achieved several accomplishments throughout all of its 15 combined sports teams in the past nine years.

With one more year to play before jumping into the Big 12, UH athletics has the opportunity to add to its legacy in the AAC.

Let’s take a look at what the Cougars can accomplish in its final year in the AAC:

Football

Following a stellar 2021 season that included a 12-2 record, a trip to the AAC title game and a Birmingham Bowl victory over Auburn, the UH football team is favored by many to contend for a conference title for a second straight year, with projections suggesting a top-25 spot in the AP Poll to start the season.

Having won its 11th conference championship in program history and first in the AAC in 2015, the Cougars are poised to contend once again this season in the search of its 12th title before heading to the Big 12.  

With the duo of senior quarterback Clayton Tune and junior wide receiver Nathaniel Dell entering next season with chemistry together, the Cougars are determined to make an impact with one of the most effective combos from last season.

Men’s basketball

Since joining the AAC, the UH men’s basketball team has seen a complete evolution in the program since the hiring of head coach Kelvin Sampson in 2014.

With Sampson at the helm, the Cougars have gone 199-70 while reaching four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight and a Final Four appearance in 2021. In the AAC, the Cougars have won regular-season titles in three of the last four seasons while winning back-to-back conference tournaments in the last two seasons. 

The UH men’s basketball team are favorites to once again win the AAC regular-season and tournament crowds heading into next season, with significantly high odds to contend for a national championship.

With key players returning and new additions entering next season in ESPN Top 100 recruits freshman forward Jarace Walker and guards Terrance Arceneaux and Emanuel Sharp, the Cougars are poised to make a large impact in their last season in the AAC.

Women’s basketball

The women’s basketball team finished last season with an appearance in the AAC Tournament semifinals and pushed its National Invitational Tournament campaign to the third round.

As head coach Ronald Hughey enters his ninth season with the Cougars, the team looks to contend for its first conference title since 2010-11 in Conference USA.

Junior guard Laila Blair led the Cougars to a hot start early in the season and a late push in the conference tournament last year, and with one more season under her belt, could spell trouble for a hungry Cougars team.

While the women’s basketball team has not seen much success in its nine years in the AAC, the Cougars have one last shot at winning a conference regular season and/or tournament title before moving to the Big 12.

Track and field

The men’s and women’s track and field teams have been one of the most dominant teams in the AAC in the past decade.

In the last decade, the men’s team collected seven straight AAC indoor titles and six outdoor titles while the women’s team won the conference indoor and outdoor competition in two of the last four years with several team podium finishes throughout.

Before showing the Big 12 what UH athletics is about in track and field, both teams have a chance to leave one last mark on the AAC.

Junior track runner Shaun Maswanganyi has taken the AAC track and field competitions by storm since his freshman season in 2020, while graduate sprinter Cecilia Tamayo-Garza continues to perform at a high level for the women’s side.

With one last season in the AAC, collecting indoor and outdoor titles for both the men’s and women’s teams would make for the highest note and perfect departure from the conference.

Soccer

Coming off a program-best season with a record of 13-5-2, the UH soccer team will look to continue where it left off in pursuit of a conference title in 2022.

The hiring of new head coach Jaime Frias will give the Cougars an experienced leader to help shape the directions for the Cougars, who have 24 returners and four incoming freshmen, including sophomore Nadia Kamassah, who led the Cougars with six goals last season.

A first-round loss in the AAC Tournament put an end to the best season in program history, but with one more year left, the Cougars will aim to arrive in the Big 12 with an AAC Tournament title in hand.

Swimming and diving

The UH swimming and diving team has been the most dominant team in the conference for the last decade, running strong with six straight AAC titles.

First-year head coach Tanica Jamison came in and aided the momentum in the conference competition, while sophomore swimmers Adelaide Meuter and Henrietta Fangli will continue to improve after stellar first years with the program.

Senior Chase Farris qualified for the NCAA Championships in back-to-back seasons and will look to do so once again as the swimming and diving team has the chance to add a seventh conference title to an already historic streak in the AAC.

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