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Roundtable: Reflecting on an unprecedented fall sports season

The CD Sports Staff takes on some key questions after the conclusion of the 2020 fall season

<p>From thrilling games to standout players, the fall 2020 season was an interesting one for Virginia's teams.</p>

From thrilling games to standout players, the fall 2020 season was an interesting one for Virginia's teams.

With Virginia football’s loss to Virginia Tech, the fall sports season has officially concluded. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, every fall team was able to have some semblance of a season. The fall was full of ups and downs and The Cavalier Daily’s sports staff is ready to answer a few questions about an eventful fall season.

Which fall sports team was the most successful this year?

William Smythe, Sports Columnist: Carrying high expectations into the season, the Virginia women’s soccer team did not disappoint in its 2020 campaign, boasting a strong 8-3-1 record against stingy competition. Sophomore forward Diana Ordoñez and junior forward Alexa Spaanstra both found themselves on the ACC All-Tournament team and helped lead the Cavaliers to a fourth-straight ACC semifinal. Despite what the record shows, Virginia’s three losses were against teams that finished in the top ten nationally — No. 1 North Carolina, No. 5 Clemson and No. 2 Florida State.

Jacob Tisdale, Sports Columnist: Led by an impressive season from senior Rohann Asfaw, men’s cross-country flourished during its limited season. The Cavaliers came in first overall in all three regular season meets this year and placed fourth out of fifteen teams in the ACC championships. Virginia had three runners finish within the top 13 at the final meet. The women’s team also saw improvement this season behind the efforts of senior Hannah Moran, who earned All ACC honors.

Muhammad Amjad, Sports Writer: As simple as it sounds, women’s soccer did exactly what it should have — beat teams it was better than and lose to tougher opponents. A strong push in the ACC Tournament capped off yet another stellar season under Coach Steve Swanson. Overall, winning 66 percent of its games and earning five selections to All-ACC teams is highly impressive for the Cavaliers. There was also a sign of more to come as forward Lia Godfrey took home ACC Freshman of the Year.

Which fall athlete had the most impressive season?

WS: While only participating in four events this season, Asfaw dominated competition and placed atop the leaderboard in three out of four 8K races in men’s cross-country. Asfaw posted a career-best time of 23:15.0 at the ACC championships, which earned him fourth place overall and propelled the Cavaliers to fourth place as a team. Asfaw received national acclaim for his individual achievements, having been recognized twice as the NCAA Cross Country National Athlete of the Week. 

JT: Freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. burst onto the scene in Virginia football’s season opener against Duke, hauling in 101 yards on four catches — two of which were touchdowns. He is the first Virginia wideout ever to record more than 100 yards in their collegiate debut. Towering over corners at 6-foot-7, Davis averaged 25.8 yards per reception — second-best in the nation and first among freshmen — and finished the season with 515 total yards and five touchdowns despite missing nearly a month due to injury. The two-time ACC Rookie of the Week impressed this year and presents an exciting target for sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong next season. 

Connor Lothrop, Sports Columnist: Women’s soccer’s Ordoñez dazzled in 11 appearances for Virginia. The talented Texan tallied a team-leading seven goals and trailed only Godfrey in assists with four. She showed great timing, netting the first goal of the season after nine minutes at home against Virginia Tech and a game-winning assist against Pittsburgh. In the first round of the ACC Tournament, Ordoñez demonstrated her skills as a goal poacher by netting three close-range goals against Louisville. Her prolific stat line and ability to score in crucial moments shined bright in a season where no Cavalier truly lit the ACC on fire. 

MA: Armstrong exceeded expectations as a first-year starting quarterback in a season filled with adversity. Following in the footsteps of former Virginia star Bryce Perkins and taking over an offense amid the chaos of the pandemic were no small tasks, but Armstrong had flashes of brilliance on the field. Despite growing pains, he improved in each of his starts this season, notching standout performances in wins against then-No. 15 North Carolina and Boston College. While there is still room to improve, Armstrong was the first Virginia quarterback to record 400 yards in back-to-back games and earned the highest grade from Pro Football Focus of any quarterback in week 14 — about as good of a start as Virginia fans could have hoped for.

What was the best Virginia game of the year?

WS: I’m going to go with the North Carolina-Virginia football showdown on Halloween. In a game that featured very little defense whatsoever, the Cavaliers went toe-to-toe with one of the most potent offenses in college football — which was led by sophomore quarterback Sam Howell and running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter — and squeaked out a 44-41 win at Scott Stadium. Virginia, which once again leaned on the arms and legs of Armstrong, managed to upset the 15th-ranked Tar Heels while extending its winning streak against North Carolina to four consecutive seasons.

JT: After an up-and-down regular season capped off by a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech, Virginia men’s soccer entered the ACC tournament with something to prove against top-seeded Wake Forest. The Cavaliers exceeded expectations in a 2-0 victory on the back of an impressive two-goal performance by junior forward Cabrel Happi Kamseu. Equally as impressive was the defensive effort, as Virginia shut out the Demon Deacons’ potent offense. While Virginia fell to tournament winners Clemson the following game, the team can now build on its early-round upset and put forth a strong effort in the NCAA tournament this spring. 

CL: Field hockey had a rough season, going 4-7 after starting 3-1. However, the Cavaliers’ third win was one of the hardest-fought of the year. Playing against Syracuse Oct. 4, Virginia scored once in each of the first two quarters. The visiting Orange fought back after halftime and tied the score with 11 minutes left in regulation. The teams brawled to a draw through the final quarter and first overtime period. Just seconds into the second overtime, junior back Amber Ezechiels scored her second goal and third point of the day to secure the win for Virginia and the high point of the team’s season.

What was your top takeaway from Virginia football’s 2020 performance?

CL: The coaching staff is clearly not afraid to get creative. Coach Bronco Mendenhall brought in junior transfer quarterback Keytaon Thompson, only for him to lose the starting job to Armstrong. However, Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae used Thompson as an all-purpose weapon, and he rewarded Anae by producing 332 yards and six touchdowns on 46 touches. When Armstrong got injured, the coaching staff threw a novel three-quarterback offense onto the field. The innovative system nearly helped the Cavaliers upset a ranked Miami team on the road. The 2019 season proved Mendenhall can win with a talented roster. The creativity and flexibility shown by the Virginia staff in 2020 with an undermanned team is a hallmark of successful coaching.

MA: The Cavalier football team has mastered player development. The 2021 senior class — featuring standouts like linebackers Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier — already showcased the coaching staff’s developmental skills. But Armstrong’s stellar play at quarterback in his first year at the helm should excite Virginia fans further on what Mendenhall and his team can do. While Armstrong may resemble shades of his predecessor Perkins, who shattered numerous program records after transferring to Virginia, Armstrong is unique in that he is a Mendenhall-groomed talent. Since taking over in 2016, the coaching staff has used transfers like Perkins to plug holes that emerged in the roster. However, a sign of a good program is recruiting and developing players — and Virginia demonstrated that it can do just that in 2020.