Sunday, June 17, 2012

FOV Cavalier of the Year: #5/#6

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 athlete's are Sidney Thorston and Meredith Cavalier.

Sidney Thorston - Rowing

Team accomplishments:

-- National champions (second title in three years)
-- 12th ACC championship

Personal accomplishments:

-- Coxswained the First Varsity Eight to its first-ever national title
-- NCAA first-team all-American
-- CRCA first-team all-region

Rowing is such a weird sport from which to try and nominate an individual athlete for anything.  How can you tell who's the best rower on a particular boat?  On the other hand, the rowing team has been maybe UVA's most successful over the last three years, and certainly the most successful this season.  Hell, here's a fun fact: the ACC starting holding rowing championships in 2000, and there've been 52 races since then, only five of which have seen some team other than UVA in first place.  So it's impossible to ignore this sport in any COTY discussion.  We have to pick somebody.

Sidney Thorston is the coxswain on UVA's First Varsity Eight boat, which is sort of the glamour event of rowing.  At the NCAA championships, there are three events, and the 1V8 is worth as much as the other two combined.  If two teams finish tied, the one that wins the 1V8 finishes higher.  And this was the first year in UVA history that the Hoos have won that event's national title.  In fact, there weren't many races this year where our 1V8 didn't win.  Whenever they faced off against the nation's top teams, they came out ahead.  At both the NCAA and ACC championships, the Hoos trailed heading into the 1V8 race, where a victorious result clinched the win.  At the NCAA's, in fact, they won by practically a boat length.  Not even close.

So you can look at this nomination one of two ways: a vote for Thorston could just be a vote for the whole team, but she's got a whole raft of accomplishments of her own, too.

Meredith Cavalier - Women's swimming - Freestyle/backstroke

Team accomplishments:

-- 10th ACC championship
-- 17th at NCAA championships

Personal accomplishments:

-- 200-yard backstroke ACC champion
-- Member of three ACC champion relay teams
-- 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier in 100- and 200-yard backstroke
-- Swam three events at NCAA championships (100, 200 backstroke, 50-yard freestyle)
-- 8th-place (All-American) finish in 200 backstroke

I have a policy of only choosing one athlete per sport for COTY nominations, which makes it ridiculously difficult every year to choose just one lady swimmer.  They all tend to dominate the ACC championships and go to the NCAAs swimming multiple events.  First-place finishes are routine.

What it means is that whoever ends up as the nominee always has a strong case.  This year, Meredith Cavalier might not quite be the most decorated swimmer on the team (I'm not saying she isn't, I honestly don't know) but she's clearly among the elite, and what stands out is her versatility.  Even individual medley swimmers (all four strokes in one race) usually have a specialty stroke.  She's one of the best freestylers on the team, but she's also one of the best backstrokers in UVA history - her 200 back time is a hair away from being a UVA record.  Cavalier has swam (swum? swimmed?) in both ends of UVA's medley relay (not at the same time) as a backstroker and freestyler.  And of UVA's 12 qualifiers for the national championships, Cavalier was one of only four to qualify in two separate individual strokes.  And if all that isn't enough for you, you really could do worse than to literally vote for a Cavalier for Cavalier of the Year.

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