By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa women’s basketball team closed its first season under Joanne Boyle against James Madison University. The Cavaliers will open their second season under Boyle against the same opponent.
“This could be a first,” Boyle said at John Paul Jones Arena, where Virginia hosts JMU at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Wahoos might prefer to play the Dukes in December, Boyle said, but this was “the only time we could fit `em in the schedule, honestly … With the way the ACC schedule works, and finals and all that, you really have a limited amount of days that you can play. It wasn’t, `OK, let’s put it on opening day.’ It just fit the schedule.”
UVa played JMU twice last season. In the first meeting, Dec. 20 at JPJ, Virginia lost point guard China Crosby to a season-ending knee injury — the second of her career — yet managed to defeat the Dukes 59-53. The rematch came in the WNIT quarterfinals, and JMU won 68-59 in Harrisonburg.
Her players would like to avenge that loss, of course, Boyle said, but thoughts of revenge did not drive them in the offseason.
“I think it’s a great game for us — don’t get me wrong, it’s an unbelievable game — but we’re trying to look at it really as a season and not just a particular game,” Boyle said. “It’s not make or break. Obviously we want to win, and we’re going to do everything we can, but we’re also looking forward to what the season can lay out for us.”
Lexie Gerson, who started 24 games for UVa in 2011-12 and made the ACC’s all-defensive team, will redshirt this season while recovering from hip surgery. Gerson is a significant loss, but Crosby, who started every game in which she appeared last season, is healthy again.
“Just having China’s energy on the bench was something that helped us last year,” said junior guard Ataira Franklin, UVa’s top returning scorer.
“She had a completely different perspective. So to have her on the floor now, being able to translate what she saw last year, is going to be great for us. She’s another vocal leader, so that’s big, just as far as helping the younger kids, or even somebody to get on me.”
Crosby’s first torn ACL ended her freshman season after 13 games. Her second came in the 12th game of her junior season. She said Tuesday that she doesn’t dwell on her setbacks.
Her family and friends “basically told me to look at this as a positive, not a negative, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Crosby said. “And after my second surgery, it was more like I was more uplifted from it, because it made me gain so much power as a person, and made me look at the game a little bit different on the bench. So I don’t look at my injuries and say, `I wish this could have happened, I wish that could have happened.’ You get put in situations, and it really defines what kind of person you are at the end of the day. I just try to move forward with it and not look at it as a negative.”
Boyle’s roster includes three freshmen — guards Faith Randolph, Jaryn Garner and Raeshaun Gaffney — and two other players, forwards Sarah Beth Barnette and Sarah Imovbioh, who, though enrolled at the University in 2011-12, were not eligible to compete.
Gaffney is recovering from a stress fracture in her shin and may not make her college debut until December or January, Boyle said. Garner, who had been sidelined by a stress fracture in her leg, started practicing with the team recently.
“I don’t know that she’ll be ready for Friday,” Boyle said, “but hopefully if not Friday, soon.”
For all of those five players, Boyle said, UVa’s “system is just new, and what we do is new. Their growth is going to happen throughout the season. It’s not going to be immediately felt on Friday, or next week, for that matter, and we have to be patient and bring them along.”
That may be especially true with the 6-2 Imovbioh, who as a senior at nearby St. Anne’s-Belfield was a Parade All-American in 2010-11.
Imovbioh, a native of Nigeria, is “a tremendous athlete, but very raw,” Boyle said.
“Her learning curve is learning the game of basketball. Hopefully she’s going to make up for some of that, just because of her innate abilities to just do things [athletically] some people can’t do. But her ceiling is really high, and I think 10 games in — I say 10, but right around that Christmas mark — I expect, because she would have had some good experience, that she’ll be in a great position to help us in ACCs.”
In the Cavaliers’ first season under Boyle, they finished 25-11 overall and tied for fifth in the league with a 9-7 record. Virginia has been picked to finish in the top half of the ACC again, and that’s fine with Boyle.
“I always like that the bar’s being raised,” she said. “I’d hate to come into your second year and somebody pick us ninth. So being picked fourth or fifth, it challenges us and it’s a great, I think, motivation for the kids to see that people are looking at you and expecting more of you. And if they’re expecting more of you, we should be expecting more of ourselves. I think it’s a great platform to kind of be standing on right now.”
Franklin said: “We’re eager to play. We’re definitely a team that’s hungry, because of how things went for us last year. We thought we should have been in the NCAA tournament, but it was just more motivation for us.”
SPECIAL GUESTS At halftime Friday night, UVa’s all-time leading scorer, Monica Wright, will have her number (22) retired. Also during that ceremony, former UVa coach Debbie Ryan will be honored with a new banner at JPJ.
Four numbers have already retired in the UVa women’s basketball program: 11 (Donna Holt), 24 (Dawn Staley), 25 (Cathy Grimes) and 31 (Wendy Palmer).
Wright, who was a senior at UVa in 2009-10, now plays for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. Her coach at Virginia was Ryan, who retired after the 2010-11 season.
In her 34 seasons as the Cavaliers’ coach, Ryan compiled a record of 739-324. UVa advanced to the NCAA tournament 24 times during her tenure and reached the Final Four in 1990, ’91 and ’92. In 2008, Ryan was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.