Roundtable — Gauging Virginia Athletics summer storyline

Discussing the upcoming seasons for football, men’s basketball, men’s soccer

sp-BrycePerkins-CourtesyVirginiaAthletics

The play of transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins will be one of the biggest questions heading into the football season.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

With the spring semester and spring sports schedules coming to a close, what is the biggest storyline for Virginia Athletics heading into the summer offseasons?

Alec Dougherty, Editor: This summer will be a crucial stretch for Virginia football as it tries to rework its offense and assimilate its new players into the fold. The team lost arguably their three most valuable players — and team captains — from the past two seasons in quarterback Kurt Benkert, inside linebacker Micah Kiser and free safety Quin Blanding. With a young defense and a new quarterback under certain, changes will be abundant for Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s schemes.

It all starts with transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins, who joins the team after a productive junior college season at Arizona Western. Since he does most of his damage on the ground as a runner, Mendenhall could look to implement more of an option-style offense that would utilize more deceptive run packages. Of course, the success of that new offense will hinge on the continued development of senior tailback Jordan Ellis and the offensive line — both of who underwhelmed in 2017.

Defensively, the unit that looks to be the strongest over the summer is the secondary, led by ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year safety Brenton Nelson. The front seven will need some time to gel after the departures of Kiser and defensive end/tackle Andrew Brown — and with most of the projected starters being underclassmen, the group’s success seems uncertain. Look for rising senior outside linebacker Chris Peace to take a leadership role after a solid 2017 campaign as the defense looks to mesh over the summer.

Emma D’Arpino, Senior Associate Editor: The biggest question I have going into the summer is, how will basketball respond to the loss to UMBC during the offseason? Now that the team has had plenty of time to absorb the shock, this summer will be a test of whether or not the loss motivates the Cavaliers to work harder than ever before or whether the loss makes them doubtful of their ability to compete on the big stage. The summer will also be telling of how new leaders emerge and embrace their larger responsibilities now that the Cavaliers can no longer rely on guard Devon Hall and forward Isaiah Wilkins to set the team culture. Rising senior center Jack Salt and rising junior guards  Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy will be especially crucial in this regard. 

The summer is also a key time in regards to player development. Expectations are high for rising sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter, but he’ll definitely have a difficult road to getting back to where he left off as he recovers from his wrist surgery. Rising junior forward Mamadi Diakite also proved that the ceiling is very high for what he can achieve, and this summer will be an important time for him to compliment his athleticism with continued understanding of the game. Furthermore, it’ll be interesting to see how new talent, especially redshirt freshman forward Francesco Badocchi, gets incorporated into the team. 

Another key thing for the summer will be to see whether or not the loss to UMBC will scare off recruits. After landing Casey Morsell, it’s looking hopeful that recruits aren’t deterred by the UMBC loss, however, it’ll be telling whether or not Virginia can get on the radar of recruits before the season begins. 

Zach Zamoff, Senior Associate Editor: Like men’s basketball, men’s soccer will have to bounce back from a shocking upset in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers went 10-3-3 during the regular season, and advanced to the ACC Championship Game, losing to Wake Forest on penalties. This earned them a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a first-round bye. Virginia, however, lost in their first NCAA Tournament game, a second-round clash against unheralded Fordham. The Cavaliers dominated possession throughout the game, but couldn’t respond with an equalizer after a defensive breakdown handed Fordham a one-goal lead.

Virginia soccer will have to overcome this tough defeat, and signs show that they already have. The Cavaliers most recently defeated Wake Forest 2-1 in spring soccer, the team they lost to in the ACC Championship. While the spring season is mostly used for development and is not meaningful in terms of results, Virginia still displayed a strong showing.

The Cavaliers should have another strong season, returning much of their core from last year; they did, however, lose several players to the MLS, whose shoes will need to be filled. Virginia lost four starters to the MLS SuperDraft. Senior goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell, midfielder Pablo Aguilar, and defender Sheldon Sullivan were drafted, in addition to junior forward Edward Opoku.

Virginia’s biggest need is a center forward, with Opoku leaving and it already being a need on last year’s team. If the Cavaliers are able to pick up a physical striker, and can overcome their tough defeat in last year’s tournament, they should be able to be competitive nationally.

Luke Beasey, Associate Editor: Since the commitment of the Washington, D.C. area phenom and four-star shooting guard Casey Morsell, only hard news has fallen on the ears of Virginia men’s basketball fans looking for a good recruiting class. Second place finishes and narrow misses have plagued Cavalier basketball recruiting since the 2016 class, which yielded four separate four-star recruits in Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jay Huff and De’Andre Hunter. In the two recruiting seasons following that class, however, Virginia was unable to pick up any more heavily recruited players. Outside of the Morsell commitment, the 2019 recruiting season may be following that same trajectory.

Four-star center Eric Dixon’s decision to play at Villanova instead of Virginia was somewhat expected, and Wake Forest graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods’ recent choice to play outside of the ACC at Ohio State instead of against his old team is understandable. But taken together, they could show a continuation of a trend in which Virginia basketball does not have a strong enough pull factor. This is backed up in 247sports.com’s list of Cavalier prospects, in which Virginia seems to be an underdog in every prospect it is aiming for. 

However, a recent shake-up of the Virginia recruiting staff could make a difference in the outcomes of Cavalier recruiting. Orlando Vandross, who was the director of recruiting and player development for the past three years, was promoted to assistant coach, leaving the position open for a change in style. In the meantime, Coach Tony Bennett has been working overtime on recruitment, visiting the homes of several prospects and keeping in contact with many more. Only time will tell if his work will help to surround Morsell and the current Cavaliers with even more talent. 

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