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PARTING SHOT: Pursuing your passions

Somewhere in the middle of my first year on Grounds, I decided that I wasn’t doing enough — my problem was that I didn’t even know what I wanted to do.

On a whim, I sent an email to the Cavalier Daily’s Sports section. I had no real experience in journalism — I can proudly say that, for one week, I was the co-editor of my eighth grade newspaper, but that’s it. I love sports, so I decided I would just figure out how to write about them as I went along.

My first assignment for the paper was covering the field hockey team. I knew nothing about field hockey — I can admit now that I still don’t know that much about field hockey — but I was excited either way. I got to feel like a sportswriter for the first time in my life, and I picked up the rules as I went along. Anyone who knows me knows that I will get invested in literally any sport, and I got just as excited for field hockey as I did for any other — or at least as excited as they allow you to be in the press box.

As I moved from sport to sport — field hockey, women’s tennis, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, baseball, football and men’s basketball in all — I never lost that excitement. To me, it was the ultimate win-win situation. I got to see some of the finest athletes in the country play while turning my sports obsession into something productive.

What made me it even better, though, was meeting the people involved in the sports that were even more excited than I was. The Virginia athletes that I have met have all been talented and dedicated, and have shown more poise than I could imagine. They were unselfish after wins and gracious after losses. They put up with my stupid questions and gave thoughtful, honest answers — they even seemed happy to do so.

Most of all, they made me feel like a part of the experience. When members of the women’s tennis team started saying hi to me on Grounds, I was beyond thrilled. I had long given up the hope that anyone was reading my articles, but it was refreshing to get some recognition from the team itself.

The coaches at Virginia have to be one of the most accomplished groups of coaches in the nation, but they always treated me with respect and made the effort to help me if they could. Women’s tennis coach Mark Guilbeau talked to me on the phone from his car on the drive back from an away game just so I could have quotes for my article the next day.

When I showed up to practice each week, women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson would ask me how my week had been, and he talked with me for fifteen straight minutes when I wrote a feature about him coaching the U-20 women’s national team to the 2012 World Cup. When I went back this fall to fill in for a game, Swanson remembered me, even after a year.

Despite the prodigious work they do behind the scenes to keep Virginia athletics running, the SIDs all put up with my incessant emails asking what the practice schedule was that week and setting up the interviews that I needed. They made me feel like an actual reporter and seemed grateful for the coverage I was providing.

In The Cavalier Daily, I found another group of people with incredible dedication. You have to either be crazy or devoted to spend as much time in the basement of Newcomb as the staff of the paper does — for free. They are friendly and welcoming, but constantly challenge each other to be better.

I would never be where I am without my fellow sports editors. Fritz Metzinger and Daniel Weltz showed me what good writing truly is and brought the Sports section to new heights. Zack Bartee sat next to me through countless hours of football and basketball, and leaving the paper is made easier knowing the section is in his hands.

Three and a half years after sending that first email to The Cavalier Daily, I was sitting in Madison Square Garden, covering the men’s basketball team’s Sweet 16 game against Michigan State. I had some grasp now on being a sportswriter, but I was still doing it out of my passion for sports. I never could have made it that far without the help of all those other people who shared my passion.

Michael Eilbacher was one of The Cavalier Daily’s 124th Sports Senior Associates.