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Enough me, let's talk we: Well-decorated Cousino looks for team success in 2013

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2012 SEC Freshman of the Year Austin Cousino hopes he can provide a new role to help UK to a successful 2013 campaign. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year Austin Cousino (right) hopes he can provide a new role to help UK to a successful 2013 campaign. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team? Check. Second-team All-SEC? Check. Baseball America first-team Freshman All-America? Check.

Oh, and Kentucky baseball's first ever SEC Freshman of the Year? Check, again.

The list of accolades after Austin Cousino's incredible freshman season, believe it or not, actually goes on.

Then the 2013 preseason honors start piling up, and Cousino is one of the most decorated ballplayers in the country.

The sophomore out of Dublin, Ohio saw his and the Wildcats' season end at the hands of last year's Cinderella story Kent State. Kent, a university in Northeast Ohio, recruited Cousino heavily, but the Dublin native took his abilities to Kentucky for a shot to play in the country's best baseball conference.

He's never once second-guessed his decision, but seeing players he grew up playing against and a staff that recruited him celebrate on the field on Gary, Ind., last season in the regional of the NCAA Tournament has stayed with him all offseason long.

"I was actually thinking about it the other day what it was like seeing Kent State dog pile at Gary," said Cousino. "It was kind of something, it's hard to believe.

"They're all great kids and a great staff and it was something that coming here to Kentucky, it was a very realistic goal for me. Then you put all the names on paper and then out to the field, something you grow up and dream of, it can become a reality and being that close, it not going the way you want, it definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth."

In fact, it was Cousino in center field who saw the infamous double-turned-homerun hit the fence against Kent State that eventually led to Kent State's victory.

Though it's a scenario that has played out in his head multiple times since the season ended, Cousino knows that it's time to turn the page on that game and look forward to 2013.

"I think that in the moment it was kind of hard," said Cousino. "I've played it over a couple of times, but you go into the summer, I played summer, you go into the fall, and now it's in the past.

"It's last year's team. You've got a new personality, new team members. It's back there, we're thinking about it a little bit, but I think it's just motivation for us from here on out."

As critical as Cousino was to Kentucky's record-breaking 2012 season and that postseason run, his role will be more crucial this season due to the departures of several of their key contributors. With offensive threats like Luke Maile, Thomas McCarthy, Michael Williams and others now playing professional ball, it will be up to Cousino and other returning members to pick up the slack.

Though Cousino's biggest impact was made directly on the field as one of the top leadoff men and center fielders in the conference, he thinks he can impact this 2013 squad, after a full season of SEC baseball under his belt, in a much different way.  

"I had a good year and I think I should become more of a leader this year," said Cousino. "With the expectations of the team, I hold myself to a higher expectation than anyone else can. I think from here on out that I want to be a leader for the team and I want to become more vocal and just let my game speak for itself."

Cousino was also quick to acknowledge all the leaders from last year's team and how integral they were to UK's overall success. On the other hand, he believes it was a collective effort from the entire roster that helped Kentucky reach new heights in the program.

While he doesn't anticipate his role in the lineup changing all that much this season, he's willing to do whatever it takes to for the success of the team.

"As of now, I'd expect to lead off," said Cousino. "I've always been a lead-off hitter. Quite frankly, wherever I'm put it's going to be for the better of the team, for the better of the offense. If it's one, if it's two, if it's three or if it's nine, I'm going to hit wherever Coach (Gary Henderson) wants me too."

Those sentiments speak not only to Cousino's confidence in his offensive talents, but also to the maturity he's gained over the offseason.

The sophomore spent the summer playing with Team USA, leading the team in hitting with .351 batting average (13 of 50) and helped his country to a bronze medal at Honkbal Week in the Netherlands. Though the extra at-bats helped him hone his craft, it was the time spent with the Team USA coaches that helped him add different components to an already well-rounded game.

"Playing for a different staff, I played for (Tennessee head) Coach (Dave) Serrano this summer with Team USA," said Cousino. "You get a different perspective on what coaches can really give to you. Playing for him and Coach (George) Horton at Oregon, I learned a lot."

What he took back, he showed to his coaches at Kentucky, and they were very receptive to the new techniques he had learned. He realized different aspects of bunting and the short game as well as new defensive techniques that he hopes to not only incorporate into his game, but as a leader, show the rest of his teammates as well.

The receptive nature of the UK coaching staff is something that Cousino loves about his superiors.

 "We talk about keeping your cup empty to new ideas, to new stuff, to always bringing that new knowledge," said Cousino. "That's what's great about it is the coaching staff here and the coaching staff there understands that. You can never be full of too much information. You can always keep learning, you can always enjoy that stuff, which just makes the game that much more fun and makes you that much more knowledgeable about it."

His head coach, Gary Henderson, has taken notice of Cousino's maturity and love of the game.

"He's smart," said Henderson. "He's got a good feel for the game so he's a huge part of our program."

As he steps up his leadership, Cousino's impact will be that much greater. Henderson has already seen how the rest of his players react to his star center fielder, and the interaction is very positive. He's got an infectious personality that's good for the clubhouse.

"Any time you have a kid like that in your program that other kids feed off of, I'm really proud of how he has responded a couple times in his career to failure that is inevitable in our sport," said Henderson. "He doesn't pout, he doesn't mope, and he's a fun kid to be around."

As for this season, Cousino has high hopes for an even better 2013. None of the players available at Monday's preseason media day were shy about their expectations, goals and confidence with a season-opening trip to Spartanburg, S.C., coming on Feb. 15, and Cousino, as usual, was no different. While he expects to be a big part of the many successes UK achieves this year, it will once again need to be a team effort. Though the 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year may continue to add to his prolific list of collegiate accolades this season, UK has to work together to capitalize on the kinds of missed opportunities to earn team hardware a season ago.

"This year," said Cousino, "I think we bring back a great arsenal of pitching and with (second baseman J.T.) Riddle and (shortstop Matt) Reida up the middle, me in center, and (outfielders) Lucas (Witt) and (Zack Zellers) out there, I think we have the best defense in the conference if not in the country too.

"We've got all the pieces in place for a successful season. I think that being in the regional, the first time for all of us, was a little eye-opening. I think we can stick that in our back pocket for now and take that and just use that as the season goes on."

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