The young 1996-97 Cavaliers swam a tough schedule and performed well against ranked opponents to finish fourth in the ACC and 21st in the nation last season. Twelve freshmen competed for Virginia, led by ACC Rookie of the Year Doak Finch. Finch, along with junior Jason Webb and sophomore Shamek Pietucha, earned All-America honors. Austin Ramirez, another freshman, was named an honorable mention All-American, as were sophomore D.J. Gallagher and senior Tom Woodworth.
“I think we had a really phenomenal year, their dual meet record not withstanding,” head coach Mark Bernardino said. “That’s a deceptive 5-6. We were 5-6 against a stacked schedule which included four teams that ended the season ranked in the top 20.”
Six Cavaliers qualified for the NCAA Championship meet, in Woodworth, Gallagher, Finch, Pietucha, Webb and Ramirez. Those six swimmers combined to give UVa at least one participant in every individual event.
Pietucha placed fourth in the 200 yard butterfly, and was the highest finisher on the team. Webb earned a sixth place finish in the 200 backstroke, while Finch was eighth in the 200 butterfly.
Ramirez, a long distance specialist, finished 11th in the 1,650 yard freestyle. Gallagher finished 23rd in the 200 yard breaststroke, while Woodworth claimed 47th place in the 100 yard freestyle.
Virginia’s 400 medley relay team of Webb, Gallagher, Pietucha and Woodworth placed 14th, while the 800 yard freestyle relay team of Ramirez, Finch, Pietucha and Webb swam to a 17th place finish.
At the ACC Championship, Ramirez won both the 500 and 1,650 free, Finch captured the 400 individual medley title, and Webb and Pietucha placed second in the 200 backstroke and 200 butterfly, respectively, to lead the Cavaliers. All four swimmers earned All-ACC honors for those performances.
Pietucha also finished fourth in the 100 butterfly, while sophomore Mike Renshaw earned a fourth place finish in the 200 individual medley. The 400 medley relay team of Webb, Gallagher, Pietucha and Woodworth placed second, finishing just behind a strong Florida State team.
The Cavaliers swam personal bests in 16 events at the ACC Championship meet. Freshman diver Kyle McDuffie also performed well, placing fifth on the one meter springboard competition with a personal-best score of 431.500.
Virginia finished their dual meet season with a record of 5-6, 2-3 in the ACC. Key ACC wins came at home against Clemson and on the road at Maryland. The Cavaliers also defeated South Carolina at home, winning by a score of 142-93, to open their first season in the newly-built Aquatic and Fitness Center. The teams’ strong performances earned them a final ranking of 21st in the Speedo America’s Top 25 CSCAA Coaches Poll.