Aguilar’s goal highlights exciting semester for Virginia sports
Cavaliers excel at Rio Games, in ACC, NCAA Tournaments
Fall 2016 has seen a number of highs and lows for Virginia sports. From the excitement of Leah Smith’s Olympics performance, to football coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first Virginia win (and little success afterwards), to a thrilling beginning to the men’s basketball season, Cavaliers fans have experienced somewhat of a roller coaster. Now three months into the year, here are the Cavalier Daily Sports Staff’s favorite moments:
1. The 2016 Field Hockey season was filled with numerous personal accolades, but the top moment of the season was without a doubt the team’s collective accomplishment — capturing their first ever ACC Championship. After an up-and-down regular season, the Cavaliers were able to come together as a team when it counted. The lowest seed (#6) ever to win the tournament, Virginia dominated and set a tournament record by scoring 13 goals along the way. The Cavaliers boasted a talented team, as seen by having four players on the all-tournament team, including tournament MVP senior striker Caleigh Foust.
2. Throughout their successful 2016 season, the Virginia men’s soccer team had many incredible moments worth looking back at. But perhaps none were as exhilarating as junior midfielder Pablo Aguilar’s game-winning goal in double overtime against Vermont to give the Cavaliers an opening round win in the NCAA Tournament. After receiving the ball right outside of the box, Aguilar was able to use several dazzling moves to avoid four Vermont defenders and convert an outside-of-the-foot shot to give Virginia the golden goal and the win. This took place in Charlottesville, at a packed Klöckner Stadium, making the moment all the more memorable.
3. For years, the Cavalier swim and dive teams have dominated the ACC and fielded fiercely competitive teams for NCAA meets in March. The successes enjoyed by the team, however, far surpass the college competitions. This past summer in Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympics, senior swimmer Leah Smith made more than a splash at the games. She racked up a bronze medal, taking third in the 400-meter freestyle, and a gold in the 4x200-meter relay team which featured Smith, Allison Schmitt, Maya DiRado and Katie Ledecky. It’s not often that Virginia swimming gets the same appreciation as football or basketball. But this summer, thanks in part to Leah Smith, it most certainly did.
4. The No. 15 Virginia women's soccer team made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before falling at No. 5 Georgetown by a score of 2-0 in a match they could just as easily have won. Senior midfielder Alexis Shaffer was the top performer all season long for the Cavaliers, pacing the offense with 13 goals and seven assists, garnering NSCAA All-American honors. A particularly memorable moment of the season came early when senior goalkeeper Morgan Stearns, with the help of her fantastic defense, broke the all-time Virginia scoreless streak with 872 consecutive scoreless minutes.
5. The top moment for the cross-country season this past fall was the men’s team advancing and competing in the NCAA National Championships just a few weeks ago. With the team finishing in 18th, standout sophomore Brent Demarest capped off a stellar season for the Cavaliers. His first place team finish was one of several races this season where he was near the top of the pack of runners representing the Cavaliers. It was a great way to end the season for both Demarest as well as the team. Senior Zach Herriott also set himself apart, finishing his career on a positive note with a top-60 finish in the national championships. Both runners were instrumental in Virginia’s 18th place finish in the national championship race.
6. It’s early in the 2016-17 men’s basketball season, but we can already look back on a great moment. With over 14,500 in attendance Nov. 30 at John Paul Jones Arena, the Cavaliers rallied back from a 36-24 halftime deficit to defeat Ohio State, 63-61. Pressed by head coach Tony Bennett to respond after a sluggish half, senior point guard London Perrantes took over in the final 20 minutes, draining all three of his attempts from downtown. Trailing 63-61, the Buckeyes had possession with just six seconds left – a made three away from pulling off the upset, but the Virginia pack-line prevailed, forcing a desperate heave that didn’t even come close.
7. The Virginia women’s basketball team has gotten off to a solid 6-2 start in non-conference play thus far in its season. Coach Joanne Boyle stressed how much depth the Cavaliers have this year, and her assessment has proven true so far with many players contributing to the team’s offense each game. Junior forward Lauren Moses has particularly stood out, putting up 19 points against Nebraska in the South Point Shootout Tournament, earning her All-Tournament honors. Freshman guards Jocelyn Willoughby and Dominique Toussaint have transitioned very well into starting roles and have shown that they can put up big numbers to complement the upperclassmen.
8. First-year football coach Bronco Mendenhall was all smiles after the Cavaliers earned their first win and Mendenhall earned his 100th career victory over a talented Central Michigan team. Virginia defeated the Chippewas 49-35 behind a phenomenal performance from junior quarterback Kurt Benkert, who threw five touchdowns and 421 yards. The East Carolina transfer had his best game of the season, breaking Virginia’s single-game passing record. The game wasn’t short of drama, however. The Cavaliers led 15-0 in the first quarter before Central Michigan came back and tie the game in the fourth quarter. Virginia regained the lead with an 82-yard touchdown pass from Benkert to sophomore wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus for his longest throw of the season.