Best of the decade: Teams
Last week, I introduced my "Best of the Decade" series of columns, in which I planned to rank my personal choices for the greatest Virginia athletic accomplishments of the past decade. After looking at Cavalier coaches from the '00s, I named swim and dive coach Mark Bernardino the best of the decade, with men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia a close runner-up.
Today, I'll be counting down my choices for greatest teams of the aughts. I tried to evaluate each season in terms of overall accomplishment and significance to the University.
At the end of each list is a shout-out to one of the teams that didn't make the cut but stood out as one of my favorites nevertheless.
1. 2006 men's lacrosse
"Complete and utter domination" might be the best way to describe the first perfect season in lacrosse history. The NCAA champion Cavaliers didn't just finish 17-0, they slaughtered everyone in their path; apart from a 7-6 win against Princeton and a 14-10 win against Notre Dame, every victory of the season came by a margin of five goals or more. And that includes the postseason.
2. 2009 men's soccer
Who would've thought three weeks into last semester that we were about to witness the soccer team complete a national title run? Who knew that goalie Diego Restrepo would become a hero on Grounds? The preseason was ugly and disappointing, and the team didn't really get kicking until the end of September. But the Cavaliers got hot at the perfect time, storming through the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament and edging then-undefeated Akron in penalty kicks to win the title. It was storybook-perfect.
3. 2003 men's lacrosse
The '06 team was more successful, but the decade's other national champion squad had Chris Rotelli, Tillman Johnson and a young Matt Ward on its roster. All three players would eventually win at least one national player of the year award.
4. 2006-07 men's basketball
They didn't win the championship. They didn't even make it to the Sweet Sixteen. But I'd argue that there hasn't been a more memorable and meaningful season for students this decade than the 2006-07 basketball season, which certainly makes it one of the greatest.
The Cavaliers lost only one home game during John Paul Jones Arena's debut season. Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds led Virginia all season long to some huge wins and one lasting image: No. 44 pointing to the camera after an overtime win against Duke.
5. 2007-08 men's tennis
It's a shame the undefeated Cavaliers were upset in the national semifinals because the 2006 lacrosse team would've had a competitor for the best team of the decade if the tennis team had survived two more games.
Led by individual NCAA champ Somdev Devvarman, who dominated college tennis that year at an unprecedented level, Virginia won the indoor national title and routinely crushed touted opponents. The Cavaliers shut out 13 foes ranked in the top 50.
6. 2004 women's lacrosse
Virginia has the reputation of being a lacrosse school, but most people forget that refers to women's lacrosse, too. Three times during the last decade, the ladies made incredible runs to the title game but fell short of victory. Only in 2004 did the 19-3 squad win it all.
7. 2009 baseball
What's most incredible about the best Virginia baseball season of all time is just how unexpected it was. By all accounts - even the team's - '09 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Yet the greenhorn Cavs streaked to the College World Series and set the expectations impossibly high for coming seasons.
8. 2004 football
The 2007 Cardiac Cavs have a special place in my heart, but the best Virginia football team of the decade played in 2004. Heath Miller and Marques Hagans kept the Cavaliers nationally ranked most of the season, even though the 1-3 stretch to close out the season - including losses in a bowl game and to the Hokies - ended it on a sour note.
9. 2000 swim and dive
Virginia swimmers are so good, year in and year out, that it's hard for one particular season to stand out. Having two national champions on the squad - Cara Lane and Ed Moses - helped the '00 squad go down as a special one, though.
10. 2003 women's lacrosse
Losses don't come more gut-wrenching than an overtime loss in a national title game to a rival. Ask the 2003 women's lacrosse squad, which fell a single goal short of taking home the trophy in an 8-7 loss in extra minutes to Princeton.
Dan's Salute: 2007-08 women's basketball
Another postseason win or two, and the squad would've seen serious consideration for this list. The set-up seemed perfect: it had a trusted leader (Sharnee Zoll), a rising star (Monica Wright), solid support (Lyndra Littles, Aisha Mohammed), an underdog walk-on with rare three-point shooting talent (Tara McKnight), a defining game (senior night versus Georgia Tech). The team got hot at the right time. Unlucky seeding, however, set Virginia up in what amounted to a home game for No. 11 Old Dominion in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and the Cavs lost by three points.