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Feb. 2, 2007

by Kelsey Farbotko

Junior point guard Sharneé Zoll is an integral part of the Virginia team for a variety of reasons. A starter for all but one game in her collegiate career, her high-energy play has earned the respect and enthusiasm of teammates and fans alike. More importantly, her leadership skills keep the team together.

“Being a point guard, you have to be the coach on the floor,” Zoll said. “It comes with the job. You don’t get to choose that, but I feel that I can spread my knowledge and try to help the younger girls. I’m an upperclassman now, so I need to be more vocal and talk them through things.”

One of Zoll’s biggest supporters is head coach Debbie Ryan. She has enough confidence in Zoll to allow her to call the team’s plays.

“That’s something between me and Coach Ryan,” Zoll said. “I think that our chemistry is a lot better than some point guards and coaches. We have a good relationship to the point where I know what she wants to call.”

She knows Ryan’s backing gives her more credibility as a leader.

“It’s everything,” Zoll said. “When you know that you have a head coach behind you in every decision that you make, it makes it easier to make decisions. I’d be a lot more indecisive if I knew that if I made a bad decision she’d be yelling at me or screaming at me or losing confidence in me.”

Even when she’s not on the court, Zoll takes an involved role in the action. She can be seen standing and yelling a few seats down from where Ryan is doing the same.

“I’m just telling them what I see on the court,” Zoll said. “It’s a lot harder than people think to make adjustments when you’re on the court playing. I’m just trying to tell them what I see to give them a little insight on whatever’s out there, and to try and make them less nervous or just give them some feedback and encouragement. They might be getting direction from coach, and if they hear encouragement from me, it’ll help them.”

Her leadership skills were forged with her successful high school career and her first two years at Virginia. While at Highland High School in Marlboro, N.J., All-Star Girls Report ranked Zoll as the seventh best point guard in the nation. She was also a recipient of the school’s Female Athletic Achievement Award.

Zoll continued to be a stand-out in her first two years as a Cavalier. Her freshman year, she set the assists record for a freshman, and was named ACC Honorable Mention All-Freshman and the team’s Rookie of the Year. Her second year Zoll earned the team’s Best Defensive Player and Leadership Awards. Zoll also set the school assists record for a sophomore.

There isn’t a break during the summer for Zoll. In 2004, she was named to the USA Women’s Junior National Team Trials. The following summer she was named to the USA Women’s National Team Trials and contributed to the USA U19 World Championship Team’s gold medals in two major tournaments.

While these honors are thrilling in their own right, Zoll knows they are a chance to improve for the upcoming varsity season.

“It helps a lot, because I’m playing against the best girls in the nation in my age group and playing against that competition every single day,” Zoll said. “For a month or so, it just helps you get better. And I’ve learned from other people. You learn from different systems all over the country, and it helps.”

All of this experience and talent lends to Zoll’s reputation as a top point guard. However, most important to Zoll when she’s in the game isn’t her total points, but her number of assists.

“You can’t have five people on the court who want to score,” Zoll said. “You have to have somebody who wants to give the ball to other people, and I feel like that’s who the point guard is- to be selfless in giving other people the ball.”

With this mindset, it is easy to see why Zoll is often compared to former Cavalier Dawn Staley, who played for the WNBA and earned three Olympic gold medals. UVa’s all-time scoring and assists leader is currently the head coach of Temple.

“There are a lot of similarities, and obviously it’s an honor to be talked about in the same sentence with her,” Zoll said. “I’d rather have 10 assists than 30 points just because I like to see people who work hard get rewarded. I feel like that’s how she was. She was really unselfish as a player.”

Evidence of that is shown in Staley’s career assist record at 729 assists. While Staley holds several other records, including career scoring and free throws, Zoll has her eye on the assists record.

“It would mean everything,” Zoll said. “Dawn has more records at UVa and in the ACC than anyone else probably. She has more records than the assist record, but I feel like that’s what I base my game on is assists.”

Her humility translated to their meeting in December when Staley’s team squared off with the Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

“This is the second time I was star struck,” Zoll said. “I’m usually always talkative and always having something to say. It’s like meeting your idol–what do you say to your idol, `Hi, how are you doing?’ It’s not like you have a normal conversation with her. I just enjoyed the moment–I savored it.”

Even realizing her success in her seasons at Virginia, Zoll sometimes forgets that several seasons behind her means fewer seasons in her future.

“I can’t explain it,” Zoll said. “Sometimes I forget that … but I feel like I just got here. When you get here as a first year, you can’t wait for it to be over, but now that it’s getting close I’m getting nervous.”

Just like her role model, Zoll has done and will continue to do amazing things for the Virginia Cavaliers. With one more year left after this season, the strength and leadership she cultivated on the court will serve her well in whatever she pursues.

Out of Bounds with Sharneé

Most embarrassing song on my iPod …
That Don’t Impress Me Much, Shania Twain

Three words that best describe me …
competitive, dedicated, determined

My advice to a young athlete is …
never give up on your dreams

Best Christmas present as a kid …
power wheels car

Best thing I like about John Paul Jones Arena is …
the practice gym and the fact that we can go in whenever we want

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