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Highlighting some of Virginia’s best comebacks in the past decade

The “Cardiac Cavs” have broken the hearts and subsequently lifted the spirits of Virginia fans with these remarkable comeback stories

<p>Some of Virginia's best comebacks have eventually resulted in hardware for the Cavaliers.&nbsp;</p>

Some of Virginia's best comebacks have eventually resulted in hardware for the Cavaliers. 

Virginia sports teams have a knack for providing some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Here we’ll take a look at how Cavalier teams have emerged from some of these lows to reach some of college athletics’ greatest heights. 

Women’s soccer: From a second-round upset in 2019 to the College Cup in 2021

The 2019 rendition of Virginia women’s soccer was a team for the ages, going undefeated in the regular season — winning 14 out of their 17 matches — and boasting stars like then-senior forward Meghan McCool and freshman forward Diana Ordoñez, who combined for 30 goals and 7 assists on the season. After torching their regular-season competition, the Cavaliers advanced to the ACC Tournament, where they held the No. 1 ranking in the nation and downed Duke and No. 5 Florida State en route to a championship date with North Carolina. While the Cavaliers fell to the Tar Heels in overtime — where star goalkeeper Laurel Ivory — was knocked out of the game with a concussion and fractured jaw, they moved onto the NCAA Tournament where they were the No. 3 seed in the nation. After making light work of in-state opponent Radford in the first round, Virginia faced upstart Washington State, who took advantage of the Cavaliers’ loss of Ivory and upset the Cavaliers 3-2. 

The following season, while Virginia sputtered at times — falling to Clemson in a 3-0 shutout loss and North Carolina once again in the ACC Tournament and — the Cavaliers avenged last year’s loss and caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia rattled off wins against SIU-Edwardsville, Brigham Young, Rice and TCU in the spring, making its first College Cup since 2014. While the Cavaliers fell to Florida State in penalty kicks in the semifinals, their resilience in the NCAA tournament spoke volumes to the team’s character.

Football: Ending the longest losing streak in the history of the Commonwealth Cup in 2019

For much of the 21st century, Virginia Tech football has had Virginia football’s number, going on an infamous winning streak of 15 games between 2003 and 2019 that kept the Commonwealth Cup in Blacksburg. In fact, Virginia legends like All-American defensive end Chris Long, All-ACC offensive tackle Morgan Moses and Super Bowl champion safety Juan Thornhill were all unable to get their hands on the Cup during their time with the Cavaliers. However, with the arrival of Coach Bronco Mendenhall on Grounds in 2016 came a new mentality within the program — to own the state and beat the Cavaliers’ blood rival. 

The initial years of the Mendenhall era were ones characterized by a meteoric rebuild as the team went from 2-10 in 2016 to 6-7 in 2017 and 8-5 in 2018. While across those three seasons the Cavaliers fell short against the Hokies every year, Virginia Tech’s margin of victory grew slimmer and slimmer, going from a 42-point win in 2016 to a 3-point overtime win in 2018. In 2019, however, the tables would turn, as the Cavaliers defeated the Hokies 39-30 in front of a raucous crowd at Scott Stadium to not only win the Commonwealth Cup but also win the ACC Coastal Division for the first time in program history. 

Men’s lacrosse: Rising from a 2-22 ACC record between 2013 and 2018 to back-to-back national titles in 2019 and 2021

Virginia men’s lacrosse has consistently been one of the University’s most successful teams, having won seven national championships — with four of those coming in the last 15 years. However, in the final seasons of storied coach Dom Starsia’s career between 2013 and 2016, and the early years of current coach Lars Tiffany’s reign, the Cavaliers endured one of the worst stretches in team history. Virginia won just two out of its 24 ACC regular-season contests between 2013 and 2018, continually falling against perennial rivals Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. 

However, in 2019, things took a turn for the better for the Cavaliers. While the season started on a low note with losses to Loyola Maryland and High Point, Tiffany found a balance in his squad between his recruits and Starsia’s recruits, rattling off seven straight wins — including victories against the likes of Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, and North Carolina — before falling to Duke 12-7. Nonetheless, the loss to the Blue Devils didn’t faze Tiffany and company, as they proceeded to not lose a game for the rest of the season — including an NCAA tournament semifinal rematch with Duke — winning both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. Following a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Cavaliers initially struggled, going 2-4 in ACC play in 2021, but they rediscovered their form in the NCAA tournament to win a second consecutive championship. 

Rowing: Losing its first ACC championship in nine years in 2009 to winning two national titles in 2010 and 2012

Virginia rowing has been the epitome of consistency in the collegiate rowing circuit, having won 20 of the 21 ACC championships to date. However, it was that first and only ACC championship loss in 2009 that came at the hands of Clemson that sparked the Cavaliers’ rise from a regional to a national power. The arrival of future ACC Freshman of the Year, All-ACC First Team honoree and Olympian Kristine O’Brien in 2010 turned the tides for the Cavaliers, as O’Brien slotted into the Varsity Eight. 

In the 2010 season, O’Brien and the Cavaliers went undefeated, downing the likes of perennial heavyweights Stanford and California. O’Brien, in particular, was a workhorse for the Varsity Eight, leading the boat to a second-place finish in the Varsity Eight category of the NCAA championships and helping the Cavaliers secure their first-ever team rowing national championship. Two years later, O’Brien and the Cavaliers would win a second team national championship and O’Brien would finally secure the elusive Varsity Eight national title, bookending one of the most dominant runs in Virginia rowing history. 

Men’s basketball: The first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed … and win the national championship the next year

Even the most casual Virginia sports fans are familiar with the story of the 2018-19 Virginia men’s basketball squad. During the 2017-18 season, the Cavaliers came into the year with low expectations, having been bounced by No. 4 seed Florida 65-39 in the Round of 32 of the previous year’s tournament and starting off unranked in the AP Poll. However, led by redshirt freshman forward De’Andre Hunter, sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, and the stabilizing veteran presence of senior forward Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia went 28-2 in the regular season, winning the ACC regular-season title. The Cavaliers continued their dominance in the front end of the postseason, downing ranked Clemson and North Carolina squads to win its first ACC Tournament since 2014. Nonetheless — as many Virginia fans are aware of — the Cavaliers’ furious momentum game to a grinding halt in the NCAA Tournament, as they became the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16 seed in the history of the tournament in implosive fashion, losing to UMBC 74-54. 

However, in a storyline fit for a Disney movie, the Cavaliers came back with a vengeance in the 2018-19 season. They repeated as ACC regular-season champions, and while Virginia fell to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals, it yet again secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. While the circumstances were similar, this year was completely different for the Cavaliers, as they dodged an early challenge from 16-seed Gardner-Webb to advance to the second round. From there, Virginia downed No. 9 Oklahoma with ease and No. 12 Oregon in a low-scoring affair, and then endured a trio of gut-wrenchers against No. 3 Purdue, No. 5 Auburn and No. 3 Texas Tech to win its first-ever national championship.

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