January 8, 2018

What to look for in U of L athletics for the 2018 spring semester

By Dalton Ray —

The new year is here and it’s time to look to the adventures the Louisville athletic program will go on in the coming months.

On the hardwood

The women’s basketball team opened the season with 18 straight wins, bringing them to No. 3 in the nation. The team is rolling, but the competition is heating up.

Make no mistake, the women’s team hasn’t played a soft schedule — four wins over ranked opponents — but ACC play kicks in.

In what could be the biggest game in women’s college basketball to this point, the Cardinals host No. 2 Notre Dame on Jan. 11. Then a month later, Feb. 12, U of L travels to top-ranked Connecticut.

The women’s depth is what makes them such an imposing threat. If the Cardinals keep it up, they are likely looking at a one-seed in the NCAA tournament.

On the men’s side, the Cardinals are still searching for their identity.

Louisville’s four losses are against ranked opponents. Against Seton Hall and Purdue, Louisville had the lead but lost it late. Against Kentucky, the men were simply embarrassed in the 29-point loss.

The biggest item to keep an eye on for the men’s team is if junior Ray Spalding can keep up his aggressive play. In the last four games, Spalding is averaging 14.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 53 percent from the field.

Spalding is a difference maker for the men’s team.

On the diamond

Baseball starts their season on Feb. 16 in Charleston, South Carolina in the Charleston Crab House Challenge.

The Cardinals will start their season ranked towards the lower half of the top 25, currently No. 21 by Collegiate Baseball.

Coach Dan McDonnell restocks his deck after losing potentially the greatest college baseball player of all time, Brendan McKay. Along with McKay, baseball lost six other players in the 2017 MLB Draft.

Of the juniors taken were Lincoln Henzman (NCBWA Stopper of the Year), Devin Hairston (ACC Defensive Player of the Year), Drew Ellis (CBN First Team All-American) and Kade McClure (All ACC Third Team).

McDonnell has had 14 players taken in the last two MLB Drafts. Baseball will have a full crew of fresh faces after reaching the College World Series in 2017.

Softball must replace one of the best players they’ve had since 2010 in Maryssa Becker. Coach Sandy Pearsall has six seniors on the 2018 team.

The Cardinals will rely heavily on junior Megan Hensley this season. Injuries plagued the Kentucky native last season, leading to a drop of production on the mound and at the plate.

Pearsall introduces eight freshmen, four being from Indiana and one from Louisville’s Ballard High School. Softball starts their season on Feb. 9 in Orlando, Florida, participating in the UCF Softball Invitational.

Bringing the racket

Men’s tennis went from 15-17 in 2015 to 22-10 in 2016. A lot of credit goes to coach Rex Ecarma for bringing in immediate impact players such as transfers Nicolas Rouanet and Ciro Lampasses and freshman Parker Wynn.

The 2018 season appears to have  even more promise after losing just one senior from the 2017 team.

Led by a strong junior class and Wynn, expect the men’s team to crack the top 25 this season. Their season starts on Jan. 18 as they host University of Toledo.

The women’s tennis had their first winning season since 2014 with a 15-13 record last year. Plagued by inexperienced players in a brutal conference, coach Mark Beckham finally has his team together.

With four seniors and two juniors, Beckham has his deepest team in four years.

The women won a match in the ACC tournament for the first time last season before falling 4-2 to Wake Forest.

Their season starts on Jan. 20 with a double-header against Wright State and Dayton.

New coach, same results?

Women’s lacrosse will have a new coach for the first time in program history. Former coach Kellie Young, the program’s first and only coach, was fired on Nov. 6 due to on-going issues surrounding players leaving the program.

Coach Scott Teeter is replacing Young, after spending 16 years at Canisius College. When Teeter took over, the program had 11 wins in seven years. By 2005, he was named MAAC Coach of the Year after turning the program into a winning team.

From 2011-17, Canisius won six conference titles under Teeter. He leaves the MAAC as the conference’s all-time winningest coach.

Teeter is a proven winner, taking a bottom-feeder team to consistent NCAA tournament team.

He faces a challenge with a team depleted by transfers. The 2018 team will field 19 players, with 11 being freshmen. How quickly this team learns on the fly in the ACC will be a sight to see.

Puma time

Football’s Lamar Jackson has declared for the 2018 NFL Draft. This means the much awaited time for Jawon “Puma” Pass is here.

A highly-touted recruit, Pass has been sitting behind Jackson for the past two seasons. Redshirting his freshman year, Pass played in garbage time this season.

At 6-foot-4, 220 lbs., Pass completed 23-of-33 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.

The hype around the big-armed quarterback will grow this spring. Get used to hearing about how good he could be for the next nine months.

You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477. 

Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal

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