Ray Tanner’s South Carolina Gamecocks zipped through the 2011 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament to claim their second consecutive national championship with a series sweep of conference rival Florida in the College World Series (CWS) final. The clinching win set records for the longest postseason win streak (16) and longest CWS win streak (11) and marked the first 10-0 tournament run in men’s baseball history. South Carolina’s unequaled success looked all the more anomalous in a season largely defined by new beginnings. The CWS moved across town from the venerable Rosenblatt Stadium to Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, which in its inaugural year hosted the final chapter of the storybook year for the Cal Golden Bears.
Cal’s Cinderella story is an expedited, fantastic version of the success stories of smaller, nontraditional programs across the sport. A number of emerging coaches that took over losing programs within the last five years have inspired steady progress that is now culminating into credible successes. Johnny Cardenas of Stephen F. Austin, Mark Kingston of Illinois State and Joe Raccuia of Radford all set school records for wins in 2011, while Scott Norwood of Arkansas-Little Rock and Barret Rey of Alcorn State steered their respective programs to their first appearance in the tournament field.
The table below highlights baseball coaches that took over non-powerhouse programs after 2007 and have ushered in significant and consistent success defined by record and RPI. All of the above baseball coaches have also either increased Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores from their predecessor’s tenure or have maintained APRs over 950. Most notably, Florida International’s APR has increased by 104 points since hiring Henry Thomas. Similarly, young head coaches in women’s softball have also produced quick turnarounds at programs with undecorated histories. In just her fifth season as head coach of Jacksonville, Amanda Lehotak led the Dolphins to a 44-16 record and 48 RPI to secure the program’s first NCAA tournament berth, where the team reached the regional finals. Lehotak’s squad has consistently finished at least 23 RPI spots higher than in the previous season since she took over in 2007, and the program’s APR has increased from 929 to 984 with her at the helm. Jake Schumann of Texas A&M Corpus Christi inherited an Islander program that finished the 2007 season with a 12-38 record and 236 RPI. Upping their win total and RPI ranking in each of his four seasons, Schumann’s Islanders finished 2011 at 41-19 with an RPI of 57. The program’s APR has also spiked from 928 to 981 under his tenure.
Young coaches have also swiftly developed sub-.500 lacrosse programs. In the men’s sport, Michael Corrado led a Villanova program, which had no postseason experience and was coming off a 5-10 campaign when he took over in 2006, to its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years after notching an 11-5 record and 11 RPI this past spring. His program has also boasted a 1000 APR the past three seasons. On the women’s side, Jen Adams, the standout attacker and later associate head coach at the University of Maryland, guided Loyola Maryland to its third consecutive winning season in her three years as head coach. The Greyhounds finished the season 17-3 with a 7 RPI, a Big East Conference championship and their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004. Adams’ program has recorded an APR over 980 in all three seasons.