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June 18, 2021

Brian O'Connor

Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Virginia Cavaliers

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Virginia head baseball coach Brian O'Connor. Coach, a brief statement about making it back to Omaha.

COACH O'CONNOR: I'm thrilled to bring this team back to Omaha for the College World Series. As you all know, the last time we were in Omaha, we were fortunate enough to play the last game and win it in 2015. Just really, really excited for these guys in this uniform to be back here. Many of the players that wear our uniform committed to us within a year or two after us winning the national championship. So they all came to the University of Virginia with belief and dreams that this was a reality, is to get to play in Omaha. And now that has come to fruition for them.

So I'm excited for the players. Our staff has had the opportunity to coach games in this World Series, but it's these young men's first opportunity. I'm elated for them and looking forward to Sunday and getting a chance to compete.

Q. I was curious, from your perspective, having been to Omaha a bunch as a coach and a player, how much of finding success, especially in the early games, comes down to maybe shaking off the nerves and settling in just to the scene and atmosphere of Omaha?

COACH O'CONNOR: I think there's something to your question, for sure, that this is a different environment. Everybody talks about it. You play all year long.

But this is a different situation. You get off the bus today on practice day and there's kids that want to get their picture taken with the players. And obviously the media attention, the vastness of the ballpark and the amount of people and things like that. It's different.

But also, too, reality sets in that this is the final step. You're in the final eight for a chance to win a national championship.

So we've talked to our guys already about what they can expect to Omaha, how they're feeling right now. We'll continue to do that as the days push on. And I believe by the time Sunday and 1:00 hits, our guys will be relaxed and excited to play in this World Series.

That said, I'll tell you, this team, we were a 3 seed in the Regional. There wasn't many people that really believed, probably other than the men in our dugout, that this could happen. So they should go out there loose, excited and with nothing to lose. And look forward to seeing that.

Q. You are a very serious coach. And you've got to be. But I'm wondering if you could just take a moment to talk about this statue. I know you're uncomfortable with that. And I'm uncomfortable asking because of that. But which one are you, and what does that mean to you, that that iconic statue has you and those Creighton players?

COACH O'CONNOR: Thanks, I appreciate that. I'm the one to the far right. At least that's what I'm told. So, hey, it's neat. It was at the old ballpark at Rosenblatt that I grew up in. And it obviously was moved over here to TD Ameritrade. There's a long backstory that has been well-documented how this came about.

But I'll tell you, it's an honor. It's a privilege to be able to come back to Omaha. I come back quite often because my parents live here. But as we came in before practice today, I had a chance for my family to come over here and get a picture in front of that iconic statue that everybody thinks of when you think of Omaha and the College World Series.

So it's a privilege that you're somehow attached to this event. It's been well documented how the World Series -- that said, like I started off, it's about these young men. It's their experience.

I've had this experience -- don't get me wrong; I'm excited to be here and looking forward to competing. But it's about them and their opportunity here in Omaha.

Q. Talking to Chris Newell the other day. He seems to have a pretty good perspective on how this season has unfolded for him. How much do you think he's learned from some of the struggles he's encountered throughout this year? And how important has he still been to this team even if he hasn't had the year he kind of expected?

COACH O'CONNOR: I would say this about Chris Newell. We wouldn't be in Omaha without Chris Newell. He's an exceptional center fielder, if not the best, one of the best out there. His ability to cover ground -- that catch he made in the Super Regional, that ball gets out of the ballpark it's a 3-1 game. Dallas Baptist has momentum on their side. So he has continued to step up for this team.

Sure, maybe offensively he hasn't achieved what everybody else thought he should achieve. But this process and development of a baseball player, it's continuous. He has shown growth in areas. And I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him that he's got a chance to roam center field here at TD Ameritrade.

And Chris Newell will get better because he's going to work at it. He's going to stick to it. He's learning. And his best days from an offensive standpoint are coming. And I just, I'm so glad that he's wearing our uniform. And he's a great kid that represents our university the right way and I believe in him.

Q. In your experience, when do you expect that switch to flip from the initial getting to Omaha to now, all right, we have a game to go out there and win on Sunday?

COACH O'CONNOR: Well, today's a big day. Today's a big day because today's practice day. They had a chance to go in the stadium for an hour, to take BP, see live balls off the bat. We did a little drill when we first got out there, where our outfielders were throwing to bases and immediately somebody is not in the right place as a relay man.

And it gives me an opportunity to talk to them which I did about focus, that the game is still played between these white lines. And all the noise, the vastness of the stadium, the magnitude of the event which is like nothing they've experienced before, that is what it is and you've got to manage and handle it. But when we talk about the competition between the white lines the game is the same.

So I need you to be focused and be locked in, your team needs you when we're practicing or when the game is played. And the only way they learn that is to have experience. And they're doing that as the days go on. And I just, I believe in this team because I know where this team has come from. And they won't back down they'll be ready to roll.

Q. When you think back to 2009, how much more prepared do you feel now as a head coach to take your team here than you did that first time, even though you had been to Omaha as a player and assistant coach? Is there anything that can prepare you for it as a head coach until you've done it?

COACH O'CONNOR: There's not much. I was -- I've been blessed, as you know, to be here as a player and to be here as an assistant coach with Notre Dame under Paul Mainieri and have that experience. And then came here in 2009 as a 30-something-year-old head coach that was actually playing his mentor, as you remember. We played LSU in that opening game in 2009. So it's been a learning growth experience for me here as the head coach in the first four times.

One, most importantly, is with my family and my wife's family here, is just managing time, managing expectations away from this team. And I'll tell you, I learned the hard way from the first time in 2009 and got better at that over the last three trips, that and really about the team; how much do you let them just fully enjoy the experience? Which we do. But to rein it in a little bit and concentrate on what -- call that focus that they need to have when it's work time.

And so as we continue to push along, we'll share that with those guys to give them the best possible experience. But it's been learned over experience being here in Omaha.

Q. Do you have a starting pitching plan for Sunday yet?

COACH O'CONNOR: I do. Andrew Abbott will start for us on Sunday at 1:00 against Tennessee. He's obviously been our Friday night guy all year. He's excited for the opportunity to expand on that.

I'm thrilled for all the guys, right? But here's Andrew Abbott, that made this commitment to come back to the University of Virginia after the draft last year, and he's worked so hard to put him in this situation to have this opportunity on Saturday. And I trust and I believe with every fiber in my body that he will go out there and be prepared and be poised to get us off to a great start.

Q. Your team won the Regional and the Super Regional away from Charlottesville, and obviously the ACC tournament, the last weekend series was in Boston. How valuable was that, just getting used to that road routine and finding success consistently away from Charlottesville?

COACH O'CONNOR: I think there's something to it. We've taken different paths to get here in Omaha our previous four trips -- twice through Charlottesville and twice through other venues.

They're all special. But there's something to getting out of your comfort zone and winning it on the road, which we did the last two weeks. I just feel like we've lived out of a suitcase the last four weeks, with Boston, Charlotte and then Columbia for two weeks.

So our guys are used to it. They're trained that way. We've got a consistent routine that what time we get up in the morning, what time breakfast is, what time do we expect them in the rooms. And they've been on that solid routine for about four weeks.

I believe in routines. I think it's really, really important for high-level, elite performance. Our guys are used to it. And hopefully that continues to serve us well.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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