Fall Report: ConnecticutFall Report
MANSFIELD, Conn. — When Connecticut coach Jim Penders looks back at his 2011 team led by future big leaguers George Springer, Matt Barnes, Nick Ahmed, Scott Oberg and John Andreoli, he thinks to himself, “How the hell did I not win a national championship with that team?
“And it’s like, well, we hadn’t been there. You hadn’t been to Omaha yet, you got to the supers. The year before (in 2010) you’re in the regional and you were overwhelmed in the regional because we were hosting it and hadn’t been in a regional since 1994 when I was playing. Then you’re in it, and it’s like, ‘How do we do this?’ And we’re playing tight. Then we got to the next step the next year and we’re playing loose.”
The takeaway is that it’s easier to advance in the postseason if you have previous postseason experience to draw upon. So Penders hopes his 2020 Huskies will benefit from having been to the Conway Regional finals in 2018 and then pushing Oklahoma State to a decisive Game Seven in the 2019 Oklahoma City Regional finals.
“I thought we were playing a lot looser in Oklahoma City than we were in Conway the year before. So I think there is something to that, I think it’s a little bit easier,” Penders said. “It’s never gonna be easy, but I think it’s a little bit easier year to year when you make that one more rung up the ladder, having been there you recognize the view from that perch, and you can make it up to that next rung.”
UConn has been to six regionals since 2010, so now this program knows what the postseason is all about. And there are plenty of holdovers from the last two NCAA tournament clubs to provide leadership and guidance to a slew of newcomers.
There’s no question that UConn has some big shoes to fill after losing mainstays like Anthony Prato, Mason Feole, Jacob Wallace, John Toppa, Michael Woodworth, Jeff Kersten and CJ Dandenau from last year’s team. The Huskies brought in 17 newcomers this fall to compete for open jobs and strengthen the foundation for future seasons. Included in that group of newcomers are three Division I transfers who could make huge impacts immediately if the NCAA rules them all eligible.