Season’s greetings: Highlights from last year and a look ahead in the world of UVA sports

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Will UVA produce another sports standout this year, like current NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon?  Photo by Will UVA produce another sports standout this year, like current NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon? 
Photo by Matt Riley. Will UVA produce another sports standout this year, like current NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon? Photo by Will UVA produce another sports standout this year, like current NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon? Photo by Matt Riley.

UVA sports saw some big successes last year: The men’s tennis team claimed the NCAA trophy, alongside Thai-Son Kwiatkowski’s singles championship. And Malcolm Brogdon, men’s basketball alum, was named the NBA Rookie of the Year. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2016 draft, Brogdon defied the odds and became the first second-round pick to earn the award. But UVA teams had some disappointments too, with Bronco Mendenhall’s less-than-stellar first football season, and the men’s basketball team’s second-round departure from the NCAA tournament. The good news? UVA has added some promising players-to-watch, including a quarterback heir apparent and an undefeated high school tennis player.

Football

Bronco Mendenhall probably envisioned his first season at UVA ending a little differently, while, across the field, Virginia Tech players celebrated. Their quarterback got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend.

She said yes, of course. Why wouldn’t she? He’d just rushed for 105 yards, making it twice into the end zone against Tech’s favorite rival to beat.

The scoreboard read 52-10, a demoralizing defeat that marked Virginia’s seventh straight loss in a 2-10 season, the team’s worst record since 2013, and Mendenhall’s lowest since he began coaching at Brigham Young in 2005.

“I have a base philosophy, and that is a team plays the way they are prepared,” said Mendenhall in a post-game interview. “I’m responsible for how they prepared, and I’m responsible for how they execute. And clearly what the outcome today showed is that I didn’t prepare them well enough.”

Mendenhall brought six assistant coaches with him from BYU, introducing new blood to everything from the offensive coordinator to quarterback coach. But the staff overhaul wasn’t enough to give UVA the winning season it’s been looking for since 2011. And with many starters graduating, especially on the offense, 2017 looks like it might be yet another year to rebuild and regroup.

UVA’s first three games this year are home games, which is good news for the beleaguered program. The season home opener is against William & Mary, which puts some pressure on the team—a home game against the Tribe is very nearly a must-win—but if the Hoos can put together three wins to start off the season against manageable opponents (William & Mary, Indiana and Connecticut) then they will improve their 2016 win total.

Season highlight: Tailback Taquan Mizzell made ACC history in his final year with the Hoos, becoming the first player to record 1,500 yards rushing and receiving in his career. He rushed for 940 yards in 2016 alone. Although these accolades weren’t enough to get him drafted, making 2017 the first year in three decades that UVA didn’t send a football player to the NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens signed him as a free agent this summer.

Players to watch:

Lindell Stone

6’2″, 205 pounds

Position: Backup QB (to starter Kurt Benkert, fifth-year senior, making Stone UVA’s potential heir apparent)

Status: True freshman (from Virginia’s Woodberry Forest School)

Matt Gahm, Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier

Gahm: 6’3″, 225 pounds, 6.9 tackles per game in 2016; Snowden: 6’7″, 200 pounds, 28.3 receiving yards/game; Zandier: 6’4″, 215 pounds, 34.4 receiving yards/game

Position: Linebackers; because of UVA’s depleted depth, it’s likely some of them will see playing time

Status: True freshmen

Men’s basketball

In the 60-plus years since the Atlantic Coast Conference’s creation, no team has managed to hold its opponents to under 40 points for three games in a row—that is, until the 2017 Virginia men’s basketball team. They did it with three straight wins against St. Francis, Yale and Grambling State. It was a testament to the nationally ranked defense that helped them go 23-11 (and 11-7 in the ACC) on the season.

Unfortunately, what goes around comes around, and Virginia itself was held to under 40 points in the game that eliminated the Hoos in the second round of the NCAA tournament. For a team that only two years ago was back-to-back ACC regular season champs, it was a disappointing end to a successful year, especially for star senior London Perrantes. The Cavs also lost three key players—Marial Shayok, Jarred Reuter and Darius Thompson—who all decided to transfer to other colleges following the 2016-17 season.

Alum spotlight: In his five years at UVA, Malcolm Brogdon earned a master’s in public policy from the Batten School and the ACC Player of the Year award. Now, with his No. 15 jersey retired and hanging from the rafters at JPJ, Brogdon has collected perhaps the highest honor of his career: NBA Rookie of the Year. He’s the lowest-ranked draft pick to win the award since 1958. Brogdon was selected after a spectacular first season with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he started in 28 games with an average of 10.2 points per game.

Players to watch:

Jay Huff

6’6″, 16.3 points/game

Position: Guard

Status: Starting sophomore after a redshirt freshman year

Marco Anthony

6’6″, 11.7 points/game in 2016

Position: Combo guard

Status: True freshman (from Holmes High School, Texas)

Women’s basketball

The last game of the Virginia women’s basketball team’s season was a nail-biter. In a back-and-forth match that had everything you could ask for in a game—a dozen ricocheting lead changes, tie score after tie score—the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally pulled ahead in the third quarter, eventually eliminating Virginia from the ACC tournament and ending a 20-13 season (7-9 in the ACC).

Alum spotlight: “Success will not come easy, but it will come,” Dawn Staley promised UVA graduates in her 2009 valedictory address. And for Staley, come it did. Before she graduated from UVA in 1992, she was the ACC Rookie of the Year and a key component in her team’s three Final Four appearances, although she never actually won an NCAA championship. Two and a half decades later, she finally hoisted the trophy as coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, the 2017 NCAA champions.

Player to watch:

Amandine Toi

5’11”, 9.54 points/game in 2016-17

Position: Shooting guard

Status: Freshman (from the French National Team)

Women’s soccer

The Virginia women’s soccer team didn’t just begin 2016 with seven straight wins; it began it with seven straight shutouts.

In fact, the team held its opponents to nil in its first 10 wins (the Hoos went 15-5-2 on the season). The women outshot the other teams by huge margins, averaging 2.36 goals per game, while their opponents hovered at 0.82. Virginia’s shot accuracy was actually lower on average than its opponents, but the sheer bombardment of scoring attempts (395 total for Virginia, 125 for the other teams) led the Cavs to a winning season. They finished the regular season with a record of 15-5-2, and 6-2-2 within their conference.

Hana Kerner is a midfielder and striker on the UVA women’s soccer team, which started last season with seven straight shutouts. Photo by Matt Riley.

Player to watch:

Laurel Ivory

5’9″, starting keeper of U20 Women’s National Team and U17 World Cup team, member of West Florida Flames of ECNL

Position: Goalkeeper

Status: Freshman (graduating early from Miami Country Day School in Florida)

Men’s lacrosse

Lars Tiffany’s first season as UVA’s lacrosse coach probably wasn’t all he hoped for (Hall of Famer Dom Starsia’s contract was not renewed last year after 24 seasons at the university). In 2016, Tiffany guided his team at Brown to a 16-3 season. In 2017, Virginia only managed 8-7, dropping his win percentage from 0.842 to a less inspiring 0.533; the Cavs lost all four conference games. UVA hasn’t won a conference game since 2013-14, when it went 1-3 in the ACC. In the final loss of the 2017 season, an ACC showcase game, the Cavaliers ran into a problem that had plagued them throughout the season: They were outshooting, but not outscoring, their opponent.

Player to watch:

Matt Moore

6’2”, 156 goals and 173 assists in career

Position: Attacker

Status: Freshman (from Garnet Valley High School in Pennsylvania, where he holds records for playoff points, goals, assists and goals in a single game)

Men’s tennis

The Virginia Men’s Tennis team lost a match to Wake Forest on March 31. The team waited around for a two-and-a-half hour rain delay, only to lose 5-2. Why is that mid-season match important? Because it was Virginia’s only loss of the entire season.

The team went 34-1 in 2017, dominating their way through the postseason just as they did the regular to claim its third consecutive NCAA championship. It marked the fourth trophy in five years and was the final jewel in the crown of Coach Brian Boland’s 16-year tenure at UVA. The dust from engraving Virginia’s name into its third straight championship trophy had barely settled before UVA named Andres Pedroso, former associate coach, as the new head coach.

Season highlight: Less than a week after his team hoisted the NCAA championship trophy, Thai-Son Kwiatkowski beat out North Carolina freshman prodigy William Blumberg to claim the title of NCAA Men’s Singles champion. For Kwiatkowski, the championship is a cap on his senior year after he went 33-7 in singles matches.

Player to watch:

Matthew Lord

Went three years in high school without losing a match

Status: Freshman (from Connecticut’s Kingswood-Oxford School); verbally committed to UVA

Swimming

In early August, a new head coach was named to oversee men’s and women’s swimming and diving at UVA. Todd DeSorbo’s stacked résumé includes six seasons as associate head coach of the wildly successful program at North Carolina State.

Season highlight: If Leah Smith’s name sounds familiar, it’s because you heard it alongside Katie Ledecky’s in the 2016 Olympics, where Smith claimed two Olympic medals. Although 2017 marked her final year at UVA, she is still putting Virginia up on podiums. She won three medals at the 2017 FINA World Championships—gold on the 4x200m freestyle team relay and the 400m freestyle—and she had a bronze-winning 800m freestyle that broke her previous personal best by a whopping three seconds.

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