By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — She arrived at John Paul Jones Arena around 7:30 a.m. Friday, not sure what would unfold on its main court about 12 hours later. When she left JPJ late that night, Joanne Boyle had reason to be pleased.
In her debut as the UVa women’s basketball coach, Boyle saw her team overwhelm Appalachian State 80-48 before an appreciative crowd of 3,108 that included her mother. Most of those fans, of course, never had seen anyone but Debbie Ryan, who retired after last season, leading the Wahoos.
Virginia is the third school at which Boyle has been head coach, and she’s now 10-0 in season-openers. She went into most of those games with a good sense of how her players would respond. That was not the case Friday.
“I have less of an idea, I think, just because we’re in such a growing stage and trying to figure out who we are,” Boyle said after the Cavaliers’ afternoon shootaround. “We don’t have an identity yet. We’re trying to figure out all these pieces, and it’s been so new for so many of them.
“When I was at Cal, I knew I was going to get rebounding from those two All-American posts. So I don’t know necessarily what I’m going to get, but that’s OK. We have girls that are going to play hard. The biggest thing for them tonight is that they’re going to see a lot of pressure, and we’ve got to be able to maintain composure and break a zone and get easy baskets, so we get confidence. Because if we have to face this pressing team all night and we’re not successful against it, it’s going to be a long night.”
For the Mountaineers, who went 25-7 and made the NCAA tournament last season, it was a very long night. UVa handled their pressure well, for the most part, and dominated in virtually every phase of the game.
Boyle would not have predicted a 32-point victory, but “I’ll still take it,” she said with a smile afterward.
Senior forward Chelsea Shine led the ‘Hoos with 15 points and 8 rebounds, and Boyle got huge contributions off the bench from sophomore forward Jazmin Pitts (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals) and junior guard Lexie Gerson (10 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds).
“I think the girls came out and did a great job,” Boyle said. “These first couple games it’s just hard, because you really don’t have scouting reports [on opponents], so you’re relying on information from last year and verbal scouts. We have spent a ton of time just working on ourselves, and it’s paid off for us.”
Game day started early for Boyle and her staff, who met at 8 a.m. to discuss recruiting. Later, Boyle went for a 40-minute run, and then more meetings followed. The team’s shootaround started at 2:30 p.m. and lasted an hour, after which Boyle got a hug from men’s coach Tony Bennett, who wished her well in her UVa debut.
“It’s exciting,” Boyle said after the shootaround. “It’s our first game as a new team and a new coaching staff with this group of young women.”
Was she more nervous than before most games?
“I don’t know,” Boyle said. “I try and stay as calm as I can, because if the kids see me nervous, then they’re going to pick up on that, especially with a new team. As young as they are with us, I try to remain as calm as I can.”
That she has enormous faith in her assistant coaches — Katie O’Connor, Cory McNeill and Kim McNeill — made it easier for Boyle to stay cool.
“They’re rock stars, and we just have great chemistry together,” Boyle said after the game. “Everybody knows their role, and nobody steps on anybody’s toes, and there’s no egos involved. It’s just a really good sharing environment.
“It’s worked since Day One, and I’ve been really fortunate, because that doesn’t always happen with staffs, and it’s been awesome.”
Virginia, which had to rally to beat Alaska Anchorage in an exhibition game at JPJ last weekend, pulled away from Appalachian State early. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Gerson pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 21-10 midway through the first half.
“Stay aggressive! Stay aggressive!” Boyle shouted at her players during one stretch Friday night, and they did as instructed.
In the second half, the ‘Hoos outscored the Mountaineers 39-19, and Boyle was able to use all 10 of her available players. One of them, reserve guard Kelsey Wolfe, hurt her right knee with 4:01 left, but Boyle said the medical staff doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
Shine was one of four Cavaliers to score in double figures in the opener. Two others — guards Ariana Moorer (9 points) and China Crosby (8) — came close.
“Everybody got to play,” Shine said. “Everybody contributed. This year it’s going to be really important. Coach has really stressed to us how every person has a really significant role.”
Everyone who’ll play for the ‘Hoos this season was on the team in 2010-11, too. Still, Shine said, the returning players “had to learn everything new offensively, and we made a lot of tweaks defensively.”
In the opener, Shine said, “we were excited to kind of show what we’ve been working on and show what we’ve learned … I think where the [experience] of this team came into play was just knowing where each other were, knowing where we liked to shoot well, knowing who’s hot from what spots, knowing who likes to run the floor. And so those were things that we didn’t have to relearn, and we could just focus on learning offensively and defensively the new system that the coaches brought in for us.”
Pitts’ play was a revelation. Boyle, displeased with Pitts’ work habits, had held No. 21 out of the exhibition with Alaska Anchorage.
“I just took last week as a challenge,” Pitts said. “Came out this past week in practice and just played all out, did the best I could. Got a chance to play this week and took every possession like it was my last.”
Boyle said: “I was on Jaz. I’ll say it publicly. I’ve been on her a lot about her effort and consistency and playing every possession and playing every practice, and she’s worked really hard. I saw a different Jaz this week in practice, for three days straight. She came in and she was aggressive and she dominated, and she deserved to come off the bench first. She earned it.”
Next for the Cavaliers is their first road game under Boyle. Virginia plays Monday night at Providence (0-1), which lost its opener to Boston University.