Larry Vucan wanted to change things a bit as Southlake Carroll’s baseball season began preseason workouts.
He did what a lot coaches in any sport do: he borrowed an idea. Vucan called it the Round Rock Challenge. The name identifies the location of the state baseball tournament.
For five days in late January, Carroll players went through a series of Olympic-style events that would test their mettle, teach them to adapt to adversity, force them to rely on each other and ultimately push them to that level of competitiveness where they think they’re never out of anything. They were divided into teams. The winning team that day wore the gold shirt.
Carroll spent the last weekend of the Class 6A season in its desired Central Texas location.
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We immediately jumped at it. We’re competitive guys. We’re all striving to get to first place.
- Carroll catcher Ross Cadena, on head coach Larry Vucan’s Round Rock Challenge
The Dragons (32-11-1) came up short in the semifinals when they lost to eventual state champion Deer Park, 3-2. But this team bonding experience created the vibe Vucan wanted.
“We immediately jumped at it,” Carroll senior catcher Ross Cadena said. “We’re competitive guys. We’re all striving to get to first place.”
Vucan borrowed this idea from TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle. Schlossnagle’s preseason routine is called the Omaha Challenge, after the site of the College World Series. The TCU program has proved effective, as the Horned Frogs are making their fourth consecutive appearance this week.
It’s hard to know if that’s what Carroll and its followers can expect. But a strong team starts with a strong locker room.
Cadena reflected upon an event when brotherhood melded with competitiveness. At Dragon Stadium, players were doing a bear crawl the length of the football field with PVC pipe on their back. When they finished, they saw a teammate lagging behind and struggling.
Cadena said the players huddled around and inspired him to finish. They weren’t going to let him fail.
“It was a turning point for us,” Cadena said.
Fast forward to this past Friday’s state semifinal. Despite a controversial balk call that led to Deer Park’s two-run sixth inning, the Dragons did not yield.
The first two batters in the seventh reached on singles. The tying and go-ahead runs were on base. Kole Ramage then followed with a sinking liner into center field that was caught on a dive. Two batters later, Carroll’s seventh appearance in the state tournament had ended.
Of course, the Dragons missed a great chance to extend a 2-1 lead in the fifth. They loaded the bases with nobody out and couldn’t score.
“Our inability to create separation really hurt,” Vucan said. “We’ve been fortuitous when things have gone our way. They just didn’t that night. If you need all the calls to get to the state tournament and win it, you probably shouldn’t be there.
“Their commitment to excellence and how they go about their daily grind offered a true sense of what it means to work for something bigger than themselves.”
The Dragons lose only three seniors from this team. Several impact players return, led by rising junior left-hander Cutter Sippel. As the summer takes hold, players head their separate ways into select ball or something else.
The offseason will resume in August. The Round Rock Challenge will be waiting.
“This is a learning experience,” Vucan said. “These kids learned to achieve success in five rounds of baseball. But it’s nothing to what they’ll see in college or a job interview or dealing with anything. It’s about the value system and making sure what matters, matters.”