Story Links

CHARLOTTESVILLE Springsteen. The Shore. Not pumping your own gas. Several things are synonymous with New Jersey, but in the Virginia women’s basketball program the Garden State is most well-known for producing native Debbie Ryan and prep star Sharne Zoll. When the Cavaliers head to Lawrenceville, N.J., to face Rider on Wednesday night, it will be a homecoming for the pair.

Ryan, now in her 31st year at the helm of UVa and part of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2008, was a standout basketball and field hockey player at Hopewell Valley High School. She grew up in Pennington, N.J., just a few miles from Lawrenceville and the campus of Rider.

Zoll, a fourth-year point guard, identifies with Philadelphia as her hometown, but attended high school in New Jersey and starred for Highland as one of the best prep players in the state.

Adding to Wednesday night’s return is the fact that Ryan will be honored prior to tipoff for being the inaugural sponsor for the First Annual Courage Award in honor of Chris Somma. Somma was a member of the Hamilton West High School (Hamilton, N.J.) basketball program who succumbed to cancer. Later this year, the Colonial Valley Conference will present the Courage Award sponsored by Ryan to a Mercer County Athlete at the championship game of the Mercer County Tournament Feb. 22. The sponsorship will be donated to the V’ Foundation in memory of Somma as part of the Tip Off Against Cancer campaign.

Ryan’s mother, Kathy, still resides in the state as well as her brother Patrick.

“I spent a lot of formative years there and had some really good athletic experiences,” Ryan says. “It’s where I’m from so I’m very proud of it.”

Ryan’s sister-in-law and Patrick’s wife, Mika, was an assistant coach at Rider and is now President of the Mercer County Sports and Entertainment Commission and the color analyst for the women’s basketball games on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Television Network. A former captain for the University of North Carolina, Mika moved to New Jersey after marrying and was an assistant coach for the Broncs before taking a head coaching job at Trenton State College.

The Cavaliers last competed at Rider during the 1995-96 season, for a game that drew a then Alumni Gym women’s basketball record crowd of 1,153.

Zoll, meanwhile, went to school in Marlboro, N.J., which is about 45 minutes away from the campus of Rider. The Cavaliers played at Seton Hall during Zoll’s second-year, and this will be the second trip to the Garden State for the point guard.

“I’d say about 20 people, friends and family, will be at the game,” Zoll says.

The Cavaliers are looking for their 10th win of the year. They are coming off of a 78-56 win over Marshall in the championship game of the Marriott Cavalier Classic, and have victories in five of their last six games including three-straight.

Zoll, who will go down as one of the great names in Virginia women’s basketball history, is chasing history and the all-time assists mark at UVa. The record is 729 helpers, accomplished by Dawn Staley from 1989-92 and Zoll is currently 93 assists from tying the mark and is on pace to do so.

Rider, meanwhile, defeated in-state rival Princeton, 45-42, in its last outing. A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Amanda Sepulveda was the difference in that game. The Broncs have a 5-7 overall record and are led by Janele Henderson (14.2 points per game).

Tip-off from Alumni Gymnasium Wednesday is 7 p.m. Live stats are available at

Print Friendly Version