For most of the past decade the Virginia Cavaliers have been at the bottom of the ACC Coastal Division standings.
Since UVA’s last winning season in 2011, the ‘Hoos have had a pair of just two-win seasons, in 2013 and 2016, and several 4-8 and 5-7 seasons in and around those. The Cavs only have managed to win 29 games since 2010 in total, and many years are picked to finish last in the Coastal.
Last season Virginia surprised some fans with the hiring former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall was the man chosen to turn the program around after the down years of Mike London, on top of the disappointing end to the Al Groh era, and though it is too early to tell whether or not Mendenhall will get things moving in the right direction, the first season certainly did not go as planned, only winning two games and losing the home opener to FCS Richmond.
Though you might look at the 2016 Cavs and think there is not much hope for them in this upcoming season, Mendenhall and his players believe that the wins are just around the corner, and Mendenhall sees improvement,
“My entire team were first years last year. Even Quin, who has all kinds of ACC experience and is a very good player, that was his first year in our system,” Mendenhall said. “It has been fun to see confidence maturity, decision making, and execution improve with more of a focus on playing the game.”
The Cavs do have some players on the defense side of the ball that might give the fanbase hope. Safety Quin Blanding and linebacker Micah Kiser are All-ACC talents. Blanding believes that the wins will be there in his senior year.
“They are going to come, no matter what it is, whether if it is our training, no matter if it is our schemes, whatever it is, it is to the point where they are going to come,” Blanding said.
Cavalier fans have been waiting for the wins to come for several years now. With wins being rare for UVA the past few years, many fans have begun to have the “here we go again” attitude when things do not go there way, or they have the “believe it when I see it” mentality.
With a program trying to rebuild, it is important for the UVA players not to adopt the same attitude out on the field.
Blanding believes they are mentally ready for those types of moments in games that my cause doubt to sink in.
“We are big on adversity, we are big on sudden changing. Every day in practice we are put in a way where adversity, or sudden change, happens all the time. Even in our training now, you do not know what is coming. It is preparing us for those situations,” Blanding said.
UVA starting quarterback Kurt Benkert agrees with his defensive teammate.
“We just have a different approach now, honestly. We attack each day and really focus on what we can control and what we do wel,l and focusing all of our effort on building on our strengths and minimizing our weaknesses,” Benkert said.
UVA fans are wanting for this program to have that breakthrough moment where the see the program turning in the right direction. Mendenhall is not sure when that will be, but believes he will recognize it when he sees it, and by getting there it will take more hard work and knowing what all his players can do, “to know what each player on our team can do, make sure they are on the field at the right time doing the right thing to deliver the result.”
Virginia has an uphill climb to become relevant in the ACC this season, but the coaches and the team believe that they are already on the right path.
Will that translate to wins on the field for the Cavs? Well, I guess we will just have to see it to believe it.
Story by Seth Megginson/Augusta Free Press