2016 was another solid year for Virginia Athletics, but it wasn’t without its fair share of pain. Let’s look back at some of the toughest losses for Wahoo fans one last time. Then, let’s never do it again.
February 15 – Men’s Tennis loses to North Carolina, 4-2 in the National Team Indoor Final
All streaks eventually end, but it is still a shock when they do. In this case, the Virginia men’s tennis team had a near decade long winning streak against ACC opponents end on their home court with the indoor national title on the line.
The reason this match only gets dishonorable mention status is two-fold. First, Virginia was not experiencing a dip in their performance, but rather another ACC team had finally gotten to Virginia’s level. Both North Carolina and Wake Forest improved dramatically over the years, and they were rewarded with match wins over Virginia this past season. Secondly, despite the setbacks against ACC competition, Virginia nonetheless was the best team in the nation when it counted most, winning their second consecutive national title in May.
February 7 – Women’s Basketball loses to Virginia Tech, 66-46
The women’s basketball team has been going through a prolonged rough patch, but this might have been the bottom. Virginia had won its previous 18 games against Virginia Tech, only to have the streak ended emphatically at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers trailed by only 2 at the half, only to have sub-par shooting cause the final margin balloon to 20. The Hokies followed up the victory with another win over Virginia in Blacksburg later in the season.
The victories over UVA weren’t enough to save Hokies coach Dennis Wolff’s job. He was replaced in March by former JMU coach Kenny Brooks – and Brooks has the Hokies in the Top 25 with an undefeated record so far. The days of the automatic wins over VPI are over.
September 3 – Football loses to Richmond, 37-20
After every coaching change, there’s a hope that a quick turnaround is possible. The pieces are there, and all it will take is a competent puzzle assembler to get them in the right place. Get a lucky bounce or two, and you might be bowling!
The football season opener was, in retrospect, the game that dashed these hopes for Virginia fans. Richmond was a veteran FCS squad with returning starters all over the field from a team that went to the FCS semifinals the prior year – and the Spiders calmly walked over the Hoos.
It would take a couple of months before all the votes were counted, but it was the loss to Richmond that was the clear sign that Bronco Mendenhall was not going to deliver a quick fix to Virginia’s football fortunes, and instead that fans are in for a complete multi-year rebuild.
January 29 – Women’s Tennis loses to South Carolina, 4-3
Women’s tennis was set up for a run in 2016 with a senior-laden roster lead by two of the best players in the nation. It was a team that had a great shot at going farther than any other women’s tennis team at Virginia, and could even have been a dark horse contender for the national title.
And it was all undone by weather when five members of the team were suspended for departing the Boar’s Head Sports Club during a snowstorm. Ultimately, three players would end up leaving the team, which permanently lowered the ceiling for the rest of the year.
The match against South Carolina was the first match of a new reality for the team. Playing short-handed, they lost to a team they would have easily dispatched at full strength. The team soldiered forward and matched the best result in program history, but it is hard not to imagine what the team might have been able to accomplish in May with its entire opening day roster.
June 14 – Baseball loses to ECU, 8-6 in the NCAA Regionals
Following the surprising national title run in 2015, Virginia had a solid baseball season and received hosting duties in an NCAA regional. After destroying William and Mary in Game 1, Virginia took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth against ECU. With three more outs, the road ahead would get substantially easier, which was key given Virginia’s questionable pitching depth.
Instead of a routine ninth, East Carolina put up 5 runs against reliever Tommy Doyle and essentially ended Virginia’s season. Even if the Hoos could have knocked off William and Mary again in their next game – they did not – the pitching was so depleted that beating ECU twice was a near impossibility.
March 27 – Men’s Basketball loses to Syracuse, 68-62 in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals
Look, it’s going to come up in early February anyway, so suck it up people.
After spotting Syracuse an early 8-2 lead, the Hoos calmly and methodically built a 14 point halftime margin, and maintained the lead through the first 10 minutes of the second half. Virginia fans were pricing tickets to Houston for the Final Four. With Virginia’s steady pace of play and experienced leadership, this game was a good as over.
And then, after getting worked over for 30 minutes with body blows, Syracuse unleashed a massive haymaker that devastated the Cavaliers. In the span of 3 minutes and 42 seconds of game time, the Orange went on a 20-4 run. Syracuse launched a full-court press hail mary, and Virginia’s normally unflappable offense fell apart. The lead was gone, never to return.
The loss was the most catastrophic collapse of the Tony Bennett era, and the fact that it came on the biggest stage a Bennett coached Virginia team had played on ever only served to twist the knife further.