With Virginia’s winter sports teams in full swing and spring sports just on the horizon, Cavalier fans have plenty to be excited about in the top half of 2023. From top to bottom, the athletics department is gearing up for tournament bids, title runs and potentially a bit of madness in March. With so much to anticipate, three sports staff members break down everything to look forward to in the coming months.
What is the one game all Virginia students should go see this semester?
Ben Istvan, Senior Associate:
Virginia men’s lacrosse has a chance to defeat the team that has given it the most trouble when Maryland comes to Charlottesville March 18. These two teams have history, having squared off three times in the past two seasons alone. The Cavaliers defeated the Terrapins 17-16 in the 2021 National Championship on their way to a second consecutive title, but Maryland responded last year with not one, but two victories over Virginia. The Terrapins were dominant in those contests, topping the Cavaliers 23-12 in the Capitol Classic Lacrosse Tournament before knocking out Virginia in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals by a score of 18-9. With Maryland ranked No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse preseason rankings and the Cavaliers slotted in at No. 6, you can bet the Cavaliers have this one circled on the calendar.
Harry Farley, Associate Writer:
Any time Virginia hosts Duke in men’s basketball, it’s a big deal. It will be no different Feb. 11 — after the two thrilling matchups between the Cavaliers and Blue Devils last season, the only matchup between Virginia and Duke this year will come at a critical point towards the end of the ACC slate. If students need reminders of how electric games between the Blue Devils and Cavaliers are, the first matchup of 2022 concluded with junior guard Reece Beekman’s buzzer-beater to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke answered back in Charlottesville with a nail-biting 65-61 loss, though graduate student guard Kihei Clark put up a career-high 25 points, including six made three-pointers. The sole installment of the series this year is certainly set to be a high-energy game and students will not want to miss out on a packed John Paul Jones arena.
Connor Lothrop, Associate Writer:
After facing a tough road stretch at the beginning of the season, Virginia baseball will finally take on a top-25 team at home when Miami comes to Disharoon Park April 6-8. The Cavaliers were swept by a good Hurricanes team in Coral Gables last season, and with the two teams coming in with top-25 rankings according to D1 Baseball’s preseason poll, Virginia has the chance to take revenge in Charlottesville. Virginia has one of the country’s strongest offensive cores, led by three of last year’s young performers — junior third baseman Jake Gelof, sophomore right fielder Casey Saucke, and sophomore catcher Kyle Teel. However, the pitching looks shaky, with neither weekend starter returning from 2022 and a bullpen that lacks depth. Meanwhile, Miami returns their best player in junior right fielder CJ Kayfus and an experienced team behind him. Whether or not Virginia survived their road gauntlet in March, the early spring weather in Charlottesville and the competitive Hurricanes will give students and community members every reason to spend a Sunday watching baseball.
Which student athlete are you looking forward to watching most this semester?
Junior third baseman Jake Gelof is primed for a monster season. Gelof is coming off a sophomore campaign in which he broke numerous program records, tallying an all-time mark of 81 RBI in addition to 21 home runs, the second most in a season in program history. For his efforts, the junior earned First Team All-ACC honors and spots on numerous All-American teams from the likes of Perfect Game, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Gelof has already been awarded a place as a preseason First Team All-American from both Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, and he enters the 2023 campaign as the No. 38 ranked prospect for the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft. Gelof will only continue to improve on his outstanding 2022, and with professional scouts more clued in than ever, the third baseman is the No. 1 must-watch student athlete this semester.
Two siblings — sophomore Gretchen and junior Alex Walsh, sisters on the women’s swim and dive team — should be on every Virginia fan’s watch list. Alex, who specializes in individual medley, backstroke and breaststroke, holds two ACC records, and was a part of three relays that also hold the best time in the league. Meanwhile, younger sister Gretchen has had no problem living up to the expectations set by her sister, breaking records in the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke as a freshman. The Cavaliers are poised to win their third straight national title due to a strong returning core, and the Walsh sisters will have more of a competition against the clock than any specific opponent. After helping the Cavaliers capture a second consecutive NCAA title in the spring last year, there is seemingly no limit to what the team can achieve at the ACC and NCAA Championships, and students should keep track of even more record-breaking to come.
USA Lacrosse Magazine honored two Virginia men’s lacrosse players as All-Americans and seven as Honorable Mentions, but none are more important than First-Team Honoree Connor Shellenberger. In his first two seasons at Klöckner Stadium, the junior attacker has scored 69 goals and 86 assists in 34 games. However, after a three-goal, two-assist performance against Maryland in the regular season, Shellenberger went silent in the rematch, an 18-9 loss that ended the Cavaliers’ season. Now the relatively youthful star has one last chance to carry his older teammates to a third title before they move on and he is left as the veteran on a young squad. If anyone in the country can carry an offensive on their own, though, it’s Shellenberger.
Which spring sport has the best chance to win a national title?
Virginia men’s lacrosse has all the tools to capture its third championship in four tries. The Cavaliers made a run to the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals last season and it was considered a down year, which just shows the standard to which the program holds itself. With the No. 1 recruiting class in the country entering Coach Lars Tiffany’s locker room, the squad has a reasonable path to claim yet another national title. That incoming class is spearheaded by four top-15 recruits, including freshmen midfielders Joey Terenzi and Mac Eldridge, freshman attacker Truitt Sunderland and freshman defender John Schroter. Adding that kind of firepower to an already strong returning nucleus with the likes of junior attacker Connor Shellenberger and senior attacker Payton Cormier is a mouthwatering prospect, and will only serve to make the NCAA’s third highest-scoring team in 2022 even more dangerous this season. Expect fireworks inside Klöckner Stadium every time this team takes the field.
Virginia men’s baseball may not be the highest-ranked spring sport, but the squad has all the pieces to make the run to Omaha. The squad only gets more and more experienced, and with the additions brought in from the transfer portal — namely, graduate student Travis Reifsnider, who led the CAA in slugging percentage and home runs last year at James Madison — the Cavaliers seemed to have reloaded yet again. Despite the loss of Alex Tappen, who led the team last season with 83 hits and was second with 13 home runs, Gelof, sophomore right fielder Casey Saucke and sophomore shortstop Griff O’Ferrall all return and were first, third and fourth in batting average last season, respectively. Looking toward the start of the season, the Cavaliers were recently ranked No.19 in the D1 Baseball Preseason Poll. The key to a deep postseason run will be molding chemistry and catching fire late in the season. With a much more experienced team and the portal additions, the Cavaliers could be a dangerous team if they make it to Omaha, the home of the College World Series.
Virginia women’s swimming and diving is on the verge of what would be an incredible third consecutive national championship. The Cavaliers dominated both the 2021 and 2022 NCAA championships, winning by 137 and 145.5 points, respectively. Now, the team is once again the top-ranked squad in the country after briefly ceding the top spot to No. 2 Texas in November. The Longhorns finished on the podium behind Virginia in each of the last two championships, but are primed with veteran talent and represent the main threat to the third successive Cavalier victory. The Walsh sisters are the stars of the team, but senior Kate Douglass has been just as successful, with three individual golds at the 2022 finals. Fellow senior Lexi Cuomo and sophomore Reilly Tiltman also contributed to the three relay golds Virginia won. If this team swims to its potential, the three-peat is a no-doubter, and there’s very little Texas can do about it.