The Colorado Rockies have begun spring training, away from the cold weather in sunny Scottsdale. Meanwhile, closer to home, the college guys are braving the winter weather and getting their seasons underway with games that already count.
At the University of Northern Colorado, new Head Coach Mike Anderson and his team have their sights firmly set on winning the Summit League and returning the historic Bears program to the NCAA tournament. Between 1952 and 1974, UNC made 10 appearances in the College World Series. Only 17 programs in all the country have been to more CWS than UNC. Anderson – a product of Eaton High School and a former Bears’ player – didn’t go as a player, but he’s been to Omaha as a head coach, guiding Nebraska to the school’s best season ever, winning 57 games in 2005 on their way to a Big 12 championship and a berth in the CWS.
He wants to go back…this time leading his alma mater. It would be especially meaningful in his first season, following the passing of Anderson’s mentor, the legendary Bears head coach Tom Petroff, last August. “Petey” as he was known guided UNC to their last CWS in 1974.
The return path is there. The Bears are now a member of the Summit League in baseball, and winning their league will earn them a spot in the post season. Prognosticators have them finishing sixth in the seven-team league in 2023. Anderson has other ideas…for this year and beyond. He’s recruiting Colorado kids hard. In the past, a lot of local talent got away, including local high school talent that Anderson himself snagged for the Huskers back in the day.
With one eye on the future, this year’s team will begin forging that path back to Omaha. When they begin league play, they’ll be battle tested, that’s for sure.
If Mother Nature decides to be at least a little cooperative, the Bears will open the season on the artificial turf at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs this weekend. Getting outside to practice has been virtually impossible to this point, but being able to get some work in at the new indoor bubble in Windsor at the Future Legends complex is something. After the UCCS three game series (and yes, the weather looks favorable at the moment) things get ramped up for Anderson’s guys.
How’s this sound for an early season, non-league schedule: Starting on Friday, February 24th, the Bears embark on a 15-game road trip that starts with four games in Albuquerque against New Mexico. Then they head to Seattle to face the Washington Huskies four times, then a pair of mid-week games against Nebraska, followed by three games against the University of San Diego…finally concluding with two more against the Pac 12 at Utah. Frequent flyer miles, anyone?
UNC doesn’t try to play a home game for more than a month, with a March 24th home series against league foe South Dakota State. A visit to league favorite Oral Roberts is on the docket for mid-April.
What will matter most to Anderson and the Bears will be the end of season Summit League tournament, being held in Fargo, North Dakota. The winner of that tournament gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Anderson has been there before, but taking UNC there will mean so much more.