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Jan. 10, 2003

Virginia’s 48-22 win over West Virginia in the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl punctuated a successful season that resulted in the sixth nine-win campaign in school history. The Cavaliers also finished the season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1998.

“There was no second chance after this,” Virginia head coach Al Groh said. “This is kind of like being in the playoffs. If you lose you go home and you stay that way for a long time. And we don’t get a chance to play again, but we get a chance to feel this way for a long time. We would not have had a chance for a long time so we thought this game was pretty important.”

While Virginia far exceeded the expectations of many fans and members of the media this season, exceeding expectations will be difficult for the 2003 Cavaliers. Eighteen of the 22 players who started the bowl game are expected to return for Groh’s third season. The 1990 squad began the season in the nation’s top 15 and next year’s team may rival that team’s preseason hype.

“Even though we’re only losing a few guys it won’t be the same team again,” Groh said. “We’ll have to put the team back together again. The biggest mistake that we can make is to assume that just because (this season) ended a certain way that it’s going to pick-up where it (left off). It will be our challenge to go back and start all over again right at the same spot that we started with this team.”

Virginia scored 48 points in two of its last three games and the Cavalier offense could be as potent next year. ACC Player of the Year Matt Schaub returns to lead UVa’s attack. All five of the offensive linemen who started the bowl game are freshmen or sophomores and standout center Kevin Bailey is expected to return from an early-season knee injury. Meanwhile, such players as tight end Heath Miller and running backs Michael Johnson and Wali Lundy should improve during spring practice.

“There’s a lot of experience with us,” Continental Tire Bowl MVP Wali Lundy said in reference to the offense. “Everybody’s going to know what we’re doing. In the beginning of the year I didn’t really know what was going on. But now I understand the game a lot more. This game [Continental Tire Bowl] should increase everybody’s confidence. And going into spring ball I think we know that we’re going to have to work hard to be where everybody expects us to be.”

Virginia’s defense steadily improved over the course of the season and that trend should continue next year. UVa will lose standout linebackers Angelo Crowell and Merrill Robertson along with safety Jerton Evans to graduation. However, the Cavaliers have several young players in the program that will be expected to fill their roles.

“We have a lot of confidence right now,” cornerback Almondo “Muffin” Curry said. “We’re steaming right now. A lot of guys understand what it takes to win and a lot of guys are putting the effort in to win. We’re looking forward to next year and trying to win the ACC.”

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