For two coaches, Omaha is a return trip

June, 12, 2009
OMAHA, Neb. -- The text messages started to flow in late last weekend, just after Dave Van Horn's Arkansas Razorbacks made the College World Series. Here's the odd thing -- dozens of the congratulations came from a Nebraska area code.

It's been seven years since Van Horn made Cornhuskers hearts flutter, taking Nebraska to the College World Series, then broke them when he left for the Razorbacks. Maybe time has soothed over hurt feelings. Van Horn received a warm reception when his Razorbacks arrived in Omaha this week.

"In five years, we gained some friends and some followers," Van Horn said.

"Hey, we'll take any support we can get out here."

The state hasn't had much to cheer about on the baseball front lately. The Cornhuskers, under coach Mike Anderson, went 25-28-1 and failed to qualify for the Big 12 tournament for the first time in 11 years. Van Horn is the coach who started that expectation of playing deep into June. He went 214-92 at Nebraska, and led the school to its first NCAA tournament berth in 18 years.

He's had similar success at Arkansas, but one thing has stymied Van Horn. He's never won a game at the College World Series, going 0-6 in three appearances.

The locals will try to cheer him on Saturday, when the Razorbacks play second-seeded Cal State Fullerton (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET). It's a homecoming for one-fourth of the CWS field, as Virginia coach Brian O'Connor, who grew up just across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes a first-ever appearance with the Cavaliers. O'Connor spent part of his boyhood at Rosenblatt Stadium, and played for Creighton in its 1991 trip to the CWS.

O'Connor is featured in a bronze statue outside the stadium. It's the first thing most teams see when their buses roll into Rosenblatt.

"For me, it's very, very special to be back here," O'Connor said. "I told our entire administration that this is the greatest sporting event there is out there."

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine. She previously wrote for The Kansas City Star and The Omaha World-Herald.



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