One of the highest accolades in collegiate athletics is neither a bowl win nor an NCAA championship. It is rather the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup, developed by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and USA Today to measure excellence across an entire athletic program — in the case of Division I schools, ten men's and ten women's sports. The Cavaliers have finished in the top thirty every year since the program's inception sixteen years ago. This year, the University of Virginia finished eighth among all Division I schools, tying its best finish ever recorded in 1999. In this competition, U.Va. placed ahead of such perennial sports powerhouses as Louisiana State, Ohio State, UCLA, and Duke.
U.Va.'s record in championship play indicates how demanding Directors' Cup competition is. Teams or individuals in twenty of Virginia's twenty-five athletic programs advanced to postseason competition. Virginia won six Atlantic Coast Conference championships, the most of any league member. U.Va.'s
ACC titles were in men's cross country, men's and women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, men's outdoor track and field, and baseball.
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A Shining Season for Baseball
Baseball fans are fond of statistics — and this year's U.Va. team statistics show the best season of any Virginia baseball team since the program began in 1889. The Cavaliers established eleven program records during the 2009 season, including 507 runs scored, 767 hits, and 593 batters struck out by Virginia pitchers in forty-nine victories. The Cavaliers won the ACC Baseball Championship, captured regional and super regional titles, and made it all the way to the College World Series for the first time.
This level of play was unanticipated, considering the Cavaliers entered the season with a roster that included several inexperienced players. Widely hailed for his successful efforts in helping his talented players realize their potential, Brian O'Connor was named National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and CollegeBaseballInsider.com. The American Baseball Coaches Association recognized Mr. O'Connor as the Atlantic Region Coach of the Year.
Maintaining momentum through the regular season and into the postseason is difficult even for the most seasoned of athletes. This year, a series of Cavalier teams demonstrated their determination. The men's swimming and diving team finished ninth at the NCAA Championships, the best finish for the squad in its history. The women's golf team also outdid itself, with its highest-ever finish — eighth place — at its NCAA Championships, thanks to Calle Nielson's performance, which landed her in sixth place nationally.
The men's lacrosse team reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship for the fourth time in the last five seasons, ending the year 15-3, while the women's rowing team finished fourth at the NCAA Championships, with the Varsity Eight coming in second in that event.
The men's tennis team also had a stellar year, compiling a 32-1 record overall and reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships. The team won the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Men's National Team Indoor Championship for the second consecutive year, while Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz became the first doubles team from the ACC to win the NCAA Men's Doubles Championship.
The men's track and field/cross country program also had a strong year. The combined teams finished eleventh in the inaugural NCAA Division I John McDonnell Program of the Year Award, and the cross country and outdoor track and field teams won ACC Championships. Among the standouts were Ryan Foster, who became the first Cavalier to win the men's individual title at the ACC Cross Country Championships, and Yemi Ayeni, the first Cavalier to win an NCAA track and field regional title in the discus by finishing first.
In many instances, the quality of the University's coaching made the decisive difference in the Directors' Cup rankings. Four Virginia coaches won a total of six ACC Coach of the Year awards: Mark Bernardino in men's and women's swimming, Brian Boland in men's tennis, Dom Starsia in men's lacrosse, and Jason Vigilante in men's cross country and men's outdoor track and field. In his first year at Virginia, Mr. Vigilante also was named both the NCAA Southeast Region Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year and the NCAA Men's Southeast Region Head Track and Field Coach of the Year.
The University named Tony Bennett men's head basketball coach in April of 2009. Mr. Bennett was the men's head basketball coach at Washington State University for the last three years, compiling a 69-33 record. In his first season at Washington State, he took a squad projected to finish last in its conference to second place in the league standings.
A Question of Balance
The University strongly supports its student-athletes' success in the classroom as well as in competition. In 2008–09, the Atlantic Coast Conference Honor Roll recognized 216 U.Va. student-athletes for their participation in a varsity-level sport while maintaining a grade point average of 3.0 or better for the full academic year. In addition, Virginia had two individuals named ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in their sports.
Men's lacrosse players Mike Timms and Danny Glading exemplify the tradition of scholar-athletes at Virginia. The two economics majors were named Scholar All-Americans by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. Mr. Glading was also a first-team All-American, while Mr. Timms received honorable mention All-America recognition.
U.Va. athletics director Craig Littlepage has said Virginia's future challenge is to be an athletics program that consistently performs among the nation's top ten in the Directors' Cup standings and ranks among the national leaders in the academic achievements of our student-athletes.
Losses in the Athletics Community
As associate director of athletics and executive director of intramural/recreational sports, Mark E. Fletcher oversaw four major indoor centers and several outdoor facilities and supervised a staff of forty and hundreds of part-time student employees. What is more important, he touched almost every member of the University community. At least 94 percent of all undergraduate students participate in intramural/recreational sports and faculty and staff participation is the highest in the country. Mr. Fletcher died unexpectedly in June at the age of fifty-seven.
The death of Mike Colley (McIntire '85), longtime assistant director of media relations, was also a great loss to athletics. Mr. Colley's responsibilities included arranging interviews for Cavalier football and men's lacrosse players and serving as chief statistician at U.Va. football, men's lacrosse, and men's and women's home basketball games. He worked at the University for eighteen years.
Barbara Kelly, a pioneer of women's sports at U.Va., retired this year. She was hired in 1971 to develop a women's athletics program to include intramural, club, and intercollegiate sports. By 1973–74, U.Va. offered three women's varsity sports: basketball, field hockey, and tennis. Ms. Kelly was the first coach of the women's basketball team and was the founder and first tournament director of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament.