Despite losing All-Americans Chris Dominguez and Justin Marks, McDonnell is openly talking this preseason about taking the Cardinals back to the College World Series and winning a national championship in 2010.
"With the success we've had and the returning talent expectations are very high," McDonnell said Tuesday at UofL's media day press conference. "To lose arguably two of the best players to ever play here and to be picked in all six polls in the Top 20 shows we have a lot of talent on the mound, in the field with the lineup as well as some great leadership."
McDonnell, now in his fourth season, has led Louisville to three straight 40-plus win seasons, including a 47-18 record last season. The Cardinals won an NCAA Regional for the second time under McDonnell last season and were stopped one round short of another College World Series appearance by CS-Fullerton in the Super Regional.
Many national publications believe Louisville not only is the class of the Big East but one of the top teams in the nation this season. The Cardinals are ranked 13th in the Baseball America preseason Top 25, 19th in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's preseason Top 40 and 20th in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll.
"Winning the Big East has to be one of our goals year to year because that solidifies you in the NCAA's," McDonnell said. "This year I think it's fair [to talk about winning a national championship]. This is the most I've talked about winning a national championship because of a combination of success that we've had and the experience and talent we have in the program."
Why is optimism so high at Louisville, especially considering the losses of Marks and Dominguez?
The Cardinals return seven position starters, including All-American third baseman Phil Wunderlich, and most of the pitching staff that led the Cardinals to the NCAA Super Regional last season.
"We expect Phil to have another monster year," McDonnell said.
Wunderlich isn't the only star back for Louisville. The Cardinals also return All-Big East performers Andrew Clark (first baseman), Adam Duvall (second baseman), and Thomas Royse (right-hand pitcher).
Perhaps more importantly, Louisville also has McDonnell back on the bench for a fourth season. In three years under McDonnell, the Cardinals have made three straight NCAA appearances, two NCAA Super Regional appearances and one College World Series appearance. Louisville also ranks sixth nationally with 135 wins the last three years, an average of 45 wins per season.
Louisville will open the season February 19 at 2 EST in the first of three games against Bowling Green at Jim Patterson Stadium.
"They won the MAC Conference last year and they're picked to win it this year," McDonnell said. "They have the preseason Pitcher of the Year and we'll see him on day one. So it will be a great challenge."