By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — There may have been a better weekend for UVa’s athletics department, but none springs to mind.
In a span of about 32 hours, Virginia added three ACC championships to what is now a record-setting haul for 2009-10.
The Cavaliers secured the women’s rowing title Saturday morning in Clemson, S.C., the men’s tennis crown Sunday afternoon in Cary, N.C., and the men’s lacrosse championship Sunday evening in College Park.
“Obviously we focus on what we’re doing, because that’s all that we have control over, and we’re happy about what we do,” women’s rowing coach Kevin Sauer said. “But it’s a heck of a lot more fun when other people are doing it too, right?”
The newly crowned ACC champions weren’t the only UVa teams to make headlines over the weekend. To wit:
* In baseball, Virginia swept its three-game series with Maryland in College Park, piling up 43 runs and 51 hits, to remain in contention for the Coastal Division title.
* In softball, UVa swept its three-game series with Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Third-year coach Eileen Schmidt’s club has 12 ACC victories, a school record, and is closing in on the first NCAA tournament bid in the program’s history.
* In men’s golf, the Wahoos placed second at the ACC tournament. In the previous eight years, the ‘Hoos had finished better than seventh in the ACC only once — in 2005, when they were fifth. The second-place finish was UVa’s highest in 14 years.
* In track, at the Penn Relays, nearly 55,000 fans at Franklin Field saw Virginia’s team of Alex Bowman, Lance Roller, Steve Finley and Robby Andrews win the 4×800-meter race in Philadelphia.
Not since 1943 had UVa won a Championship of America relay at the storied Penn Relays. Andrews, the reigning NCAA champion in the indoor 800, surged past Ryan Foster, an All-American from Penn State, and Andrew Wheating, a U.S. Olympian from Oregon, to seal the victory for the ‘Hoos.
“We are seeing the culmination of hard work turned in by coaching staffs and student-athletes,” Craig Littlepage, UVa’s athletics director, said Monday. “This weekend was a tremendous snapshot of what we’ve come to expect in terms of top-level competition.”
Since the start of the academic year, UVa has won a school-record seven ACC team championships — in men’s soccer, men’s swimming, women’s swimming, wrestling, women’s rowing, men’s tennis and men’s lacrosse.
No other ACC school has more than four titles, and champions are still to be crowned in softball (May 14-16 in Blacksburg) and baseball (May 26-30 in Greensboro, N.C.).
UVa is the defending ACC champion in baseball, and Brian O’Connor‘s team is ranked No. 1 nationally in the latest Baseball America poll.
“Tell O’Connor if he doesn’t win the ACCs, he can’t come back to Charlottesville,” men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia cracked.
“I’d actually second that,” said men’s tennis coach Brian Boland, whose office is down the hall from Starsia’s in the McCue Center.
“I think if he doesn’t win it, he should probably resign.”
Starsia and Boland were in good spirits Monday, and who could blame them? UVa is ranked No. 1 nationally in men’s lacrosse and in men’s tennis, and each team celebrated a championship Sunday.
Boland’s boys beat Duke 4-2 to capture the ACC tournament for the fourth straight year and the sixth time in seven years. The victory was the Cavaliers’ 61st consecutive against conference foes.
The ACC championship has “always been difficult to win,” Boland said. “It’s such a difficult thing to do, to win this consistently in one of the toughest leagues in the country.”
What Boland will remember most about this year’s tourney, he said, was how “difficult it was. We’ve played other championships over the years where the actual final match was competitive but not nearly as challenging as this one, and that’s a credit to Duke and what a great match they played.
“That made it a little bit more special in the sense of, we really had to have everybody play at a high level of tennis to win as a team, and I’m just really proud of the guys. We’ll enjoy this for a couple of days, then starting getting ready for the NCAA championships.”
At Maryland’s Byrd Stadium, Starsia’s team ended an eight-game losing streak to Duke with an emphatic victory in Friday night’s semifinals. Two days later, Virginia whipped Maryland 10-6 to win its first ACC title since 2006.
Thus ended a weekend that also included the ACC rowing title Sauer’s team won on Clemson’s home course.
The ‘Hoos, ranked third nationally, beat the Tigers to the finish line in all four races — Novice Eight, Varsity Four, Second Varsity Eight and Varsity Eight — to win the ACC championship for the 10th time in 11 years.
The rowers also earned this distinction: They’re the team that captured the 100th ACC championship for UVa.
“We came into this championship knowing that it was going to be a tough one,” Sauer said. “We knew that Clemson was going to be a force as a team. We knew that Duke’s Varsity Eight was pretty good, and we knew that it could be pretty tight. I think our teams just really, really performed exceptionally well, across the board.”
When the collective accomplishments of all 25 varsity teams are considered, this is likely to be remember as the greatest year in the history of UVa athletics.
Virginia has already won one NCAA title — in men’s soccer — and appears headed for its first top-5 finish in the Directors’ Cup competition. And that, the Cavaliers’ coaches say, has created an ideal working environment.
“I think the kids [in different sports] feed off each other a little bit,” Sauer said, and so do the coaches.
“I would say it’s a little uncommon,” Starsia said. “I’ve been around here awhile, and there’s a lot of camaraderie in the department among the coaches, and everybody’s pulling for each other. It’s really neat to be part of it. It drives you a little bit.”
Boland said: “I believe that the standards are high, and when standards are high and expectations are there, it’s only going to help everybody.
“I’ve learned so much from the likes of [swimming coach] Mark Bernardino and Dom Starsia and Brian O’Connor, and I have so much respect for them. And I think there’s a lot of mutual respect amongst the coaches across the different sports, and they really want to see success for one another, and I think that’s a great team environment. It’s a really special place to work right now, and I’m really proud just to be a part of that.”
Overseeing it all is Littlepage. He’s proud too, but not satisfied.
“As much as we can enjoy these achievements, there is still much to accomplish and much hard work to do,” Littlepage said. “The goal is to reach the point where we are performing at championship levels across the board with all of our sports programs. It is a great pleasure watching these talented people do what they do to bring so much recognition to the University community.”