With fall break now in the rearview, Virginia sports fans have had the chance to spend some time with each of the Cavaliers’ fall athletic teams. Out of the gate, there have been impressive individual and team performances — as well as some that have left something to be desired. With conference play wide open and tournament time on the horizon, the newest members of The Cavalier Daily sports desk are here to handle pressing questions at the season’s midpoint.
Which student-athlete has shown the “it” factor this season?
Ryan Weiner, Beat Writer:
While it has yet to translate to a lot of team victories, graduate student wide receiver Malik Washington’s performance so far this season is nothing short of amazing. The five-foot-eight Northwestern transfer has already managed to nab 37 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns in Virginia football’s first five games. He accounts for almost half of the Cavaliers’ total receiving yards with 1,264 yards for the team as a whole and has half of their receiving touchdowns. He leads the ACC in receiving yards and does so despite the fact that Virginia is last in the conference in points per game at 21.4, and only eighth in the conference in passing yards per game at 252.8. Washington recently took home the ACC Offensive Player of the Week after the Cavaliers’ game against NC State for his big performance, and it seems like he is only trending further upward.
Michael Liebermann, Feature Writer:
He scores. He smiles. He backflips. He does it all again. Freshman forward Stephen Annor Gyamfi has launched a torrid streak, rocketing onto the scene for the men’s soccer team. Gyamfi has tallied six goals this season, a team-high, shouldering the considerable burden of senior forward Leo Afonso’s absence. In a scoreless stalemate against East Tennessee State, he crept into the penalty area as a Virginia maneuver unfolded down the flank. Soon a cross floated across the six-yard box toward Annor’s head. From there you could close your eyes. Goal. Enormous smile. Backflip. Gyamfi has scored five goals in Virginia’s last five games. He is tall, speedy and clinical, charging after balls with staggering speed. Against then-No. 9 James Madison, he galloped after a long ball, nodding it over the goalkeeper’s head. The keeper was frozen, just as Gyamfi has left opposing defenses all season long.
Tanmayi Patil, Beat Writer:
Junior track and cross country runner Margot Appleton is an athlete to look out for. Appleton is coming off a stellar sophomore track season, where she won the 1500 meters at the ACC Championships in May. A fourth place finish in the mile at the NCAA Division 1 Indoor Track and Field Championships earned her first-team All-American honors. This momentum has carried over into her junior year, where she has had an excellent start to the cross country season, placing third at the Sept. 23 Virginia Invitational against a competitive group. Appleton was named last week’s ACC Women’s Performer of the Week, and is an incredible asset to a team that is on the rise — in the 2022 season, Virginia women’s cross country finished ninth in the NCAA after finishing tenth in the ACC the previous year. Appleton will undoubtedly play an integral role in driving the team’s upward momentum this season, with the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championships set to be held in Charlottesville this November.
What team can go on a five-game winning streak with their remaining schedule?
After playing a brutal start to their schedule that included five ranked opponents in 10 games, the men’s soccer team has a far easier end-of-season stretch that only includes one ranked opponent — No. 19 Hofstra. Combine this easy schedule with the explosive play of the aforementioned Gyamfi, and there is a real chance that this program goes on a tear in this back stretch. However, it is not just their offense that has made the Cavaliers such an enticing candidate for a breakout. Senior keeper Holden Brown has been a stalwart in the net recently, allowing one goal or less in three of the team’s last five games. This has given the team a lot of breathing room to play freely and create the chances necessary to pour on goals, the perfect storm for a big winning streak.
Women’s soccer has not had the most potent attack lately, but a cushy schedule could set the team up in prime position for an unbeaten streak. The Cavaliers have, in its last five games, scored two goals. Two lonely goals. A potent attack has, somewhat inexplicably, gone dormant. But the Cavaliers are ready to awaken. Those rotors are primed to spin. Virginia closes the regular season with an appetizing five-game stretch, in which only one opponent — Virginia Tech — presently possesses a winning record. The other four — NC State, Miami, Boston College and Syracuse — are floundering. Talent stocks this Virginia roster, enough to have garnered the preseason No. 5 ranking. A five-game winning streak? Maybe. A five-game unbeaten run? Absolutely possible.
Virginia field hockey has lost three of its last five games, but the talent that caused pollsters to be so high on the squad coming in is still there. The resolute defense that conceded no goals in a 6-0 win against No. 32 Temple and kept No. 10 Harvard at bay in the fourth quarter to seal a 1-0 win for the Cavaliers has, as of late, faltered. No. 5 Virginia suffered tough back-to-back losses against No. 11 Boston College and No. 12 Maryland, before falling 0-2 to No. 1 Louisville. But the early-season prowess that gave the Cavaliers a four-game winning streak is not going anywhere. Coach Michel Madison’s drive to bring the program to new heights is as visible as ever. With an incredible amount of depth, standout players sophomore midfielder Daniela Mendez-Trendler and junior defender Jans Croon, and the Cavaliers’ ability to hold their own both offensively and defensively, Virginia’s No. 2 preseason ranking, narrowly behind North Carolina, was there for a reason. Recent wins against No. 14 Syracuse and No. 26 Miami of Ohio have showcased the Cavaliers’ form. While a winning streak is difficult, there is every reason to believe that it is possible.
Which fall sports coach has had the most impressive showing so far?
She might already be a hall-of-famer and one of the winningest coaches in collegiate field hockey history, but that has not stopped Coach Michele Madison from continuing to impress. A staple in the Virginia field hockey program, Madison has guided the program through a lofty rebuild in the past few years. After disappointing 9-10 and 7-11 records in the 2018-19 and 2020-21 seasons, Madison captained the program to two straight ACC Championship runs, and looks well on her way to a third. The Cavaliers are currently ranked fifth in the nation after a 7-4 start that includes four ranked wins. While Virginia will need some postseason success for it to be a true improvement over the past few seasons, Madison has put all the pieces in order for the team to hit the marks.
This men’s soccer season has, by the lofty standards of one Coach George Gelnovatch, been fairly pedestrian. The team chugged through its non-conference slate, covering a blemish — a loss to Loyola Marymount — with a salve, a win over then-No. 20 Maryland. The Hoos have zigzagged in ACC play, seeming a middling member of the nation’s premier conference. But they have delivered resolute performances. Those performances have often been absent the leadership of Afonso and Brown, veterans who are battling injury. Credit Gelnovatch for gradually, steadily, firmly shepherding Virginia toward full firepower. The coach has collected every possible piece of hardware during his Virginia tenure. He has already added one massive milestone this season, becoming the second coach to ever reach 100 ACC wins and the first with a single school. Maybe it is too early to tell if his trophy collection will further expand this season, but this team feels like it is building.
Track and field and cross country Coach Vin Lananna has shown an impressive ability to recruit high-impact new talent and produce stellar performances from his athletes early in the season. According to the latest USTFCCCA poll, the Cavalier men and women are both ranked in the nation’s top 10.
Both the men’s and women’s teams cruised to first place at the Sept. 2 Spider Alumni Open — against stiff competition, the men placed seventh and the women third at the Sept. 23 Virginia Invitational. Last week, Virginia produced both the ACC Women’s Performer of the Week with Appleton and the ACC Cross Country Women’s Freshman of the Week with runner Gillian Bushee. Testament to Lananna’s success is the recent news of his contract extension through the 2028 track and field season. With an impressive showing this early in the season, the Cavaliers are set for an incredible fall with Lananna at the helm.