Monica Wright David Petkofsky

Whether it’s her stop-and-pop jump shot or the way she gracefully runs the fast break and attacks the basket, everything about UVA guard Monica Wright’s game seems effortless and natural.

That’s why it comes as little surprise that she’s an instinctive leader, too.

“She came in with such a positive attitude toward the leadership part,” says Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (Educ ’77). “She seems so comfortable in the role—she’s a natural at this.”

Wright (Col ’10) took over as the squad’s leader and served as a co-captain last season. Point guard Sharneé Zoll’s graduation had left a significant leadership void, but—fortunately for Ryan and everyone else in the program—Wright had been absorbing the way Zoll (Col ’08) carried herself in all aspects regarding the team, learning from the seasoned leader’s every move.

“She’s one of the people that I used to mold myself into a leader,” Wright says.

Those lessons learned have paid off in a big way for the Cavaliers. Wright, who led the ACC in scoring and earned honorable mention All-American honors, led UVA to a 24-10 record and a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament. She sparked that run despite the fact that the Cavs were without the services of forward Lyndra Littles (Col ’09) for part of the year and guard Paulisha Kellum (Col ’10) for the entire season.

Those absences forced the Cavaliers to lean heavily on a talented first-year class, and Wright stepped in seamlessly as the leader, applying the lessons she learned while playing with Zoll.

“I had to learn how to work with different players, how to talk to certain players—just how to be a nurturer off the court,” Wright says, “to be there if they have any questions, if they needed help getting to class, anything.”

This year it’ll be up to Wright to help those younger players continue to develop and fill the key roles vacated by Littles and Aisha Mohammed (Col ’09). Budding stars like second-year guard Ariana Moorer and second-year forward Chelsea Shine should be ready to take the next step with some guidance from Wright. The Cavaliers, ranked No. 11 in one preseason poll, bring in yet another loaded recruiting class that could make an immediate impact.

“I think my role is going to shift tremendously in trying to bring other players into those roles,” Wright says. “They can definitely fill those roles that are missing. I just have to understand that it’s not all up to me, we’re definitely a talented team.”

That hasn’t stopped Wright—who began the season needing only 330 points to surpass Dawn Staley as UVA’s all-time scoring leader—from adding to her own already impressive arsenal and progressing as a player. She’s continued to improve her stroke from behind the three-point line, but it’s the change-of-pace game that she’s added to her repertoire that could help get Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament.

Wright plays extremely fast, and the Virginia staff has helped her control that speed better and unleash different tempos on opposing defenders.

“We wanted her to learn to play fast, moderate and super-fast,” Ryan says. “I couldn’t be more proud of her development there.”