Friday, September 30, 2016

Comings and Goings: Virginia 2016-17

Friday, September 2, 2016

Aiyeotan really stands all of 6-9, says coach Joanne Boyle

This installment of Comings and Goings takes a look at the Virginia Cavaliers, who once again boast a monster recruiting class headlined by 6-9 Nigerian Felicia Aiyeotan.

FYI: The series so far

George Mason: Comings and Goings
William and Mary: Comings and Goings
Richmond: Comings and Goings
James Madison: Comings and Goings
Liberty: Comings and Goings


Faith Randolph: Graduated; second leading scoring on Cavaliers, averaging 13.5 ppg
Mikayla Venson: sophomore guard and leading scorer (15.1 ppg) left the program prior to the WNIT; will sit out the 2016-17 season after transferring to Georgetown
Sydney Umeri: Will play her senior season at Kansas and be immediately eligible after graduating from Virginia; started 29 of 34 games last season
Emily Battle: Walk-on who remains at the school
Kim McNeil: assistant to coach Joanne Boyle; left to become head coach at Hartford
Cory McNeil: assistant coach to Boyle; associate head coach to Kim McNeil at Hartford

Katherine Graham: Assistant to Boyle, previously at Lipscomb; LSU grad who led team to 2008 Final Four
Tim Taylor: former recruiting coordinator to Debbie Ryan (2000-2005) and associate head coach to Ryan (2009-11); since 2012, has been principal at William Wetsel Middle School in Madison, Va., and assistant at United Christian Academy; Charlottesville native and James Madison grad
Dominique Toussaint: 5-9 G Freshman: No. 48 recruit (espnW); 2016 Miss New York Basketball
Jocelyn Willoughby: 6-0 G, Freshman: 1,000-point scorer her sophomore year at Newark Academy; 2016 New Jersey Girls Basketball Player of the Year
Felicia Aiyeotan: 6-9 C, Freshman: Nigerian played her senior year at Blair Academy in New Jersey, averaging 14 ppg
Lisa Jablonowski: 6-3 F, Freshman: Sportswoman of the Year, the most prestigious award in Luxembourg for her performance leading her Amicale Steinsel team to the 2016 national championship in 2014-15

We're five years and counting into the Boyle era at Virginia and the Cavaliers are still looking for their first NCAA appearance since Monica Wright's senior year in 2010. We'd be remiss if we didn't note the departures headed into 2016-17 -- the most significant one being leading scorer Venson who didn't finish out last season, skipping the WNIT. She is the second high-profile kid to leave the program in two years. Sarah Imovbioh, the ACC's leading rebounder in 2014-15, left for South Carolina last year.

Certainly Virginia isn't the only program dealing with transfer-itis, something we asked Boyle about. She noted that today's generation embraces immediacy over patience. "There's a process to everything," she said, adding buy-in to the process isn't as universal as it used to be.

However, she's optimistic about this group of Cavalier, ecstatic about the work ethic of 5-11 junior guard J'Kyra Brown who returns in the best shape of her life.

"I challenged her at the end of last year," Boyle said. "She's not only in great shape, she has a really good attitude."

Virginia is also on the way up in regards to size. The Cavaliers had one of the smallest frontcourts in the ACC of late, but no longer.

Among the freshmen, Aiyeotan, whose maternal grandfather was 7-1, nabs the most attention given her stature, rarely seen in the women's game.  Boyle promises, "She is all of 6-9 and not as raw as people think." Her rebounding is ahead of her offense, Boyle said, and her strength is increasing thanks to the time she is putting in in the weight room.

The 6-3 Jablonowski is also benefitting from summer conditioning, and Boyle said the results just since July are visible. Boyle refers to the European as "a pass-and-cut type of player who we'll use more at the guard spot."

"Physical, physical, physical," are the words Boyle uses to describe Willoughby, who shows early signs of potential on defense and the offensive boards. "Physically, she's a guard who can post up," said Boyle, who said Willoughby's unique body type will allow her to play at an elite level.

Boyle regards Toussaint's quickness and versatile ability to score as keys. Named the Miss New York Gatorade Player of the Year, she averaged 19.7 ppg as a senior at Christ the King High in Staten Island.

Toussaint was among 27 women invited to training camp for the USA Basketball Women's U18 team last May.

On the injury front, redshirt freshman Shakyna Payne, who missed last season due to a stress fracture in her shin, is completely healthy. An early tweak to Lauren Moses' shin has her in a boot. Moses started every game last season, averaging 6.9 rpg.

Guard Breyana Mason is the lone senior on this team, which also includes two new assistants. Boyle has been friends with Taylor since she was at Duke and is happy he chose to rejoin the Virginia staff after assisting twice under Debbie Ryan. Stewart, she said, brings a youthful presence to the staff, which also includes La'Keshia Frett Meredith.

The Cavaliers were 18-16 last season, falling to Hofstra in the WNIT's round of 16.

Season opener: Middle Tennessee State, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.

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