Two years ago, in Joanne Boyle's first season, the Virginia women's basketball team received what I at the time called a massive snub by the NCAA selection committee. I stand by that assertion. Read that article for a full blow-by-blow of the snub, but in general, we should have made the NCAA tournament.
Last year, the program took a step back. The Cavaliers finished the season 16-14 (8-10 ACC). The season was very... mediocre... in a lot of ways. The highlight was a win over #24 FSU in the regular season finale. And at least we swept the Hokies. After losing in the first round of the ACC tournament as the #6 seed to the 10th-seeded Eagles of Boston College, Virginia had to sit at home and watch the post-season as they were not invited to either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT.
So what can we expect from the 2013-2014 season? Well, a lot has changed since last year. So let's dive in!
Who We Lose
China Crosby: Those of you who are men's basketball fans will remember the career of Majestic Mapp. Like Mapp, Crosby was a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school. Also like Mapp, her career was plagued by injuries that prevented her from reaching her full potential as a Cavalier. Thankfully those injuries were avoided last year and she started every game. She was a floor general and a fighter and she will be missed by this squad when the season starts.
Simone Egwu: After starting every game her second and third years, Egwu suffered an injury before the start of her fourth year. That injury, combined with the return of Sarah Imovbioh, limited her numbers during her final campaign. Regardless, she was a consistent force underneath that the Cavaliers will miss without a true center.
Telia McCall: Though not a starter during her four years in a Virginia uniform, McCall contributed a lot to this program both as a rebounder and a scorer, including multiple double-doubles last season.
Erinn Thompson: A series of injuries to her leg and knee forced her to end her career a year early. She contributed to the team off the court, but did not play with the team.
Who We Gain
Amanda Fioravanti: A 6-1 forward from Good Counsel in Maryland. Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland. Parade All-American. McDonald's All-American nominee. Need I say more? Fioravanti will contribute early and often.
Raeshaun Gaffney: Gaffney was actually part of the previous year's class, but a stress fracture kept her off the court last year. The good thing is that she still has four years of eligibility remaining. Coming out of high school she was an ESPN top-100 recruit and a McDonald's All-American nominee. Assuming her stress fracture is healed, the 5-8 guard figures to be a factor in the Cavalier back court.
Breyana Mason: A 5-8 guard from Woodbridge. Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia. Parade All-American. #51 overall recruit by ESPN. Are you getting the impression that Joanne Boyle can recruit? Yeah. I'm looking forward to seeing Mason in action.
Tiffany Suarez: While she may not have gotten the awards that her classmates above received, Suarez is an impressive talent. It's had for me to tell where she'll fit in with the number of talented guards we have on the roster, but I have a feeling her defensive prowess might help her. She chose the Cavaliers over Syracuse, Marquette, St. John's and Louisville. She's also, ahem, quite photogenic. According to some people. Who pay attention to those kind of things.
Sydney Umeri: A 6-1 forward from Acworth, Georgia, Umeri was rated the #29 overall player by ESPN and the #9 forward. Also a McDonald's All-American nominee (I'm starting to think maybe there's a bias against Virginia players in moving from nominee to selection). As the highest rated player in the class (a 95 point 4-star by ESPN), one has to assume she will contribute immediately. Her time with the USA basketball U16 team will likely help.
Lexi Gerson (sort of): The redshirt senior had hip surgery before the 2012-2013 season that sidelined her for the year (I wonder if any of these new kids are making old people/hip surgery jokes... probably not... I wouldn't. She's feisty). The year before, however, she was named to the ACC All-Defensive squad and led the team in steals. She's a defensive force to be reckoned with and also has a solid offensive game. With all the young talent on the team, her returning leadership and experience will be helpful.
Changes to the ACC
By now I'm sure you're sick of hearing about the expanded ACC. But with the arrival of each new sport, we have to talk about what those changes mean to the conference.
Notre Dame is good. Very good. They're #2 in the ACC Media's pre-season poll and #7 in the ESPN/USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll. They made it to the final four last year and the national championship game the two years before that.
Pittsburgh is about as bad as Notre Dame is good. They're picked to finish last in the ACC's pre-season media poll. They were 0-32 against Big East competition the last two years. Yeah. That's bad.
Syracuse is right in the middle. They're picked to finish 7th in the ACC (one spot ahead of Virginia) and they're receiving a few votes nationally. They were 11-5 last year in the Big East after going 6-10 the year before. They lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year.
It's really hard for me to judge exactly what we should expect from this team this year. Returning Ataira Franklin (pre-season All-ACC) and getting Lexie Gerson back from injury will be big. Both are true ACC talents.
But go take a look at the roster and see all of the youth that is present. Of the 12 scholarship players, five are freshmen or redshirt freshmen and two are sophomores. Sarah Imovbioh is technically a junior but she has only played one season of college ball (That discrepancy is due to being ruled ineligible for one year due to a gap in her high school attendance in Nigeria. Interesting, she can earn back her fourth year of eligibility by staying on course academically. No word yet on how she's progressing in that regard).
Early season matchups against West Virginia (receiving votes) in Morgantown and pre-season #4 Tennessee in the Bahamas will set the stage for this team.
The ACC slate starts out in an interesting fashion for the Cavaliers. They play two of the three worst teams in the conference (@Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh) and then follow that up with the two best teams in the conference (Notre Dame and @Duke).
With a 16 game schedule and 15 teams, Virginia will only face two teams twice. The Cavaliers luck out in that regard because those two squads are Virginia Tech (pre-season #13 in the ACC) and Florida State (pre-season #5 in the ACC). Their road trips are against #1 Duke, #T-5 Florida State, #T-5 Georgia Tech, #7 Syracuse, #10 N.C. State, #11 Boston College, #12 Wake Forest and #13 Virginia Tech. Home games are against #2 Notre Dame, #3 Maryland, #4 North Carolina, #5 Florida State, #9 Miami, #13 Virginia Tech, #14 Clemson and #15 Pitt. That makes the road schedule look marginally easier than the home schedule, which is definitely what you want.
This is tough, but I say Virginia will go 19-10, 8-8 ACC and will get invited to the WNIT. If the youngsters on this team can do what I think they might be capable of, then I could see us realistically going 21-8, 9-7 ACC, but I'm still not sure that's enough to get us into the dance given the snub we got two years ago. Pull off an upset over Tennessee (again), take care of business at home and steal a few on the road, though, and this season has potential. I'm just not willing to get my hopes up. Yet.