2004: the highs and lows

Toughest Expectations: Redskins fans entered the fall football season with an inspiration worthy of the Skins' glory days. The return of legendary coach Joe Gibbs, who led them to consistent winning seasons and multiple Super Bowls through the 1980s and early '90s, created a sent waves of optimism through the nation's capital. Gibbs had not paced the sidelines in 11 years, however, and his second act failed to revive the team from its struggles as the Skins posted their third consecutive losing season.

Best Dynasty: The Western Albemarle girls' cross country team makes history in capturing its third consecutive state championship, a feat no other Central Virginia team, regardless of sport or gender, has accomplished in history. In her three-year tenure, Coach Carin Ward's remarkable program posts an undefeated record within state boundaries.

Soccer Sensations: Both the UVA men and women perform in the clutch to knock off their favored competitors en route to ACC championships. Alas, neither team is able to reach its ultimate goal of playing for a national title.

Most Exciting Homecoming (maybe): After 33 years of anticipation, major league baseball officially announces that the sport will return to the nation's capital next spring. The district has lacked a franchise ever since the Washington Senators left for Texas following the 1971 season. Thanks to horrendous fan support in Montreal, the Expos are making plans to cross the border as the Nationals. Stay tuned.

Best Surprise: Coach Brian O'Connor transformed a usually mediocre baseball program into one of the biggest surprises in college baseball. UVA went on to compete in the regional playoff round after chalking up victories all season.

Best Golden Prodigy: Dawn Staley, UVA's women's basketball alumna, travels with the USA basketball team to compete at the Olympic Games in Athens to carry the stars and stripes for the U.S. delegation. Staley goes on to make history as she plays a key role in helping the Americans earn yet another gold medal.

Biggest Extreme: UVA's traditionally strong men's and women's lacrosse programs go their separate ways. The men, who entered the season hoping to defend their 2003 national championship, struggled to simply keep their regular season record above .500 and failed to make the NCAA playoffs in the process. The women, meanwhile, erased years of heartbreak to realized their goal of winning a national championship.

Future Bull Durham : Despite an occasionally water-logged diamond, the Richmond Braves capture their first division title in 10 years as they win a hotly contested South Division pennant race over the two-time defending champion Durham Bulls. The R-Braves continue their memorable International League season, advancing to the Governor's Cup Championship Series where they eventually fall to the powerhouse Buffalo Bison three games to one.

Close but no cigar: UVA football continues to appear to be on the verge of reaching amazing heights every year, however, once again the Cavs are unable to make the giant leap to being one of the "elite" programs in America. The Wahoos close at 8-3 (after 8-5 in 2003 and 9-5 in 2002), falling one victory shy of an Atlantic Coast Conference title. The Cavs settle for a minor bowl berth in Boise, Idaho and again look forward to next fall.

Ugliest aspect of sports: The MCI center janitors' workload is cut in half as only the NBA's Washington Wizards have a playing schedule. The NHL's 2004-2005 season finds itself on ice, but only figuratively, thanks to major financial disagreements between hockey players and team owners.