The school year may have ended, but many Virginia athletes are not yet done with their 2023 seasons. As a way to wrap up the regular season, three members of the sports desk give their analysis of the spring in Cavaliers athletics and attempt to predict what’s to come.
Which athlete had the best single-game performance of any spring sport?
Xander Tilock: Baseball’s sophomore utility player Ethan Anderson had a 5-for-6 game against VCU, where he hit a home run from both sides of the plate. Anderson became the first Cavalier to record five hits in a single game since Nick Howard back in 2013. Anderson also tied the Virginia record with three doubles in the same game in a 19-6 victory on the road. His electric performance was the highlight of a truly incredible sophomore season that saw the Cavaliers go a perfect 25-0 in non-conference games — the only team in all of college baseball to do so. When Anderson is at his best, the middle of the Cavalier lineup is an opposing pitcher’s nightmare. His ability to consistently earn extra-base hits will be crucial to Virginia’s postseason hopes in 2023 and beyond.
Harry Farley: Men’s lacrosse sophomore goalie Matthew Nunes had a day against then-No. 1 Notre Dame. Nunes posted 19 saves on a 70.4 percent save percentage — his new career high for saves in a single game — en route to a 12-8 win at home to close out the regular season. He massively outperformed his regular season save percentage that sits at 52.9 percent. The Cavaliers have now defeated Notre Dame twice when the Irish were ranked No. 1 and head into the postseason on a high note. When Nunes plays like he did against Notre Dame, Virginia is almost unbeatable — and his career day was exactly what Cavalier fans wanted to see before what looks to be a tightly contested postseason gets underway.
Connor Lothrop: Women’s lacrosse sophomore attacker Rachel Clark showed out against Virginia Tech. At Klockner Stadium in a late-season Commonwealth Clash, the Pennsylvania native put up a season-high 7 points in a 15-10 victory over the rival Hokies. Clark scored on five of her nine shots, three of them with her patented move — cutting in with speed from the right wing and going top shelf over a helpless goalie. On the night, all five of her goals were unassisted. The icing on the cake was a pair of assists, again cutting in from the right before slickly dishing to teammates for easy goals. Coupled with a strong defensive performance, Clark helped end the Cavaliers' season on a high note before the ACC tournament.
Which team has the best chance of winning a national championship in 2023?
XT: Men’s lacrosse. They finished the regular season with an incredible 11-3 record and have bulldozed their way to another top-three finish in the regular season rankings. Virginia has the top-scoring offense in the country, finishing with an average of 17.6 goals per game. Senior attacker Xander Dickson finished fourth nationally with 56 goals, while junior attacker Connor Shellenberger finished second in assists with 43. That dynamic duo along with a plethora of other experienced and talented stars have built a near-perfect product. The Cavaliers have dominated No. 2 Notre Dame via the season sweep, and their losses were to No. 1 Duke twice and to No. 6 Maryland once, coming by only four goals combined. Virginia boasts an impressive seven ranked wins and are proving to be one of the nation’s very best yet again. And finally, the postseason bracket is definitely in the team’s favor, as the Cavaliers do not have Duke or Maryland on their side of the bracket.
HF: Men’s tennis. Coming off of a dominant surge to capture yet another ACC title — the team’s third straight — the Cavaliers are ranked fifth in the country and poised for another deep postseason run. Virginia just advanced to the national quarterfinals after defeating in-conference foe Duke. In doing so, the Cavaliers have now won 19 straight matches and have long forgotten a pair of early season indoor shutout losses against Michigan and Ohio State. The team is following a trend similar to last year’s National Championship team, which lost five indoor matches in a row in February but ended with an NCAA title — and on a 23-match winning streak. The core of the team is also largely intact from last year, including graduate student Ryan Goetz and the trio of juniors Chris Rodesch, Inaki Montes and Jeffrey Von Der Schulenberg. They undoubtedly all have the skill and experience necessary to help Virginia capture a second consecutive title.
CL: Baseball. The team is cold right now — after climbing to No. 7 in the polls in mid-April, three consecutive weekend series losses spiraled Virginia down to No. 21 before bouncing back with a sweep of Louisville. However, this team is one of the most talented Cavalier ball clubs in recent memory. The starting rotation of junior left hander Connelly Early, graduate student right hander Brian Edgington and freshman right hander Jack O’Connor is one of the best in the ACC, if not the country. Juniors catcher Kyle Teel, infielder Jake Gelof, and outfielder Ethan O’Donnell are all potential first-round picks in this summer’s MLB draft. Sophomore pitcher Jay Woolfolk is gaining national acclaim, and baseball isn’t even his best sport. Leading them all is seasoned head coach Brian O’Connor, quietly one of the best coaches in amateur baseball. Look for this squad to catch fire and make it to Omaha next month.
Which breakout player in 2023 are you most excited to watch again in 2024?
XT: Baseball sophomore infielder Griff O’Ferrall deserves his flowers. O’Ferrall was outstanding as a freshman in 2022 — finishing with a .308 batting average — but he has raised that up to a phenomenal .405 mark in 2023. O’Ferrall simply gets on base and produces runs. He has become one of the best batters at the top of a massively successful Virginia lineup that is second nationally in team batting average. He is leading the team in stolen bases while also playing consistently elite defense at shortstop. He also leads the team in on-base percentage and runs scored —- and he is in a close battle with another Cavalier star, Teel, for the ACC batting title. O’Ferrall is one of the best leadoff hitters in the country and will certainly be counted on to be a leader in 2024 with several Cavaliers on their way to the MLB Draft.
HF: Softball freshman infielder Jade Hylton. Hylton leads the Cavaliers in practically every offensive statistic imaginable — .314 batting average, 55 hits, 10 home runs, 26 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and more — and she’s only a freshman. Just recently, Hylton was one of five ACC freshmen named to the National Freshman of the Year Top 25 list. Not only has her individual play been outstanding, but Hylton has been crucial in leading the Cavaliers to a 30-22 record in the regular season; just two seasons ago, the Cavaliers were 15-33 and were just 28-26 last year. Her presence at Palmer Park has certainly been felt and the future of Virginia softball is extremely bright with Hylton on the field.
CL: Women’s tennis freshman Annabelle Xu. With mainstays of the team’s recent success like senior Natasha Subhash and Emma Navarro either gone or on the way out the door, women’s tennis needed an infusion of youthful talent. They have that with Xu. The 92rd-ranked freshman is currently ranked behind only Subhash and graduate student Julia Adams in the ITA singles polls and sports a 14-3 record on the season. Despite missing two months with injury, she has been a mainstay on this team, undefeated in dual matches and having toppled three higher-ranked singles players on the season, including No. 49 freshman Lily Jones of Michigan. She’ll be in line for an even bigger role in future years, but all indications point to Xu being the future of this celebrated program.