Ready to Ride

Frustration is a difficult emotion to define, much more so than confusion or anger, and perhaps even more so than happiness. While far from unsuccessful according to any conceivable metric, Louisville’s 2015-16 athletic season was wrought with frustration…even if that’s hard for Cardinal fans to explain to outsiders who saw little else but the national headlines, overall records and national rankings.

First, there was football, where a mix of extreme youth on the offensive side of the ball and a front-loaded schedule resulted in a UofL team starting a season 0-3 for the first time since 1984. The campaign ultimately gave fans the most positive ending of all of Louisville’s spotlight sports, with true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson playing hero in the Cards’ fifth straight win over Kentucky, and their Music City Bowl triumph over Texas A&M.

The women’s basketball team took after their gridiron brethren by turning a top 10 preseason ranking into a 3-5 start that included a lopsided loss at rival Kentucky. After that, the Cards got healthy and Jeff Walz’s top-rated recruiting class came of age, carrying the team to 15 straight wins and a return to a lofty spot in the national rankings. The stage seemed to be set for a run to the Final Four, but a shocking home loss at the KFC Yum! Center to sixth-seeded DePaul ruined all that and left a negative taste in the mouths of both the team and fans.

On the men’s side, Rick Pitino’s 2015-16 team was dealing with an extreme amount of adversity before they were even able to step on the court for the first time. Led by graduate transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, the group handled the situation with more grace than anyone could have expected, and the city quickly fell in love with them. That love affair continued into the season itself, where the Cards exceeded everyone’s preseason expectations by winning 13 of their first 15 games to become a player on the national scene.

On the first day of February, Lee, Lewis and company proved to the college hoops world that they were capable of winning the big one when they took down top-ranked North Carolina, 71-65. Four days later, the shocking and heartbreaking announcement that UofL would be self-imposing a postseason ban that would keep the team from playing in the NCAA tournament was made.

Spring brought with it arguably the best baseball team this city has ever seen, a group that produced three first round draft picks and a No. 2 overall seed for the NCAA tournament, the best in program history. It also brought super regional heartbreak at Jim Patterson Stadium for a second straight season.

The summer months without college sports – or “the dead period” as it’s commonly referred to in Louisville – are always the longest and most tedious of the calendar year. Due to the lack of March Madness and the underwhelming starts or finishes by the other major Cardinal sports, the days and months leading up to the 2016-17 season have felt more prolonged and monotonous than ever before.

But now all that’s over. The Louisville football team kicking off its 2016 season Thursday night against overmatched Charlotte ushers in a Cardinal athletic season with as much promise as any before it.

Bobby Petrino finally has the pieces in place to make a real run at the top dogs in the ACC, both basketball teams are legitimate national title contenders, and the baseball team is one of the many other UofL squads that will begin its season with a lofty national ranking.

Once toe meets leather on September 1, things are going to start happening pretty quickly. There will be tremendous performances and disappointing performances. Some players will overachieve and others will underachieve. If we’re lucky, there will be cause for massive celebrations on more than one occasion.

Regardless of the particulars, these next seven months are going to give us memories equipped with the highest form of staying power. Enjoy the ride. VT