The upcoming fall sports season will face unique and unprecedented challenges. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every aspect of sports will look completely different from fan engagement to game protocols. As fall ACC competition kicks off in the coming weeks, The Cavalier Daily’s sports staff is ready to address some of the most important questions facing Virginia sports this year.
Do you believe Virginia’s sports teams will be able to play out the entire fall season?
Andrew Markwalter, Sports Columnist: Honestly, the situation depends on how rapidly the virus spreads and how many opposing players test positive for COVID-19. Director of Athletics Carla Williams and her staff have done a remarkable job at containing Virginia student athletes within a bubble, but with the start of in-person classes and competition, the bubble will be more vulnerable and large outbreaks will jeopardize chances of playing this fall. Hopefully, Virginia’s teams will compete as long as possible, but COVID-19 has proven to be a very unpredictable virus, with many factors at play.
Connor Lothrop, Sports Columnist: Until last week, no Virginia student-athletes had tested positive for the coronavirus since July. That changed Friday, as five athletes tested positive. If this is an isolated incident, the athletes are making good decisions off the field and everyone is following university protocols, fall sports may be able to survive the pandemic. However, we need every student-athlete on every ACC campus to make the right decisions too. Unfortunately, I don’t see a world where that happens and there’s a good chance at least one sport — but probably more — will have its season cut short.
Andrew Cho, Associate Writer: The University just announced that, with the move-in of hundreds of athletes in non-competitive seasons in recent weeks, only five new positive COVID-19 cases were reported. This means that since the last report, 15 more Virginia sports teams have arrived in Charlottesville and the results have been solid. Notably, Virginia football has not had any new positive cases since the July 24 report. It appears as though the athletics department is taking testing seriously for all athletes as well as staff, which leads me to believe that we will have a fall sports season. A bigger issue is what happens to Virginia’s schedule with other schools shutting down.
Which fall team will be the most successful this year?
CL: The men’s soccer team is coming off a year in which it won the ACC Championship but suffered heartbreak in the national championship. The team lost four of last year’s starting underclassmen to the professional ranks, but Coach George Gelnovatch brought in a versatile 13-man recruiting class from various countries that can plug any holes in the team. The Cavaliers might not reach the College Cup again, but they’re as good a bet to be successful as any other fall team.
Max Pilloff, Associate Writer: The women’s soccer team is set to compete for a national championship this season. The Cavaliers return many key players from their successful 2019 season, including sophomore forward Diana Ordonez — the co-leading scorer from last year — and senior goalkeeper Laurel Ivory. Virginia was dominant with Ivory protecting its net — allowing just six goals in nineteen games — and posted an undefeated 15-0-3 record before her season-ending injury in the ACC Tournament final. This team is poised to avenge its disappointing 2019 second-round NCAA Tournament exit and compete for its first national title.
AC: I also have to back the Virginia women’s soccer team. An extremely successful regular season for the Cavaliers was unfortunately cut short with a second round loss against Washington State — who ended up going to the Final Four — in the NCAA Tournament. Ordonez and Ivory are the big names returning and will have considerable weight on their shoulders to succeed. They are joined by senior midfielder Anna Sumpter, a Charlottesville native returning for her fifth and final season, and junior midfielder Alexa Spaanstra, who led the ACC in assists last season. This team has the talent, leadership and determination to compete for both the ACC title and the national championship in 2020.
Which fall athlete are you most excited to watch this season?
AM: Sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong should be an exciting sight as he takes over as the starter for Virginia football. Coaches and other players rave about his knowledge of the offense, leadership and balanced attack of rushing and passing. While he will be starting for the Cavaliers for the first time in 2020, Coach Bronco Mendenhall has already compared him to the New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill, a gifted backup to Drew Brees in the NFL.
MP: Senior goalkeeper Colin Shutler was a dominant force last season. The first-team All-American played every minute of the Cavaliers’ 2019 season, conceding 13 goals and tallying 15 shutouts. However, six of those 13 goals came in the final three games of Virginia’s season, including three in the national championship game. Now, without former Virginia defenders Henry Kessler and Robin Afamefuna, it will be interesting to see how Shutler rebounds from a heartbreaking end to the 2019 season. Plus, being one of only three seniors with significant experience, the onus will be on Shutler to help the team navigate a volatile pandemic-stricken season.
AC: Women’s soccer’s Ordonez will be a tremendous player to watch this year. After leading the ACC in goals as a freshman, Ordonez’s upside is through the roof. A bona fide goal scorer with an athletic 5-foot-11 build, she’s capable of leading the entire country in goals this season, and will play a huge factor in the Cavaliers’ success this year. The term “sophomore slump” may be thrown around Ordonez, but Virginia fans should fully expect her to lead the team to national prominence in 2020.
How many games do you think Virginia football will win in 2020?
AM: Virginia football will win eight games, similar to the last couple of seasons. Even though the ACC is much-improved this season, Virginia has the ability to compete with Virginia Tech and North Carolina, both teams expected to contend for an ACC title. This team is underrated — the Cavaliers have a talented defense, along with a promising quarterback and veteran offensive line to help ignite a much-needed running attack.
CL: If they play a full season, Virginia should win eight games. Armstrong and his junior backup, Keytaon Thompson, both offer unique talents that Mendenhall can leverage, and an experienced defensive front seven will be good enough to win some games if the offense falters. The ACC is relatively weak, and only Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina can seriously threaten the Cavaliers. Expect Virginia to win at least one of these contests but possibly drop another to lesser competition.
MP: The new-look Cavaliers may only win five games in 2020. Last season, Virginia completed one of the greatest seasons in program history — the team beat Virginia Tech, won nine games, went to the ACC Championship Game and competed in the Orange Bowl for the first time. However, this success will be difficult to emulate due to the loss of quarterback Bryce Perkins and several other key players. There are a lot of question marks on the team, starting with Armstrong. The Cavaliers should take care of Abilene Christian but may find it difficult to win more than four games in a revamped Coastal Division.