Coaches come. Coaches go. Big events hit or they miss. Teams win. Teams lose.
From one year to the next, those things remain, for the most part, constant.
But there are years in which the coaches who make news aren’t just coaches. Years in which events aren’t just events. Years in which games aren’t just games. Years in which championship trophies aren’t just championship trophies.
Years such as 2015.
Throughout Virginia, this past year was full of sports stories that transcended the region and the world of athletics. Stories that made national and international news. Stories that impacted scores of people not just in Richmond or the commonwealth, but across the globe.
Check out the Top 10 Richmond Times-Dispatch sports stories of 2015, Pages C4-5
1 Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer retires
Saying he wanted what’s “best for Virginia Tech,” Frank Beamer announced Nov. 1 he would retire from coaching at his alma mater at the end of the season.
Beamer, who is the sixth all-time winningest coach in major college football history with 280 victories, led the Hokies to 23 consecutive bowl games, including this year’s record-setting 55-52 win over Tulsa in the Independence Bowl.
Beamer’s Hokies also won 12 consecutive over rival Virginia, including this year’s victory, which clinched the Independence Bowl trip, the same bowl game that started Tech’s 23-postseason game streak in 1993.
“The things you miss are the players,” Beamer said last week before his final win. “The more you’re around them, you realize how much you’re going to miss them. When they’re good guys, it makes even more of an impression on you.
“The coaches you coached with and the uncertainty in some of their lives right now, I hate that. That’s the tough part. I’m thankful for staying in one place 29 years. It’s just not done in this business. To be able to do that and for them to put up with me for that long and keep me around and be with good people — the administrators I’ve been with and the players and the coaches — I’m an appreciative guy. That’s the way I feel right now. I’ve been blessed. I’m thankful and looking forward to what we do next.”
Beamer led the Hokies for 29 years.
The Worlds, and its fans, come to Richmond
Richmond became a world capital — specifically, the capital of the cycling world — for eight frenetic days in September.
The arrival after four years of preparation of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships immersed the city in the culture, spectacle and high-tech competition typically reserved for aristocratic cycling events such as the Olympics and the Tour de France.
Richmond responded enthusiastically, if not passionately. The color and flag-waving energy apparent in Libby Hill Park, through which the most significant races traveled; and along the long finishing corridor on East Broad Street, was little less than striking. If only briefly, “peloton” became a part of the city’s vocabulary.
Local fans applauded not only the present but also the future. The winners of the marquee races were shrewd, seasoned veterans from abroad: Lizzie Armitstead of Great Britain and Peter Sagan of Slovakia. But American teenagers — Chloe Dygert of Indiana and Emma White of New York — stepped boldly into the spotlight by finishing 1-2, respectively, in both the women’s junior road race and the women’s junior time trial.
Said White: “We wanted to prove something — not just to ourselves, but to the world.”
Richmond 2015, the local organizing committee, two weeks ago released a report that estimated the financial impact of the event at $88.9 million in direct spending and nearly $170 million in total spending. Cumulative attendance was estimated at 645,000. Organizers believe the event attracted more than 160,000 spectators, of whom about 72,000 were overnight visitors.
Smart leaves VCU for Texas
The man who helped lead VCU’s Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2011, while making the Rams — and himself — a household name, was hired away by the University of Texas in early April.
Smart, who was offered a hefty raise to stay with the Rams, ultimately chose to head to Texas and the Big 12.
In his six seasons on Broad Street, Smart led VCU to a record of 163-56 — an average of 27 wins per season — and to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
After the Final Four run, VCU advanced to the round of 32 in back-to-back seasons. The Rams were upset by Stephen F. Austin in overtime in their opening game of the 2014 NCAA tournament and lost to Ohio State 75-72 in overtime in their opening round last season.
In the six years under Smart, VCU tied for the 10th-most wins nationally.
New hires across state
Just five days after Shaka Smart left VCU for Texas, the Rams named former VCU assistant Will Wade as the program’s next head coach.
Wade, who spent the previous two years as the coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga, came back to West Broad Street declaring “Havoc still lives here.”
Under Wade, the Rams have opened the 2015-16 season 8-5, including losses to defending national champion Duke and runner-up Wisconsin.
A day after Virginia Tech beat rival Virginia in football for the 12th consecutive time in Frank Beamer’s final regular-season game leading the program, Tech athletics director Whit Babcock officially announced Beamer’s successor.
Memphis’ Justin Fuente was the man Babcock tabbed to fill Beamer’s shoes.
Fuente, a 39-year-old offensive innovator, turned around the Memphis program in his four years with the Tigers, including a 9-3 season this year. He did not coach Tech in its bowl win over Tulsa last weekend, allowing Beamer to end his 29-year tenure in Blacksburg with one final victory in the saddle.
In perhaps the stealthiest move of the college football coaching search season, Virginia hired BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall on Dec. 4.
Mendenhall, who led the Cougars to 11 consecutive bowl games — including this year’s Las Vegas Bowl — came from out of nowhere to replace Mike London, who resigned from his post Nov. 29, fewer than 24 hours after U.Va.’s 12th consecutive loss to Virginia Tech.
In his six seasons leading the Cavaliers, London’s record was 27-46 overall, with only one winning season — 2011 when he took U.Va. to the Chick-fil-A bowl. U.Va. and London struck a deal that would pay him $2.7 million, as London had a year left on his contract.
Virginia will pay Mendenhall, who won 99 games in Provo, Utah, $3.25 million per season.
Basketball Hall of Famer Moses Malone passes away
Moses Malone, a three-time NBA MVP and Pro Basketball Hall of Famer who led Petersburg High School to back-to-back state championships, died Sept. 13 at the age of 60.
In an NBA career that stretched from 1976-1995, the 6-foot-10 center recorded more than 27,000 points and 16,000 rebounds. He was named the NBA’s MVP three times, 1979, 1982 and 1983. He was part of the 76ers’ 1983 NBA championship team.
Nicknamed the “Chairman of the Boards,” Malone averaged a double-double in his 20 NBA seasons and led the league in rebounding six times. The 12-time All-Star averaged 20.6 points per game and 12.2 rebounds in his career. He is seventh all-time in scoring in the NBA.
Malone went straight from Petersburg High School, where he scored 2,124 points, to the ABA in 1974 and to the NBA two years later when the leagues merged. He played for seven teams, the Buffalo Braves, Houston Rockets, 76ers, Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs.
In 1996, he was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Virginia teams capture three national titles, Capital One Cup
Practice, they say, makes perfect — which perhaps is why the Virginia Cavaliers have mastered the art of hoisting national championship trophies. Certainly they do it frequently.
Virginia’s men won three NCAA Division I team titles in 2014-15: soccer, tennis and baseball. In addition, Cavaliers tennis player Ryan Shane was crowned in April as the NCAA men’s singles champion. U.Va. subsequently won the men’s Capital One Cup, symbolic of dominance in Division I athletics.
The baseball title, U.Va.’s first, was the jewel in the Cavaliers’ crown. Virginia defeated Vanderbilt in a taut three-game College World Series final after losing a three-game final to the Commodores in 2014.
“I never thought of winning the national championship,” said veteran Cavaliers baseball coach Brian O’Connor. “I just thought of trying to put together the best program you can possibly put together.”
Vanderbilt jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the decisive third game of the 2015 final. But Cavaliers first baseman Pavin Smith launched a game-tying two-run homer in the fourth. Smith added a two-out RBI single in the fifth.
The third-ranked Cavaliers defeated top-ranked Oklahoma 4-1 to win their second NCAA team tennis title. Senior Mitchell Frank, the tournament’s most outstanding player, secured Virginia’s triumph with a tenacious 7-5, 7-5 victory at No. 2 singles.
Virginia defeated UCLA 4-2 in a penalty-kick shootout to earn its seventh NCAA men’s soccer championship.
The Diamond’s future
The Diamond turned 30 in 2015. But there was no celebration, just another year of uncertainty about its future as there still is no firm plan to replace or upgrade the stadium on the Boulevard, which has been the home of the Flying Squirrels — Richmond’s Double-A baseball team — for six years.
The Squirrels, part of the San Francisco Giants organization, have put plenty of money into keeping their antiquated home presentable, and front-office brass has said it is not opposed to major renovations to the stadium. But as for a solid long-range plan — from the city of Richmond or the Flying Squirrels — there is none.
Lou DiBella, the Flying Squirrels president and managing general partner, would prefer to stay on the Boulevard. However, the mayor’s office’s future plan for the Boulevard does not include a baseball stadium.
As 2016 begins, Richmond is no closer to an answer on what to do with The Diamond.
Unexpected playoff runs
Surprising playoff runs were prevalent through 2015 as well. From VCU’s baseball team making history to Virginia Union’s football team ending a 24-year playoff drought to Richmond playing in the FCS semifinals to the Washington Redskins clinching the NFC East, not many would have predicted such success from teams that were under the radar entering their respective seasons.
VCU became one of college baseball’s most surprising postseason stories, winning its final six conference games to get into the Atlantic 10 tournament. Then the Rams went on a run that didn’t end until they were one of 16 teams left in the NCAA bracket. VCU swept the A-10 tournament as a No. 5 seed; beat top seed and 14th-ranked Dallas Baptist twice, as well as No. 17 Oregon State, to become just the fifth No. 4 seed to win a regional; and became the first team in school history to advance to a super regional. No. 5 national seed Miami finally stopped VCU’s magic by winning 3-2 and 10-3 in the best-of-three super regional.
Virginia Union’s football team qualified for the Division II playoffs for the first time since 1991 when it finished second in the CIAA and earned a No. 7 seed. The Panthers lost to second-seeded Slippery Rock in the first round of the D-II playoffs, but finished with an 8-3 record, led by quarterback and Lanier Award winner Shawheem Dowdy.
The University of Richmond’s football team was picked to finish fifth in the CAA preseason poll. Four months later, the Spiders were one of the final four teams standing in all of the Football Championship Subdivision. Richmond earned a piece of the CAA championship, a national seed and a first-round playoff bye after beating rival William and Mary in the regular-season finale. The Spiders then went on to beat the Tribe in the second round of the playoffs before pulling an upset over No. 2 seeded Illinois State in Normal, Ill., in the quarterfinals. That victory over the Redbirds set up an FCS semifinal matchup against four-time defending national champion North Dakota State in Fargo, N.D., on Dec. 18. Even though the Spiders lost to the third-seeded Bison in the Fargodome, they finished the season with a 10-win season and have a solid nucleus set to return in 2016.
The Washington Redskins entered the 2015 season with more questions than answers, especially at quarterback. With Robert Griffin III being benched before the start of the season in favor of Kirk Cousins, many expected the Redskins to continue their downward spiral this year. But with a chip on their shoulder, led by Cousins and his “You like that?” mentality, a spare-parts defense, and playing in a dismal NFC East, the Redskins pulled off one of the biggest surprises in the league and won their division, clinching a home-field playoff game. “They really withstood a lot,” coach Jay Gruden said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. A lot of guys (had to) come in and play that didn’t expect to. You’re happy as heck for them and to get rewarded like this is something special we’ll never forget.”
Highland Springs wins 5A football championship
The 2015 Highland Springs football team won the program’s first state championship game in school history Dec. 5, beating Stone Bridge (Loudoun County) 27-7 in the 5A title game at the University of Virginia.
The Springers were named state champs in 1961 when there was no title game, and they fell in state championship games in 1978 and 1989. This year, however, they wouldn’t be stopped.
Led by All-Metro player of the year in wide receiver Greg Dortch, who had a 66-yard touchdown run on a third-and-30, running back D.J. Anderson, who rushed for 105 yards, including a 61-yard TD, and K’Von Wallace’s two scores, Highland Springs showed why they were the best team in Group 5A this year, finishing 14-1.
“When you go through the 5A South gauntlet, you’re prepared for something like this,” Springers coach Loren Johnson said. “Any team coming out of the region could have won a state championship.
“I think this is something (my players) will remember the rest of their lives,” Johnson added. “And I’m thankful to be a part of it.”
VCU’s Weber suffers knee injury 12 steals shy of NCAA’s all-time record
When Briante Weber fell to floor Jan. 31 against rival Richmond, no one in the sold-out Siegel Center made a sound. The quiet reflected the respect and admiration the thousands in attendance had for one of VCU’s most prolific and recognizable players.
Just 12 steals short of the NCAA career record, Weber played his final game for the Rams that day, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus in his right knee.
Weber was averaging 8.1 points, 4.2 assists and 3.9 steals his senior season before the injury. Weber is third on the NCAA’s all-time steal list with 374.