“My best friend was a coxswain on the only boat we had. They graduated two people, so she asked me to come on board,” Kok remembers. “I like being outdoors and I like being on the water any time of day. It’s just so beautiful.”Kok quickly showed an aptitude as a rower and colleges soon came calling. She chose Virginia over Princeton, among others.
“Melanie works extremely hard and has this competitive streak that’s unbelievable,” says UVA coach Kevin Sauer. “She’s a coach’s dream. It’s almost like riding a horse—sometimes you have to rein her in a bit because she can do too much at times, which isn’t a bad problem to have.”Through sheer determination and a will that has pushed her through 5 a.m. practices and grueling weightlifting sessions, Kok has molded herself into an All-American and a 2005 World Rowing Championship gold-medal winner. “There are a lot of people out there who are willing to win,” Sauer says, “but Melanie is one of the few people who is willing to prepare to win.”
Kok, a fourth-year psychology major, is deliberating whether to pursue graduate studies in neural science or to continue training with the Canadian national team with an eye toward the Olympic Trials.“I’ve been to two World Championships, but the Olympics is just at a different level,” Kok says. “I don’t think it will sink in for me until I get there.”
Kok was voted a captain by her teammates earlier this season and says the team is hungry for an NCAA championship. “It’s something we all want,” she says. “It’s something we’ve worked for.”
Either way, Kok, an All-ACC academic performer with a penchant for early-morning walks on the Lawn, feels confident rowing has prepared her for success after graduation this spring. “I’ve learned through rowing that I was stronger than I ever thought I was,” she says, “and that you can accomplish anything simply by working hard to reach a goal.”
Expectations are mounting for Sean Doolittle. A pitcher and first baseman, he was named ACC Player of the Year in 2006 after going 11-2 on the mound, with a 2.38 earned-run average and 108 strikeouts in 90.2 innings, all while batting .324 with a team-high 57 RBIs. Already this year, he is in the preseason mix for several national pitching and player-of-the-year awards.
Those sorts of accolades can translate into pressure to swing for the trees or throw the ball through the catcher’s mitt, but Doolittle insists he’s not feeling the heat as the torch carrier for a UVA team with College World Series aspirations. “It’s flattering and humbling to get these awards and have all these things written about me, but I have to control what I can control, and that’s working hard every day and improving as a ballplayer,” Doolittle explains. “I don’t really feel the pressure. All the pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself.”
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor—who just two seasons ago saw Ryan Zimmerman, now a rising major-league star for the Washington Nationals, earn similar attention—sees Doolittle maturing not only in talent, but also in the ever-important mental game. “Sean is starting to allow things to roll off his shoulders more,” O’Connor says. “When you’re a young player, a lot of times it’s difficult to get over an 0-for-4 day. Sean now has the confidence in himself that an 0-for-4 day isn’t the end of the world, because he will go out the next day and make up for it.”
Doolittle, who’s learning a change-up to complement his fastball and slider, says he would like to improve his pitching stamina. “I’m trying to become more of a complete pitcher. I want to start working deep into ballgames, into the seventh and eighth innings. I want to be the one to hand the ball to our closer, Casey Lambert.”
Doolittle does embrace some of the attention he gets. A favorite among the denizens of Davenport Field, he welcomes the support and passion of the Cavaliers’ growing fan base. “To know that people and kids look up to you and cheer for you like that,” Doolittle says, “is pretty darn cool.”
Arguably the country’s top midfielder, Thompson scored 17 goals and led NCAA midfielders with 23 assists while winning 57 percent of his faceoffs. The second-team All-America pick will be relied on to lead the Cavaliers, who are coming off an undefeated NCAA championship season.
The top returning scorer for the defending ACC champs, Weymouth tallied 49 goals and 21 assists in her first year. She’ll take a leading role as the Cavaliers seek to erase the memory of their NCAA first-round loss to Princeton, which they had routed earlier in the season.
After sitting out her first year for arm surgery, Wilburn saw action in 17 games last year as a red-shirt freshman, going 7-7 with a 3.78 earned-run average. Finally healthy, she is expected to lead the Cavalier pitchers and provide power at the plate.
A surprise NCAA finalist last spring, Devvarman finished the season ranked eighth nationally and was named an All-American. He will team also with fellow third-year Treat Huey to form a potent doubles team as UVA seeks to continue its rise in collegiate tennis.
A former recruited walk-on, the team’s lone senior anchors a young roster that includes a first-year class rated the best in the nation. She posted a 16-7 singles record last year, playing mostly at No. 6, including a 6-1 mark in team dual matches.
Conrad von Borsig
Von Borsig led the Cavaliers in the fall with a 74.50 scoring average, was the team’s top finisher in three of five fall tournaments, and matched a career best by firing a four-under-par 68 at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at The Ridges.
The program’s first recruit, Wigger became its first All-American last year and is ranked in the top 10 nationally. She posted top-10 finishes in her first two NCAA Championships, and last fall was the runner-up in a major tournament held on the Daytona Beach, Fla., course that will host this year’s NCAAs.
The 2005 ACC Freshman of the Year in cross country, Biladeau was one of only three Cavalier men to qualify for last year’s NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. In the fall, he helped the Cavs to a 14th-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Last year, she became UVA’s first All-American in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles since 1998, twice bettering her own school record at the NCAAs. She’ll look to shave some more time off her current mark of 56.87 seconds as Virginia aims to improve on its sixth-place finish at the ACC Championships.