Looking at this year's graduating athletes

The Cavalier Daily Sports section highlights five of the most memorable athletes departing this year

sp-2018GraduatingAthletes-CourtesyUniversityofVirginia

From left: Mike D'Amario, Veronica Latsko, Isaiah Wilkins, Tara Vittese, Derek Casey.

Courtesy University of Virginia | Courtesy Virginia Athletics

At the end of every school year, Virginia athletics loses a large crop of athletes due to graduation. Here is a look at five of the most memorable athletes departing from Virginia this year.

Men’s basketball: Isaiah Wilkins

Forward Isaiah Wilkins had a tremendous career at Virginia. His consistently strong defense, passion and leadership on the court propelled Virginia basketball to success throughout his four years. 

“He’s a warrior … I haven’t been around too many guys that affect the game with his help defense as he does,” Coach Tony Bennett said of Wilkins in a Media Day in October 2017. “He’s so instinctual and he anticipates and he’s always covering things for other guys.” 

As a sophomore, Wilkins was a regular starter on a team that went to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 2016. His senior season was particularly impressive. A captain, Wilkins was a tremendous leader for a Cavaliers team that went 31-3 and won the ACC Tournament. He was outstanding on the defensive end, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year for his play. Wilkins was the anchor of the nation’s best defense last year. The Cavaliers allowed only 54 points per game. It will certainly be difficult to replace the senior captain’s heart, leadership and defense on the floor.

— Zach Zamoff, Sports Senior Associate Editor

Men’s lacrosse: Mike D’Amario

A three-year starter for the Cavaliers, Mike D’Amario has been a steady force for the Virginia’s men’s lacrosse team through the head coach transition from Dom Starsia to Lars Tiffany. D’Amario has thrived as a finisher on the goal since he took the starting role, scoring more than 30 goals in each of the last two seasons. 

Outside of the playing field, D’Amario has shown his commitment to education by making three straight ACC All-Academic Teams from 2016 to 2018. With the men’s lacrosse team fighting plenty of adversity with a coaching change and a young team over the past few seasons, the Niskayuna, N.Y. native has taken his leadership ability to his team and helped them get back to a top team in Division I.

“How does a fourth-year player contribute to the program he loves? Mike has taken on vital roles for us, serving as both our offensive quarterback and as a soothing, supportive voice to fellow teammates,” Coach Lars Tiffany said of D’Armio at the beginning of the season. “Mike’s passion for U.Va. Lacrosse is second only to his sincere concern for the people that comprise it.”  

— Alec Dougherty, Sports Editor

Field hockey: Tara Vittese

Tara Vittese is not only one of the best field hockey stars Virginia has ever had, but she is also one of the best who ever played at the collegiate level. In 2015, she was named the Longstreth/NFHCA National Player of the Year — making her the first Cavalier to ever obtain the honor. Impressive as that is, Vittese went on to win the award in both 2016 and 2017. Currently, she stands as the only player ever to have won the award three times — solidifying her status as one of the game’s greatest legends.

Vittese won these awards for good reason, too. Throughout Vittese’s run at Virginia, the team spent a lot of time ranked nationally in the top 25, reached the NCAA Tournament and claimed the ACC Championship title in 2016. This past season, Vittese ranked second in the nation in both goals (1.25) and points (3.20) per game. To top off her astounding career, Vittese was named as Virginia’s top female athlete for the 2017-18 academic year at the Hoos Choice Awards earlier this month.

— Ben Tobin, Managing Editor

Women’s soccer: Veronica Latsko

During her years at Virginia, Veronica Latsko made an impact both on the field and in the classroom. After being a two-time All-ACC Academic team selection and a three-time ACC Academic Honor Roll honoree, Latsko was named the ACC Female Scholar Athlete of the Year at the 2018 Hoos Choice Awards. She was also named a Thacker Award post-graduate scholarship recipient, which is given to athletes that demonstrate outstanding performance both in athletic competition and in the classroom and intend to further their education through postgraduate studies at an ACC institution. 

In addition to her academic honors, Latsko was awarded two All-ACC Honors, with a spot on the All-ACC First Team after her tremendous senior season. Latsko netted 26 goals and had 14 assists during her years, with eight goals and four assists coming from her senior season. Her last year as a Cavalier also included five game-winning goals and a performance in which she scored three goals and had two assists to tie a program record for points in a single game. 

— Emma D’Arpino, Sports Senior Associate Editor

Baseball: Derek Casey

Derek Casey has always had the talent to dominate ACC play, but injuries kept him from reaching his potential until this year, where he’s led the team in innings pitched, and quieted bats to the tune of a 3.23 ERA. Casey has been particularly important for the Cavaliers in the latter half of the season, as his ability to anchor the staff has helped to save a staff that has been stretched thin at times due to injury. Casey has pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his past eight starts, and  leads the Cavaliers with seven quality starts. 

“Derek Casey has been huge for this team,” Coach Brian O’Connor said earlier in the season.

Tommy John surgery in 2016 derailed Casey after a successful freshman season, and kept him from being drafted when eligible last year. Although he has a year of eligibility remaining from his redshirt 2016 season, MLB teams are not expected to pass on Casey again.

Casey’s reliability has been a bright-spot while his team has endured so many injuries this season, and will be sorely missed next year.

— Jake Blank, Sports Editor

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