From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) 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. The full list of nominees 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; 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. Today's athletes: Morgan Brian and Leah Smith.
Morgan Brian - Women's soccer - Midfielder
-- College Cup runner-up
-- World Cup winner with Team USA
-- MAC Herrmann Trophy winner (2nd award)
-- Mary Garber Award winner as ACC's top female athlete
-- Top Drawer Soccer women's Player of the Year (2nd award)
-- US Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year
-- NSCAA first team all-American (3rd award)
-- 1st overall selection in NWSL draft
-- VaSID State Player of the Year (2nd award)
-- IMP Award for UVA female athlete of the year
-- ACC all-academic women's soccer team (3rd award)
Paige Selenski remains the only four-time nominee for a Cavalier of the Year award, but Morgan Brian would've easily done the same if she'd played enough during her sophomore season. Alas, she missed half the NCAA season because she was busy winning gold for the national U-20 team at the U-20 World Cup.
This year her national team obligations didn't get too much in the way of her schoolwork. As you might guess from the completely absurd list of accolades for Best at Everything, above. She's the fourth repeat winner of the MAC Herrmann Trophy (soccer's Heisman) and only the second repeat winner of the Top Drawer Soccer thing. Oh, and a World Cup, let's just casually throw that out there. And how many athletes with trophy piles thirty feet high also win honors for their work in the classroom?
Her freshman year, she was also co-winner of this blog's Cavalier of the Year award thanks to a Facebook campaign (I also gave it to Mike Scott as the runaway choice of people who didn't click through from Facebook), and in her FOVCOY profile I wrote: "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." The way Brian has gone the past few years, I think it's one of my better predictions. The Facebook campaigners might have been a little ahead of themselves, handing Brian an FOVCOY win in her "least deserving" year, because after a four year career and all that stuff she's won, she's become very much the pride of UVA in ways that no other recent athlete can really say. I don't really campaign - much - for a winner of this award, but it's my un-humble opinion that Morgan Brian is UVA's top athlete in the FOV era - and for who knows how much before that?
Leah Smith - Women's swimming - Freestyle
-- 5th place at NCAA championships
-- 8th straight ACC title
-- National champion in 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle
-- National 7th place and all-American in 200-yard freestyle
-- ACC champion in 1,650, 500, and 200 freestyle and 800-yard free relay
-- Undefeated all year in 500, 1,000, and 1,650-yard freestyles
-- NCAA, ACC, UVA record holder in 500-yard freestyle
-- ACC and UVA record holder in 1,650 freestyle and 800 free relay
-- World University Games gold medalist in 400-meter freestyle and 800-meter free relay
-- All-ACC academic team
First of all, do you notice a pattern here? So far we've covered several athletes who are literally - by some measures or by all of them - the greatest to play their sport at UVA, and they've been academic honorees too.
Leah Smith is no different. Only a sophomore, she's already not only one of UVA's best-ever swimmers, but quite literally the greatest female collegiate swimmer ever, at least where the 500-yard freestyle is concerned. That's the title that comes with the record, after all. She's also rewriting ACC record books with a fury. The swimming program is going through a rough patch on the men's side, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the women; they just came off their best-ever season with a fifth-place finish nationally and Leah Smith leading the way.
This summer she and a few teammates went to the World University Games and came back with more gold-colored hardware, and she's nowhere near done as her next stop is the World Championships in Russia. UVA has had some outstanding swimmers - Lauren Perdue comes immediately to mind - but it sure looks like Leah Smith will stand head and shoulders above the crowd when she's done.