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Jan. 23, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Little did women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle know, when she left Berkeley, Calif., to come east in April 2011, what a roller-coaster ride her first two years at the University of Virginia would be.

“It’s been eventful,” Boyle said with a wry smile Tuesday at John Paul Jones Arena. “That’s a good word.”

Through it all, the Cavaliers have persevered. They advanced to the WNIT quarterfinals and finished 25-11 in 2011-12. In Boyle’s second season, Virginia is 12-6 overall and 4-3 in conference play after upsetting ACC rival Miami 62-52 on Sunday afternoon at JPJ.

There have been few dull stretches during Boyle’s tenure with the Wahoos, who host Boston College (8-9, 2-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday at JPJ. Among other challenges this season, she’s been without assistant coach Kim McNeill for more than a month.

McNeill is married to another UVa assistant, Cory McNeill, and they had twins Jan. 4. Kim McNeill is expected to rejoin the team next month, Boyle said.

“I think what’s kind of kept me calm through the whole thing is that I have a great staff,” said Boyle, who praised the work of Cory McNeill, Ashley Earley, Sarah Holsinger, Lesley Dickinson, Hadley Zeavin and James Rogol.

“They can handle a lot and take a lot off my plate. I think that’s part of why I don’t feel nervous about Kim not being here.”

Asked about the challenges she’s already faced at UVa, the 49-year-old Boyle said: “Probably if I’m a younger coach, I’m freaking out a little bit more about it. But as you get older, you just understand that those are the cards you’re dealt for that year and you gotta make the most of it.”

By the time she got to Charlottesville in the spring of 2011, Boyle knew that the more heralded of the two recruits who signed with UVa in November 2010, McDonald’s All-American guard Bria Smith, was no longer interested in becoming a Cavalier.

Then, in July 2011, twins Britny and Whitny Edwards transferred from UVa to East Carolina, their father’s alma mater. About six weeks later, the NCAA ruled that forward Sarah Imovbioh, the other recruit who had signed with Virginia the previous November, was not eligible to practice or play with the team during the 2011-12 academic year.

Those weren’t the only obstacles Boyle encountered in her first year at UVa. In December, starting point guard China Crosby suffered a season-ending knee injury. But Boyle held the team together, and the `Hoos narrowly missed the NCAA tournament.

Boyle, who went 67-29 as head coach at Richmond and 137-64 at Cal, said she refuses to let herself get discouraged.

“I think it just goes back to, you have to control what you can control,” she said. “Everybody’s dealing with it, and if you let it bring you down, your kids see it, they see the wear and tear on you. You want to maximize your potential every year, so whether you have 10 healthy or seven healthy, you gotta maximize what you have.

“And it always means opportunities for other kids to get playing time, and it lets you see how deep those kids can really dig to get the most out of themselves. There’s a lot of things that can come out of adversity, and that’s what sports is about.”

More adversity awaited the `Hoos in 2012-13. In late September, Boyle announced that neither guard Lexie Gerson nor forward Erinn Thompson would play this season. Gerson, a member of the ACC’s all-defensive team in 2011-12, is recovering from offseason hip surgery. She’ll be back in 2013-14 for her final college season, but a series of injuries forced Thompson to give up the sport.

And then there’s freshman Raeshaun Gaffney, a member of the three-player recruiting class that signed with Virginia in November 2011. Gaffney arrived at UVa in June with an injury — a stress fracture in her shin — that she had incurred in high school.

Rest and rehab helped the injury heal, if slowly, and Boyle was hopeful that Gaffney would be available for most of the Cavaliers’ ACC games. But when tests revealed Dec. 17 that Gaffney wasn’t ready to return, Boyle decided to redshirt her.

Gaffney, who’s from Fairfield, Ohio, recently underwent surgery and should be healthy when UVa begins preparations for 2013-14. She figures prominently in Boyle’s plans, especially with Crosby’s college career nearing its end.

As a 12th-grader at Fairfield Senior High, Gaffney averaged 26.7 points and 10 rebounds. Her father, Ray Gaffney, played hoops at the University of Minnesota.

“She’s explosive,” Boyle said. “She can play the 1 or the 2. When she was getting better in November, the [medical staff] said, `OK, we’re going to let her go out and do maybe 10 minutes a day with you guys in practice.’ She came out, and in those 10 minutes for like three days straight, it was amazing.

“She’s got such an explosive first step. She’s low to the ground, and her first step is like, if you think about a track athlete coming out of the blocks, it’s like that. The [3-point shot] is not her specialty. She’s more of a mid-range, get-to-the-rim kind of kid. Really good ballhandler, with a good basketball IQ.”

UVa will lose seniors Telia McCall, Simone Egwu and Crosby when this season ends. But Gerson and Gaffney should be available in 2013-14, and complementing Virginia’s returning players will be the well-regarded recruiting class that signed in November: forwards Sydney Umeri and Amanda Fioravanti and guards Breyana Mason and Tiffany Suarez.

The NCAA allows each Division I women’s basketball team to carry 15 scholarship players. UVa will have four seniors in 2013-14 — guards Kelsey Wolfe, Ataira Franklin and Gerson, plus post player Jazmin Pitts — and so Boyle could add as many as six recruits for 2014-15.

The injuries to Crosby, Gerson and Gaffney may have forced Boyle to alter her timetable for building a nationally prominent program at UVa, but she remains confident it can be done.

“We’re in on some really, really good `14s,” Boyle said, “kind of next-level kids. So if we could get the kids we want in the `14s, along with that group of 13s, and the `12s that are already here” — guards Faith Randolph, Jaryn Garner and Gaffney — “those are the kids that are going to build this.”

Boyle has 10 healthy scholarship players this season. The `Hoos lack size in the frontcourt and depth at point guard, but they’ve won three of their past four games. Most impressive was their victory over the Hurricanes, who had beaten UVa in Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 7.

“Our test now will be, can we play with teams that, on paper, [don’t look as good as] Miami but are just as dangerous and just as talented and are just coming up short?” Boyle said. “Can we step out and be the team we were against Miami, can we be that team against the Wakes of the world, the BCs of the world, the NC States?”

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