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Realism, optimism and ranked Virginia sports

Virginia's wide-ranging success is cause for realistic positivity

Spring is almost here. We are caught in limbo between down jackets and sweatshirts, heading to the gym or running outdoors and, of course, between winter and spring sports.

But this is hardly a bad thing.

The Cavalier athletic program, in its winter to spring transition period, currently boasts no fewer than 10 ranked teams. It’s a good time to be a non-football fan, huh?

The men’s basketball team, as we all know, has earned a No. 12 ranking in the country heading into the homestretch of the regular season. Meanwhile, the women’s swim and dive team, recently crowned seven-time ACC champs, is appropriately ranked seventh in the nation. Baseball is No. 1 and women’s tennis is No. 13. Men’s lacrosse, at No. 4, has yet to lose, and the women’s team is ninth in the country. The wrestling team sits at No. 12, men’s swim and dive at No. 22 and rowing, though the spring season has yet to begin, is ranked fifth. Rounding it all out is the defending NCAA champion — the men’s tennis team, ranked No. 10.

Nationally ranked sports teams are more likely to enjoy high attendance. The media, as well, will give the teams extra notice, and some Cavaliers may be lucky enough to crack the Top 10 on SportsCenter. More importantly, though, these rankings lead us to assume the team is going to win a few games and make some noise in the postseason. That very assumption can be dangerous.

A ranked team inevitably plays with a target on its back. It’s the reason why we rush the court after a big win — beating a ranked opponent is no small feat, and every team which faces one will push harder and dig deeper to do it. Upsets may not happen often, but when they do, it can spell disaster for the toppled giant. Remember a certain game in Blacksburg only a few weeks ago?

The Cavaliers, by all logic, should have run away with the game. No one expected the Hokies to present even a whimper of a threat, but they certainly did. The Hoos walked away with a win — but it took all they had to beat the bottom-feeders of the ACC, because said bottom-feeders played with a vengeance befitting a team going up against a hyped-up favorite.

Everyone loves a Cinderella story, where the underdog emerges triumphant against a higher-ranked opponent. Everyone, that is, except for the ill-fated stepsister. When a team is ranked but loses, fans are let down, to say the least. Caught up in the spotlight, we forget that in sports, crazy things can happen.

Take the Virginia baseball team, for instance. Ranked first in Baseball America’s preseason poll, the Cavaliers stumbled out of the starting gate with an 0-1 record, losing to unranked Kentucky in the Hughes Bros. Challenge. Since then, the team has regrouped and regained that top-ranked luster — though they lost again Tuesday after six straight wins.

We have every reason to be optimistic. There’s nothing stopping the 10 ranked Virginia teams from going on to win 10 NCAA Championships. Each team has already demonstrated its ability to — gasp — lose games, but, more importantly, to rebound from them and win some more. Still, optimism doesn’t dismiss a healthy dose of realism. No win is a given.

What it comes down to is this: the next few days, weeks and months will be full of action, and — more likely than not — many a W for Virginia sports. Those teams just might climb up even further in the national rankings, but their opponents will be gunning to take them down. That’s a fact no player, coach or fan should overlook: anything could happen.


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