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The Virginia women’s basketball program begins its 2010-11 season Friday with 10 returning letterwinners and four returning starters from last year’s squad that earned a third-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth and finished tied for third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

Hall of Fame head coach Debbie Ryan returns for her 34th season at the helm of the Cavaliers. Ryan notched her 700th-career victory in the season-opening game of the 2009-10 season and enters this season as the eighth-winningest active coach in the nation (720 victories) and the 10th-winningest coach all-time.

The senior class of guard Paulisha Kellum (Upper Marlboro, Md.) and forward Jayna Hartig (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) will serve as captains along with junior forward Chelsea Shine (Wayne, Pa.). The trio has combined to start more than 70 games and have played in three-consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Kellum is chasing the 1,000-point mark for her career and enters the season with more than 700 points. After a medical redshirt season in 2008-09 due to a season-ending knee injury, Kellum returned last year to appear in 31 games and start five. She averaged 24.3 minutes, 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, and will again provide veteran leadership to the Cavaliers.

Hartig, meanwhile, was the recipient of the team’s Unsung Award at the conclusion of last season after playing in 22 games and starting three, including earning the starting nod in the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament first-round game against Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“This will be the first year that we’ve had two people in the senior class since we don’t have any fourth-year players, they’re both fifth-year players,” Ryan said. “That’s really good because they understand what we need. They’re out there doing everything that they need to do in order to help the younger players learn quickly. Paulisha is healthier than she was last year. Jayna’s another one of those players that’s a really intelligent kid, a really intelligent player. She understands what we’re doing right now because we’ve put in a little bit of a different offense.”

In the junior class, Shine logged 29 starts last season and was the second-leading scorer (8.0 points per game). She is also the team’s leading returner rebounder (5.1 per game).

“Chelsea Shine has probably made some of the biggest strides of the players that we have returning and she really distinguished herself with her ability to finish around the basket, to post up and be a little bit stronger in there,” Ryan said.

Also in the junior class are forward Britny Edwards (Charlotte, N.C.), guard Whitny Edwards (Charlotte, N.C.) and guard Ariana Moorer (Woodbridge, Va.). Moorer was the team’s third-leading scorer with 7.0 points per game last season and led the team with 82 assists.

Whitny Edwards ranked fourth on the team with 6.6 points per game and scored in double figures on eight occasions, while fraternal twin sister Britny appeared in 23 games and set new career highs for points (12), rebounds (six) and blocks (two).

“If we look at the third-year class, Whitny and Britny Edwards, both players are very improved,” Ryan said. “Whitny, in particular, has really picked up on her leadership skills. I think Ariana has grown a lot and she will provide us with good play at both the one and the two. I don’t have to play her only at the one, I can put her at the two also. She is making much better decisions about when to shoot the ball, when to pass the ball, and that’s really been my total focus with her over the summer.”

Sophomores China Crosby (New York, N.Y.), Simone Egwu (Odenton, Md.), Lexie Gerson (Fort Washington, Pa.) and Telia McCall (Marietta, Ga.) return with a year of experience under their belt.

Crosby’s 2009-10 season ended 13 games in, as a knee injury sidelined her just prior to the ACC portion of the schedule.

“I know everyone is anxious to hear about China Crosby,” Ryan said. “China is doing very well. She hasn’t been fully released yet but she is about as close to fully released as you can possibly get.”

Egwu returns as the sophomore with the most experience, as she made 29 starts last season and averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Gerson also saw extended minutes, averaging 16.3 per game, and leading the team in free throw shooting (35-of-43). McCall, meanwhile, had a successful rookie campaign that included a standout 20-rebound performance in the Cavaliers’ victory over North Carolina.

Redshirt freshman Erinn Thompson (Winson-Salem, N.C.) also missed most of last season with a leg injury, and joins true freshmen Ataira Franklin (Bowie, Md.), Jazmin Pitts (Mosely, Va.) and Kelsey Wolfe (Germantown, Md.) in the first-year class.

Virginia is receiving votes in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and was picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Should the Cavaliers earn a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament berth, the reward would be first and second-round games at their home court, John Paul Jones Arena. The fifth-year venue has been selected as a host site for the preliminary rounds on March 20 and March 22.

UVa opens its season on Friday, Nov. 12 at Hofstra, before returning to John Paul Jones Arena for the home-opener on Sunday, Nov. 14, vs. Mount St. Mary’s.

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