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. In fact, there are 13 this year, and the list of nominations is here.
Over the next few 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. The previous winners are Danny Hultzen (2009, 2011) and Diego Restrepo (2010); today's athletes are Brittany Altomare, Morgan Brian, and Chase Minnifield.
Brittany Altomare - Women's golf
-- 4th-place finish at NCAA championships
-- NGCA second-team all-American
-- Qualified for U.S. Women's Open
-- Advanced to round of 16 at Women's Amateur Public Links championship
-- Won Massachusetts Women's Open
I think this is the first time I've nominated a golfer for this award. It's certainly not one of the higher-profile sports. But very quietly, the women's team is one of the more successful teams at the University. They were ranked as high as #2 at one point in the season, dropped outside the top 25, and recovered to finish fourth at the national championships.
Brittany Altomare is the star of this team; she consistently places among the top golfers in the country at every event. She's a junior and has received both all-ACC and all-America recognition all three years of her career, and by the way is also on her third trip to the US Women's Open, which she played her way into at the sectional qualifiers. Very quietly, Altomare is out there representing the school and bringing home accolades too; UVA just finished 15th in the Director's Cup, and the women's golf team was the biggest contributor to that save the rowers. These kinds of performances should get more recognition than they do; hence, this nomination.
Morgan Brian - Women's soccer - Midfielder
-- Reached ACC semifinals
-- Reached NCAA quarterfinals
-- Soccer America Freshman of the Year
-- ACC Freshman of the Year
-- Herrmann Trophy semifinalist
-- NSCAA first-team all-American
-- Gatorade National HS Athlete of the Year
-- Played for U.S. U-20 national team
It's hard to get nominated for this as a freshman - you basically have to do what Morgan Brian just did, which is to sweep up a host of FOY awards and be one of the best (if not the best) players on the team. The ladies' soccer team enjoyed something of a resurgence this year; they were in the NCAA quarterfinal for the first time in six seasons, and it was partly due to your national freshman of the year: Brian.
She's such an accomplished player, in fact, that she also plays on the national U-20 team, which happened to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup and will play at the U-20 World Cup later this summer. It helps that that team's coach is Steve Swanson, who also coaches UVA, but in the end it doesn't matter: Brian would've been selected by anyone. She scored 11 goals and - perhaps even better - registered eight assists this season for UVA, making her an easy choice for FOY. She's the first UVA women's soccer player to win the national FOY award, and it's pretty clear UVA has itself a bright rising star for a few years to come.
Chase Minnifield - Football - Cornerback
-- 8-4 regular season record, Peach Bowl invitation
-- First-team all-ACC
-- Lowe's Senior CLASS Award finalist
-- Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist
-- Recipient of Pop Warner National College Football Award
-- CBS Sports 2nd-team all-American
-- Yahoo 3rd-team all-American
-- Phil Steele 4th-team all-American
Even being the son of a Pro Bowl cornerback, Chase Minnifield was kind of overshadowed in the past. Not so this season; Minnifield made the transformation from "the guy who's a son of an NFLer" to "Chase Minnifield, star in his own right." Minnifield was a lock-down cornerback who registered three interceptions despite nobody throwing at him all season (he grabbed six in 2010, when people hadn't yet learned their lesson.)
Minnifield was one of three UVA first-team all-conference selections, and just about everyone that selected all-American teams included him on some level. His 13 career picks are sixth on the UVA all-time list - but it might not be the interceptions he's best remembered for. At Florida State, Minnifield sprinted downfield in hot pursuit of FSU's Bert Reed, who'd slipped his defender and looked headed for a sure touchdown until Minnifield ran him down at the one-yard line. It turned out to be the game-winning play in UVA's biggest win of the year: FSU failed to score the touchdown and settled for three - and the missing four points meant they had to attempt, and ultimately miss, a game-winning field goal rather than run out the clock for the win. UVA's resurgence on the football field was one of the big stories of the year in UVA sports, and Minnifield was the best of the bunch.