Weekly Coach Ward Interview :: Season Preview :: Part Two

Also See: Part One You open up the season this weekend against UW-Milwaukee and then you go out on the road for a long extended stretch and a pretty important stretch for the team as well.
RW: Yeah it is important because of the quality of opponent that we play. It's eight road games against quality opponents. It'll be a heck of a challenge. East Carolina is ranked in some polls, ranked pretty high in some areas. Illinois and Ohio will be dangerous just because every team is dangerous when they start the season because everybody is undefeated. You just have to go get after them and play and that's where the strength of our pitching staff and the depth and maturity will help us a lot. We're not going to be putting many guys to the mound who haven't had some serious Division I experience where other teams will be doing early in the year. I think that will give us a fairly distinct advantage. How much? I'm not sure but I do think it will give us some.

NC State is ranked in some cases as high as third so they're getting a lot of play as a Top Ten super-seed, top-level type team. We get them midweek which I think is good because a lot of time teams get their rankings based on what they're going to do in their weekend series not necessarily on their depth. So we get a chance at a top ranked team early and that'll be good.

Wake Forest is a personal deal because of Tom Walter and I being such close friends. Overall that weekend is going to set the tone a little bit. If you go in there and come out with a winning record, in all likelihood we'd come back ranked but if we go in there and come out 2-6 or something like that, I don't think it's going to kill us. I think the schedule is set up so that we could still recover from it and the fact that it's on the road you don't feel like it's as bad. The key will be holding home field advantage when we get back. The games against La Salle and Alabama A&M and these first four weekend games I think it's important that you win most of them. Realistically for every one you lose at home you have to win three to get even again with the new RPI whereas before if you win two out of three at home you're pretty happy with it. Right now if you win two of three at home you don't gain any ground.

We come back from that having a home weekend and go out to Oklahoma, another ranked club. Most of the power of our schedule is early. I think it's a pretty good mix. A little different from last year. Our non-conference strength of schedule was higher last year but the only difference this year is we're going to play some top guys and bottom guys traditionally in this schedule where we had a lot of Top 40 guys in last year's schedule. Any way you look at it, it's a good schedule. I like this league.

Eric Sorenson selected us to finish first, the coaches selected us third, Collegiate Baseball selected us third. We're still in the mix. The league is going to be good. If you look at the coaches poll, Dallas Baptist, Texas State, New Mexico State, Sacramento State, Cal State-Bakersfield, we play all of them in the first four weeks of the regular season and three of the four at home. We have Dallas Baptist, Sacramento State and Texas State all at home and Bakersfield on the road. I like the way it's set up.

I think there are going to be two points in the season where we'll reassess. We'll have a little bit better idea of where we are when we get back from North Carolina and we have a little stabilizing time where we can get some things fixed before we go into the bulk of the league where you get through the first four weeks of the season. If you win during that time and you're leading halfway through the season you'll feel like you're in really good position. At the same time because of the way it's set up and we're playing some of the voted bottom guys in the league in the second half you feel like there's some places there where you can kind of make up the difference.

It'll be interesting. I'm looking forward to it. I like the new members, I like the new coaches. I think It'll be fun to play against them. I'm looking forward to conference play. When you take a look the season and for the first time since the back-to-back Sun Belt championships you go into the season as a defending league champion. What's the difference in the mentality with this year's team coming off that championship?
RW: It's a funny thing because it's a disadvantage because the league is so changed. You spend so much time establishing yourselves in a league, in the pecking order and you've played up to the top of it and kind of got yourself established as a top tier guy and all of the sudden all the players have changed. As a ball club, yes, this is a team that is quietly very, very disappointed in the way the way the year ended. They were proud of the way they played in the regional, yet so disappointed in that we kinda just held on. I think that there's some resolve there. We know that we can go take care of the quality people.

I think they feel like they have something to prove when it comes to tournament time which is good. I think we're all extraordinarily happy it's not in Mesa, no offense to the good people of Mesa. That place did not do us very well and we didn't do ourselves very well while we were there. Grand Prairie is a new locale. It's not as neutral as you'd like it to be when you figure they've got two of the new Texas guys that are going to be right in their back yard (Dallas Baptist, Texas State) selected first and second but then again it's still a neutral site. In most cases they will not have played games on it. Home court advantage in basketball is a lot about the crowd, home field advantage in baseball is a lot about understanding how the facility plays, how the wind blows, that sort of thing. I'm looking forward to going to new locations.

I think it's going to be a good league. I just hope that we play well enough in the non-conference across the league that we're going to be looked at as a two-bid league. That was the whole idea behind the league in adding Dallas Baptist to the strength of the league was that we could get at-large teams in. If all of those teams play well it could be a three-bid league.