The Pilot’s biggest sports stories of 2018 | Sports |

A look back at The Virginian-Pilot’s biggest sports stories of the year:

1. Virginia falls to UMBC in NCAA tourney stunner

Tony Bennett says he is more driven than ever to coach Virginia basketball to a Final Four and/or a national championship, and the source of that resolve is clear: last season’s stunning loss to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. Prior to that fateful night in Charlotte, N.C., No. 1 regional seeds were 135-0 against No. 16s, dating to 1985’s tournament expansion. But the Cavaliers, who ruled the ACC throughout the regular season, not only lost to the Retrievers but also did so by an emphatic 74-54 margin. Bennett and veterans Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy merit applause for the humility, perspective and even good humor they’ve since displayed, traits they’ll need when the postseason beckons again in March.

– David Teel

Old Dominion’s Travis Fulgham reacts after ODU defeated Virginia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Norfolk.

2. ODU knocks off No. 13 Virginia Tech

They said Old Dominion had no chance.

Actually, the numbers crunchers at ESPN’s Football Power Index gave the Monarchs a 1.8 percent chance of beating No.13 Virginia Tech, which basically rounds down to “no chance.”

Four-touchdown underdogs, ODU pulled off an upset for the ages, taking down the Hokies 49-35 behind 495 passing yards from quarterback Blake LaRussa. Even if the Hokies’ ranking proved to be grossly inflated, and the Monarchs limped home to a 4-8 finish, it was a win no ODU fan who saw it will ever forget, and the sort of historic moment many will claim to have seen in the coming decades, even if they didn’t.

– Ed Miller

3. Farewell to Foreman Field

A campus and community landmark for 82 years, Foreman Field was for decades the home of the Oyster Bowl, countless high school games, Norfolk State football, and, for the past decade, the rebirth of Old Dominion football.

Now the venerable facility is getting a much-needed re-invention, as well as a name change. After a $67.5 million reconstruction is completed, it will be known simply as S.B. Ballard Stadium.

Even the most sentimentally-inclined had to concede that it was time. In some ways, Foreman was a bit too historic – the seating was cramped and the old Depression-era warhorse lacked amenities the modern fan has come to expect. While its demise was sad for many, its rebirth will be cause for celebration.

– Ed Miller

Ronnie Valentine, pictured in June in front of the apartment complex in which he lives in Miami. He says a federal program that provides assistance for him in Florida is one reason he is reluctant to relocate back to Hampton Roads. 

4. Former ODU great Ronnie Valentine is found in Florida

Ronnie Valentine scored a school-record 2,204 points in his four basketball seasons at Old Dominion, leading the Monarchs to their first NCAA Division I tournament, to two wins over Virginia and a victory over No. 3 Syracuse at Scope. Valentine, after playing a season in the NBA with Denver and in foreign leagues, fell out of sight in 1990. The Pilot’s Harry Minium set off to find him. Valentine had been homeless for more than 20 years, and Minium found him living in supported housing and recovering from recent health problems in Miami. Minium’s story about finding Valentine sparked an outpouring. “I had no idea that many people still knew about me, that so many people still cared about me,” Valentine said.

– Jami Frankenberry

Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins runs with the ball against Louisville during the first half of a game in September. 

5. U.Va.’s return to football relevance

Just two seasons removed from a 2-10 record in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s debut at the school, the Cavaliers will make their second consecutive postseason appearance when they play South Carolina in the Dec. 29 Belk Bowl. Add in last season’s upset at Boise State, a 16-13 win over 16th-ranked Miami in October and overtime November losses at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and U.Va. is fully back in the ACC title conversation.

– David Hall

Virginia Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield tries to get the crowd stirred up during the first half against rival Virginia on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

6. VT extends its streak vs. UVA – and its bowl streak

Virginia Tech boasts college football’s longest bowl streak at 26 years – barely. In their most improbable escape during this run, the Hokies rebounded from four consecutive double-digit losses to close the regular season with victories over Virginia and Marshall and become bowl eligible at 6-6. The 34-31 overtime conquest of the Cavaliers was the Hokies’ 15th straight win in the series, and the 41-20 rout of the Thundering Herd was their most complete performance of 2018. Decimated by injuries, dismissals and early departures to the NFL, Tech needed veterans (defensive tackle Ricky Walker), newcomers (receiver Damon Hazelton) and reserves (quarterback Ryan Willis) alike to earn a Dec. 31 Military Bowl date with Cincinnati.

– David Teel


Old Dominion’s B.J. Stith, center, pushes past Syracuse’s Marek Dolezaj, left, and Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Old Dominion’s B.J. Stith, center, pushes past Syracuse’s Marek Dolezaj, left, and Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

7. Monarchs upend Orange in Carrier Dome

Every 38 years, like clockwork, Old Dominion beats Syracuse. The Monarchs did it in 1980, and again in December, when they bested the fighting Jim Boeheims 68-62.

ODU did it with defense, claiming the signature win it had been seeking, and raising the bar on what it might yet accomplish in 2018-19.

Fans are already looking forward to 2056.

The Princess Anne Cavaliers celebrate their fifth state championship after beating Thomas Edison in the VHSL Class 5 girls basketball state championships Thursday, March 8, 2018 at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond.

8. Cavaliers’ VHSL reign continues

The Princess Anne girls basketball team just keeps winning. And winning.

Jasha Clinton scored 17 points and Brianna Jackson added 12 points and 15 rebounds in a 61-45 victory over Thomas Edison, of Alexandria as the Cavaliers won their fifth consecutive state title and ninth crown overall.

Princess Anne finished 26-1 and now holds the record for most consecutive and overall Virginia High School League basketball state titles. Coach Darnell Dozier also has led the Cavaliers to a record 14 state tourney appearances, 12 state championship games and 10 consecutive title game appearances.

– Jami Frankenberry

The Virginia Wesleyan softball team holds up its championship plaque after winning the Division III national title for the second straight year. The Marlins topped Illinois Wesleyan 3-1 in Oklahoma City.

9. Marlins repeat as NCAA national champs

Virginia Wesleyan bested its 2017 run to an NCAA Division III national title with a second straight championship that capped a 55-win season.

Virginia Wesleyan beat Illinois Wesleyan 3-1 in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the championship series in Oklahoma City.

The Marlins were led by star pitcher Hanna Hull – who tied a Division III record for wins in a season (40) – along with perennial All-American hitter Cassetty Howerin, outfielder Madison Glaubke and coach Brandon Elliott.

– Ray Nimmo

Lake Taylor’s Malik Newton is comforted by coach David Loyd after losing 38-33 to Woodgrove in the Class 4 state championship game at Liberty University Saturday December 8, 2018.

10. South Hampton Roads football teams come up empty

The drought continued this season for South Hampton Roads High School football teams. Lake Taylor reached the Class 4 state championship game, but the Titans’ loss to Woodgrove meant South Hampton Roads teams have gone winless on the state’s biggest stage for four consecutive seasons. Oscar Smith lost three straight title games from 2015-17. The last team to hold the state championship trophy aloft? Ocean Lakes (Class 6A) and Lake Taylor (Class 4A) won crowns in 2014.

– Jami Frankenberry

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