Stars return to Virginia squads this fall

Across the board, strong athletes are making their way back to Charlottesville this month

Given last season’s banner success for Virginia Athletics, the University is buzzing with anticipation for the fall season. Fall sports will begin in just a few days and though new faces are sure to make an impact on the Cavalier community, many Virginia squads will look to returning stars to lead them to victory.

On the gridiron, Virginia has a pair of five-star recruits coming in on the defensive side of the ball: tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding. But all eyes will be on a more experienced player: senior strong safety Anthony Harris.

The Chesterfield, Virginia native enters the 2014 campaign with high expectations. Harris’ eight interceptions last year led the nation and earned him a spot on several preseason watch lists, including one for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.

On the offensive side of the ball, Virginia will look for production from senior running back Kevin Parks, whose stellar performance last year landed him a position on the Doak Walker Award watch list — an award given annually to the nation’s premier running back.

Parks currently ranks eighth all-time in Virginia history with 2,474 rushing yards, 1,031 of which came a year ago. The senior will need an even more productive season in 2014 if the Cavaliers hope to achieve more success than they had in 2013.

Outside of Scott Stadium, though, is where Virginia had most of its success a year ago. The Cavalier men’s and women’s soccer teams combined to go 37-7-6 en route to College Cup appearances for each.

The Virginia women’s soccer team set numerous school records in its 2013 season, highlighted by a perfect 19-0 regular season — the first team to accomplish such a feat since North Carolina pulled it off in 2003. The Cavaliers fell just short of winning their first ever-national championship when they lost to UCLA in penalty kicks in the College Cup.

The Cavaliers were scary last year and, unfortunately for the ACC and the rest of the nation, appear to be coming back with just as much firepower as they had last year. Virginia returns its top three goal-scorers, lead by senior midfielder Morgan Brian.

Brian’s 20-goal junior campaign earned her the prestigious MAC Hermann Award and a nomination for Best Female Athlete at the ESPY’s. In addition, Brian has spent the last several months training and playing with the U.S. Women’s National Team, where she has played alongside legends like Abby Wambach.

“Playing with the National Team, I have learned a lot of things,” Brian said. “Some being the importance of taking care of your body, professionalism, and the mentality it takes to play well in the environment and stay there as long as possible.”

Behind the leadership of Brian, the Cavaliers seem poised to make another deep post-season run and challenge again for the elusive national championship.

“We hope to win the National Championship this year, win the ACC, and play the best and most entertaining soccer in the country,” Brian said.

The men’s team had an equally impressive year, overcoming numerous challenges and an extraordinarily tough schedule to earn a College Cup berth for the first time since 2009. Like the women’s team, the men’s squad returns several of its top point scorers from a year ago, including its leading goalscorer in senior midfielder Eric Bird.

“Making the college cup last year together was huge for us going forward this year,” Bird said. “We now know what it takes to be successful and to make a deep run during preseason time.”

Bird tallied seven times in his junior season and earned third team All-America honors from the NSCAA. He will lead a team that is returning virtually everyone from last year’s stellar squad, with the major exception being midfielder Jordan Allen, who left the University after signed to a Home Grown contract by MLS side Real Salt Lake.

“I’m very excited to have just about everyone returning after a College Cup run. If we can stay healthy, I like our chances,” Bird said.

Off the pitch, the Cavaliers have several high-profile athletes returning as well. In field hockey, the sophomore duo of Riley Tata and Caleigh Foust — who combined to score 22 goals last year — will be back to lead Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament. Also, in volleyball, Virginia fans will see senior outside hitter Tori Janowski back on the court. The senior earned All-ACC third team honors and led the team with 3.61 kills per set in 2013.

With all of these familiar faces returning, Virginia fans have much to be excited about in the coming months. Each of the aforementioned teams begin their seasons in the next two weeks and promise to give Cavalier fans an exciting start to their 2014 fall season.

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