Character builder

OMAHA, Neb. — For a couple of months, a smooth path to the College World Series seemed highly possible.

Ranked in the top 10 throughout most of that span -- and boosted by an impressive 24-6 start — the Arkansas Razorbacks appeared a near-lock to host a regional. It's no secret the Hogs suffered several surprising lumps on their journey to Omaha, mainly during their eight-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.

But the fact Arkansas cherished the opportunity to deal with that misfortune may shock fans. After Saturday's season-ending loss to LSU, its second to the Tigers in the CWS, the Razorbacks reflected on their successful campaign and distinctly recalled their hardships.

"I'll most remember going through all the struggles we went through as a team, going through the battles, the adversity, and not letting that define out season," senior Ben Tschepikow said. "That made it all that much better. It showed so much character about our team.

"When you go through something as hard as we did and come out of it, that's an impressive thing. It's great to achieve something after having to go through struggles."

The Razorbacks impressed Dave Van Horn with their refusal to pack in their season after failing to win in the SEC for 17 consecutive days in May. They arrived back in Fayetteville at about 5 p.m. Saturday, thrilled to have left a positive vibe for the 2009 season.

Van Horn said he'd obviously value the regional and Super Regional titles earned by the Hogs on the road, as well as his first CWS victories. But like Tschepikow, Van Horn cited his team's extreme focus, intense work ethic and well-behaved nature when asked what would most stand out about the 41-24 season.

Of course, he'll also be unable to forget the roller coaster nature of the spring.

"(I'll) probably (think about) just the way we started out, scuffled at the end, and it's like the light came on offensively and it was so fun to watch," Van Horn said. "Also, I'll probably just remember that this team had really good makeup and character. I didn't worry about these guys at all. They came to play every day."

That upbeat attitude paid off this season for the Razorbacks, who will return a strong nucleus of young position players, and should reward them in the future. Even in Omaha, Van Horn and Arkansas hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Todd Butler had their minds on building for future teams.

In fact, Butler skipped Arkansas' workout on Thursday, deciding instead to speak with recruits from the team hotel. Those recruits weren't only impressed with the Razorbacks' wins on the field, Butler said. He mentioned their excitement level regarding the principles exhibited by the Hogs.

"It was great to be a part of battling and turning around a season that a lot people probably thought was ruined," senior Chase Leavitt said. "The main thing I'm going to remember is the character of our guys. We had a lot of good guys on this team, and we deserved to turn our season around.

"Not only were we talented physically, but we were good people, and that's why we got so far."

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