Volleyball coach: 'I will miss Hawaii'

TULSA, Okla. -- Starting a season in a different conference is nothing new for Tom McIntosh, but on Friday he was looking forward to the challenges the latest change could bring to the most successful squad on the Tulsa campus this past year.

McIntosh's men's soccer team and the 16 other sports squads at Tulsa officially became part of a rejiggered 12-member Conference USA on Friday. Only the school's women's rowing team, which will remain independent, is not joining the conference.

McIntosh, whose team advanced to the final eight in the 2004 NCAA tournament to become the most successful Golden Hurricane program last season, said the move will bring a step up in competition.

"It will be a boost," said McIntosh, who is entering his 11th season as head coach.
"They have got eight legitimate tournament teams."

McIntosh said tougher competition is what his squad needs. Facing soccer powers during the regular season didn't help the team's record last season, but it readied players for what they would face in the postseason, he said.

"We want to be one of those regular Top 10 teams," McIntosh said. "Facing better competition will help."

Central Florida, Marshall, Rice, Southern Methodist and Texas-El Paso entered the Dallas-based league along with Tulsa, joining East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, Tulane and Alabama-Birmingham. Seven teams -- including Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette -- left for other conferences.

Volleyball coach Matt Sonnichsen -- along with several other Tulsa officials -- pointed out that geography is also a factor in the switch, as most of the Golden Hurricane's conference foes will now be in the south or southeast instead of the west.

"I will not miss traveling to Fresno, Boise or San Jose," Sonnichsen said. "I will miss Hawaii. Not because it's paradise, but because we were playing in front of 8,000 fans."

The volleyball squad will be the first Tulsa team to meet a conference foe in the new Conference USA when it faces SMU on Sept. 13 in Dallas. Sonnichsen said Conference USA should be more compatible for the Golden Hurricane.

"We are going to have the strongest team we have ever had," Sonnichsen said. "Instead of being on the outside looking in in the WAC, we will have a strong possibility of getting into the NCAA tournament."

New men's basketball coach Doug Wojcik said games in central Florida could help recruiting in that state. Playing Memphis and UAB also offer a chance to develop good rivalries, he said.

"It's a great move for the University of Tulsa," Wojcik said.

Unlike many other Tulsa coaches, McIntosh was moving to his third conference since arriving at Tulsa. The university's men's soccer team left the WAC after the 1999 season and returned to the Missouri Valley Conference, where it had been a member from 1991 to 1995, to play closer to home.

Last season, Tulsa lost in the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and then won three games at the NCAA tournament before losing 4-0 to eventual champion Indiana in the quarterfinals.

The soccer team's first conference game this fall is against Memphis on Sept. 30. McIntosh said he looked forward to what was coming.

"When you are building a program, you want to keep taking the next step," McIntosh said. "Hopefully we can go further than last year."