With preparations for the 2013 season in full swing, BIG EAST baseball teams took some time in the fall to engage in team-building activities. Ranging from Halloween costumes to physical challenges, here's a look at a few of the highlights before the season begins in February.
Louisville kicked off its preseason with the Omaha Challenge. Black squad captain and junior outfielder Adam Engel led the Black squad to not only the victory in the physical challenge, but also in the paintball competition that preceded the five-day series of conditioning drills. The Omaha Challenge includes a shuttle run, bench press, push-ups, pull-ups, sprints, squats, swimming and a tire flip among other events.
The Cardinals are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after beating New Mexico State and Missouri in the Tucson Regional in 2012. Louisville lost to eventual champion Arizona, wrapping up the season with a 41-22 record, as well as a piece of the 2012 BIG EAST regular season title. The Cardinals made their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years in 2012.
Louisville was selected the 2013 BIG EAST preseason favorite thanks in part to the return of pitchers Jared Ruxer and Jeff Thompson. Huxer was selected the 2012 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year after going 8-1 from the mound with a 2.61 ERA in 14 appearances. The sophomore went 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in five league starts. Thompson recorded nine wins and three losses in 14 appearances in 2012 with a 3.91 ERA.
The Cardinals also return junior outfielder Adam Engel, junior designated hitter Jeff Gardner and infielder Ty Young, who all hit .300 or better during the regular season in 2012. Louisville fell to USF in the 2012 BIG EAST Championship. The Cardinals won back to back BIG EAST titles in 2008 and 2009.
Villanova also holds a series of conditioning competitions, but in conjunction with the men's lacrosse team. The strong man competition between the squad complements a "Road to Clearwater" conditioning series in the fall.
The Wildcats hope to return to the BIG EAST Championship in 2013 after missing the field the last four seasons. Villanova narrowly missed the championship with a 10-17 BIG EAST record. Shortstop Tyler Sciacca is the top returner for Villanova, hitting .359 with 39 RBI's in 2012. The senior also stole 17 bases last season to rank 10th in the league. Villanova returns 19 from its 2012 roster and four starting position players. The Wildcats won their last BIG EAST Championship in 1989.
Connecticut kick-started the fall with a Halloween-themed weightlifting session. The Huskies participated in a routine workout in irregular apparel, with fan-favorite costumes such as Spongebob Squarepants and the Green Lantern. The Halloween fun was followed by a scavenger hunt.
The Huskies are in the hunt for a NCAA Tournament appearance, after missing the field in 2012 for the first time since 2009. Connecticut is led by the 2013 BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year, second baseman L.J. Mazzilli. The senior ranked fourth in the BIG EAST in doubles (19) and fifth in home runs (9) a year ago.
Connecticut was ousted from the 2012 BIG EAST Championship by USF, despite beating the Bulls on the first day of competition in Clearwater, Fla. The Bulls and Huskies met for the first time in the BIG EAST Championship since 2009, when the teams endured a five-hour rain delay. The Huskies advanced to the BIG EAST Championship game in 2009 and 2010. Connecticut won its last BIG EAST title in 1994.
BIG EAST baseball teams begin the 2013 season on Friday, Feb. 15.