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The week that was: A look at spring sports teams’ starts

Men’s lacrosse, softball and baseball show promising signs

<p>Junior attacker Michael Kraus scored four goals last Friday for Virginia men's lacrosse against Lehigh.</p>

Junior attacker Michael Kraus scored four goals last Friday for Virginia men's lacrosse against Lehigh.

As February inches closer to an end and the weather in Charlottesville slowly grows warmer and warmer, we find ourselves welcoming something else back into our lives — the return of spring sports. While there is still some time left for winter sports to finish up, spring sports made their grand return this past week.

The men’s lacrosse, softball and baseball teams have all had quite different starts to their seasons. Men’s lacrosse has been battle-tested early against some of the nation’s best, softball bounced back from an early season rough patch and baseball struggled in their opening weekend, but showed some promising signs. These three teams are all capable of making substantial noise in the ACC and national pictures in 2019, but will need to continue to build upon their starts.

Men’s lacrosse has historically been a great program. In the past 20 years, they have made the NCAA Tournament 38 times and have won it all in 1999, 2003, 2006 and 2011. Given these past wins, it is not surprising that they find themselves ranked No. 12 in the nation. After dropping their first game of the season to then-No. 2 Loyola, they faced No. 8 Lehigh and No. 11 High Point this past week.

The Cavaliers defeated Lehigh Friday 11-8, backed by four goals from junior attacker Michael Kraus. However, in a back and forth game against High Point Monday, Virginia lost 14-13. A game like this against one of the best teams in the country shows how close the team is to breaking through.

I still believe men’s lacrosse will win an especially tough ACC and go deep into the NCAA Tournament. With all five members of the ACC currently ranked, it will certainly be difficult to do, but based on the efforts shown thus far, it is possible. In Coach Lars Tiffany’s third season with his former school, Brown, the team broke through and made the NCAA Tournament. Virginia is entering their third season with Tiffany at the helm and hopefully he brings some of that same third season magic with him.

The softball team had a very rough start to their season two weekends ago at a tournament at Florida Atlantic University. Over the course of three days, the Cavaliers dropped five straight games and started the season of 0-5. There was obviously room for lots of doubt. For a team that has only made the NCAA Tournament once in the entire history of the program, it looked like this season would follow a familiar pattern. But this team completely flipped the switch this past weekend. In another tournament in Elon, N.C., Virginia went 4-0 against solid competition to bring their overall record to 4-5. Although they find themselves still a game under .500, momentum is certainly on their side after rattling off four wins in a row. 

“I think this weekend is a little more of a testament to who we are and what we’ve been doing,” Virginia Coach Joanna Hardin said. “We felt like the opening weekend wasn’t really who we are so this weekend was really good for us to show ourselves and to prove ourselves.”

The Cavaliers will have a few more tournaments before ACC play starts in early March. These tournaments are opportunities for them to build more momentum and gain more experience, which is key to qualifying for the postseason. For a team that was predicted to finish last this season in the ACC, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from silencing their doubters — and they are the girls that can do just that.

Like men’s lacrosse, baseball was tasked with facing ranked opponents in their first three games of the season this past weekend. The Cavaliers traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz. to face No. 2 Vanderbilt, No. 17 TCU and No. 24 Cal State Fullerton. Even though they dropped all three of the games in Scottsdale, I believe the trip delivered many early season lessons to this team.

After not making the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2003, there was some doubt about Virginia. Many young faces have been called upon to replace the 13 players that either graduated to went professional last year. For example, freshman third baseman Zack Gelof led the team this weekend with three doubles and five RBIs. This is the kind of production the Cavaliers will need from their younger guys if they want to return to the level of competition they have been used to in the past.

Even though the season got off to a rough start, it was good for the team to travel out west and play three close games against some of the best teams in the country. These types of efforts are what the team needs, and they will eventually start to see these narrow losses turn into wins. Under the guidance of Coach Brian O’Connor, I am confident that this season Virginia will find themselves back among the country’s elite and in the NCAA Tournament.

While enjoying all of these games, I was also able to watch a former Cavalier in the NBA Three-Point Contest over the weekend. Class of 2014 alumnus Joe Harris competed in the Three-Point Contest on Saturday night against the likes of Stephen Curry, Dirk Nowitzki, Damian Lillard and many other NBA stars. Against all odds, Harris showed the country why he is one of the most dangerous three-point shooters in the league and won the whole contest. Congrats on that, Joe. We miss you man.

With plenty of different sporting events happening over the past week involving Virginia teams and former Virginia stars, it certainly felt good to be a Cavalier fan. It is going to be an action-packed couple of months with winter sports winding down and spring sports continuing their seasons, and I would not want it any other way. Virginia fields great teams in almost every sport. Students, alumni and fans alike are lucky to have so many great teams to root for, and for someone like myself, that is heaven on Earth. But then again, aren’t the words heaven and Charlottesville synonymous?