Three reasons why the women should return to the NCAA Tournament in 2007
- All grown up. Last year’s team won 20 games and posted the No. 36 RPI in the country, despite fielding the sixth-youngest roster in Division I. Ten returning players are another year older and wiser.
- The Wright stuff. First-year Monica Wright, ranked the nation’s No. 2 guard recruit and No. 11 overall, may be the most exciting newcomer in years.
- They’re due. Since 1984, UVA has never missed the NCAAs in consecutive years.
And three reasons why they may not
- Medical report. Virginia’s top two returning scorers, Siedah Williams (11.8 ppg) and Sharnee Zoll (11.2 ppg), had offseason knee surgery. They must stay healthy.
- Death by schedule. Beside playing in the top conference in America, the Cavs have nonconference dates with Connecticut, Old Dominion and Temple, and could face 2005 NCAA champion Baylor in a tournament in the Bahamas.
- Shooting blanks. The Cavs can’t afford to repeat last season’s woeful 38 percent team shooting percentage. Only Williams (45.5 percent) out-shot Virginia’s collective opponents (44.2 percent).
Virginia lost only one player to graduation (Tiffany Sardin) and one who opted to transfer after sitting out last season (Lindsay Heyward), but picked up what one recruiting service rated as the 15th-best incoming class in the country.
A rundown of the newcomers:Jayna Hartig (6-1 F): Slick-passing post player with range to hit the 3-pointer, she can draw the defense out and exploit the gaps she creates.
Paulisha Kellum (5-8 G): Slashing combo guard with the strength to post up her defender, but is coming off a serious knee injury.Aisha Mohammed (6-3 C): A lefty who Debbie Ryan says “might be the strongest player ever to play here—just a beast inside.” She will miss this season with an injury.
Monica Wright (5-11 G/F): The whole package—quick, athletic and still strong enough to post up her defender. She plays defense and rebounds, too.
Debbie Ryan shows few signs of slowing down as she enters her 30th season as Virginia’s women’s basketball coach; if anything, she’s stepped up her recruiting in recent years in an all-out effort to return to the sport’s upper echelon. Still, that won’t stop fans from speculating about her possible successor—speculation that is only fueled by this season’s home schedule. Six coaches with Virginia connections will make appearances during the Cavaliers’ shakedown season in the John Paul Jones Arena.
First up will be perhaps the greatest player in UVA history, Dawn Staley (Col ’92), who has resurrected the Temple program and this summer retired from her WNBA career. She brings the Owls for a visit on Nov. 29.
Next comes a nationally televised clash with five-time NCAA champion Connecticut, coached by former Ryan assistant Geno Auriemma. He’s not likely to leave Storrs any time soon, but his staff also includes assistant Tonya Cardoza (Col ’91).
Finally, Alabama-Birmingham visits for the Cavalier Classic, set for Dec. 28 and 29. The Blazers’ head coach is former UVA player and assistant coach Audra Smith (Col ’92), and she is assisted by another former Wahoo assistant, Daryl Oliver, and former Cavalier player Kathy Allen (Com ’02).