Wednesday, June 9, 2010

FOV Cavalier of the Year, #3/#4

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; part of the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Last year's winner was Danny Hultzen; today's athletes are Drew Courtney/Michael Shabaz and Chris Henrich.

Drew Courtney/Michael Shabaz - Men's tennis - #1 Doubles

Team accomplishments:

- ACC champions
- Ended regular season ranked #1 in the nation
- Advanced to final four

Personal accomplishments:

- NCAA doubles national champions
- 13-2 record as doubles team
- Combined for 23-6 record as singles players in dual matches

National championships are always worth getting excited about, and consecutive national championships are a surefire way to earn a COTY nomination. Michael Shabaz's doubles partner last year was a different guy, but the result is the same: trophies. Shabaz is one of the elite players in the nation: he finished the season ranked 7th in the country in the singles rankings and played 13 dual (that is, us against another team as opposed to an invitational) matches as UVA's #1 singles entry, winning 11. He added three more wins in the NCAA singles championship before being eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Courtney's no slouch either, of course; his total of 32 total singles wins and 19 dual match wins is tops on the team. He finished the season ranked #43, but outperformed that designation by also winning a match in the NCAA singles championships.

But it's as a team these two are nominated. In the season's final doubles rankings, they land at #5. The list of vanquished opponents on the way to the NCAA championship, though, is long and distinguished: their last three matches of the tournament were against, respectively, the #1, #4, and #3 ranked pairings on the ITA's list. And in the semifinals, they faced off against Bradley Klahn of Stanford, who himself is the NCAA singles champion. A difficult road to be sure, but it makes UVA's second individual national title of the season all the more satisfying.

Chris Henrich - Wrestling - 174 lbs.

Team accomplishments:

- ACC champions
- 15th at NCAA championships

Personal accomplishments:

- National 3rd-place finish in 174 lb. weight class
- ACC 174 lb. champion
- UVA's first two-time wrestling All-American
- 35-3 record

UVA wrestling has never really been a big deal. The last ACC championship was in 1977; the last time they'd done this well at the NCAAs was in 1957. Led by Chris Henrich, that changed this year. Henrich, a junior, has qualified for the NCAAs in every year of his UVA career, and only an exceedingly close decision kept him from wrestling in the championship match at the national tournament.

Henrich's 174-lb. championship at the ACCs was his second in a row, and the championship match was no contest at all. I don't know how you score points in wrestling, but I know this: in any sport, a 20-5 win is domination, and in this case it was far and away the widest decision of the meet. He was similarly dominant during the regular season, losing just two matches (one of them to the #1-ranked wrestler in the country and the other by just one point) and none to an ACC opponent. You could hardly find a more natural choice for a COTY nomination than one putting his team back on the national map after a long hiatus.

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