A decade of dominance: Sports in review

Revisit the players, games and championships that made the past 10 years memorable


Kyle Guy finished his Virginia career ranked first in three-point percentage (42.5 percent) and left Cavalier fans with incredible memories in his time in Charlottesville.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

2009-2019 was a decade of dominance for Virginia athletics. Virginia won 12 of its 27 national championships this decade.

As the decade comes to a close, let’s take a look back at memorable players, moments and stories from these past 10 years.

Unforgettable players: Emily Sonnett and Morgan Brian, Leah Smith, Kyle Guy

Morgan Brian and Emily Sonnett: Current members of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Morgan Brian and Emiy Sonnett competed at the University together and graduated just one year apart. Both went professional following their collegiate careers — Brian was the No. 1 overall pick for the Houston Dash and Sonnett was the No. 1 overall pick for the Portland Thorns in the 2015 and 2016 National Women’s Soccer League Drafts, respectively.

Brian won the MAC Hermann Trophy — given to the best player in college soccer — twice and had 41 goals and 43 assists in her career at Virginia. She was the first Virginia player to ever record more than 40 goals and 40 assists in a career.

Sonnett, a defender, scored eight goals in her time at Virginia. She also won the ESPNW 2015 Soccer Player of Year and was a MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist.

Leah Smith: Smith, one of the most successful swimmers in Virginia history, competed with the Cavaliers from 2014 to 2017. During her time at the University, Smith picked up 13 ACC championships and four individual NCAA championships — an all-time record for any Virginia student-athlete.

While at Virginia, Smith was one of 18 U.Va. students and alumni who competed at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games as both coaches and athletes. However, Smith was the only one of this elite group to win not just one, but two medals at the Games — gold and bronze.

Kyle Guy: Guy was one of three Virginia men’s basketball players to go pro following the team’s NCAA championship last year. He famously bought the Cavaliers a ticket to the final game by sinking three consecutive free throws after the buzzer had sounded against Auburn.

Successful programs: men’s tennis, women’s rowing

Though many Virginia teams were victorious this decade, men’s tennis boasts one of the most successful seasons of any Virginia sports team — in 2013, they pulled off an impressive 30-0 record and won 100 consecutive ACC matches. The squad went on to win the ACC championship, the ITA National Team Indoor Championship and the program’s first-ever NCAA championship.

That wasn’t the end — the team also won national championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

However, men’s tennis wasn’t the only successful team this decade. Women’s rowing is among many other programs that stand out. They’ve won every ACC championship since 2010 and have secured two NCAA championships.

The Cavaliers’ first national title came in 2010 when the team’s Varsity Eight placed ahead of both Stanford and California.

“Can we win another NCAA title? That is hard to do, but we are going to put ourselves in the hunt,” Coach Kevin Sauer said in an interview with the Cavalier Daily in 2010.

In 2012, the Cavaliers did just that by surpassing California again to clinch their second NCAA championship with 87 points.

Memorable games: men’s basketball, baseball

Though the decade was packed full of amazing wins, two games in particular stand out as unforgettable moments.

In 2014, baseball suffered a heartbreaking loss in the College World Series championship against Vanderbilt. 

However, the Cavaliers were ready for a comeback. They returned to the championship again the following year despite a season riddled with injuries, setbacks and disappointments. Yet again, they met Vanderbilt. This time, Virginia defeated the Commodores 4-2, avenging the previous year’s loss and securing the program’s first-ever national title.

Another memorable comeback was men’s basketball’s Final Four game against Auburn in 2019. The Cavaliers, looking to bounce back from the previous year’s upset against UMBC, secured a spot in the national championship when junior guard Kyle Guy made three consecutive free throws after being fouled with less than a second of time remaining.

“I can’t lie to you and say I knew I was going to hit them,” Guy said following the game. “I was terrified, but I [had] confidence in myself. This what we dream of. For me to be able to do this for our team, I couldn’t be happier.”

Biggest program turnarounds: men’s basketball, football

The decade saw massive improvement in both the men’s basketball and football programs. 

Coach Tony Bennett came to the University in the beginning of the decade, bringing a new, distinct coaching style that would transform the men’s basketball program. Bennett came to Virginia from Washington State, where he went 69-33 in his three seasons as coach. 

Before his first season, Bennett expressed that developing a strong defense was his main priority — the Cavaliers had finished their previous season last in the ACC in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.

That year, the Cavaliers were 15-16, 5-11 ACC — a result far from what Virginia fans are used to today.

“I'm here to try and rebuild a program that hasn't had a lot of recent success,” Bennett said in an interview with the Cavalier Daily in 2010. “Through thick and thin, I hope they'll [fans] stick with us because this is a long-range deal.”

They certainly did. 10 years later, Bennett would see his vision come to fruition with a comeback story for the ages.

However, he also wasn’t wrong about the fact that there would be a “thick and thin.” In 2018, fans were stunned by a heartbreaking loss to UMBC during the first round of the NCAA tournament.

A year later, Virginia overcame all odds to defeat No. 3 Texas Tech 85-77, clinching the program’s first national championship. Following the season, three players — Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome — were selected in the NBA draft. 

The University’s football program also saw massive improvement this decade. 

In 2010, Virginia football’s head coach was Mike London, who had previously been the team’s defensive coordinator.

Despite a 4-8, 1-7 ACC record during his first year as head coach, the team improved significantly in the 2011 season — Virginia became the first team in NCAA history to beat both Florida State and Miami on the road. They Cavaliers also tied for second in the ACC Coastal and earned a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Despite that successful season, London endured criticism from fans and was unable to break a losing streak against rival Virginia Tech. He resigned in 2015 after a fourth-straight losing record and was replaced by Bronco Mendenhall, the squad’s current head coach.

“I crave challenge,” Mendenhall said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily in 2016. “I think we can do something that hasn’t been done here consistently for a long time.”

Things didn’t go as planned for Mendenhall at first. In his first season, Virginia finished last in the ACC with a 2-10, 1-7 ACC record — the program’s fifth consecutive losing season.

However, Mendenhall turned things around and coached Virginia to a bowl game victory in 2018 and broke the losing streak against Virginia Tech in 2019 — a triumph that secured the squad their first-ever Coastal Division title and a spot in a bowl game against Florida. 

Besides the recent win against the Hokies, there have been many other memorable moments. From students rushing the field after beating Florida State by a score of 31-24 to pounding Duke over parents weekend, Virginia football has certainly come a long way from 2009.

The future remains bright for Virginia athletics. With Athletics Director Carla Williams spearheading the University’s Master Plan to improve facilities, and coaches like Bennett and Mendenhall invested in the future of their programs, the next decade is poised to be another successful one.

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