The week that was: A look at the standout performances

Individuals from multiple teams shine in a busy week for the Cavaliers

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Juan Thornhill performed well across the board at the NFL Combine, improving his draft stock in the process.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

As two seasons of sports continue at the University, students and fans can enjoy a sporting event nearly every day of the week. Several teams have been excelling, with men’s basketball continuing to dominate competition and men’s lacrosse picking up two dramatic overtime wins on the road in consecutive weeks. This week though, I decided to spotlight four individuals who have shined in their respective sports.

Despite relative success in the past couple of seasons, Virginia is not necessarily known as a football school. Virginia’s lack of elite talent in recent years has been evident in the NFL Draft. The Cavaliers have not had a single player taken in the first two rounds since 2011 and have not had a first round pick since Eugene Monroe was selected No. 8 overall in 2009.

One player, however, is in good position to break this poor track record for the Cavaliers in this year’s draft.

Juan Thornhill, former safety for the Cavaliers, absolutely tore up the NFL Scouting Combine this past week. I’m not just saying he did well — he absolutely tore it up. Thornhill was the only player from Virginia to receive an invite to the Combine, a high honor in itself. The Combine is a place for potential draftees to improve their draft stock and show teams their athleticism — Thornhill did just that.

Going into the Combine, Thornhill was projected to be a third to fifth round pick. After his showing on Monday, I’m confident that this is no longer the case. His draft stock has soared. Thornhill displayed his jaw-dropping athleticism in four of the Combine events — bench press, 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump. He put up 21 reps on the bench press, an impressive feat. Then, Thornhill ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds, good for fifth-best among all safeties. That alone would have made for an impressive showing, but he decided to perform off the charts in his jumping too.

Thornhill hit 44 inches in the vertical jump and 11 feet and 9 inches in the broad jump. Both of these were the highest marks at the combine for any player. Out of the 338 players that were invited to the Combine, Thornhill scored the highest marks for these jumps. To put this in a historical perspective, Thornhill was just two inches away from the all-time Combine record for the vertical jump and just 4 inches away from the record for broad jump.

NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah had Thornhill getting drafted in the third round in his pre-Combine mock draft. After seeing Thornhill’s performance, Jeremiah moved him into the second round. I’m going to take it a step further and say Thornhill goes in the first round. It is not often NFL teams have the opportunity to draft a player with his type of athleticism and pure football skill. Thornhill finished his Virginia career with 13 interceptions and 39 pass deflections, both fantastic numbers for a defensive back. He is a player who can make an immediate impact and should hands down be taken in the first round. Your move, NFL teams.

While Thornhill was making noise up in Indianapolis, one of his fellow athletes had an equally impressive week.

Senior Brendan Casey led Virginia in the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships this past week in Greensboro, N.C. The men’s team finished third overall, and Casey had an insane weekend to propel the Cavaliers to the podium. Casey finished second in the 500-yard freestyle Thursday with a time of 4:12.63, second-best ever in Virginia history. Friday, Casey hopped back in the pool and won the 400-yard individual medley with a time of 3:39.93, again second-best in school history. But Casey was not done yet. He won the mile long freestyle in 14:37.50 Saturday, once again claiming the second fastest time in school history.

Virginia still has the NCAA Championships to look forward to in late March, but Casey also has another event fast approaching — he is currently on the 12-person roster of the U.S. Open Water National Team. Casey made the squad based off of his accomplishments at the U.S. Championships in 2018. The 2019 U.S. Open Water Swimming Championships will be held in Miami, Fla. in May, where Casey will compete with some of the other best long distance swimmers in the U.S. If he were to win in May, Casey would qualify for the World Championships, where the top 10 finishers qualify for the Olympics. I hope he knows he’ll have all of Charlottesville behind him after all he’s done swimming for Virginia.

Two other Virginia athletes have been recognized for their achievements very quickly into their season. Senior Maggie Jackson and junior Sammy Mueller of the women’s lacrosse team were both named to the 2019 Tewaaraton Award Watch List this past week. This award is presented annually to the best men’s and women’s lacrosse player in the NCAA.

It comes as no surprise that Jackson and Mueller have been named to this list, as they were selected as All-Americans in the past two years — Jackson in 2017 and Mueller in 2018. This season, through six games, Jackson already has 11 goals and 17 assists, while Mueller has 16 goals and 4 assists. Two stellar starts by two of the nation’s best players have lifted the Cavaliers to a 5-1 start and a No. 7 national ranking. Both Jackson and Mueller should give Virginia a good shot at hoisting the NCAA Tournament trophy in May.

Even though Virginia teams excel in so many different sports, it is exciting to see individuals dominate as well. But what may be the coolest part about their success is that none of these student athletes would ever put themselves above their team. This is perfectly displayed through these four athletes’ selflessness. Hopefully, they all know that we recognize their outstanding accomplishments and that they will always have the Cavaliers faithfully cheering them on in their athletic endeavors.

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