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The Virginia women’s basketball team begins its 2010-11 campaign on Friday, Nov. 12 at Hofstra. Tip-off for that road game is 7 p.m. UVa returns to John Paul Jones Arena for its home-opener on Sunday, Nov. 14, vs. Mount St. Mary’s. Tip-off vs. The Mount is 2 p.m., and there will be postgame autograph session for fans. Head coach Debbie Ryan, now in her 34th year, recently checked in with VirginiaSports.com to preview her team’s upcoming season.

Who are you most excited to see get back to work on the court as the 2010-11 season begins?
“That’s a tough question. I think that the strength of this team is going to be the numbers and the cohesiveness that this team has. And the experience that members of this team gained last year by playing so much at a very young age. We had three freshmen (Simone Egwu, Lexie Gerson and Telia McCall) that played very good minutes, and another in China Crosby who got hurt but also played great minutes and had good experience. I’m expecting a lot from this second-year class. I’m expecting them to be able to step up and give us more scoring, better defense and rebounding. But I also think that we really need to focus on the entire group. They are all going to have to contribute for us to be a great team. You have someone like Chelsea Shine, who played in and contributed in every game last year, who’s got to step up and have a bigger role. Paulisha Kellum is coming into this season healthier than she was last year. There are a lot of players who are going to have to help us in a lot of different ways. Having China back will be a great asset to our program. She worked extremely hard to get herself healthy. I’m excited about the prospect of being able to extend her playing career here at Virginia. She adds a lot to our program.”

What update can you give on China Crosby’s comeback from injury?
“We are taking a very moderate approach to her rehabilitation. The size of her body helps her in terms of recovery. She has come very fast along the recovery road. She’s running and doing everything that the team does, but she’s not having contact yet. I don’t think she’ll have problems being ready for the start of the year. She has regained a lot of her strength.”

Monica Wright graduated in May as Virginia’s all-time leading scorer and had a successful rookie season in the WNBA. What will it be like without her in the program this year?
“It was a great honor to coach someone like Monica Wright, primarily because she was a great player and a great athlete. Add to that what a great person and leader she was. I think other players have already started to step up. They are reveling in the fact that they are going to have a chance to do things they want to do and step up and have the opportunity to get things done on the floor. They were young last year, we’ll miss Monica Wright for sure, but there are other players that can fill in different spots. We’re not going to replace Monica Wright, we’re going to have to use several players to pick up the slack for what Monica did. Monica’s numbers were gargantuan. There are players that will step up, it happens every year. In many instances last year we actually played very well when Monica wasn’t on the floor. When you play as a unit, and contribute as a unit, it’s a great feeling.”

For the first time, John Paul Jones Arena was selected to host the first and second rounds of the 2011 NCAA Championship. How excited are you about that selection?
“First of all, it’s a great place for the tournament because our fans are so great. They love great basketball, so to me it’s the perfect marriage between the NCAA Championship and John Paul Jones Arena. It’s a fan-friendly arena and a place where any team can come in and feel comfortable. It’s going to be a tremendous thing for the community, the state and for women’s basketball.”

Every year, you and your staff put together one of the nation’s most challenging schedules. What can you tell fans about your schedule this season?
“It’s a very challenging schedule this year. It needs to be because we need to get ready for the rigors of the ACC. We’re not backing down from anybody, so I think we’ll be ready. Our kids have worked very hard. We had the entire team here for eight weeks this summer, and they had tremendous workouts. We have great advantages here and we’re going to step up and show everybody who we are.”

Can you talk about your freshmen class?
“Jazmin Pitts comes in as a very strong, Charles Barkley type post player. She’s a strong offensive rebounder, which is something our program needs. I think Jazmin is going to be a contender for time in the post. Kelsey Wolfe is a knock-down 3-point shooter. She has good skills around the offensive end of the game and you’ll see that she gives us a dimension that we have needed over the last couple of years and that’s someone who can knock down the three. She’ll stretch the defense for us. Ataira Franklin is an interesting player because she’s such a well-rounded player. She’s a very good defender and has great breadth to her body. She’s thin but she’s got these long arms that make her a good defender. I love the way she finds the open player and passes the ball well. She’s going to be a player that we can take advantage of.”

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