It’s easy to marvel at the overall transformation of the University of Louisville in the last two decades both athletically and academically. The once commuter school now has more on campus residents than ever before, the landscape of the campus has been forever altered, and the list of scholastic accomplishments reads more like an ever-expanding encyclopedia. Athletically, Louisville was on the verge of getting kicked out of Conference USA and riddled with Title IX issues to now being one of the preeminent athletic departments in the country in the ACC.
The change has been dramatic and nothing embodies the climb or the athletic & campus culture more than the Cardinal Baseball team. It’s a roster full of “Louisville Men” led by principled skipper in Dan McDonnell who has as much conviction and passion as he does baseball knowledge.
Consider this: Prior to Dan McDonnell’s arrival in Louisville for the 2007 season the Cards had only one NCAA appearance…….EVER (2002, and lost both games).
Louisville fans didn’t know how the NCAA Tournament worked in 2007. The Regional double elimination format. The Super Regional Best of 3. How teams earn hosting rights, and how the College World Series actually worked once in Omaha. It was a foreign concept when McDonnell came to Belknap Campus 9 seasons ago.
2007: College World Series, #6 Final Rank
2008: NCAA Regional, Big East Tournament Champions
2009: NCAA Super Regional, Big East Champions (Season & Tournament) #15 Final Rank
2010: NCAA Regional, Big East Regular Season Champions, #16 Final Rank
2012: NCAA Regional, Big East Regular Season Champions
2013: College World Series, Big East Regular Season Champions, #8 Final Rank
2014: College World Series, American Athletic Regular Season Champions, #6 Final Rank
The Cards did win regular season conference championships prior to Coach McDonnell’s arrival in 1983 (Metro) & 1984 (Metro). The 2002 NCAA appearance was the 1st ever and the Cards lost both games, it was an aberration in Cardinal hardball history. Now Louisville fans put The Road to Omaha on the calendar each year.
Regardless of what happens with the Louisville Nine this post-season, winning a record number of games in the ACC, winning the Atlantic in the Regular Season, being the #1 overall seed in the ACC Tournament and the #3 Overall seed in the NCAA Tournament is a STATEMENT in any given year. Doing it in the 1st year as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference is a major flag planting….and the sustained success for the program during Dan McDonnell’s tenure speaks for itself.
Louisville Baseball is full of Louisville Men and it’s leader may be the best coaching example on Floyd Street (and that’s saying something). It’s a culture that one year shapes the next and of course, the next stage is to win some games in Omaha and play for a National Championship. That may come in 2015, 2016, or beyond. Dare we say the Cards on the Diamond are on a collision course? Nevertheless Louisville fans can feel comfortable that they are living in the Golden Era of Cardinal Baseball……but it may just be the beginning of a long era.