Cavalier Corner

Dec. 2019

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DECEMBER 2019 17 on a project. As you work on the project you get to know your cohort members a little bit better." This experience provided her with a much better grasp of the inner workings of Vir- ginia and allowed her to meet people at the school not involved in athletics. "You also get to meet with different groups and administration throughout the university to figure out how the university works and what opportunities are available to students at the university," Willoughby said. All of this leadership training should prepare her well in life after Virginia, but first, Willoughby must focus on the season at hand. She hopes to make up for a dis- appointing junior campaign, during which UVA was just 12-19 overall and 5-11 in the ACC. This is after winning 10 conference games in 2017-18, making the NCAA Tour- nament as a No. 10 seed and upsetting Cali- fornia in the first round. "The goal is the same each year, try to get far in the postseason or make postseason play this year," Willoughby said. "That's definitely at the forefront of our minds. We want to put together a better season than last year — to build and grow is the biggest thing." First, the Cavaliers must get through a rigorous ACC schedule and a slate of non- conference games where they get their op- ponent's best shot. "Whether we're in conference play or not, it's a grind," Willoughby said. "A lot of non-conference teams are looking at us as a good signature win for them in their journey to get to the tournament. "Then in the conference, there are so many ranked opponents and so much talent throughout." Once the season and school year are over, she plans to shift her focus toward prepar- ing for and exploring the possibilities of a career as a professional basketball player, wherever that may be. But for now, she wants to achieve all of the goals she made for herself when she decided to become a Cavalier. "It's hard to explain the mentality of a fourth-year player and realizing this is the last opportunity to accomplish all of the things I set out to do when I chose this university," Willoughby said. "That's the biggest change for me from last year to this year." Notre Dame has owned the ACC since entering the league in 2013-14. The Fighting Irish have won at least a share of the league title every year while posting a 90-5 conference record. However, a Blue Ribbon panel of 49 voters expects that to change this year. All five Irish starters from the 2017-18 na- tional champions and last year's national runner-up team were selected in the WNBA Draft, so Notre Dame received only four first-place votes and garnered 580 points. Louisville topped the poll with 34 first-place votes and 713 points, followed by North Carolina State (eight and 637) and Florida State (three and 623). Here is an overview of the 2019-20 ACC season, with a look at each team in order of the predicted finish: 1. Louisville — The Cardinals are the presumptive favorite to win the conference title after tying Notre Dame for the regular- season championship last year, finishing 14-2 in league play. The top two players are expected to be junior guard Dana Evans and sophomore guard Elizabeth Balogun, a transfer from Georgia Tech and the reigning ACC Newcomer of the Year. 2. North Carolina State — The Wolfpack is expected to take a step forward this season and finish second after tying for third place last year. Sophomore center Elissa Cunane and senior guard Aislinn Konig were both named to the Preseason All-ACC Team voted on by the coaches. 3. Florida State — The Seminoles finished 10-6 in the confer- ence last season, but some believe they will compete for second place in the ACC this year. They're lead by Preseason All-ACC seniors Nicki Ekhomu, a guard, and Kiah Gillespie, a forward. 4. Notre Dame — After finishing as at least ACC co-champions in each of the last six seasons, the Fighting Irish are expected to finish outside of the top three. The top two players are projected to be freshman guard Anaya Peoples and freshman forward Sam Brunelle, both of whom were McDonald's All- Americans. 5. Miami — The Hurricanes finished third last year, but might regress slightly this season despite having the Preseason ACC Player of the Year in fifth-year senior forward Beatrice Mompre- mier. The 6-4 standout averaged 16.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game in 2018-19. 6. Syracuse — The Orange are expected to have another solid season. The team's best player might be junior forward Digna Strautmane, the top returning scorer (9.5 points per game). 7. Duke — After a 10th-place finish in 2018-19, the Blue Devils should take a small step forward this year, but are still a long way from competing for the ACC crown like they did a few years ago. Their top player should be fifth-year senior guard Haley Gorecki. 8. Clemson — The Tigers won nine conference games in 2018- 19 after claiming one victory the season before, and will look to continue the positive momentum this season. They're led by senior forward Kobi Thornton, a Preseason All-ACC selection. 9. North Carolina — After winning four conference games or less for three seasons in a row, the Tar Heels went .500 in the ACC last year. Junior Janelle Bailey is the team's top returning scorer and rebounder. 10. Virginia Tech — The Hokies have been a middle-of-the- pack ACC team for the past few seasons, winning six games each of the last two years. A player to watch is junior guard Aisha Sheppard, who had back-to-back 20-point games early in the season. 11. Virginia — After winning 10 ACC games in 2017, the Cava- liers regressed in 2018 and were victorious in just five league contests. Fourth-year guard Jocelyn Willoughby returns this sea- son after leading the team in scoring and rebounding last year. 12. Georgia Tech — This is the Yellow Jackets' first season under new coach Nell Fortner. Senior guard Francesca Pan is a former ACC Freshman of the Year and could really break out in 2019-20. 13. Boston College — After winning two ACC games three years in a row, the Eagles bucked this trend and came away with three victories in 2019. Senior forward Emma Guy and sophomore guard Makayla Dickens return after being the top two scorers last season. 14. Pittsburgh — The Panthers finished second to last in the conference last season, and that looks unlikely to change this year. Fifth-year senior guard Aysia Bugg led the team in scoring through five games last year, but then missed the rest of the season due to blood clots. 15. Wake Forest — The Demon Deacons were victorious once in conference play last season. Senior Alex Sharp has started in each of the last two seasons and was a double-digit scorer in both. — Andrew Mentock ACC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

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