Here we are on New Year's Eve Eve. Only one sporting event is left us for the year of 2014, and it's unlikely to produce anything truly epic, so it's a good time to join the rush of year-in-review junk and talk about the best of the year. With the obvious implication that we hope 2015 can beat it senseless - although it'll be tough.
Honorable mention: Coholan gives UVA a win over Johns Hopkins; Justin Anderson's fingertip block against Pitt; UVA takes advantage of Louisville's dropped punt; every Cavalanche ever
#10 - Women's tennis wins first ACC title
We've been expecting the women's team to start filling the trophy case with hardware to match the men a little bit, and this was the year they broke through, winning the ACC title as the #3 seed. On April 26 they beat second-seeded Miami in a 4-0 rout - the same team to whom they'd lost 5-2 just six days earlier. The following day the championship was wrapped up, and women's tennis became the 20th Virginia program to claim an ACC title.
#9 - Malcolm Brogdon beats Pittsburgh with a three-pointer
I could make this entirely about basketball if I wanted. There were plenty of those moments. This was definitely one of the better ones. The team, at the time, was 7-1 in the ACC, the lone blemish being a hard-fought loss at Duke, but we still couldn't be real sure what we had. The Cavalanche was just becoming a thing, but UVA hadn't yet gone on the road and beaten a legitimate team. Pitt was a legitimate team that played tough defense, and the game bogged down into trench warfare. UVA spent most of the game trailing, ever so slightly, tied it with three minutes to go, and made a defensive stop with ten seconds left to keep it that way. 9.6 seconds later, Brogdon silenced the raucous arena, and UVA had a signature win that kept alive what ended up being a 13-game win streak.
#8 - 75-26
#7 - Women's soccer makes first national title game
OK, they didn't win it, but let's not let what didn't happen detract from what did. The team was a regional 2 seed - one of the top 8 teams in the country - so their presence at the College Cup wasn't a complete surprise. But they were the only non-#1 seed there, and they beat two #1 seeds to get there. The win over Texas A&M in the semifinal was nice - well-played and mostly dominated by the Hoos - but it was the quarterfinal win over UCLA that was most impressive. The Lady Hoos went to Los Angeles and snapped a 44-game unbeaten streak for the Bruins.
#6 - The triple-block
There's a lot of moments to choose from in that rematch against Pitt. The ACC semifinal was just as hard-fought as the first game back in February. I'd venture to say that the Panthers were the Hoos' worthiest ACC foe. Nothing, though, sums up UVA's defense better than what happened when Pitt's Cameron Wright thought he had a layup lane. He did, for a split second. By the time he left his feet, it was gone, and Darion Atkins, Akil Mitchell, and Justin Anderson were flying in to reject it with more authority than any shot in basketball history has ever seen.
#5 - 15 innings against TCU
At the College World Series, UVA had had only one small hiccup along the way: a Game 1 loss in the super regionals to Maryland. The Terps were summarily eliminated two days later, though. After dispatching Ole Miss in a tough CWS opener, UVA faced TCU to try and stay out of the losers' bracket. It turned into a 15-inning pitchers' battle, with a full nine scoreless innings in a row. It was the longest game in CWS history. UVA went down 1-2-3 in every inning after the 9th - until, of course, the last. The TCU center fielder made a fantastic diving grab on Mike Papi; Brandon Downes threw out a TCU baserunner (on a hit and run!) at third base. The game ended when UVA manufactured a run out of a Nate Irving double that broke the ice in the bottom of the 15th. The win put UVA one more win from the CWS final, which they got against Ole Miss four days later.
#4 - Danielle Collins wins national title
A season of firsts for the women's tennis team? Yup, and none greater than adding a national title to the list. Collins was seeded 32nd, but went on a six-match tear, knocking off the 2nd and 7th seeds along the way. This was the only national championship of the academic year, but not the calendar year....
#3 - Men's soccer adds a seventh star
UVA was only the 16 seed in the tournament. They were 111th in the country in goals per game. They didn't have the firepower you'd want out of a dominant team - much less than the women had. So George Gelnovatch changed up the strategy. He set up a Maginot Line and sent the team to work. UVA scored more than a single goal just once during the NCAA tournament, and twice went to penalty kicks. Championship opponent UCLA (Bruin soccer fans must've gotten pretty tired of UVA by the end there) was the more talented team, but UVA dominated the play by swarming, bunkering down and turning back every attempt at the goal. The announcers complained, UCLA's coach complained, but it was UVA putting the star on the crest after Riggs Lennon slammed the final penalty kick right down the middle.
#2 - ACC champs in Greensboro
It's never easy when Duke is involved. But it does make it sweeter. The Hoos put the cap on a truly magical ACC season by frustrating the Dookies in front of what should've been a partisan Duke crowd and instead was mostly wearing orange. Akil Mitchell shut down future NBAer Jabari Parker - yes, Parker scored 23 points, but shot 9-for-24. Coach K managed a technical for throwing a magic marker - perhaps a sign that Duke's special status was wearing off. Grabbing bragging rights and ownership of the ACC for a season - it'll last forever, immortalized on a JPJA banner. Later that day, the Hoos would learn they earned a 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. So why isn't this the best of the best?
#1 - Thomas Rogers hits a three
Because championships are designed to last forever. But when something so mundane achieves the same immortality, it's more special yet. The blowout win over Syracuse cemented the regular season ACC title, which is nice, but what it did was give the crowd at the JPJ an excuse to sound like a jet engine. The game was tied at 42 - then UVA poured it on and poured it in and the crowd, already loud in exhortation, got even louder in celebration. Dickie V got himself all fired up. The players had to pry the smiles off their faces in between the whistles. Tony Bennett was the only stone face in the house (the Cuse faces were droopy), but his glistening eyes betrayed him anyway. Senior Day at UVA was already the biggest party UVA athletics has seen in decades.
Tony Bennett called time-out to give Joe Harris a moment and to give the bench a little taste of the fun. Harris hugged everyone on his way off the court and the crowd gave him as much of a cheer as they'd been giving for the last five minutes, which was a lot. (In the post-game interview, one of the exceedingly rare interesting ones, Tony would frame the moment perfectly as something that Harris, and his senior class, had set out to achieve from day one.) It looked like the perfect finish. But the players didn't sit down as play resumed - not one of them. Maybe they knew.
It was handy, then, not having to leap out of their seats when "the other senior" - the walk-on, the guy you clapped politely for during the pre-game festivities - scored three points. They were the most meaningless three points of maybe the whole season and still the roof blew off and landed in Crozet and you'd think from watching his teammates that it was the national championship. As explosively loud as it was in the arena, nobody was yelling louder than the guys in uniform. Storybook. UVA might win a national title under Tony Bennett and even that might not match what happened that day - because for all the One Shining Moment maudlinism that the networks put on, it'll be hard to match that three-pointer for What It's Really About.
Your move, 2015.