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Exam Break

 

When I was at The University, all I could think about was how I could hardly wait until I got a real job so I didn’t have to take exams. Eleven years into my chosen profession, I call that into question. Nevertheless, today marks day 1 of spring exams and the biannual athletics break for Virginia sports. Some teams are on a serious roll right now and others, well, hope to jump straight to summer to start rebuilding. As my longing to give out grades continue, let’s catch up with the Spring sports as they set to finish off the year.

Men’s Tennis (24-0, 10-0 ACC); Grade: A+

I have a huge thorn in my side about this one, but it’s not at all directed at UVa. Virginia has done everything asked this season. Win the ITA Indoors for a 5th time in 6 years while defeating #1 USC, check. Go on the road to Top 20 competition, check. Run the table in the ACC racking up over 100 straight conference victories, check. Be the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, NOT CHECK! Somehow, someway, UCLA at 24-1, whose only loss was to USC in the ITA semis got the top seed. Granted, in the long run of things, it won’t matter too much, but that is a slap in the face from the NCAA, who might be on a power trip to separate themselves from the ITA. Bad blood aside, the draw sets up for UVa nicely: home against Fairleigh Dickenson and Minny/VCU, #15 Florida, #7 Tennessee, #3 Georgia, and UCLA/USC on the other side of the bracket. If any team has the mojo working for them this year, it is the tennis team seeking out their first NCAA title.

Baseball (39-8, 17-7 ACC); Grade: A

Yes, Virginia fans have become accustom to UVa Baseball preforming well. Probably not even well, but excellent. But there wasn’t many people in the country that would have thought that Brian O’Connor would have put together a team that has a legitimate shot at the College World Series for the 3rd time in 5 years. The swelling of 2nd years taking over for graduating and MLB draftees has been tremendous and they are mixing up their small ball mentality with some power as well. Pitching was the real question coming in, and while the weekend starters of Waddell, Silverstein, and Howard all have ERAs above 3, the middle and late relief pitchers have been stellar. We talk about Kyle Crockett and his 0.93 ERA, 47 Ks to only 3 BBs, but Austin Young has been super clutch recently, dropping his ERA to 0.96 while fanning 29. Rooking David Rosenberger (aka Rookie of the Year’s ‘Gardenhoser’) also supports an ERA below 1 and Whit Mayberry has been consistent as ever. Virginia is currently 5-7th in the nation and well in the national seed (Top 8 teams in the country) talk. They must first get through series with Duke and #1 UNC, before hitting the ACC tournament, where no less than 5 other Top 25 teams will play in. Navigate that with minor damage and the Hoos will be at home presumably til Omaha.   

Women’s Golf; Grade: A

Virginia Women’s Golf is as strong as ever, and with 2 4th place NCAA finishes the last 2 seasons, it speaks well as to their staying power. Brittany Altomare became the first UVa player to win the ACC Women’s Golf Individual title, and the Hoos finished 3rd in the ACC. Incidentally, that 3rd place finish was higher than the previous 2 years. Just saying. They are 12th in the nation and seeded 5th in next weekend’s NCAA East Regionals, which should give them a strong shot at making the Finals yet again.

Rowing; Grade: B+

Rowing is coming off another National Championship, which already puts expectations high. Now they had a little setback last month in the San Diego Crew Classic and dropped out of the top spot to 4th. Despite that outcome, they have charged back in the Clemson and UVa Invitationals and will host the ACC Championships at home before setting off to Indy for the NCAAs.

Men’s Golf; Grade: B

The Hoos lost a lot of fire power from their team a year ago that finished 2nd in the ACC, saw Ben Rusch win the conference individual championship, the first Wahoo since 1955, and Ben Kohles burst onto the PGA scene. This year the team is comprised of only 1 4th year, 1 3rd year, and the rest 2nd and 1st years. They finished 6th in the ACC this year, which should be enough to have their named called on May 6th for regional play.

Women’s Tennis (17-9, 9-2 ACC); Grade: B

Another solid season for the Women, who are trying to go to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for a record 3rd year in a row. While they have been playing better in conference this year, they really beefed up their non-conference slate as well, which shows a more humbling overall record. They made it to the ACC Semis before dropping a 4-3 decision to Florida State, but still remained very high in the national rankings. They will be seeded 14th in the upcoming NCAAs and will be at home for the first two rounds against Fairleigh Dickenson and W&M/Texas.

Women’s Lacrosse (9-9, 1-4 ACC); Grade: B-

It is difficult to knock on the Women’s Lacrosse team too much. They are in the hardest conference in the NCAA and play one of the toughest non-conference slate out there. Surviving and still be at .500 is a feat upon itself. Still, with 3 of their first 4 losses coming by a single goal, the Hoos would really like a few do overs in there. It will be a close call come NCAA tournament time, but it looks like with their 9-9 record and Top RPI ranking, they should get an at large bid, but we won’t know until May 5th.

Softball (21-27, 4-17 ACC); Grade: C-

The Hoos are at a serious crossroads this season. Another less than stellar season, finishing 7th in the 8-team ACC, has caused a few murmurs around The Park as to whether it might be time to switch things up. Virginia’s ace pitcher Melanie Mitchell is graduation and only one Cavalier, Marcy Bowdren, has hit over .300 this season. It is hard pressed to see them move past the Semifinals in the conference tourney, which means that for a 3rd straight year, Virginia will not make the NCAAs. It will be a long offseason for the Hoos again.

Men’s Lacrosse (7-8, 0-3 ACC); Grade: D

This was, by far, the most surprising season in over a decade for the Men’s Lacrosse team. Many viewed the 2012 season as the rebuilding year coming of a National Championship, but things only went south from there. After an overtime win at home to then-unranked Drexel, that should have tipped most off that this was going to be a long year. Their record looked strong against some weaker opponents to start the year, but as soon as their “murderers’ row” stretch came around, they could not keep up with anyone. They finished 6-7 after the regular season and had a real chance to make the NCAA if they could knock off Maryland and UNC in the ACCs. Well the Maryland win happened, but #1 UNC was too much. The Hoos will not be making the lax tourney for the first time since 2004 and a ton of question still swill around Charlottesville as to the direction of this team. They are going to be young for a couple of years, which begs the question will Starsia survive this transitional period?

Hamilton Riley

About Hamilton Riley

Mild mannered contractor by day, sports blogger by insomnia.

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Exam Break

Don’t read this blog. Get back to studying. You need to cram a semesters worth of knowledge into a few short days. That’s what you get for going to football and basketball games.

But I don’t blame you. When was the last time all of these programs did this well at this point of the season. The football team is heading to Atlanta for the post-season and most of you (and us old people) are grabbing up hotel rooms, flights, and figuring out how to meat up with your fellow Wahoos when the Peach drops. The women’s basketball team is 8-2 after a win last night over an over-matched Liberty team. If it wasn’t for a a couple of blips on their Hawaii trip, they would still be in the Top 25, but it looks like they will be back their soon.

But what is more remarkable is the men’s team. On the surface, the 8-1 start so far was not completely unexpected. There was a little bit of a buzz around this team coming into the season and, outside of the Michigan game, not the strongest bunch of teams we have faced this year. But expectations are one thing, execution is another.

Most people looked at the results of the Paradise Jam, sensing another long season in front of the Hoos. But, in similar fashion to last season, once they got back home, everything started to click. Four straight wins, including the big one over #15 UVa and a win over CAA favorite George Mason, have reassured a woozy fan base that this could be the season the Hoos need to break out of their shell.

So the only question is what is legit and what is window dressing? The defense is legit, 2nd nationally, still only behind #14 Wisconsin, but it is also field goal percentage defense (13th) and 3-point defense (26th). The offense is still operates in spurts, but Virginia is 32nd in rebounding margin and tied for 16th in free throw percentage, even though the Hoos had two really bad days from the line. And in the ‘stat that blows my mind category’, Virginia is 33rd in the nation in turnovers per game at 12.1. Those six stats alone have allowed the Cavs to weather any drought they might have gone through on the offensive end and completely wear down opponents.

There are still some things the Hoos still need to work on, mostly on the offensive end of the court. We aren’t even going to look at scoring offense, because that’s not the Hoos game to score 80 points a night. But Virginia is 77th in the nation in FG percentage at 46.2%, still below what Tony Bennett would like. They are also only T-146th in the country in assists per game, even though their brand of O sets are assist friendly. And we still foul. I know that Karl Hess doesn’t help much, but Virginia is T-39th with 16.1 per game, and yet have not had a player foul out.

And if you think that this early run won’t prepare the Hoos for the December non-conference run or the ACC, think again. Of Virginia’s last 5 NCOs, the only teams with winning records are Oregon, who are 4-2 and just got throttled by BYU at home, and LSU, who lost to Southern Alabama at home and barley beat a .500 Rutgers team. The other three teams, Seattle (2-4), UMES (2-8), and Towson (0-8) are miserable.

And the ACC? I’ll spot you Duke and North Carolina, although each team have ‘blue’ prints (huh, get it?) out there on how to beat them. But from there, every other team has at least 3 losses. FSU has the most legit case in their losses to Harvard (now ranked), UCONN (in OT), and at Michigan State (never easy). NC State as well, losing to #20 Vandy, Stanford, and Indiana, all near or at the top of their conference. But VT lost to Minnesota and Kansas State back to back, Wake lost to Dayton and Richmond, MD lost to Iona, and Miami lost to Ole Miss and a decimated Purdue team. From there it gets nasty with Clemson (Coastal Carolina and South Carolina), GT (St. Joes and Tulane), and BC (pretty much everyone). Bottom line, outside of the 3 games with Duke and UNC, there is not a team that the Hoos can’t match up with.

Now we won’t see the Hoos very much before ACC play, as they head out west for 2 games before coming home after Christmas for a couple, then returning in 2012 for Miami and the ACC schedule. Only one more loss before then will put the Cavaliers at 12-2 and in great position to get 20 wins. I know that’s putting the cart before the horse, but it is not an unrealistic goal. I think it will take more than 20 to put the Hoos in the NCAA, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.

Until then, turn off your computer and hit those books.

Hamilton Riley

About Hamilton Riley

Mild mannered contractor by day, sports blogger by insomnia.

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