OMAHA, Nebraska – Seconds after Dave Van Horn stepped from the podium after Friday’s coaches’ press conference he was surrounded by local Nebraska media. Van Horn left eastern Nebraska 13 years ago to go get his national championship, they remind him. A championship that, of course, has not come yet.

OMAHA, Nebraska – Seconds after Dave Van Horn stepped from the podium after Friday’s coaches’ press conference he was surrounded by local Nebraska media. Van Horn left eastern Nebraska 13 years ago to go get his national championship, they remind him. A championship that, of course, has not come yet.


His fourth try from Fayetteville begins Saturday at 2 p.m. Arkansas plays Virginia in the College World Series opener at TD Ameritrade Park. The Cavaliers finished at national runners-up last season and knocked Arkansas out of the NCAA Tournament in the Charlottesville, Virginia, Regional.


The title didn’t come that year. It didn’t come in 2004 or 2009 or 2012 when the Razorbacks made it to Omaha, either. But at 54-years-old it’s not like the man warmly called DVH – though most definitely not by his players – is running short on time. He’s been to Omaha a total of six times now overall as a head coach.


And in the environs of Baum Stadium, nobody is asking him, "Dave, what’s taking so long?" Not even close. At Arkansas he’s known as the man who has taken the Razorbacks from four College World Series appearances to eight in 13 years.


Polite as can be, Van Horn answered the question.


"For the most part it takes a little time to figure out how to do it," Van Horn said. "I just think there’s so many more schools now that are really getting after it on the baseball side of it. It’s getting tougher to get here."


It was as tough as it’s been for Arkansas in Van Horn’s entire tenure. On paper the Razorbacks don’t have a ton of business being in Omaha. Certainly centerfielder Andrew Benintendi has garnered the honors - Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, No. 7 overall draft pick, Collegiate Baseball Magazine and Baseball America Player of the Year, Dick Howser Trophy winner – but go beyond him and the roster begins to thin.


Saturday’s starter Trey Killian, a junior right-hander, was taken in the ninth round of the draft earlier this week. His stuff was most more consistent last year, in 2014, when he had a 2.30 earned-run average and WHIP under 1.00. In 2015, he gave up more than a hit an inning, forget the walks, and had an ERA of 4.74. He suffered arm tendinitis in the offseason and missed the first part of the regular season, too.


It wasn’t Killian’s ideal season. It wasn’t Dominic Taccolini’s or James Teague’s, either. The pair of starting-slash-long-relief pitchers won’t be available for the College World Series after being hospitalized (Taccolini) and injuring an elbow (Teague). It was Killian and Taccolini last year who battled the Cavaliers in a 3-0 Arkansas loss in the Regional. This time around it’ll be Killian, and if Van Horn gets his druthers, Zach Jackson in a win instead.


At any rate, with injuries mounting an ineffectiveness a specter, the fewer arms Arkansas can use the better.


"It’s a little bit difficult right now trying to figure out who we’re going to pitch game two," Van Horn said.


Virginia is similar tied. Their ace starter, Nathan Kirby, hasn’t pitched in months and won’t start Saturday, either. Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said the No. 40 overall pick is available, but on an unknown timetable. Kirby was the starter opposite Killian last year in winners bracket of Charlottesville where he went eight innings, gave up one hit and struck out nine.


And most of the Razorbacks lineup returns. Of the nine bats in the lineup then, six are back and expected to start again Saturday. Virginia isn’t quite as lucky. Only two return. And in Kirby’s stead is Connor Jones, a sophomore right-hander with a 2.96 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings.


"This team is certainly different than last year’s ball club. We don’t probably have as much depth this year as we had on last year’s ball club," O’Connor said. "Last year’s club from an offensive standpoint could stand at the plate and just swing more. This ball club, maybe could manufacture runs more than last year’s team."


Like Arkansas the Cavaliers had to overcome some doldrums to make it to the College World Series. Even as late as the regular season’s final weekend O’Connor wasn’t sure his bunch could even make the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, nevermind the final eight in the country.


How close was it? Virginia won five of its last six in the ACC to finish 15-15 in-conference and make the tournament play-in game. The Cavaliers lost the next three in tournament pool play but haven’t been beaten since in sweeping the Los Angeles Regional and knocking out the No. 1 national seed, UCLA, and beating Maryland twice to qualify for Omaha.


The Razorbacks were 15-15 in March, but didn’t lose another SEC after their first two and beat Missouri State two out of three times in the Fayetteville Super Regional to make the trip north. Each unlikely step since that .500 record has drawn more and more emotion. There’s only way, Killian said, to exceed the one that’s come before.


"The feeling of going to the College World Series after winning that Super Regional, especially at home, that’s a pretty unreal feeling. I don’t know if can be matched or topped unless we come out here and win this tournament," he said.


If Arkansas doesn’t Van Horn will likely face the same questions the next time he brings a team to Omaha, which, at this point, can be counted on at least once every five-or-so years. Like any other place after a coach leaves there are those jilted and those who understand. To some in eastern Nebraska Van Horn didn’t leave for his alma mater so much as he left for the hated SEC. He took the Cornhuskers to two College World Series before leaving in 2002 and they’ve only been to one since.


But Van Horn is far from letting it bother him. His usual focus is still around, but the intensity has subsided the last few weeks. The improbable run has given him a clearer sense of gauging importance.


"I appreciate how hard it is to get here. If you come in here and you don’t look around a little bit and enjoy it, I think that’s a mistake. You just need to understand what your team has done to get you, me or the other coaches here," he said. "Enjoy it a little bit. Try to go out and watch the games. Walk around a little bit. Don’t just stay in the hotel. Buy a t-shirt. Enjoy it. Because one day it’s all going to be over. You’re going to be done coaching. You’re either going to win a championship or you’re not. Getting here is special. Obviously we want to win a championship. I think our day is coming. It may not be this year. It may. But our day is coming."