After eventful winter and spring seasons, UVA concluded another sports year with two more NCAA team championships, new coaches in a pair of high-profile sports, and ground broken on a long-awaited football performance center. After the college season ended, Cavalier athletes showcased their talents on bigger stages, claiming individual world and national titles.
For those keeping score, UVA’s team national title count now stands at 31, which means the athletics department’s next capital need may be a bigger trophy case.
Any questions of whether UVA had arrived as a national swimming power were settled in March, when the women’s swimming and diving team dominated the competition on the way to repeating as NCAA champions.
Any doubts that UVA’s best are among the best on the planet were obliterated in June, when three current Cavaliers and an alumna claimed nine medals at the World Swimming Championships in Budapest.
Alex Walsh (Col ’24) led the way with three gold medals, in the 200-meter individual medley and as a member of the 4x200-meter freestyle and 4x100-meter medley relay teams.
Kate Douglass (Col ’23) won three bronze medals, in the 200-meter breaststroke and on the women’s 4x100-freestyle and mixed 4x100-meter freestyle relay teams.
Alumna Leah Smith (Col ’17) also won gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. She added a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle. Emma Weyant (Col ’24) took bronze in the 400-meter individual medley.
UVA head coach Todd DeSorbo guided Team USA to 25 medals overall. The performance came 11 months after UVA women won four medals at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
As it did in 2021, UVA used the NCAA championships as a warmup for international competition. The Cavaliers won four of the five relay events and broke seven American records at the NCAA meet to amass 551.5 points to runner-up Texas’ 406, surpassing even their own lofty expectations.
“They blew my mind; it was better than I thought they would have done,” DeSorbo said.
Douglass and Walsh each won three individual titles, while Gretchen Walsh (Col ’25) added one individual title and was runner-up in two events.
The team has developed steadily since DeSorbo took over in 2017–18. In his first season, UVA finished ninth at the NCAA championships; a year later, it improved to sixth. In 2019–20 it won the ACC title and was the favorite for the NCAA championship before the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the meet. Last year UVA became the first ACC team to win an NCAA swimming championship. Now it’s just the sixth women’s swimming and diving program to have collected back-to-back NCAA titles.
“The trend has been exponential, and I don’t think any other team can say that they had the route to success that we have had,” Alex Walsh said.
Men’s Tennis Rallies to Victory
Talk about a turnaround. After losing five consecutive matches in February, the men’s tennis team stormed back to win its fifth NCAA team national championship in May—the program’s first title since 2017.
The Cavaliers finished on a 23-match winning streak, including a six-match run through the NCAA championship, culminating in a 4-0 sweep of Kentucky.
“The goal has always been to peak in May,” said Gianni Ross (Col ’21), who won the clinching point against Kentucky and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA championship.
Those early losses in a two-week span to highly ranked teams helped steel the ’Hoos for their title run.
Andres Pedroso—who took over as head coach in the spring of 2017 after the Cavaliers won four team titles in five years (2013, 2015–17) under predecessor Brian Boland—said this was the level to which the program expected to return.
“We’re always thinking national championship at some point, but I didn’t know if it was going to happen this year or year seven or year nine,” Pedroso told VirginiaSports.com.
Coaching Comings and Goings
After hiring football coach Tony Elliott in December, UVA welcomed Amaka “Mox” Agugua-Hamilton as women’s basketball coach in March. She replaces Tina Thompson, who was fired with a year remaining on her contract after going 30-63 in four seasons.
Agugua-Hamilton comes to UVA from Missouri State, where she led that team to the last two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2021. She grew up in Northern Virginia as a UVA fan during the heyday of the program in the 1990s.
“The tradition here for many, many years was to pursue championships and to put up banners in the stands,” she said. “We will get back to that.”
In other coaching news, UVA extended the contracts of Pedroso and women’s tennis coach Sara O’Leary through 2027 and signed men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany through 2026.
O’Leary took over an unranked team in 2017 and has led the team to the NCAA tournament every season since. The Cavaliers reached the quarterfinals this season.
Tiffany led UVA to NCAA championships in 2019 and 2021.
Digging Deep for Football
Nearly four years after the Board of Visitors approved a master plan to upgrade athletics facilities, UVA finally broke ground on the crown jewel of the project—an $80 million football performance center that will replace the program’s current home, the cramped and outdated McCue Center.
The 90,000-square-foot building will include locker rooms, coach’s offices, strength and conditioning and nutrition spaces, meeting and video rooms, and sports medicine areas for treatment and recovery.
“It will have everything we need to compete for championships,” Director of Athletics Carla Williams said.
The building is scheduled to open in spring 2024.
Inching to a Title in Track
On the final day of the men’s NCAA track and field championships in June—the next-to-last day of competition for any UVA team in 2021-22—discus thrower Claudio Romero (Col ’23) unleashed a throw of 217 feet, 1 inch.
The inch made all the difference. It was the margin of victory for Romero over second-place finisher Mykolas Alekna of University of California, Berkeley.
“I feel really good,” Romero said. “Sometimes even the best athletes come short of the NCAA championship. Being able to call myself that is definitely one of the milestones of my athletic career.”
Javelin thrower Ethan Dabbs (Col ’22) finished second at the NCAA championships but won a gold medal at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships the following week, with a throw of 266 feet, 8 inches.
Dabbs won the national title on his final attempt.
“I got it done when it mattered and that’s what matters most,” he told VirginiaSports.com.
Polo Times Two
On the 100th anniversary of intercollegiate polo, UVA made it a double, capturing both the men’s and women’s national titles at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville.
The women began the day with a 17-9 win over Kentucky. The men followed with a 13-7 victory over the University of North Texas.
There are 15 men’s and 26 women’s intercollegiate teams across the country, according to the United States Polo Association.