The Roundtable — The start of spring seasons

Answering the hottest questions about baseball, men’s lacrosse, women’s basketball


Junior starting pitcher Evan Sperling (top left), sophomore guard Dominique Toussaint (top right), sophomore midfielder Sammy Mueller (bottom left) and sophomore attack Michael Kraus (bottom right) have been crucial to their teams' performances.

Angel Monroe and Chelsea Bengson and Emma Klein and Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

1. Should the baseball team be concerned about their sluggish start to the season?

Jake Blank, Sports Editor: The injuries are more concerning to me than the performance on the field. Losing Noah Murdock after a promising freshman season on the mound hurt the Cavaliers’ depth before the fall season even began, and his loss is exacerbated by the injury currently plaguing Chesdin Harrington. Add in outfielder Cameron Simmons’ season ending injury, and Virginia will have to rely on untested players to have sustained success, particularly in the bullpen, which almost blew a 10-1 lead against VMI Tuesday — the Cavaliers eventually won 10-9.

Alec Dougherty, Sports Editor: I would have said ‘yes’ about a week ago, but it seems like the Cavaliers are slowly figuring things out. The team responded well to a series-opening loss to Eastern Kentucky over the weekend with two landslide victories, and avenged their loss against VMI last weekend by beating the Cadets this Tuesday. The offensive void left from injured junior outfielder Cameron Simmons has been filled nicely by freshman infielder Tanner Morris, and starting pitchers Derek Casey and Evan Sperling are off to great starts on the mound.

Emma D’Arpino, Senior Associate Editor: Baseball has a long season ahead of them, and plenty of time to find their rhythm, so I don’t think there’s cause for concern yet. Junior outfielder Jake McCarthy has proven to be a quality player over the years, and freshman infielder Tanner Morris is off to a promising start this season. Plus, senior pitcher Derek Casey’s great performance against Eastern Kentucky last week was a good sign that Virginia can deliver from the mound. Also, with Coach Brian O’Connor’s experience, you can trust that this team is going to continue to improve throughout the season.

Zach Zamoff, Senior Associate Editor: Virginia baseball shouldn’t be concerned under the helm of Coach Brian O’Connor, who noted after the win against VMI how the team is just beginning to learn how to win. In a long season, a couple of losses to start the year shouldn’t be concerning, particularly in light of how the Cavaliers have come back to win their last four games. However, Virginia does have a few key issues to address in light of injuries. They should rely on solid starting pitching to provide stability this year — Derek Casey has already gotten off to a great start — as they figure out where the offense will come from.

2. How will men’s lacrosse fare in the ACC this year?

JB: The start to the season has certainly been promising, as few would have thought the Cavaliers would be the fourth best team in the country at this juncture. The critical question will be if the defense can keep up with the high flying offense — 18 -15 wins such as the one over Princeton may not be sustainable throughout ACC play, especially given a loaded conference that has five teams ranked in the top 12 nationally. 

AD: Coach Lars Tiffany has the talent to build a winner out of Virginia in his second year at the helm, but what is really setting this team apart is its ability to finish close games. After losing four games by one goal last season, the Cavaliers have showed great resilience in crunch time in 2018, both in a big comeback win against Loyola Maryland and in a tight victory against Princeton. With Duke and Syracuse showing flaws early this season, the Cavaliers have a great shot at stealing an even record in the ACC for the first time since 2012.

ED: While the ACC is always incredibly tough — as demonstrated by Virginia’s failure to pick up a single conference win last year – Virginia has already picked up some quality wins thus far in the season. Freshman Ian Laviano and sophomore Michael Kraus have been phenomenal on offense, and, overall, the team seems to be playing with confidence and unity. I definitely think this team is ready for the challenge of the ACC and I expect the quick-paced, offensive-minded style of the Cavaliers to bring in at least a conference win or two. 

ZZ: Now ranked No. 4 in the nation, Virginia men’s lacrosse is on fire, having won their first four games. Boasting both talented youth — like freshman Ian Laviano, leading the team with 14 goals — and crucial experience — like senior attacker and captain Mike D’Amario — this Cavalier team has what it takes to deliver in the ACC this year, after losing in all contests the past year. Despite the strength of the conference, which has four teams currently ranked in the top ten nationally, Virginia has shown that it has the resilience it takes to play with the best, especially in its come-from-behind victory over Loyola. Sunday against Syracuse will be their first test.

3. Can women’s basketball make a run in the ACC Tournament?

JB: The key will be to do enough to make the cut for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Coach Joanne Boyle’s seventh season at the helm. While the Cavaliers started ACC play on a tear, they have struggled to find victories against higher ranked teams of late. A trip to the semifinals would almost certainly be enough for Virginia to keep themselves off the bubble. Doing so would require beating No. 5 Notre Dame, a tall task for Boyle and company. 

AD: After a Jekyll-and-Hyde season from the Cavaliers, it’s hard to gauge exactly what their ceiling in the tournament. If the trend of this season continues, Virginia will be able to outlast the easier opponents but will falter when taking on the conference’s premier teams. Coming in as the No. 7 seed, the Cavaliers will take on the winner of Clemson vs. Georgia Tech — both teams they have beaten this season — but must take on national No. 5 Notre Dame if they win, a team they lost to decisively on the road. The team has the pieces to be great in years to come, but haven’t shown it can beat a juggernaut like the Fighting Irish. 

ED: Although I believe Virginia will advance beyond their first matchup, I think they’ll run into some trouble beyond that. Should the Cavaliers win against either Clemson or Georgia Tech, with No. 5 Notre Dame awaiting them in the next round, it’s hard to imagine their tournament will continue after the quarterfinal. In order to have a shot at taking down the powerhouse, Notre Dame, and make a deep run, they’ll need sophomore guard Dominique Toussaint and sophomore center Felicia Aiyeotan to play their best. Offensively, Toussaint has a team-high 11.3 points per game, and defensively Aiyeotan has held down the front. Aiyeotan was just named to the All-ACC Defensive team, and leads the conference in blocked shots. 

ZZ: The roundtable question about women’s basketball we had earlier concerned whether the Cavaliers would win the ACC. Now, Virginia is in a different place, teetering on the bubble of the NCAA tournament. While they have consistently handled mediocre teams in ACC play, they have struggled against harder competition, failing to beat a ranked team this year. Thus, although I predict Virginia will upset their first opponent given the difficult competition they have faced this year, I doubt they will advance much further. It will take scoring from post players like sophomore center Felicia Aiyeotan to carry the Cavaliers into the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

4. Who has been the most exciting breakout player on a spring sports team?

JB: Junior starter Evan Sperling has been dominant in his first two outings this season. While his 0.00 ERA may not stay as low as it is currently, his 5:1 K/BB ratio indicates his performance is no mirage. Even if his performance slows some, it appears likely Sperling will improve upon the 7.51 ERA he put up in 15 appearances last season. Given the injuries to the pitching staff, his stellar play has been a blessing for the Cavaliers in the early part of the season. 

AD: While freshman attackman Ian Laviano’s prolific start to his college career has been a major headline for men’s lacrosse, sophomore transfer midfielder Justin Schwenk deserves major credit for his masterful work as Virginia’s faceoff specialist. Schwenk’s .667 winning percentage at the faceoff-X — good for eighth in Division I — has allowed Virginia to control game tempo in all of their wins this season. His transfer from Monmouth has given Tiffany a huge asset to work with as he looks to correct issues his team faced last year. 

ED: Like the men’s team, the Virginia women’s lacrosse team is also off to an undefeated start. I think sophomore midfielder Nora Bowen has really been a factor in this successful start, and she really made massive strides from last year. In her freshman season, Bowen finished with two goals. But, in the first three games of this season, Bowen has amassed five goals. She has scored in each of Virginia’s contests with two goals against Elon, one against Richmond, and two against Princeton. While the Cavaliers knew they would get quality offense from senior Kasey Behr, last year’s ACC Freshman of the Year Sammy Mueller, and junior Avery Shoemaker, Bowen’s strong start is a little more unexpected. But her key contributions in the underdog win over Princeton show that she’ll play a very important role in Virginia’s success this season. 

ZZ: Freshman attackman Ian Laviano. While this might be the easy answer, it is undeniably true that Laviano’s scoring knack has proved to be an X-factor for Virginia. Laviano leads Virginia in goals scored with 14, and is currently sixth in all of Division I lacrosse. It’s not just this scoring edge — and natural ability in lacrosse — that Laviano brings, but energy. Coach Lars Tiffany has noted how much Laviano loves the game by his enthusiasm in practice, in addition to his outstanding performance in games.

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