Wellbrock, Grayson, Ford continue to receive postseason honors
The impact of head coach Rayner Noble on the baseball program at his alma mater is easy to see. In the win column, in the NCAA Tournament bids, in the Major League draft and in the classroom, Cougar Baseball has soared with Noble at the helm.
In 14 seasons, Noble has guided the Cougars to three NCAA Super Regional berths, eight NCAA Regional appearances, three Conference USA regular-season titles and three C-USA Tournament championships.
With their third NCAA Super Regional in a four-year span in 2003, Noble's Cougars became only the 10th team nationally to accomplish that feat.
He is the only baseball coach in school history to lead his team to five consecutive NCAA postseason appearances and has accumulated a school-record 499 wins during his outstanding career, including a record-breaking 48 wins in both 2000 and 2002.
Noble joins former legendary men's basketball head coach Guy V. Lewis and current volleyball head coach Bill Walton as the only coaches in the history of the UH Athletics Department to lead their teams to more than 400 victories at UH.
In 2008, the Cougars won their third Conference USA Championship title after defeating Marshall, 3-2, in the Championship game. Houston overcame a loss in the second round of the tournament to take home the title. For their efforts, Bryan Pounds, Jimmy Cesario, Zak Presley and Jared Ray were named to the All-Tournament team. In addition, Pounds was named the Championship's Most Valuable Player, becoming the sixth Cougar to win that conference hardware, and the third C-USA Championship MVP.
Freshmen Blake Kelso and Chase Dempsay also were named to the 2008 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team after guiding the Cougars to a berth in the NCAA College Station Regional title game.
In 2007, the Cougars overcame a rash of injuries to finish among the Top Five leaders of Conference USA. Outfielder Jimmy Cesario and redshirt freshman pitcher Wes Musick were named to the All-Conference USA First Team with Cesario snaring additional honors as C-USA Newcomer of the Year.
Pitcher Aaron Brown was taken in the ninth round of the annual first-year player draft, the 15th Cougar player selected in the Top 10 rounds since 2000.
In 2006, Noble led his Cougar team back to the NCAA postseason after racking up 39 wins during the regular season. Picked to finish fourth in the competitive C-USA race, Noble's Cougar team topped those expectations on the way to a second-place showing in the highly competitive league.
Individually, pitcher/DH Brad Lincoln established himself as one of the most decorated student-athletes in the history of the UH Athletics Department. Lincoln was named the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy and the Brooks Wallace Award, given annually to the nation's top collegiate player, and received National Player of the Year honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings, CSTV.com and RosenblattReport.com.
He became the first player in both UH and C-USA history to be named a baseball national player of the year. Later, he would add another UH and C-USA first to his resume when he was picked with the No. 4 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the annual amateur draft.
Lincoln joined outfielder Matt Weston, catcher Brett Logan, infielder Isa Garcia and pitcher Matt Farrington as professional signees following the end of their collegiate careers. It marked the fifth consecutive season that at least five players signed professional contracts following their UH playing days.
It also was the sixth time in the last seven seasons that at least one Cougar player was taken in the draft's first five rounds.
In 2005, Noble's team struggled at times but managed to come on strong down the stretch to win a pair of games at the C-USA Tournament and eliminate No. 4 seed East Carolina.
Outfielder Travis Tully and Farrington were named to the All-Conference USA First Team. Utility star Kevin Roberts and closer Justin Vaclavik were taken in the first seven rounds of the annual amateur draft.
In 2004, the Cougars finished among the leaders in Conference USA and saw six players sign professional contracts at the end of the season, including pitcher Garrett Mock and catcher Rob Johnson, who were taken in the first five rounds.
In 2003, Noble's Cougars established themselves as a member of the nation's elite programs. Guiding his team through a myriad of injuries, Noble led the Cougars to the NCAA Regional at College Station championship. The Cougars accomplished that feat the hard way, winning back-to-back games against host Texas A&M on the final day of the tournament, including a come-from-behind 7-6 win in 10 innings in the championship game -- a win that will be long remembered in Cougar Baseball history.
With that performance, his team cemented its place in the final rankings of all four national polls, the fourth time in a five-season span that UH finished with a Top 25 ranking.
Five Cougars were drafted in the first seven rounds of the 2003 amateur draft with Ryan Wagner and Brad Sullivan becoming the first first-round selections in school history.
Wagner also earned First-Team All-America honors as the team's closer, the second straight year that a Cougar received that award.
Noble guided the Cougars through an emotional stretch before the year started, when former head coach and volunteer assistant coach Dr. Bragg Stockton passed away less than two weeks before the season began.
After taking over the pitching coach responsibilities, Noble helped lead the Cougar pitching staff to one of the finest seasons in school history. The 2003 Cougar pitchers set a new UH single-season record with 605 strikeouts -- becoming the first staff to ever reach the 600-strikeout milestone in one season -- and became only the second group in school history to throw more strikeouts than innings pitched.
Noble led the Cougars to one of the greatest seasons in UH history during the 2002 campaign. Armed with a young squad consisting mostly of sophomores, Noble led UH to a school-record-tying 48 wins and a berth in the NCAA Super Regional.
His Cougars ran away with the Conference USA regular-season title -- the team's third in a four-year span -- and finished as the runner-up at the league's annual postseason tournament against host East Carolina. With a 25-9 record against nationally-ranked opponents in 2002, the Cougars finished in the Top 10 of all four national polls, including a spot at No. 9 in the final National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll.
After finishing the C-USA regular season and tournament, Noble guided the Cougars out west, where his team swept through the NCAA Regional at Mesa (Ariz.) on the way to claiming UH's second NCAA Regional championship.
Individually, Sullivan, Jesse Crain and Chris Snyder were honored as All-Americans, with Crain and Snyder being drafted in the second round of the amateur draft. Sullivan also became the first player in Conference USA history to be honored as a consensus All-American.
For his team's impressive efforts, Noble was recognized as the South Central Region Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association. It was the third Coach of the Year honor in his career.
He also became the third-winningest coach in UH history with the Cougars' 5-4 win at Baylor on May 14, 2002. That win moved him past Stockton, the man who preceded him as the Cougar skipper.
In 2001, a young Cougar squad -- consisting of seven true freshmen in the lineup at one point -- struggled at times. Nevertheless, the Cougars were impressive enough to advance to their third consecutive NCAA Regional and finished second in Conference USA with a 20-7 record.
Noble's sixth season with the Cougars in 2000 was simply off the charts. In orchestrating all the components necessary for a successful season, the program had its best season in more than 30 years that culminated with the team coming within one run of reaching the College World Series. Along the way, UH won the Conference USA regular-season and tournament championships, hosted an NCAA Regional and Super Regional and earned national respect as one of the country's elite programs.
As the architect of Houston baseball's sensational accomplishments, Noble's coaching peers in the conference voted him as the league's 2000 Coach of the Year, the second straight season that he received the award.
In 1999, Noble guided his Cougars to the C-USA championship, the first regular season conference championship in 39 years. In addition, he and his team hosted the program's first NCAA Regional on campus at Cougar Field as the No. 1 seed.
Despite leading a young team of 10 freshmen and 10 sophomores, the Cougars finished second in the 1998 conference race with a 21-6 league record.
After joining Conference USA in time for the 1997 season, Noble and his Cougar team wasted little time in making their marks felt within the league. The Cougars ended the year with a 40-23 record and captured the C-USA Tournament championship during their inaugural season in the league. For their efforts, the team was rewarded with a berth to the NCAA South I Regional.
In 1996, Noble led his team against 20 ranked teams, including a win at No. 4 Texas Tech to snap the Red Raiders' 28-game home winning streak.
During his first season as a collegiate head coach, the Cougars compiled 26 victories, including a win over No. 1 ranked LSU.
Houston knew it had a winner in Rayner Noble the day it hired him in May 1994. The subsequent wins over nationally-ranked teams, the conference regular-season and tournament titles, NCAA Regional bids and national ranking simply drive the point home.
After taking over a program that had been at the bottom of the old Southwest Conference for three consecutive years prior to his arrival, Noble started the turnaround process, rebuilding the program from the ground up.
He installed his hustling style of play on offense and defense, and his teams have quickly ranked among the best in school history. He worked on recruiting -- signing his type of student-athlete by selling with personal conviction the academic and athletic success of the university from which he earned two degrees.
As a result, the Noble-led Houston program has evolved. It started with a modest 26 wins in his rookie year of 1995 and has grown into four 40-win seasons, including school records of 48 wins in 2000 and 2002.
His enthusiasm and work ethic helped make him successful as a college and professional player and then as an assistant coach. That fact was not lost on UH athletics officials when they began searching for a head coach. The university's search went nationwide, but it really didn't need to go any further than the school's record book, which Noble personally rewrote from 1980-83. Noble is no stranger to success; it has followed him everywhere he's been.
Though originally from California, he began his career at Spring Woods High School in Houston. As the top hitter and ace of the Spring Woods staff that included future major leaguer Roger Clemens, the Tigers advanced to the semifinals of the state playoffs.
When Noble joined the University of Houston as a freshman in 1980 history soon repeated itself. With the Cougars he would eventually become a teammate of Doug Drabek, but again it was Noble who was in the spotlight. In a stellar 1983 season, Noble won 12 games and posted a 1.32 ERA to become the first UH pitcher to be named All-America. He was also the first Cougar to earn SWC Player of the Year honors.
After his stellar senior season in 1983, the lefthander was selected in the fifth round of the major league draft by the Houston Astros. Noble was drafted ahead of future big leaguers like Drabek, John Smiley, Kevin Seitzer, Terry Steinbach, Mike Aldrete and Tom Pagnozzi.
Noble advanced all the way to the Triple-A level in the Astros' organization but nagging arm injuries prompted him to reassess the direction his career was taking. In 1987, with a wife and growing family, he decided to stop playing professional baseball.
One door closed, but another door opened. In the fall of 1987 he returned to UH as an assistant coach under Stockton. By 1990, with Noble coaching the pitchers and playing a major role in recruiting, the Cougars recorded one of the most successful seasons in years, finishing third at the NCAA South Regional in Baton Rouge, La.
Along the way he helped refine the skills of UH pitchers Woody Williams and Vaughn Eshelman, both of whom played at the Major League level in the 1990s.
Noble then went to work across town at Rice University for three years under head coach Wayne Graham. While there, he helped rebuild the Owls' program and lay the foundation for their recent success. On May 26, 1994, his career came full circle when he was named the Cougars' seventh head coach since 1947.
It didn't take long for the first Noble-coached UH team to give an indication of what to expect from the program. While playing at the Winn-Dixie Showdown Tournament in New Orleans, the Cougars upset No. 1 ranked LSU 4-3. To prove it wasn't a fluke, the team beat No. 8 ranked and eventual SWC champion Texas Tech later in the year.
Noble and his wife Lisa have two daughters, Kelsey and Hannah, a graduate of the University of Houston. The family lives in Houston.