At 11 a.m. on a day of spring break, the feeling on Grounds is unrecognizable. The weather has warmed to a sunny 65 degrees and flowers begin to emerge from every bare tree. The usual jam of students along the McCormick Road bridge disappears, outdoor tables at corner restaurants are abandoned and a stillness surrounds the lawn as the multitude of picnicking students escape to the beach or travel back home. With nights becoming quiet by 9 p.m., the University seems to sleep for the week as it waits for students to arrive again. However, a hidden pulse of energy remains on the athletic fields by John Paul Jones Arena.
Though it can feel ghostly, the quiet atmosphere on Grounds last week provided a unique opportunity to spring athletes who stay behind to practice. While women’s lacrosse players still had practice in the morning and weightlifting sessions in the afternoon, their academic classes were instead replaced with team exercises such as a meeting about mental toughness. This allowed athletes to focus more on their efforts on the field, at least for one week in March. Having their days defined only by the sport they play, Virginia women’s lacrosse has embraced the near-perfect conditions of a Charlottesville spring as they remain all-in on training for the remainder of the season.
The connections made and expectations set during the new spring break routine have brought the already tight-knit team to another level.
“We had one of our top scorers say something, someone from the sidelines say something,” freshman midfielder Finley Barger said. “Having this week to prepare is just amazing.”
On a collective level, spending the week together is an advantage for Virginia’s team culture. They have emphasized the valuable role of each player on the team, from the newest recruits to the most experienced captains. With the next goal always in the conversation, the Cavaliers will leave their spring break in the right headspace for each win ahead.
“[We’re] all grateful to be on grounds, just playing lacrosse, not having to worry about school as much and having Grounds to ourselves,” Barger said.
Freshmen in particular feel the energy of a week at the University made for athletes for the first time.
“You go from being the best to being in a huge pond of bigger and better fish,” freshman defender Olivia Bruno said.
As they leave the club and high school environment to enter a fiercely competitive Division I program, freshmen take advantage of their spring break as a crucial time for team bonding and development before the season picks up. Luckily, the leadership of older players and captains has guided the freshmen through the early steps of spring training. The culture of team leadership is not one of power and control, but rather of healthy competition.
“There’s always going to be someone better than you. It keeps us so driven, watching all these great players,” Barger said. “I want them to say ‘hey, you did something wrong, next time do this.’”
With this culture, the Cavaliers have enjoyed success in their fall ball season and dominated throughout the winter, going undefeated against all four competitors in the month of February. The drive of the younger class and their willingness to learn over break could be the key to the Cavaliers’ continued success in the coming months.
For the women’s lacrosse team, gratitude and trust are the foundation of a strong spring training experience. Following two wins against Clemson and Elon in early March, the Cavaliers already have a momentum of success early on in their season. With the mindset of gratitude and energy towards each practice, new and older players alike have their sights on a common goal: winning every next step. For Virginia, winning is not only about rivalry games and championship tournaments but rather about each individual draw and every play they see on film.
“Every practice, every game, we’re learning… [we’re] super excited to see what we can do,” Barger said.
This spring break was especially meaningful for Virginia, as the team had a game Saturday against North Carolina, the No. 1 ranked team in the country that has not lost since 2021. Although the Cavaliers ultimately lost the game 17-12, they showed they could play with the best, and having spring break to focus may have helped overall.
“We focus on what’s important now,” Bruno said, describing the team mindset that has developed over spring break.
Despite the pressure of a competitive spring, freshmen have mastered the team’s strategy of taking its season one win at a time. Though the media and fans may already have their sights on ACC and NCAA Championships in April and May, the Cavaliers are on a more step-by-step path toward their goals.
“We talk a lot about not just our individual mental toughness, but as a team… we all try to uplift each other to have a good day,” Bruno said. “We complement each others’ behaviors, the group is super close and tight-knit.”
For this team, overcoming small obstacles and single bad days together is the principle of a successful spring break. In order to do so, it has focused on enthusiasm and collaboration within their team. Players have zeroed in on mental preparation, including mental toughness talks in the normal training schedule of practice, film and lifts. In doing so, they have highlighted each small win and large victory along the way with equal importance.
Women’s lacrosse is only one example of a team that has remained in training over break. Though the efforts of Virginia athletic teams over this spring week may not be witnessed by fans on the sidelines, the progress made for the Cavaliers during this time is tremendous. First-years find family after spending the week surrounded only by their teammates. Teams have grown closer as they have Grounds to themselves. Players have focused on perfecting their specific plays and skills, preparing for an outstanding performance once class responsibilities resume. Undoubtedly, spring is no break for the Cavaliers. Rather, it is a formative week for the outcomes that send Virginia athletes to success, one win at a time.