New Faces, Same Goals for UVa Baseball

Friday marked the first day of practice for the Virginia baseball team. The original plan was for the Cavaliers to work out at Davenport Field -- until a mid-afternoon snowfall forced some changes.

But that was okay with head coach Brian O'Connor.

"I think the weather today is great," O'Connor said, "because it presents the first challenge to this team. And they have a choice. They can pout and feel sorry for themselves, because we're not on their field. Or they can get some good work in, and get better today."

Once the snow started falling, the tarp went on the field at Davenport, and the Cavaliers relocated to the blue turf of the field hockey field.

"You can only worry about what you can control," senior pitcher Scott Silverstein said. "And we're definitely ready to go. We've been at it for seven months now, and excited to play someone else."

The Cavaliers will get that opportunity when they open the season with a three-game series at East Carolina. Opening Day is February 15 -- three weeks from Friday.

And Virginia will enter the season with the high expectations that the program has become accustomed to. Earlier this week, the Cavaliers were ranked No. 25 in the country in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll. On Friday, they were picked third in the ACC's Coastal Division in the league's preseason poll, with the Cavaliers getting two votes to win the division, and one to win the conference.

Virginia has made nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

"It's very challenging, obviously, playing for a top 10 program like we've had the last couple of years," junior outfielder Colin Harrington said. "It's just great. You know when you're coming in as a recruit that you're going to have to compete for a position, compete for playing time. And I think it makes everybody better."

Last year's postseason appearance came to an abrupt end with an NCAA Regional loss at Davenport. But O'Connor says he hasn't used that early exit as motivation this off-season, largely because so many of his current players weren't in the Virginia dugout that weekend. This year's roster includes 14 first-year players.

But O'Connor says youth is no excuse, either.

"Just because the make-up of our team might change from one year to the next, our goals are never going to change," he explained. "And those goals are to win an ACC championship, and put ourselves in a position in the NCAA Tournament to have a chance to go to Omaha. You do that year in, and year out, like we have, you're going to do something special."

"It's always the same. It's always to win a national championship," sophomore outfielder Derek Fisher said. "We have a lot of experience; we have a lot of freshmen that are going to do a lot of good things for us this year. We have all the aspects. We've just got to put it all together, and we can reach that goal."

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