Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh once told the story that his dad, Jack, instilled a family motto by often asking his kids, “Who’s got it better than us?!”
The response was always to be, “nobody”.
In the spirit of the Harbaugh family, the question needs to be asked: who had a better collegiate sports year than the University of Virginia?
With only a few championships left to be handed out in the academic calendar, including the College World Series, it’s fair to argue that the Wahoos’ accomplishments might have given them the best collective year in college sports.
If you want to play the numbers game, it’s hard to argue with Stanford, currently sitting at five national championships in 2018-19, women’s volleyball the most prominent.
But with two team titles, one individual national champion (Jordan Scott, indoor track triple jump), two team ACC championships in men’s lacrosse and women’s rowing, and 16 individual ACC champions across swimming, track and field, and wrestling, Virginia’s past nine months have put it in some pretty elite company.
First and foremost, the two most recognized national championships in collegiate athletics are the College Football Playoff and the NCAA men’s basketball title.
UVA has the latter, after Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers cut down the nets in Minneapolis, completing one of the greatest redemption stories in sports history.
Some 50 days later, Lars Tiffany and the men’s lacrosse team added their own Final Four comeback against Duke, then cooled off one of the hottest scoring teams by holding Yale to just nine goals in the title game.
Tiffany, a guest on my radio show this week, pointed out not only the change over the years within his program, but also feeling a championship culture in Charlottesville.
“I’m so grateful for these fantastic coaches that surround me,” he said. “I took this job, I left my alma mater at Brown University, [first] for personal reasons so I could grow. To be around George [Gelnovatch] and Steven [Swanson] in the soccer programs and to be around Tony Bennett and the basketball program and to bump into them, whether it’s formally or unofficially at the water fountain and talk about recruiting or whatever. There’s a high tide coming in, the tide is rising here and it’s raising all boats. What’s going on with the football program with Bronco [Mendenhall]. Shutting out an SEC football team in a bowl game? Tony winning a championship? It’s a fabulous time to be here.”
Tiffany brings up a good point. Let’s not leave out Virginia football.
While Hokies fans can still lay claim that they have the Cavaliers’ number in the rivalry game, this past year did include Virginia’s first eight-win season since 2011 and a bowl shutout of South Carolina, which was the Cavs’ first postseason win since 2005.
No, UVA isn’t ready to challenge Clemson for the ACC or a playoff bid, but it needs to be noted that none of the Cavaliers’ gridiron accomplishments were being discussed, nor even imagined, four to five years ago while the program was taking up residence in the cellar of the ACC standings.
Mendenhall, given a contract extension this week through 2024, has increased the win totals from two to six to eight in his first three seasons, and if you pass by a college football preview in the magazine rack of your local grocery store, there’s a good chance you’ll see the ’Hoos mentioned as a preseason Top 25 team.
Prior to winning the lacrosse title, UVA ranked 10th in the May 14 standings of the Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup, given annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the colleges and universities with the most success in collegiate athletics.
“Craig Littlepage did a great job of setting the table here and Carla Williams is running with it, changing the facilities and changing what our future is looking like,” Tiffany said.
What the future holds, nobody knows. But the past sports year has been one like no other in ’Hooville.
Who’s had it better than UVA?
Very few in 2019.