Virginia Cavaliers Women's Basketball Faces Challenges to Return to NCAA Tournament

Virginia's Simone Egwu showing defensive prowess - Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE

Preseason polls like Virginia to return to the NCAA Tournament, but with having sustained multiple season-ending injuries already and a moderately tough schedule, will the Hoos be able to overcome the uphill season?

The Virginia Cavaliers' women's basketball team appears to be poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since they were a 5-seed in 2010. Second-year Virginia Head Coach Joanne Boyle led the Hoos to an impressive 25-11 record, the first 25-win season for Virginia since the 1999-2000 campaign. UVa barely missed the tournament, but with a 9-7 ACC record, they made their way into the quarterfinals of the WNIT.

Perhaps highlighting the returning players is junior guard Ataira Franklin, who earned pre-season All ACC honors from both the Blue Ribbon Panel and the ACC Coaches. Franklin started all 36 games last year and hit double-digit scoring in two-thirds of them. A third of her goals last year came from three point land, and she led the team, as just a sophomore then, with 53 threes.

Returning for the Cavaliers after missing the bulk of last year is senior guard China Crosby, who had a knee injury just 12 games into the season last year. In those 12 games, she averaged 7.9 points, 2.3 assists and 1.9 steals. She had five double-digit scoring efforts including 13 against No. 3 Tennessee.

The other major senior contributor returning is center Simone Egwu, who had two of the team's seven double-doubles last year, and is primed to do some serious damage this year as the starting center.

Noticeably missing from the returning seniors is Lexie Gerson, who underwent hip surgery in early September and will miss the entire season. She was named to last year's ACC All-Defensive team, ranked No. 15 in the country in steals.

"The loss of Lexie was quite a shocking blow," said head coach Joanne Boyle in a released statement. "She has been a tremendous defensive spark for us on the court. We are all wishing her a speedy recovery and know that she will be back next season with that same energy and enthusiasm."

Despite the loss of Gerson and senior forward Erinn Thompson, whose career has ended due to various injuries, preseason hype surrounding the team is still high. The ACC coaches picked the Hoos to finish just sixth in the conference, but the Blue Ribbon Panel - long considered the "official" preseason poll - have the Hoos at No. 4 in the conference, behind Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech.

The Cavaliers are also receiving votes in the preseason AP poll.

Four ACC schools (Duke 3, Maryland 5, Georgia Tech 22 and Miami 24) check in in the AP poll, which looks a little different than in years past, with UConn sitting at No. 2 rather than No. 1 (Baylor), North Carolina nowhere to be found in the Top 25 (they are receiving 12 votes, tied with UVA and Florida State) and Tennessee dropping down to No. 20.

The Hoos don't exactly have an easy schedule as they will play Maryland, Georgia Tech and Miami twice each, but they do get play Duke just once, in Charlottesville. Of the preseason top 25, Virginia faces also Vanderbilt (16) and West Virginia (17).

The Cavaliers tip off at 7:00 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena on November 9 against JMU.

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