As four years come to an end for hundreds of Virginia student-athletes, we want to reflect on the unique four years these graduating Cavaliers have spent on Grounds. Here, we answer a few key questions about the Class of 2021 and look back on their impact on the University.
What sport’s graduating class do you feel had the greatest impact on you and Virginia?
Jacob Knapp, Sports Columnist: The Cavalier women’s swim and dive team was by far the strongest team this season. The women’s team especially made an impact on me after watching them rattle off win after win en route to their first national championship. Crucial to the championship run were the seniors, and Paige Madden led by example with first-place finishes in three individual events. She was without a doubt the most dominant swimmer in the country at nationals, and the team will certainly miss her next year. Fellow seniors Caroline Gmelich and Kyla Valls also secured All-American honors, as Gmelich won the 100 back, 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay and Valls won the 200 free, 200 free relay and 800 free relay. The men’s team performed well too this season, and they will surely miss the likes of Keefer Barnum, who holds the Virginia record in the 100 and 200 breast. Hopefully, the swim team’s success this past year under the leadership of its senior class will spur heightened interest in Virginia swimming next season, especially as the women look to defend their national title.
Jacob Tisdale, Sports Columnist: Football. This year’s senior class has weathered the transition as Coach Bronco Mendenhall transformed our program. Their era began as the “New Standard” and ended as “The Standard.” They redefined the Virginia football experience, bringing home a Belk Bowl trophy, an ACC Coastal regular season title and played a key role in last year’s incredible Commonwealth Cup victory. Along with the amazing talent this class displayed, they demonstrated how student athletes can work as activists and promoted causes important to them and their community. Leaders such as Charles Snowden and Terrell Jana have been outspoken and helped found The Groundskeepers over the past summer in the wake of the racial unrest and tensions demonstrated across the country as well as in Charlottesville. Their walk across Grounds with stops at important landmarks such as the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers showed how players can be organizers, activists and community leaders as well as competitors.
Harry Farley, Sports Columnist: Men’s tennis. While many of the seniors on the tennis team didn’t see the court much this season, senior leadership has been a key to the Cavaliers’ success. Not only did the seniors face the challenge of incoming freshmen who were likely to play and needed guidance, the top three freshmen are all foreign students. Seniors Jefferson Dockter, Spencer Bozsik, Ethan Moszkowski and Jerome Romualdez led large freshmen and sophomore classes in adjusting to Virginia, while Matthew Lord and Gianni Ross played pivotal roles on the court in NCAA and ACC play. As a whole, the senior class had to juggle a talented freshman class with an unexpected amount of success as a team this year. Their leadership and wisdom served as an example for the Cavaliers and seeing their leadership against Stanford was indicative of their impact here at Virginia.
If there was one word you could use to describe the Cavaliers’ Class of 2021 what would it be?
JK: Motivated. For Virginia senior athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to adapt from competing at the highest level in their respective sports to forgoing all competition whatsoever. In the early stages of the pandemic, when the Class of 2021 were juniors, they faced an uncertain future. The unpredictability of COVID-19 case spikes left the 2020-21 athletic season hanging in the balance and questions over how the NCAA would adjust its eligibility rules made the prospect of never competing again a stark possibility. With the potential of an abrupt end to their athletic careers and no in-person practices, the motivation for Virginia athletes to train on their own time had to come from within. Even when athletics did return, most teams had to compete in empty arenas, fields and gyms. In spite of all this, in their final season, the Class of 2021 produced ACC Champions and brought home one national championship — a product of their sheer determination and drive to train in the offseason even when all seemed lost.
JT: Resilient. This class has not only experienced tumultuous and unprecedented circumstances but has demonstrated ways to persevere and thrive in spite of them. They have served as model students off the field through community service and activism and have been dominant on the field as well. Covering the athletic department’s COVID-19 reports this year demonstrated to me the intensive protocols of the ACC and the immense individual responsibility these athletes had to their team and their community to take precautions and be safe. It is a shame though that they may be remembered more for the circumstances of their time at Virginia instead of their achievements and exceptional play. These athletes performed at a consistently high level and through their success brought pride and happiness to students and fans during a time in which these things could be otherwise hard to come by.
HF: Dedicated. From their first year as a class in 2018, the Class of 2021 has won eight ACC Championships and three NCAA Championships. Yet the most defining part of their legacy as a class was their last year at Virginia. The Class of 2021 had to endure a fourth year which was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most sports had either very limited numbers of fans, or no fans at all. Yet the Class of 2021 held their heads high and fought on — their last year has been highlighted by their attitude to keep the University community safe, diligently wearing masks, getting regularly tested in their respective teams and continuing to represent Virginia well in athletics by capturing the NCAA title in women’s swimming and diving and the ACC title in men’s tennis. The Class of 2021 has been dedicated to upholding all that Virginia’s student-athletes stand for in their four years at the University.
Who is the athlete you’ll miss most from the Class of 2021?
JK: Men’s basketball guard Tomas Woldetensae. Hailing from Bologna, Italy, he was definitely one of the bigger personalities on the Virginia basketball team, and I’ll miss his clutch three-pointers and the occasional pasta recipe. I wish we could have seen more of him on the court this past season, as his minutes took a dip compared to his junior year. As a junior, after transferring from Indian Hills Community College, Woldetensae was thrust into the spotlight to jump-start a historically bad Cavalier offense. He emerged as the team’s sole reliable three-point shooter, leading Virginia with 52 made three-point attempts — the next closest was a mere 36. Unfortunately, Woldetensae has elected not to return for an extra season of eligibility. Even after only playing for two years, Woldetensae will go down as one of the most memorable Cavaliers to step on the court.
JT: Baseball starting pitcher Andrew Abbott. The southpaw reliever-turned-ace has been an excellent member of the Cavalier pitching staff since joining Virginia in 2018. He has consistently performed at a high level on and off the field, earning top honors with multiple ACC All-Academic Team listings, as well as racking up accolades for his incredible relief efforts early in his career. In the shortened 2020 season, Abbott had an incredible 1.35 ERA, striking out 28 batters in 13.1 innings. This year, he leads the ACC in strikeouts after transitioning to a starting role. He is currently third all-time in career strikeouts at Virginia with 280. In his most recent appearance, he pitched 7.1 innings of the Cavaliers’ combined no-hitter against Wake Forest, striking out 16 in the process. While he will likely join a team in this year’s MLB draft, his steady presence on the mound of Davenport Field will be greatly missed.
Akhil Rekulapelli, Senior Editor: Women’s lacrosse defender Meredith Chapman. While Chapman was with the Cavaliers for just the 2021 season after transferring from High Point as a graduate transfer, the Apex, N.C. native was an outstanding anchor for Virginia’s backline. Chapman — a student in the School of Nursing — scooped up 41 ground balls and caused 23 turnovers across 18 games, including four ground balls and three caused turnovers against rival Duke. For her efforts, Chapman was named to the IWLCA All-South Region Team as well as the All-ACC Second Team. As Chapman leaves the program to pursue further education and a career in nursing, she will be remembered as a fierce competitor and strong leader within the Cavalier lacrosse program.