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Nov. 4, 2013

The 2013-14 Virginia women’s basketball season gets underway this Friday, Nov. 8 when the Cavaliers take on the Dukes at James Madison at 7 p.m. Virginia will host High Point on Monday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena in the home opener.

“We are excited for this season,” said third-year head coach Joanne Boyle. “We have a new energy and have a lot of new players. We are trying out new things, so it has been fun. We have a healthier team and a little bit more versatility. We have a couple of veteran guards and youth. We are trying to figure out a system to mesh that all together. We have tons of buy-in and a great group of girls.”

It will be a talented trio of senior guards leading that `great group of girls’ this season. Ataria Franklin was named to the preseason All-ACC team for the second straight year. Franklin comes into the season ranked 20th on the Cavalier career scoring list with 1,192 points. A candidate for the 2014 Senior CLASS award, Franklin earned All-ACC honors last season after finishing the year ranked ninth in the conference in scoring at 14.3 points per game, and fifth in steals at 2.2 per game.

“[Franklin] is a calming factor on the floor and has won games for us,” Boyle said. “She is one of our best matchup defenders. I think her leadership and presence is important, especially for the younger players. Obviously, she has been injured a lot in her career. It is our job to get her ready to play as many minutes as she can.”

The Cavaliers other two senior captains, Kelsey Wolfe and Lexie Gerson, are making their way back to the court after rehabbing serious injuries. Wolfe sustained an ACL injury in February of last year, but will be ready to go on opening day. Wolfe had a breakout junior campaign. After averaging 2.8 points per game in her first two seasons at UVa, Wolfe was second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.6 points per game, as well as being ranked second in steals (45) and third in assists (54) at the time of her injury.

Gerson sat out all of last season recovering from hip surgery. A member of the 2012 ACC All-Defensive team, she led Virginia in steals (113) and steals per game (3.1) in her junior campaign, ranking in the top-15 nationally and top three in the ACC all season long. In addition to being a defensive presence, Gerson averaged 9.5 points and 2.6 assists per game.

“I am so excited to be back,” Gerson said. “I just have to calm down, because I don’t want to get too excited. I am just thankful that I have the opportunity to come back because a lot of people don’t get that.”

Franklin, Wolfe and Gerson will be the backbone of a group of eight guards who could all see playing time this season. Of the eight guards, four of them, including Wolfe, are capable of handling the point guard duties.

“Freshman Breyana Mason is doing very well at point guard,” Boyle said. “In addition to Breyana, we have Raeshaun Gaffney, who didn’t play last year because of an injury. She is both a one and a two, so we have some options with her. Kelsey Wolfe did a lot for us last year before her injury. And we have Jaryn Garner who has done a great job for us this year. We have four people we can use. It might be by committee, but we have a lot of people who can play.”

Franklin speaks highly of Gaffney, who will be a redshirt freshman this year after recovering from shin surgery last year.

“Rae is a freak-of-nature athlete,” Franklin said. “She is the fastest player on the team, she has the longest vertical on the team and she is long and athletic. She is great ball defender. She might not be a natural point-guard, but she is really honing in on that position as her role. She is really trying to focus on that being her role and wants to contribute in any way that she can. She is very eager to get out on the court.”

In the post, the Cavaliers will have juniors Sarah Beth Barnette and Sarah Imovbioh. Imovbioh appeared in all of the Cavaliers’ games last season, averaging 8.5 points per game. The native of Abuja, Nigeria led the ACC in field goal percentage last year, making 59.1 percent of her shots. Her 6.8 rebounds per game ranked 15th among her conference peers.

“Sarah is still raw and trying to figure herself on the floor, but her rebounding is off the charts,” Boyle said. “She needs to clean up her physicality, but I like the fact that she will play physical for us. She is demanding the ball a lot more this year. The Princeton offense we are looking to run helps her because she has a lot of speed.”

Among the newcomers that could make an immediate impact is first-year forward Sydney Umeri from Acworth, Ga.

“Sydney is our most versatile post player,” Boyle said. “She can shoot the three and the 15-footer. She is very mobile and can handle the ball. I would like her to become a big three for us. This year we have a lot of guards, so I don’t think that will be her role. She is a stretch four, like Sarah Beth Barnette, but different because she is crafty with the ball.”

The Cavaliers, who have been picked to finish eighth in the preseason ACC poll, will face each of the 14 conference opponents, including newcomers Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, during the 16-game league schedule. The Cavaliers will play six opponents solely at home, six only on the road and two opponents, Florida State and Virginia Tech, in home-and-away series.Virginia will face Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, NC State, Syracuse and Wake Forest in road-only contests this season with Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Pitt and Virginia Tech coming to John Paul Jones Arena.

Additionally, Virginia will play six non-conference home games including hosting the annual Cavalier Classic Tournament Dec. 28-29 at John Paul Jones Arena. This season, the tournament features Alabama, Coppin State, and Princeton.

Other non-conference opponents playing in Charlottesville this season include the home opener against High Point (Nov. 11) and games against Louisiana Tech (Nov. 16) and Maryland Eastern Shore (Dec. 17). It was previously announced that Michigan is coming to John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game.

The Virginia road schedule features a pair of holiday tournaments. Virginia will face Tennessee and either Kansas State or Southern Methodist at the Junkanoo Jam Tournament in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving break. The Cavaliers will take on Tulane and Florida Gulf Coast at the FGCU Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. from Dec. 20-21.

The Cavaliers will also play at James Madison (Nov. 8), Liberty (Nov. 19) and West Virginia (Nov. 24).

“This is why we came here to play basketball, to be able to take on the very best teams in the country and play hard and battle every game,” Franklin said.When asked about the goals for the year, the players and their head coach have only one goal on the board: making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, Gerson’s freshman year.

“I want us all to experience what it is like to go to the NCAA tournament,” Gerson said. “I want our underclassmen to realize that this is what we do. This is the kind of program we have and we are going to continue. I think that will start this year.”

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