By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
On the surface, one might not think that Dave Van Horn and Scott Stricklin have much in common. One is leading an accomplished Arkansas program into its seventh all-time College World Series appearance, while another is directing his upstart Kent State squad into its first-ever appearance on college baseball’s biggest stage.
Early in the season, Arkansas was favored to make a push for the College World Series. Conversely, Kent State, having lost four players to Major League Baseball, was not considered by many to be a player in the national picture.
But there are quite a few similarities between the two head coaches, who will square off at 5 p.m. ET Saturday from TD Ameritrade Park. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Each is coaching at his alma mater, where each met their wives, and the two got to know one another quite well just last summer.
Van Horn, the former head coach at Nebraska, is a 1988 Arkansas graduate and played one season for the Razorbacks after starring as an All-American at McLennan (Texas) Community College. At Arkansas, he earned All-Southwest Conference honors and was named the SWC Newcomer of the Year before being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 10th round of the 1982 Major League Baseball draft. He started his coaching career with the Razorbacks, where he spent four seasons and assisted Arkansas to a pair of College World Series appearances.
“It’s always special when you’re coaching where you play,” Van Horn said at Thursday’s pre-tournament press conference. “You know, my wife went to the University of Arkansas. I could go on and on. I had a lot of friends in the area. It was awfully special when I was in Nebraska, and you get to bring the school you played for back and have a chance to play at this level for a national championship. Probably the only thing better is winning it all. That’s something we’re hoping we can accomplish this year and in the future.”
Stricklin is a 1995 Kent State graduate, lettering three seasons as a catcher and earning All-Mid-American Conference honors in 1992 and 1993. During that time, he worked with pitching staffs that ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in ERA. Stricklin has served assistant coaching stints at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
“I met my wife at Kent State and we’re very proud alumni,” Stricklin said. “To be the head coach at my alma mater is very special. Our stories are very similar. We’re back at the place where we learned how to become a man. It’s great to be a head coach to pass that along to our players.”
Van Horn and Stricklin both served as assistant coaches last summer with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, under the direction of Tim Jamieson, head coach at Missouri. The Collegiate National Team posted an 11-2-1 record and beat Team Japan in a best-of-five series to conclude the summer.
“It was just a great experience for me as a young coach to learn how things are supposed to be done on a daily basis and to learn the intensity that Coach Van Horn brings every day,” Stricklin said. “We got a chance to spend a lot of time together on the bus, in the hotel and we got to meet each other’s families. I just love being around him; he’s a great guy, a great coach.”
Van Horn echoed Stricklin’s sentiments, saying he respects the job Stricklin has done at Kent State.
“I remember before the selection show, I was talking to the coaches at the tournament and said that one thing you don’t want to face in a regional is Kent State because they’re up there. They play hard and with a lot of respect for Scott. I know how intense he is and how much he wants to win.”
And though the two men have formed a close bond, when the first pitch is thrown on Saturday, leading their respective teams to a victory will be the only thing on the minds of the two head coaches.
“I don’t think there’s an advantage either way,” Stricklin said. “We both want to win and we’ll do anything we can to help our team win.”