On the bus ride back to Grounds, the members of UVA’s women’s swimming and diving team broke into “The Good Old Song.”
“No one could sleep, because we were so excited,” Paige Madden (Educ ’21) told Virginiasports.com.
Led by Madden, who won three individual titles and was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer, the team won the program’s first NCAA championship—and the 28th in school history—with a dominant performance in March in Greensboro, N.C.
The Cavaliers totaled 491 points to 354 for second-place N.C. State, and became the first ACC team to win an NCAA swimming title. Kate Douglass (Col ’23) and Alex Walsh (Col ’24) also won individual titles, and Virginia finished first in the 800-yard freestyle relay as well.
Seeded second heading into the 2020 championship, the Cavaliers were heartbroken when the meet was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. They returned stronger in 2021.
“They have been on a mission all year,” coach Todd DeSorbo said.
On the same night the newest UVA national champion was crowned, the reign of another ended. The men’s basketball team fell to Ohio University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, ending what was technically a two-year run as champions. The tournament was not played in 2020.
The Cavaliers, who won the ACC regular-season title, were fortunate to play in the tournament at all. After a quarterfinal win over Syracuse in the ACC tournament, a positive COVID test eliminated them from that competition and required them to quarantine for a week before heading to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament. Had the positive test turned up a day later, contact-tracing protocols would have prevented the Cavaliers from playing.
Virginia was unable to practice the week before the tournament and was the last of the 68 teams to arrive, just a day before the game. Coach Tony Bennett declined to blame the challenging circumstances for the loss and emphasized that he was grateful UVA had a chance to defend its title in a tournament in which he has experienced the gamut of emotions.
“I’ve faced such joy in this tournament on so many occasions,” he said. “I’ve faced the heartache, too.”