Entering his fourth season as UT Arlington head baseball coach, Darin Thomas has never been afraid to challenge his team with a daunting schedule.
This year, Thomas' 11th as a member of the Mavericks staff, is no different. UTA plays five games against preseason top-8 teams including a couple against No. 1 TCU.
In taking the high-risk scheduling approach, Thomas has found the reward side several times. Through three seasons, Thomas has led the Mavericks to nine wins over nationally-ranked opponents, including Minnesota, Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. In conference play, Thomas' teams have also taken down ranked opponents Texas State and Southeastern Louisiana. The sweep over Minnesota in 2009 was the program's first sweep over a ranked opponent in 25 years. Thomas has defeated every Big 12 opponent the Mavericks have faced at least once.
Thomas is 85-88 in three seasons as head coach after leading the Mavericks to back-to-back 29-plus-win seasons. UTA also reached the final day of the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time since 2006, falling in the semifinals. Thomas also continued his unparalleled success with his student-athletes in the classroom while tallying a 3.0 team GPA in both semesters in 2009-2010. The UTA baseball program now has finished with a cumulative 3.0 team GPA in six of seven semesters since Thomas became head coach during the 2007-2008 school year.
In his seventh year as UT Arlington pitching coach, Jay Sirianni faces the challenge of rebuilding the Mavericks' entire weekend starting rotation. That challenge is growing customary for Sirianni, who replaced two of three starters a year ago.
It worked out well for Sirianni in 2010. UTA pitchers set program records with 464 strikeouts, led by Jason Mitchell who broke records in single-game strikeout records (18 against Missouri State) and single-season strikeouts (113) . It marked the second consecutive year that Sirianni's pitching staff broke the school's strikeout record.
The three weekend pitchers - Rett Varner, Mitchell and Logan Bawcom - were all selected in the first 17 rounds of the Major League Baseball draft. They combined to go 20-15 with eight complete games and 206.1 innings pitched. Bawcom also had five saves.
Sirianni was promoted to recruiting coordinator in November 2007, when UTA named Darin Thomas its head coach.
K.J. Hendricks enters his fourth season with the Mavericks in 2011, his second as an assistant coach. Hendricks spent the two previous seasons on the UT Arlington staff as a volunteer assistant (2009) and team chaplain (2008). Hendricks serves as the team's hitting and defensive coach.
It took no time to measure Hendricks' impact.
In his first year as the UTA hitting coach, Hendricks helped Michael Choice win the Southland Conference batting title with a .383 average. Choice also belted 16 home runs and led the nation with 76 walks and finished second in the nation with a .568 on-base percentage. In doing so, Choice earned the Southland Conference Hitter of the Year and Player of the Year awards in addition to being named First-Team All-SLC. Choice also made several All-America teams before the Oakland Athletics made him the 10th overall selection in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft.
Choice wasn't alone in finding prosperity in the Mavericks' batting order last season.
Troy Conkle begins his second stint with UT Arlington, this time as the team's volunteer assistant coach. Previously, Conkle coached under Mavericks legend Clay Gould for eight seasons off and on from 1995-2003.
Conkle starts his third decade with UTA and was a member of the Mavericks staff that coached the team to the Southland Conference championship in 2001. That team also won the only NCAA Regional Tournament game in program history when the Mavs topped Houston in the Rice Regional.
Even before coaching UT Arlington, the Southland Conference was hardly new terrain for Conkle, a First-Team All-SLC performer in 1992 and '93 as Northwestern State's shortstop. Conkle's teammates thought enough of him to make him a two-year captain. He also anchored a Northwestern State defense that led the league in defense in 1992.
Conkle's pedigree began at Northwestern State, where he played for former Alabama head coach Jim Wells as well as current Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard and current Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. Conkle graduated from NSU in 1994 with a degree in broadcast journalism.