"He was very intense," Van Horn said Thursday at the NCAA's first media briefing for the College World Series. "I saw that in the dugout and at practice. We spent a lot of time together sitting on the bus rides, in the hotels. We got a chance to find out how we do things.
"I can tell you he throws a pretty good batting practice and he can get pretty intense. Sitting in the dugout in the games here (at TD Ameritrade Park) last summer, a couple of times he was really getting after the umpire. I had to remind him that we were playing Japan and to leave the umpires alone."
Van Horn said he knew from conversations with Stricklin that the Golden Flashes would be good this season.
"I knew was aware that he had a good club," Van Horn said. "I think everyone knew that around the country and I have heard several times someone say, 'That's one team that you don't want to play. I do know they have a chip on their shoulders and they are good.
"The only thing I will say that really helps you with the matchup and the time we spent together, is that I know his intensity and know how much he wants to win."
Stricklin said it was a case of "mutual respect" during their time together. He backed off that initial statement, since he was speaking first.
"I should say that it was definitely respect from my side," he laughed. "Dave and I did get to see how we did things. There was intensity every day. It was a lot of fun."
Both coaches said they didn't see that time together as a negative with the matchup at the CWS.
"I don't think it's an advantage for either one of us and there are no negatives," Stricklin said. "I don't think it helps either way. From my perspective, there just is a lot of respect for the way they do things (at Arkansas)."
There was more talk about the Florida-South Carolina match-up at the 11 a.m. media briefing. Carolina's Ray Tanner and Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan joined Van Horn and Stricklin at the forum. So the strength of the SEC was brought up several times. Tanner and O'Sullivan were asked about the strength of the Arkansas team.
"The first thing that comes to mind -- and we played them in Fayetteville this year -- was that you have a hard time getting on the board against them," Tanner said, "because they pitch really good. They can shut you down. You are just not going to smack it around on them."
O'Sullivan said, "They can pitch. They throw those sinkers and then they battle you at the plate. They are aggressive early in the count. The other thing you know, Dave does such a good job of utilizing his bench. You better have a lefty ready in the bullpen because he's going to make changes. They have pitching that is as good as anyone in the country."
Van Horn was flattered to be the subject of a front-page feature in Thursday's Omaha World Herald. He coached Nebraska to the CWS twice during a five-year stint with the Cornhuskers.
He's now been to the CWS three times in 10 seasons at Arkansas. He said old friends from Nebraska flooded his cell phone with congratulatory calls and texts after the Hogs beat Baylor in the Super Regional on Monday.
"I was surprised to open up the paper and see my picture there," Van Horn said. "I guess that they are just going to go through the bracket and profile different teams. I will say that the picture (from his days at Nebraska with the CWS logo in the background) is one of my favorites. I like it. I have that one up in my home.
"I have a lot of great memories from those five years at Nebraska. Those are some of my favorite times from being on a baseball field. Coming back here, I just want us to play well. I want to try to win a national championship."
Van Horn has special memories of the old park in Omaha, the famed Rosenblatt Stadium. It's located about 10 miles south of downtown where the new facility is located. Van Horn and three Razorbacks -- DJ Baxendale, Matt Reynolds and Dominic Ficociello -- were with Team USA for the conclusion of the summer tour at the new park last summer.
"I think that helps our team, gives them a calming effect because they know those guys played here," Van Horn said. "I still wanted the other guys to see it as soon as we got here yesterday. We couldn't get into the park, but we did a lap outside. I think that was a little for me, too. I think it helped all of us calm down a bit.
"Our guys knew a lot about it already. The three guys that had been here had talked to them a lot about it."
Rosenblatt will be torn down later this summer. It'll become a parking lot.
"I know the place is open if you want to go by," Van Horn said. "We are going to talk about going by there with the team -- for anyone who wants to go. I won't make anyone go, but I want to go see it one more time."
Van Horn likes the setup at the new park. It's surrounded by upscale hotels, enough to house all of the teams.
"It's a big park and it sits like our park," he said. "The wind will be blowing in from right to make it even bigger. It's going to be in from right and across the next couple of days.
"I like that it's around all of the hotels. There are places to eat and the players can just walk over here."
With the wind blowing in, there likely won't be a lot of home runs. Van Horn didn't seem to mind. His team hasn't hit one in NCAA play this season. Their last round trippers were in a band box at Tennessee to end the regular season. He knows it'll be back to the grind this weekend when the Hogs hit the field.
"I know it's going to be pure baseball," Van Horn. "I don't know when we hit our last home run. I don't know that we will hit any home runs here.
"It's just been a lot of one-run games. I've had a lot of my grey hair fall out, but I don't care as long as we keep winning."
Van Horn said there were times in the "past five or six weeks that weren't real great." But that some of the hard times helped the team "bond together" as a team. It's been one pitch and one day at a time.
Van Horn, Stricklin, O'Sullivan and Tanner said that's just the way the game has to be played now. The NCAA's move to deaden the bats two years ago made it that kind of a game.
"It started last season and we kinda figured it out in the fall of 2011 (when the new bats arrived for practice)," Van Horn said. "You had to work more on bunts and fielding bunts with your pitching and defense. You had to do a lot more work on your defense, hitting the cutoff man. You had to keep runners from advancing.
"We played 33 or 34 one-run games last year and maybe six or seven extra inning games in SEC play this year. The little things bite you. You lose by one run and we've lost our share, you go back to the hotel and think about the cases where something small didn't get done. It's not about slapping the ball into the gaps like it used to be."
Tanner said, "You have to manage the game. Awareness is heightened. You look for opportunities to hit and run. You do think about that run you didn't get when it's over. Across the board, it is heightened awareness."
O'Sullivan said there are more meetings about defensive alignment.
"You probably don't play your outfield as deep," he said. "The fundamentals are more important. If you get a runner to third and don't get him in, that run is probably going to come back to haunt you."
Stricklin said, "It's defense and pitching. That's the way we play. I think it's the way you have to play now."
Van Horn said, "You look at the eight teams here, they are all alike. They might hit a few home runs, but what they all can do is play defense and they have very good team ERAs."
Everyone took turns praising Tanner and the Gamecocks, the two-time defending NCAA champs.
"That's nearly impossible," Stricklin said. "Ray has built the tradition there. South Carolina has become a destination for recruits. If you meet South Carolina on the recruiting trail, it's going to be difficult."
Van Horn said, "Getting here is hard enough, to win back-to-back -- well, a few years ago when Oregon State did it, I thought it was just amazing. I never thought that would happen and then South Carolina did it, too."
Van Horn winked at Tanner and reminded him of a conversation two years ago at the SEC tournament.
"Ray, do you remember that?" Van Horn said. "I think it was something about how things weren't going great (at South Carolina) and the next thing you know, they had won the national title and Ray was all smiles.
"I think what I notice is that all of the South Carolina teams look the same. They field it at about .980 and they do everything right. When I go to a coaching convention and there is a speaker from South Carolina, I'm there and I'm taking notes."
O'Sullivan's Gators lost to the Gamecocks in the title game last year.
"Everyone has their bumps in the SEC and it's tough to get here," he said. "But Ray always seems to have his team playing its best at the end of the year. It hit me what he had done when I was on the plane flying home after last year."
Dave Van Horn watches batting practice at TD Ameritrade Park on Thursday afternoon.
Arkansas works in the batting cage.
Photos by Clay Henry