All posts by Annie Moore

Photo courtesy of Austin Lassell

Louisville softball seven-game win streak shows potential

By Justin Stephenson

Although the U of L softball team has been streaky at times during the season the season is starting to turn as the Cards went on a seven game winning streak before dropping the last two games.

“I think we have found a good mix and we’re really happy with this group,” Coach Sandy Pearsall said.

And why wouldn’t she be? U of L went on its longest win streak of the season at seven games, thanks to the dominant performance of the defense. In fact, the defense as of the seven game winning streak is only rivaled by the defense of the first seven games of the season posting 38 strikeouts in the stretch. The young pitching staff held opponents to an under 3.00 earned run average for the first time since the start of the season.

“We’ve made some defensive changes which I think has not only helped those players defensively, but also offensively. It’s taken a little bit of pressure off of them and they seem to be playing better. We’ve moved Kayla Soles from third base to right field, Whitney Arion from shortstop to third base and Hannah Kiyohara from right field to shortstop. If that main group of defense can continue on, I think we’ll be in a great position,” Coach Pearsall remarked.

There has also been another do over on defense as Maryssa Becker has claimed the new title of starting pitcher.

“Maryssa has definitely stepped up and has really gone with that opportunity to prove that she is very capable, although with that being said, we still need Caralisa Connell and Rachel LeCoq to throw good innings because we cannot put it all on Maryssa.”

Although their defense has been distinguished, the offense has held its own as well. The home run total has doubled from three to seven and their average assist numbers have doubled.

“On the offensive end, a lot of players have really stepped it up, we’ve gotten a lot of support from seniors Taner Fowler, Katie Keller, Maggie Ruckenbrod and Hannah Kiyohara. I also think that in our freshman class, Maryssa Becker has really stepped up for us and that has been huge because with her we’ve been able to get some things done,” Coach Pearsall said.

Despite the Cards seven-game win streak UCF still bested U of L winning the last two games the Cards played against them. On a two game losing streak the Cardinals travel to IU on Wednesday to get back to winning ways.

The Cardinals’ next home game is versus Temple on Saturday 4/26 at noon.

 

Photo courtesy of thecardinalconnect.com

Tall recruiting class comes in with big responsibilities

By Sam Draut

Three of Louisville’s incoming freshman participated in the 41st Derby Festival Basketball Classic at Freedom Hall.

Quentin Snider, a local prospect from Ballard High School was named MVP after leading his team with nine assists and eight points.

With the graduation of Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese, Tim Henderson and the departure of Kevin Ware and Chane Behanan, Louisville reloaded with six recruits from the 2014 recruiting class.

“This will be one of better classes we have signed at the University of Louisville,” Coach Rick Pitino said.

Shaqquan Aaron headlines Pitino’s top-five-rated 2014 recruiting class.  The Seattle native is rated the 33rd best player in the country by ESPN, receiving offers from Arizona, UCLA, UNLV and USC among others.

Aaron is a six-foot-seven wing with the ability to play multiple positions.  Along with his athleticism and length, Aaron handles and distributes the ball well.

“He is a very well coached winner,” Pitino said. “He has unbelievable potential, I just love this young man’s game.”

Offensively, he is a gifted scorer who can create his own shot by slashing to the rim while his jump shot continues to improve.

At just 175 pounds, Aaron will need to add to his frame to compete in the ACC.

Quentin Snider ended up sticking with his hometown team after an odd recruiting process that went on throughout his high school career.

Snider committed to Louisville during his sophomore year, but then de-committed the summer going into his senior year.  Snider committed to Illinois in the fall, but signed with Louisville in November.

“At the last second, he had second thoughts, he always wanted to be a Louisville Cardinal,” Pitino said.

The six-foot-one point guard handles the ball well and should run the offense effectively.  Snider shoots the ball well off the catch and the dribble and also has the ability to streak by slower defenders to the rim.

He was ranked the 40th player in the 2014 recruiting class by ESPN.

Chinanu Onuaku chose Louisville over Georgetown, Connecticut, and Miami among others.  ESPN ranked him as the 75th best player in the 2014 recruiting class while Scout.com ranked him as the ninth best center.

His brother Arinze Onuaku played four years at Syracuse from 2006-10 averaging 9.2 points per game.

Similar to his brother, Onuaku is a strong rebounder whose primary impact comes on the defense end of the floor.  In the Derby Festival Basketball Classic, he had seven points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

“He is physically ready, unlike the other guys he is physically ready, he doesn’t have to put on a lot of weight,” Pitino said. “He has great upside.”

Onuaku will continue to work on his offensive game, but with his six-foot-ten, 232-pound frame, he should be able to body with other bigs early on.

Anas Osama Mahmoud was a late addition to the Cardinals recruiting class, signing his letter of intent on March 3.

The seven-foot-one center was ranked as the 99th-best player by ESPN.  Mahmoud is long and athletic, but at just 197 pounds, he will need to bulk up to defend heavier players in the post.

The Egyptian native chose Louisville over Georgia Tech and Minnesota.

Jaylen Johnson is a six-foot-nine power forward ranked 14th nationally at his position by Scout.com.  In the Derby Festival Basketball Classic, Johnson finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

Johnson, who chose Louisville over Iowa State, Maryland, and Cincinnati among others, is an athletic forward still developing his face-up game.

“He is something we really needed.  He is long, he scores, he is an excellent defensive player.  Everything we want in a stretch four is exactly what he is,” Pitino said.

The biggest mystery in the Cardinals 2014 recruiting class is Norwegian center Matz Stockman.  The seven-foot-two big man signed with Louisville on November 19 as a relatively unknown name.

“He has great touch, he is a left hander, great wingspan, seven,” Pitino said.

Rated as the 19th-best center in the 2014 recruiting class by ESPN, Stockman has shown ample ability on the offensive end, but will need to continue to develop his game.

Photo by Austin Lassell

U of L, the only school with a women’s lacrosse stadium boasts true home field advantage

By Derek Brightwell

It is well known that U of L Athletic Director Tom Jurich has always done his best to give his programs the top facilities in the nation. But what you may not know is that he has given the lacrosse team something that only they can boast. Out of every university that has a women’s lacrosse program U of L is the only school that has a designated enclosed women’s lacrosse stadium.

The program, led by head coach Kellie Young, is winding down its seventh year as a program and in that small time frame has already risen to being a top 20 team. Young attributes some of that growth to their top-notch facilities.

“It’s allowed us to attract great recruits,” she said, noting the impact it had specifically on the first class. “It showed a real commitment from Tom to the success he wanted the program to have.”

But bringing in the recruits is only one part of building this program up. The facilities help the players to get better once they’re on campus.

“I definitely think the facility has helped us so much because we’re able to have the things we need when we want,” sophomore midfielder Courtnee Daley said. “The extra work is the biggest impact because that’s what makes teams better than other teams. We can shoot by ourselves, work on footwork and visualize the game on a field. It has a huge impact and the fact that we have that anytime is a huge bonus.”

The athletic aspects of the facilities are hard to deny and obvious to see; but perhaps the biggest benefit of them is in the academic side of the student-athlete’s lives. In addition to the locker rooms, training facilities and coaches offices, the impressive YUM! Center also includes a study hall and academic advising offices. These benefits may be overlooked by potential recruits on their first visit to campus but are never missed by parents.

“It impacts the parents more than the students, honestly,” Coach Young said of the recruiting power of academics. “The players are just amazed by the University of Louisville, but the parents see that they’ll be able to pursue any degree they want and we can work lacrosse around their lives so they don’t need to sacrifice their studies.”

“I get the classes I need and the tutors I want,” Daley explained. “ And I don’t have to worry about a schedule change because other teams need the facility. I know exactly when practice will be and I can schedule my academics around that.”

It doesn’t take long for the players to realize the benefits of having everything they need all within a short walk of each other.

“I usually study for an hour, go shoot for half an hour and the come back and study,” sophomore midfielder Kaylin Morissette mentions. “It’s nice to have that balance. You don’t have to go to six different places.”

The stadium represents Jurich’s commitment to not only lacrosse but also all of the athletic programs at U of L as he has built the school into one of the top athletic programs in the nation.

“The great thing about Tom is that he supports our programs and our student athletes,” Young said of her AD. “And he does it the best I’ve ever seen. Our players get the same treatment as football and basketball. We get the same medical treatment, the same academic support; we get the same access to facilities and equipment. We get the best of what we need to perform at our best.”

That support is not lost on the players, either.

“I could tell they are dedicated to making it one of the best programs in the nation,” Daley remembers from her recruitment period. “That was very impressive and helped me to come here.”

In a season that was loaded with road games, the team feels proud to have what they have back home.

“I feel like sometimes we forget how privileged we are,” Daley said. “Especially this season when we traveled so much and we were getting ready to practice and there’d be either football or soccer or field hockey. We can practice anytime we want and we don’t have to worry about other teams and not a lot of teams are able to do that.”

The sophomore midfielder Morissette sums up the facility and life in Louisville athletics pretty well.

“It’s great,” she said. “You can’t ask for anything better.”

Photo by Austin Lassell

The Monster is back: Harrell returns for junior year

By Noah Allison

Card Nation held its breath awaiting an announcement from forward Montrezl Harrell on whether he would declare for the NBA draft or return for his junior season. A first year in the ACC without him could have proven quite long and frustrating, but alas the youngest of this last year’s captains has returned and no rim is safe.

After averaging 14 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore Harrell was named the AAC’s most-improved player. His 98 dunks shattered Louisville’s single-season dunk record of 59 and his 12 double-doubles and 311 rebounds led the Cardinals.

With one simple announcement the spirits and attitudes for next year took a giant leap forward.

“I’m ready.” Harrell said. “I’m ready to get back into the gym with my team and with my coach and prepare to have another great season. If the young guys come in prepared to work we still have a good core group of guys that were on the team this year and we have a lot of experience from this year coming back.”

Harrell will be the prominent big-man on a roster that along with returning red-shirt sophomore center Mangok Mathiang at six-foot ten, boasts a lot of height.

At center the Cardinals bring in seven-foot-two Matz Stockman, seven-foot-one Anas Osama Mahmoud and six-foot-ten Chinanu Onuaku. Backing up Harrell is six-foot-nine power forward Jaylen Johnson.

At six-foot-eight, 235 pounds Harrell may be the shortest of the group but is undoubtedly the biggest. His tenacious work ethic and relentless motor is what separates Harrell from the competition and its nothing but beneficial for this young squad of bigs to learn from the best.

“I feel like with the work ethic I have and the way that I compete those guys will come along,” Harrell said. “I can tell you first hand being a freshman coming in here that first week and a half kicked my butt. It comes to a point where you just get tired of it and you go to work from there. I feel like those guys will follow behind me and try to do some of the same things I’m doing and just work as hard as I am.”

Working as hard as Harrell is easier said than done. There is a reason Harrell made such a big improvement from his freshman to sophomore year. But Harrell isn’t just coming back and getting better for his draft stock. As the face of this program now he is getting better to keep the standard of Louisville basketball.

“Coming back I know I am going to have to play a huge role in our program and I’m fine with that. I’m fine with being one of the go-to players on the team and that doesn’t faze me, that just gives me extra motivation to work,” Harrell continues. “Having that spotlight is really an honor so you just have to take it and use it as motivation to get better.”

A returning captain Harrell joins up with senior forward Wayne Blackshear to captain this squad into the ACC. With a year of leadership experience under his belt Harrell carries with him first hand experience of being a part of championship basketball and will not shy away from expecting it.

“Honestly I am just one of those guys who are going to try to tell it like it is. I’m not trying to sugar coat anything because when you’re out there we are all playing for the same thing, to win the game,” Harrell said. “If someone is not doing something right and I feel they should know better on what they’re doing then I am going to be the one to speak on it. I am going to hold everybody accountable including myself.”

Harrell returning gives the Cardinals a chance to have a starting rotation of all returning players. The six freshmen coming in and returning bench players will all have to step up.

Harrell is the difference maker on this team and with it likely being his last season there is no doubt that he has more than just personal growth on the mind. A chance at another national championship is hard for any competitor to pass up.

“I feel like I can get back to another one, with the team that we have everybody just has to get to work in the gym, listen to what Coach P says and buy into the program,” Harrell concludes. “If guys come in willing to work and get better than there is no telling what we can do.”

Photo by Austin Lassell

The ‘bragging rights scale’ tips in UK’s favor

By Dalton Ray

The University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are two powerhouse basketball programs whose rivalry is amongst the top in the nation when it comes to the hardwood. Passionate fan bases always looking for bragging rights fuel both schools in each anticipated match-up between the Cards and the Cats.

Even though both are known to be “basketball schools” that does not take away from the intensity when the schools are scheduled to play in any other sports. One of the last Louisville-Kentucky match ups of the 2013-2014 athletic year was at Jim Patterson Stadium between the two top-20 programs. While U of L hosted, number-19 Kentucky edged out a 4-2 win.

Fans of both schools came out in full force to enjoy America’s pastime and the setting provided a chance to take one last look on this year in the U of L v. UK rivalry.

One thing each member of Card Nation or Big Blue Nation can agree on is how big the rivalry is to the state and everyone in it.

Chris Pfeiffer, a Louisville fan and native says, “The UK, U of L game is big every year, each time they play everyone gets together and watches. It becomes a way of life here and you grow up with it, there isn’t much like it.”

While the football and basketball games get blown up every year the Cards and Cats play in most sports every year with hatred and yearly bragging rights on the line for each respected club.

This past Year of the Cardinal the university excelled in multiple sports and really had a strong hold on their rival 75 miles down I-64, going 7-4 in the different match-ups. The 2013-2014 year would prove to be a different story as the Cats bounced back with a 9-3 advantage this year.

To start off the year the Cardinals took a hard 2-0 loss in women’s soccer but rebounded with a 27-13 win in football. Gary Overstreet is a die-hard UK fan that supports more than just UK basketball.

“A lot of people see Kentucky as a one-sport school but I think we’re starting to turn the tide, the rivalry isn’t just for the players or coaches it’s really about the life-long fans who can’t wait to see their team play. Without any professional teams here everyone latches on to the schools and it really makes it better.”

Just after the football game ended the volleyball teams squared off. Kentucky won another close game against Louisville as they prevailed 3-2.

Next on the slate was the biggest game played between the schools as the men’s basketball teams faced off. The Wildcats put on a 73-66 victory in December’s match-up and then again in the Sweet 16 by a score of 74-69.  The women’s basketball match-up went Kentucky’s way, 69-64.  UK swept the entire basketball series for the athletic year.

“The biggest thing for me is getting over the hump for basketball and overcoming the ‘Little Brother’ stigma. We’re pretty equal or better in other sports. Cheering on my home city is also big,” Louisville fan Bobby Langston said.

After a rough start to the rivalry for the Cards they notched another win in the series after both men’s and women’s swimming teams downed the visiting Wildcats. Playing out on the diamond was the next step in the yearly meetings between the two schools. The Cats took both games against Louisville, winning 8-3 and 4-2 in baseball and took the first meeting in softball 5-0. The last meeting between the schools will be April 30th at Ulmer Stadium as Louisville will look to finish out the rivalry in the Card’s favor.

“Kentucky holds a great tradition, we as fans and those of us who went there understand that and hold our expectations higher than most. The thing about it is that Louisville fans do too and it adds heat to the fire,” Ashley Washington explained.

Many say the Battle of the Bluegrass State is unmatched across the country, the passion the fans have for each other’s school along with the hatred they have for the opposite school makes it a very good argument.

The major difference between the Louisville v. Kentucky rivalry is the lack of professional teams in the state. People who grow up here aren’t made into Louisville or Kentucky fans.  They’re born into it.

    The easiest way to spark up a conversation, or fight, in Kentucky is to bring up the state’s two biggest universities and ask who is better and why. The fan bases are what make the rivalry so great and their demand for greatness is what pushes these programs.

 

Photo curtosy of  isportsweb.com

University of Louisville, Adidas strike new deal

By Annie Moore

University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich together with Adidas executives announced on Thursday the University’s new contract with Adidas. The new deal extends the partnership between the two for another four years, through 2018-19.

The Portland, Or. based company will supply uniforms, footwear, and accessories for all 23 of Louisville’s athletic programs.

“It’s a very exciting day for us in the athletic department,” Jurich said. “The number one objective I had going into this, was how do we insure that our student-athletes have the premiere uniforms and apparel as we move forward, and this contract accomplishes all off those things.”

In addition to athletic outfitting, Adidas will provide ‘extensive investments in the the Cardinals’ athletic programs including advertising campaigns, equipment room expansion, digital/video technology, support for national champion spirit squads, a formalized sport administration internship program… and co-branding opportunities… including TaylorMade equipment within the UofL Golf Club.’ according to the press release issued from the athletic department on Thursday.

Louisville football head coach, Bobby Petrino was on hand as well, and excited about the new deal.

“This is a great thing for our players, to be able to have the top of the line uniforms, the materials that we’ll use, to keep them dryer, lighter, faster, and then the apparel,” Petrino said. “One of the things I’ve always felt is important is for your players to look good, feel good, you have a chance then to go out and play well.”

Petrino was reluctant to comment on whether the Cards would be unveiling on of its new five uniforms in the opening game against Miami on September 1, but instead said that it would be very fun to see what happens with the apparel down the road.

“I think you’re going to see  things on the cutting edge,” Petrino said. “New things that will be exciting for everybody, the players, the recruits and the fans. We’re going to be on the edge of the fence as far as the top of the line with the way you get to look, the way you get to dress and the attitude you play with.”

The deal will also benefit fans, with additions such as new spirit shirts for student season ticket holders and ACC inaugural year fan giveaways.

“It’s going to be fun now, get ready because it’s going to be fun,” Petrino said. “I can’t wait, to be honest with you.”

 

Photo by Michelle Lewis

Will Gardner steps up to the spotlight

By Sam Draut

Waiting in the wings for the past two seasons behind Teddy Bridgewater, redshirt sophomore Will Gardner is now at the center of attention.

Replacing one of the programs greatest quarterbacks will be no easy task, but Gardner directed the offense well on his first big stage without the shadow of Bridgewater.

Gardner looked sharp and in control, completing 32-37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns in the Spring Game on Friday night.

“It was good to see Will in command of the offense, I liked the way he carried himself, I like the way he took charge in the huddle,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “He looked comfortable in delivering the football and for the most part, he was very accurate with his throws.”

On the third play of the game, Gardner connected with sophomore wide receiver James Quick for a 62 yard touchdown pass down the sideline.

“That was exciting, we said in the huddle we wanted to set the tone early,” Gardner said.

Quick, who believes Gardner throws a harder ball than Bridgewater, reeled in a team high 152 receiving yards.

“He played a great game, he played a well-rounded game,” Quick said.

Quick wasn’t the only receiver Gardner targeted, seniors DeVante Parker, Gerald Christian, and Eli Rogers all had over 100 receiving yards.

“We have a lot of playmakers, it’s hard to get the ball to everyone because we have so many, and it makes the quarterback’s job easier,” Gardner said.

“We have a very good wide receivers corps. DeVante Parker is a very special player, and there’s a good deal of speed and talent around him,” Petrino said. “That’s really going to help our quarterback. He just has to know that the defense and reads are going to dictate who is open, and then he just has to get the ball to that guy and let him make a play.”

With receptions from seven different players, Petrino was most impressed with the way Gardner distributed the ball and went through his progressions.

But, even with his stellar performance, Gardner was hesitant to give himself praise, remaining humble after a dominating audition as the predecessor of Bridgewater.

“We had good pass protection and guys were getting wide open.  When guys are getting wide open, you can’t miss them,” Gardner said. “I put the ball where I can and they make plays.”

Despite delivering the ball well to receivers throughout the night, Gardner did have one mistake, overthrowing a crossing route that was intercepted by Chucky Williams midway through the second quarter.

Gardner was able to learn from his few mistakes and adjust throughout the game.

“He missed one early in the second half, he kind of forced the ball and threw it out of bounds, over DeVante’s head, and we had a guy open down the middle, but he came back in the second half and hit him twice,” Petrino said. “So, he learned as the game went on, and that is going to be important because he is going to have to learn as the game goes on and not make the same mistake twice.”

After an impressive performance to wrap up spring practice, Gardner’s individual improvement becomes critical as players split from the coaches until summer camp.

“I have to grow into the playbook, become more confident, hit the weight room, get bigger and stronger,” Gardner said.

So now, a quarterback that has appeared in just six games and completed 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards in his collegiate career takes over a lethal offensive scheme and a program headed into its first year in the ACC.

“Will Gardner is getting better. He’s getting his timing down and putting the ball where it needs to be more frequently, but we still have to get better there. He’s a very hard worker, he’s got a great attitude and he’s a natural leader, we just have to get him in the situations that he’s going to see in a game so that it’s not a shock for him,” Petrino said.

And as for being a quarterback without the shadow of Teddy Bridgewater looming in the starting spot, Gardner is ready for his time.

“It’s different, but I enjoy it, I have a great group of support around me, great teammates and they all support me,” Gardner said.

 

Photo by Tricia Stern

Kevin Ware transfers to Georgia State

By Noah Allison

Junior guard Kevin Ware has found his new home and it’s in a familiar place. Ware will be returning to his home in Atlanta, Ga. to play for Ron Hunter’s Georgia State Panthers.

Ware, the six-foot-two guard, only played nine games in the 2014 season before reinjuring his leg against Missouri State.

Ware was granted a medical red-shirt and still has two years of eligibility left to play.

Georgia State is a member of the Sun Belt conference. The Panthers went 25-9 overall with a 17-1 in-conference record. They went on to lose to Clemson in the NIT.

Ware will be joining a number of prominent transfers on Georgia State’s current roster. Most notable is former Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow who along with Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter played as one of the best mid-major back courts.

Along with Harrow Georgia State got considerable contribution from former Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins who led the Panthers in rebounds. USC transfer Curtis Washington was second on the Panthers in rebounds.

Ware is starting anew among many teammates who also took the non-traditional college route.

The Panthers of Georgia State return a full roster of talented players who were able to compete adamantly in their respective conference.

The storybook ending to Ware’s story would have had him remain at Louisville, but nothing can be changed now.

Kevin Ware is now a Panther and will finish his collegiate career at Georgia State. After breaking his leg against Duke in the Elite Eight nobody wanted anything more than to bring Kevin home to Atlanta. Now he is home, and hopefully can get back to the court.

Photo by Michelle Lewis

Annual Red v. White scrimmage held

By Annie Moore

The University of Louisville held its annual Red and White Scrimmage April 11 to showcase the team’s preparation in the spring. The offense, headlined by quarterback Will Gardner, and the defense led by veterans like junior linebacker James Burgess were on display, as were new head coach Bobby Petrino’s new system.

Coach Petrino was happy with what he saw from the team, and admitted there is much room for improvement before the season.

“We have a long way to go, but our coaches have done a great job at teaching our new schemes, and the players have worked really hard at learning them,” Petrino said.  “We’ve had some great competition in practice. The practices have been really physical and guys are really competing. I feel really good about our front seven on defense. Our linebackers are physical and fast and are going to be able to play the way we want them to play. We are a little bit concerned with our depth in the secondary and the inexperience at safety. That’s an area where we have to continue to work hard and get better.”

The Red Team, led by Gardner, routed the White Team, 56-13. Gardner was 32- of 37 for 542 yards and four touchdowns.

“We had good pass protection and guys getting wide open, and when guys are wide open, you can’t miss them. We had a lot of guys open when we called plays for them, so that was a good thing,” Gardner said.

Gardner too admitted that there was much work to be done in the time between now and kickoff in September.

“I’ve got to grind in the playbook, become more confident, hit the weight room hard and just get bigger and stronger.” Gardner said.

 Michael Dyer rushed for 99 yards on 10 carries for the Red, and added 51 yards and a 27-yard touchdown on four carries for the White.

The biggest search now will be for a player to step out as the leader for a team heading into its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“You always worry about leadership, but this team has a terrific work ethic,” Petrino said.  “They grind in the weight room and really get after it at practice. They understand that everything is different, but have been very willing to adapt. We have good leadership and guys who know what it takes to win games, and that has made the transition a lot easier.”

But with regards to the head coach’s overall feeling heading out of the game, he’s confident in his QB and ready to improve in other spots around the ball.

“You couldn’t leave a spring game happier with the way [Gardner] played,” Petrino said. “I was happy with our spring. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but we do have a long, long way to go.”

 

Photo by Austin Lassell

Jeff Gardner profile

By Lilly Trunnell

Senior Outfielder Jeff Gardner doesn’t remember one particular instance where baseball became part of his life. Baseball was easy for him to pick up, came naturally, and Gardner developed a passion for it young.

Of course, it’s easy to throw yourself into a sport with the support from family. Gardner called baseball a “family sport.” Growing up in Louisville he has the benefit of looking into the stands and seeing them all sitting there, cheering him on no matter what.

But Gardner hasn’t needed much cheering through hard times this season. As one of two senior captains he has led the top 10 ranked Cardinals to a 26-8 overall record. Gardner tops the Cardinals in hitting with a collective batting average of .367. His 40 runs batted in are nine more than the second most and he also has three home runs, including the walk off homer in the very first game of the season. Perhaps Gardner has an edge batting from the left, or maybe it’s the sheer passion he has for the game.

“I want to bring glory to Christ in all that I do,” Gardner said.

His faith is deep-rooted and seems to be working for him. Gardner goes beyond baseball. He has been known to say that he lives his life summed up by a quote from Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” He strives to be the kind of person that his teammates can come to with anything, and provide positive support and motivation for the team.

Like most athletes, Gardner can pick out a coach from his past that impacted his ability. Interestingly enough the coach was not baseball. Mike Doig was Gardner’s high school basketball coach. Gardner credits him with making him the athlete he is today. Even though he says he “wasn’t very good” at basketball and knew baseball was where he was really going, Coach Doig infused in Gardner the desire to strive for excellence always.

Professionally, Ted Williams is an icon for Gardner, “Because he was the last guy to hit .400,” he says with a hint of admiration in his voice. Ever since he was a kid, Williams was the favorite player of young Gardner. The baseball great’s legacy and the motivation of his coach have led Gardner to the 2011 All-Big East Team, 2012 second Team All-Big East, a 2013 Team Captainship, being named Big East Player of the Week twice last season, 2013 First Team All-Big East, 2013 Louisville Regional All-Tournament Team, and a 2014 Team Captainship. Despite all these accolades, Gardner still sees a team achievement as his biggest success. He picks out the highlight of his career so far as the 2013 trip to Omaha for the College World Series.

“I would trade away all the other awards if I could just keep that,” Gardner said.

After losing seven classmates to the draft last season, Gardner had to take on a new role of responsibility this year.

“The seniors have seen it all,” he says. “Losing those guys impacted the chemistry at first, but we bond well now.” His sights are set forward. In his last season as a Cardinal, Gardner has one thing in mind. “Going back (to Omaha) would mean the world to me.” Beyond that, he hopes to continue his career by going professional after his graduation from U of L with a Justice Administration degree.

Jeff Gardner is having a season to watch and is leading the team both statistically and in leadership. He is certainly a player to watch in the remaining games this season and potential postseason play.

“I try to go out every day and praise Jesus in all that I do, and make a few friends along the way.”