ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico baseball team lost a lot of talent from its 2013 Mountain West regular-season championship team, but don't try convincing the conference's coaches they're still not a threat as the Lobos were picked as co-favorites in the MW along with San Diego St. Each team received three first-place votes and 43 points overall.
The league's coaches obviously feel it will be a three-team race this season, as UNLV received the other lone first-place vote and 40 points overall. Fresno St. was next with 25 points, followed by Nevada, Air Force and newcomer San José St. with 19, 14 and 12 points, respectively.
"We still have to play it out so it's all conjecture at this point," UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. "It's going to be a hard season. San Diego St. and UNLV have everyone back and we don't. If you look at the most experienced team in the conference, that's definitely not us. I think our abilities and reputation precedes us. They know the Lobos will be around and near the top at the end."
Given how the Lobos were picked at the top of the standings, it's no surprise they also lead the way with four players on the Preseason All-MW Team. Preseason All-American Josh Walker headlines UNM's selections. Joining him are senior outfielder Chase Harris, junior catcher Alex Real and sophomore shortstop Jared Holley.
"It's definitely an honor and I appreciate the recognition," Harris said, "but I'm not going to read into it too much. All of that stuff will work itself out at the end of the year. Our goal right now is to start this year off right and work towards another Mountain West championship and reaching Omaha."
Walker agreed with his starting right fielder.
"It's always an honor to be mentioned in preseason predictions," the right hander said, "but there's lots of work left to be done. I'm looking forward to a great year with my brothers on the field and am getting really excited to step on the mound in front of our fans again soon."
Holley was surprised at his selection despite coming off a solid freshman season that saw him bat .293 with a .401 on-base percentage and solid defense. He was one of only two sophomores named to the team. Like his teammates, though, he has bigger goals in mind.
"It's an honor to receive recognition for the hard work I've put in," he said, "but it shows how great a program this is. Without my great coaches and our fans to push me, I wouldn't be where I am today. It's exciting and I can't wait to see what this team can accomplish."
UNM returns 15 letter winners from the 2013 squad that dominated the MW regular season. The team won all 10 series en route to a conference-record 25 wins The Lobos so dominated conference play they won the league title with two weeks remaining and finished seven games up on second-place UNLV, which set another conference record. The end result was a fourth straight NCAA regional trip under Birmingham.
The Lobos' quest for a fifth straight NCAA berth begins this Friday, Feb. 14 with a three-game series at the University of San Diego. UNM will then travel to Arizona St. for one game before returning to Albuquerque for its home opener vs. Northern Illinois in the Lobo Invite at 4 p.m. MT on Friday, Feb. 21.
2014 MOUNTAIN WEST COACHES PRESEASON POLL
|Rank||Team (1st Place Votes)||Points|
|1||San Diego St.||43|
|7||San José St.||12|
2014 Preseason All-Mountain West Team
|Alex Real||C||Jr.||New Mexico|
|Seth Kline||1B||Sr.||Air Force|
|Tim Zier||2B||Sr.||San Diego St.|
|Jared Holley||SS||So.||New Mexico|
|Chase Harris||OF||Sr.||New Mexico|
|Greg Allen||OF||Sr.||San Diego St.|
|Josh Walker||SP||Sr.||New Mexico|