Virginia Head Women's Basketball Coach Joanne Boyle enters the 2014-2015 season looking to turn around a program that has slumped since her arrival in April 2011. With the graduation last year of several faces that are very familiar around grounds (Ataira Franklin, Lexie Gerson and Kelsey Wolfe), Boyle has a squad this year that is essentially completely her own. Let's briefly get to know each of them.
Jae'Lisa Allen (Forward)
A 6'2" forward from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Allen had the full complement of awards you'd expect from a high caliber recruit: All-Conference all four years of high school, All-State as a senior and a McDonald's All-American nomination. With only two older forwards on the roster, Allen and classmate Lauren Moses are likely to compete for playing time.
Aliyah Huland El (Guard)
A 6'1" guard from Randolph, New Jersey, Huland El was a prolific scorer in high school. Her 2286 points at Randolph High School set the all-time record for her county. As a senior, she led all other New Jersey high school players with 810 points. A multi-sport athlete (she ran track and played volleyball in high school), Huland El figures to be an athletic addition to the Cavalier program.
Lauren Moses (Forward)
The other forward in this class who will compete with Jae'Lisa Allen, Moses is similarly 6'2" and hails from Mount Holly, New Jersey. In addition to the myriad county and state recognitions she received while at Rancocas Valley High School, she was also named to the espnW Top-100. Her older brother, Dezman, plays in the NFL, so you can bet she's battle-tested growing up with that level of competition!
Mikayla Venson (Guard)
The only in-state recruit in the freshman class, Venson is a 5'7" guard from Arlington, Virginia. She's also potentially the most interesting recruit of the bunch for a number of reasons. Blue Star Report ranked her 31st while ESPN Hoopgurlz listed her at #33. And all that after playing only one season of organized basketball - her freshman season. Her father played basketball at Georgetown and JMU, so you know she's got the pedigree, too. Jeff White detailed the full story of what happened - it involves a concussion - and it is an interesting read that I highly recommend. Even with the long line of guards on the roster (7 of the 12 players are listed as guards), Venson is one to keep an eye on to make an impact early and often.
J'Kyra Brown (Sophomore Guard)
Probably not fair to call Brown a Rookie. The 5'11" guard from Rocky Mount, North Carolina played last season at East Carolina before deciding to transfer to Virginia. She will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Sarah Beth Barnette (Senior Forward)
Originally a transfer from Ketucky, Barnette is now one of just two seniors on the roster. A Gatorade State player of the year in Kentucky her senior year of high school, she has been a bit of a role player on the Virginia squad since her arrival. She has appeared in 44 of the 61 games over the last two seasons, averaging around eight minutes and two points per game. With the loss of so many stars from last year's team it remains to be seen if she can step into a leader role or if she'll be surpassed by one of the star freshmen.
Jaryn Garner (Junior Guard)
A highly touted recruit from Sewell, New Jersey, Garner hasn't quite found her niche with the team yet. She played in 42 of the 61 games the past two seasons, averaging about 7 minutes and 1.5 points per game. Like the situation with Barnette, this will be a telling year for her to see if she can step into the spots recently vacated by the graduating players.
Sarah Imovbioh (Senior...ish Center)
Imovbioh is an interesting case. She's one of only two seniors on the roster and easily one of our best returning players. She averaged 12.3 points per game last season while playing in all 31 games. She also led the ACC in offensive rebounding and was sixth in overall rebounding. She will absolutely be the cornerstone of this team in 2014-2015 and she is a very capable cornerstone at that.
The part that is interesting is her eligibility. She is technically a senior, having had to forfeit her freshman year of eligibility because of a gap in her high school enrollment while she was in Nigeria before moving to the Charlottesville area to play for St. Anne's-Belfield. Where it gets truly interesting is the additional information that goes along with that loss of eligibility. Per VirginiaSports.com: "NCAA Rules state she could earn that fourth year back if she earns 80 percent of her degree by her fifth year (2015-2016)." In other words, as long as she is on track to graduate, she'll get that year back - and get it as a fifth year senior. So while she's a senior this year, she could also be a senior next year. Very odd situation, but potentially very good for Virginia.
Breyana Mason (Sophomore Guard)
Mason, a 5'8" guard from Woodbridge, Virginia was another heralded recruit coming out of high school - Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year, Parade All-American, and on and on. As a freshman, she contributed in almost every game last year - 30 of 31 - averaging 18 minutes and 3.5 points per game. With the graduation of three guards, the experience she got as a freshman figures to make a big difference as she steps into a bigger role this year. I expect big things from Mason this season.
Faith Randolph (Junior Guard)
Randolph is a 5'11" guard from Derwood, Maryland. And she's good. She averaged 11.8 points per game in 22.7 minutes last year to go along with 44 assists and 97 rebounds. She was named the ACC Sixth Player of the Year last year - meaning Virginia had both the men's and women's honorees - and led all ACC bench players in scoring.
She won't be coming off the bench this season. It would seem reasonable to me that Randolph would step into the role that Ataira Franklin held last year. Whether she can become quite as prolific as Franklin remains to be seen. But, much like Mason, I expect big things from Randolph this season.
Tiffany Suarez (Sophomore Guard)
Suarez, a 5'11" guard from Miami, Florida is the one person on the team that even non-basketball fans probably know. She gained some (unwanted?) notoriety before her freshman season even started by having some of her Instagram photos featured on a few websites.
But after a year on then court and an off-season with the trainers, it seems perhaps her skills on the court will help everyone forget about her skills with a selfie. She averaged over 12 minutes per game last year as a freshman, tallying 3 points per game, 27 assists and 29 rebounds while appearing in 26 games and starting 5 of them. There's a bit of a logjam at Virginia as far as guards go, so it was likely difficult for her to distinguish herself - especially with the older Franklin and Randolph taking many of the minutes. This season should be an opportunity for her to establish her place in the rotation.
Sydney Umeri (Sophomore Forward)
Umeri is a 6'1" sophomore forward from Acworth, Georgia. Umeri is another of the returners that fits into the mold of having gotten 10-20 minutes per game (in her case 18) but with minimal production (2.8 points per game, 88 rebounds). Interestingly, she started the first 10 games of the season, then started just one more after that. I'm not sure what the situation was there. But Umeri is clearly talented - ranked #29 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz coming out of high school; played for the 2011 USA Basketball U16 team that won the gold at the FIBA Americas - so she figures to fight for the playing time at the forward spot.