Spring squads prep for second season
If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?
The NCAA postseason.
And for the Longhorns’ spring sports outfits, there is reason for optimism after what have been fine regular seasons for women’s softball, tennis, golf, rowing and track and field.
Ditto for the men’s golf, tennis and track and field teams, as well as baseball.
“We all want to light the Tower orange,” softball great Cat Osterman said before her season began, referring to the National Championship for the UT football team that begot the lighting of the Tower to celebrate the event.
“We were all happy for the football team and enjoyed their success,” Osterman said. “But, we all want to light the Tower, too.”
The Horns also won in 2002 and 2003.
“This is the first step in what we want to accomplish this year,” said Coach Connie Clark.
Earlier, Osterman, the All-American hurler, recorded her 20th no-hitter in her distinguished UT career in Norman against OU where she was only a hit batter away from a perfect game. She then followed with her sixth career one-hitter against the Aggies in College Station.
“That was a bit of a dress rehearsal for what we are going to see for the rest of the year,” Clark said after the series with the Aggies, referencing the Big 12 Tournament and then the NCAAs.
Clark, the only coach Texas softball ever has had, guided the team to 47 wins in its first 52 games in 2006, winning 24 straight after standing 2-1 on the year last February.
And the team’s success has created some individual opportunities at season’s end.
Osterman, a member of the 2004 Olympic team, has been invited to the National Team tryouts. Sophomore Desiree Williams and senior Tina Boutelle also are headed for the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., as they attend the World University Games selection camp.
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“This team has more heart collectively than I ever have seen,” Watkins began. “And the fact that hasn’t been manifested by better performances is really difficult and very humbling.”
Now, this isn’t to suggest the Longhorns didn’t enjoy success -- their seventh-place finish in the Big 12 Championships in late April marked the 10th straight finish for UT among the top seven teams. UT also had two other top 10 finishes, including a third place at the Susie Maxwell Berning Golf Classic in Norman, Okla., last month.
“Obviously, the expectations at Texas are high,” Watkins said. “But you want them to be. They need to be. You get spoiled by the caliber of athlete who comes to Texas.”
Junior Julia Best is that caliber. Her eighth-place finish in the Big 12 Conference Tournament was a career-best.
“Julia decided to buy into what we said that she needed to do,” Watkins said of the Bulverde, Texas, native, whose 12-over-par 288 was a Big 12 Conference tourney best for her. Best had three top 10s in eight events this year.
“And we’re not finished with Julia,” Watkins continued. “There will be more one-on-one work to help her polish her game. But she believed in what we were doing and worked hard every day.”
Watkins also had praise for her captain, senior Devan Andersen.
“Devan has done an outstanding job as captain,” said Watkins, noting that the UT roster of 10 includes four freshmen and two sophomores. “All of the players respect her.”
And given the work ethic of this team, Watkins knows they are capable of having success in the NCAAs.
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WOMEN’S OUTDOOR TRACK AND FIELD
Before journeying to Philadelphia, Coach Beverly Kearney’s club enjoyed many fine performances in a pair of events -- North Texas Spring Classic in Denton and Texas Twilight in Mike A. Myers Stadium -- earlier last month.
Junior Michelle Carter’s victories in the shot put (with a NCAA regional-qualifying mark of 54-0.50) and discus (a personal best 171-8) sparked Texas, which also got victories from senior Ychlindria Spears (long jump), freshman Larkin Geyer (3,000-meter steeplechase) and sophomore Ashley Laughlin (pole vault).
More of the same followed for the No. 1-ranked Longhorns in the Texas Twilight meet as the Longhorns claimed nine victories.
Freshman Janine Davis won the 800 meters and then was a part of the 4x400-meter relay squad. Ychlindria Spears, Ashley Laughlin, Melaine Walker, LaTashia Kerr, Landra Stewardson, Destinee Hooker and Marshevet Hooker also recorded wins in the event.
Spears, who two years ago had a metal plate inserted on her right shin, executed her first triple jump in two years at this event in Myers Stadium.
Marshevet Hooker, who was recognized as the Big 12 Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Week following a grand performance in the 79th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays at the outset of April, took the long jump with a NCAA regional mark in the Texas Twilight meet.
“We all feel pretty good right now,” she said of the team’s state of mind and resolve looking towards the postseason. “We know if we continue to work hard that we can achieve the goals we all have as a team.”
“A National Championship for Bev,” she said. “We want to give her another title. We all want to do it for her. She is an inspiration to all of us and getting her another championship is important to all of us.”
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UT won the first two novice races and was on its way on the final day of April. Texas’ first varsity eight boat also won.
“Our confidence and patience was really strong,” Graves said of the effort.
And a short while after the Big 12 Invitational, Graves announced her practice schedule for the NCAA South/Central Regional Championships the second week of May in Oakridge, Tenn.
“We’ll go hard for the next week,” said Graves, whose team has won every Big 12 Invitational that has been held.
Then, they decompress.
Not that ‘going hard’ will be difficult for Graves’ crew, who earned her praise for their effort and dedication during the 2005-06 season.
“It’s been disappointing at times during the year that they have worked so hard and the results haven’t always shown that work,” she said.
Graves noted that the 33rd Annual San Diego Crew Classic in early April was evidence of that, as the women’s JV petite was fourth as was the first varsity eight.
In Boston on the Charles River at mid-month, Graves was pleased with a second-place finish in the second varsity eight as well as a second spot in the first novice eight.
“Overall, we had success,” she said of that event, which featured 10th-ranked Brown, UMass and the University of Boston in the field of the Boston Quad Rowing Regatta.
Graves feels good about the attitude and resolve of her team going into the regionals that will feature some of the best from the Big 10 -- Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin -- and then the NCAA Championships at the end of May.
“It’s a learning experience,” she began. “Even if you fail, the experience isn’t a failure if you learn from it.”
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Coach Patty Fendick-McCain, who along with her husband Scott, welcomed their newest recruit, Sean Eugene McCain on March 16, now hopes the success in the Big 12 tourney in Waco provides a spark as the Horns head into the NCAA Regionals.
The consistency of the team’s performance in the Big 12 event, likewise, gives Fendick-McCain what she has been looking for this season.
The Longhorns’ April results give evidence of such as victories against Kansas State (5-2) and Missouri (7-0) were separated by a 4-3 loss to Baylor at the Penick-Allison Tennis Center.
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However, it was hardly the most curious turn of events last month for the Longhorns, who enjoyed sweeps against Baylor and Kansas State and winning two of three in Norman against the Sooners.
Then came the loss of two of three against Nebraska -- UT’s first Big 12 loss of the season -- in Disch-Falk and mid-week defeats at the hands of UT-Arlington in Austin and UT-San Antonio in S.A.
“We lost at everything,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said of the 6-0 defeat to Nebraska in the final game of the showdown set with the Cornhuskers.
However, in 2006 the Longhorns have enjoyed a power surge, stroking 24 home runs in their first 14 Big 12 games. Last year, when they won the National Championship, the Horns hit 19 home runs in 26 Big 12 games.
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The Longhorns, winners of the title in 2002, 2003 and 2004, also have four second-place finishes and never have finished lower than fourth in the 10-year history of the event.
“We played really good golf,” said Coach John Fields. “We beat the numbers 2, 11 and 12 teams, and that is pretty amazing. Oklahoma just played great golf.”
Rosenfeld’s one-under-par 69 allowed him to finish the event at even-par.
“Matthew beat the number one and number six players to win it,” Fields said. “He came out and just played really sharp.”
Rosenfeld, along with fellow seniors Jeff Bell and Matt Mills, also were named to the Academic All-Big 12 Golf Team.
Fields’ mid-year decision to go with his three seniors, junior Jhonattan Vegas and freshman Randall Lowry III solidified the team.
“We have some great young men on this team and some young men who are going to play a lot of golf for us,” Fields said. “But it had been a challenging year for us and I had to pick a team and had to go with them.”
How far do they go?
“We just need to continue to play good golf,” Fields said.
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MEN’S OUTDOOR TRACK AND FIELD
Jake Morse, Joseph Davis, Kyle Miller and Leonel Manzano went 9:33.10 in the 4x100 for Coach Bubba Thornton’s crew.
It was the final tune-up for the fourth-ranked UT men prior to the Big 12 Outdoor Championships in mid-May.
The success in Philadelphia’s Franklin Field came on the heels of an 11-victory mark in the Texas Twilight affair. In addition to the 11 triumphs, Texas also registered 15 NCAA regional-qualifying marks.
“We’re having good competition, pushing each other,” said senior Quincy Boles.
And that followed success during the 79th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays where UT’s Trey Hardee was selected as the meet’s most outstanding athlete and the UT men won the distance medley relay for the first time since 1948.
Coach Thornton, likewise, enjoyed a personal honor as he was named the U.S. men’s track and field coach for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“You’re humbled to be a part of probably the most elite group of coaches in the world,” Thornton said at the time of the announcement. “It’s a tremendous honor for me, the university, my hometown of Keller, Texas -- it’s good stuff.
The 59-year-old Thornton, who has been at UT for 10 years, was an assistant coach for the 2000 Games in Sydney and was the head men’s coach for Team USA in the 2003 World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Paris. His team won a meet-high 19 medals in that event.
“It’s been a great year,” said Thornton, referencing this honor, as well as his team’s performance.
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UT senior Roger Gubser was named the event’s Most Outstanding Performer as he went undefeated in singles and doubles for the fourth-ranked Longhorns, who defeated Colorado in the semifinals to advance to the first championship match since 2001.
That victory against the Bears also snapped BU’s 15-game home match winning streak.
“The guys have competed hard every day,” Coach Michael Center said. “The guys put their hearts in it and got it done.”
The successful run through the Big 12 event, culminating in the title match win against Baylor atoned for a 4-3 loss to the Bears in the Baylor Tennis Center 12 days earlier.
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