Get your dancing shoes on, Charlottesville. For the first time since 2010, the Virginia women’s basketball team is going to the NCAA tournament.
UVA earned an at-large bid and will be a No. 10 seed in the Albany region. Their first game will be against seventh-seeded California on Friday at 5 p.m. in Columbia, S.C.
There’s a fascinating storyline in this matchup, as Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle coached at Cal for six years before heading east.
Elsewhere in the Cavaliers’ region, UConn is the No. 1 and top overall seed. If UVA were to beat the Golden Bears, they would likely play none other than Dawn Staley-led and defending national champion South Carolina in the second round.
The 25th tournament appearance in program history seemed very unlikely after the season’s first couple of weeks. UVA started 3-5 with losses to Dayton and Duquesne, though both of those teams ended up with 23 wins apiece. But the Cavaliers stormed back into the at-large conversation when they reeled off five straight wins to open the ACC slate en route to an 8-1 start in league play. They faltered down the stretch with six losses in their last nine games before the tournament; five of those came to the conference’s elite teams: Florida State once and both Louisville and Notre Dame twice. A win at Wake Forest on Feb. 25 to close the regular season and a nail-biting win over Georgia Tech in the second round of the conference tournament seemed to seal the deal.
It’s the first time in Boyle’s seven years in Charlottesville that the Hoos (18-13, 10-6 ACC) are in the big dance after three straight NIT berths. Boyle’s teams have now secured four straight winning seasons, but it’s their first winning ACC season since her first year succeeding the legendary Debbie Ryan. Boyle’s contract expires at the end of the year, meaning that new athletic director Carla Williams will have an important decision to make nearly from the jump.
Does Boyle’s stellar 2016 recruiting class and this tournament berth, after a snub in 2017, signal a long-term turnaround? Or do the numbers 53-61 (Boyle’s ACC record at UVA) indicate that regardless of their recent success, the Cavaliers will likely not be able to attain the level of success that Williams — an assistant coach on two Georgia Final Four teams in the 1990s — ultimately envisions for the program?
Those questions are yet to be answered, but in the meantime, Virginia is one of a select few schools in Division I to have both their men’s and women’s basketball teams contending for a national championship.