Jan. 17, 2018

When you think of offseason workouts, perhaps getting in the gym and playing basketball comes to mind but that was the smallest part of sophomore center Felicia Aiyeotan‘s transformation this summer.

“This summer I did more conditioning, worked in the weight room and continued to eat right, and healthy,” Aiyeotan said. “It was more of conditioning and the weight room with a little bit of basketball. We worked on my foot movement, trying to lift more weights to gain muscle. That helped with eating right because the more I eat right, the more muscle I’m going to gain. [Strength and conditioning] coach Morgan Foster did a great job of helping me with that.”

Aiyeotan bought in to the work she needed to put in and made sure to make the most of her time, whether it was weightlifting or extra sessions with coaches.

“I got in the gym as much as I can,” Aiyeotan said. “I certainly enjoyed being the weight room because there was a goal involved with it. I kept an open mind with it. I would go in excited each day thinking ‘I am going to get stronger today!’

“I also worked with coach La’Keshia Frett Meredith, coach [Tim] Taylor and a little bit with coach KG [Katherine Graham] doing different drills around the basket. Turning my back to the basket, moving my feet on defense to get the right angle to block the shot, just different things to help me. I think that is where your confidence grows because it is all how much work you put in and how hard you work. If you practice a shot behind-the-scenes, then when the lights come on you know that shot is going to go in because you practiced it so much.”

There was one word in particular that comes from assistant coach La’Keshia Frett Meredith that has also helped push Aiyeotan to work harder.

“She has said a lot of things to me, but she would use the word ‘soft’ when I would block someone’s shot,” Aiyeotan said. “Her word is soft and I am trying my best to get out of that word and keep her from using it. She doesn’t use it as often as she did my freshman year, but in some instances, like when I go for a rebound, she will still say ‘that’s soft.’ So, I just try to be more aggressive and not make her use that word at all.”

With all of the work put in, Aiyeotan saw the immediate payoff with 15 pounds of muscle gained entering the season. She can also tell a difference in her performance on the court, averaging 7.1 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game.

“I definitely feel more confident, especially when I can see my numbers getting better,” Aiyeotan said. “I could see how much muscle I gained over the course of the summer. I had to have more confidence because the goal was not to be pushed around during a game. When I was not getting pushed around as much at practice, it boosted my confidence knowing that I can stand my ground.”

Now that UVA is in ACC action, head coach Joanne Boyled noted that Aiyeotan’s presence in the post is even more important.

“I think that as games go on, she is getting more and more confident,” Boyle said. “Because of that, we are seeing her more and we are demanding to see her more. She is just such a presence down low, whether she is scoring or not. She attracts so much defense and opens it up for other people. she works really hard and she is 6-foot-9 and draws a lot of attention. That alone is a reason to put her in the lineup. I think that the more minutes she has played, you can see her confidence. The more she is confident, the more the rest of the team is confident. She is a tough person to guard and there is nobody in the conference like her. I’m happy for her.”

Now Aiyeotan is able to see what a difference she makes when on the floor for the Cavaliers and wants to be out there helping her teammates.

“What I try to do is see what I can bring to the team during a game, if it is defense, more rebounding, if it Is me communicating better and not letting my teammates get hit with a screen,” Aiyeotan said. “Just being able to communicate and help my teammates out as much as I can. Having my presence on the court as much as I can and make sure I do my job is important for us, especially on defense because that is what I love the most. Being able to block shots and being able to help my teammates when they need it. Being a voice there for them as much as I can.”

The progress that Aiyeotan has made in the gym as well as on the court is one she is proud of and wants to continue to work on moving forward.

“I feel like the more I get better, the higher the goals are going to be,” Aiyeotan said. “Right now, I am taking little strides, but definitely want to be better and make more progress as time goes by.”