Cavalier Corner

April 2017

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Page 16 of 31

APRIL 2017 ◆ 17 mism as Boyle and her team began to focus on the path ahead. Virginia didn't have a bevy of blowout losses on the schedule like it did in previous years. Look no further than the 2015‑16 outing to see the improvement. Just one season ago, Virginia had 12 double‑digit losses that included a 28‑point stumble against Notre Dame, a team widely considered one of the top programs in the country. One year later in 2016‑17, Virginia suf‑ fered just five double‑digit losses and while one came in a 17‑point hiccup against the Irish, UVA also scrapped and hung around to fall by just eight points (82‑74) to Notre Dame Jan. 29. The Irish finished the season as the No. 2 team in the nation, so Virginia's ability to keep it close and compete is a clear mark of progress. It's easy for fans and media talking heads to jump to quick conclusions but Boyle un‑ derstands all good things take time. The significant contributions from young players are paving the path for a break‑ out season in 2017‑18. Though the results haven't fully surfaced, this year's stat sheet painted a rough portrait of the future. Guards Jocelyn Willoughby and Domi‑ nique Toussaint, center Felicia Aiyeotan and forward Lisa Jablonowski all held piv‑ otal roles as first‑years. In fact, both Wil‑ loughby and Toussaint were named to the 2017 ACC All‑Freshman Team — the first time Virginia has ever had two players earn All‑Freshman honors in the same season and only the eighth time that any team has had two players on the team. Willoughby started all 33 games while averaging 9.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per outing. She became the first rookie to lead UVA in rebounding since Brandi Teamer in 2002, and the first rookie guard to do so since Chrissy Reese in 1980. Toussaint started in 31 of the 33 contests, and posted 9.5 points and 2.4 assists per game. Both Aiyeotan and Jablonowski saw meaningful minutes off the bench, and com‑ bined to post 6.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. The 6‑9 Aiyeotan also finished third in the ACC in blocks, averaging 1.64 rejections per game. Moses — one of the few elder statesmen on the team heading into her fourth‑year campaign in 2017‑18 — made a point to develop chemistry with the rookies as soon as they arrived on Grounds. It paid off in a major way. "In the summer and preseason, we really tried to set the culture and tone for the first‑ years without knowing their role would be so big, honestly," Moses said. "They ended up playing a huge role on our team so it re‑ ally helped us." Virginia will enter next season with al‑ most all of its team in tact. The only loss is fourth‑year guard Breyana Mason, a staple of the program over the last four years. Ma‑ son led the Hoos in scoring with an average of 10.3 points per game, but the emergence of Willoughby and Toussaint should provide a seamless transition. Third‑years J'Kyra Brown and Aliyah Huland El also have sig‑ nificant experience at guard, providing the Cavaliers with several options to fill the void left by Mason's departure. The overwhelming theme heading into the offseason is centered around consis‑ tency. Both Boyle and Moses acknowledged this year's squad was far more consistent than any other UVA team in recent history, but there is more work to be done. "We probably played more consistent than we have in the past," Boyle said. "That's not to say we are a consistent team, but we had a really good blend of upper‑ classmen and underclassmen. "Obviously an infusion of younger kids in terms of talent blended with some skilled upperclassmen, so I felt like we had good balance this year and that gave us more consistency. I think we are working a little bit harder. Hopefully we can build off that next year." The landscape at UVA feels much dif‑ ferent now than when Boyle took over six years ago. She inherited the pressure and expectation that came with a tradition of winning left behind by her legendary prede‑ cessor Debbie Ryan, who led the Wahoos to 24 NCAA Tournaments and three consecu‑ tive Final Four appearances. The Virginia head coach understood she was taking on a tough task and acknowl‑ edged there have been plenty of speed bumps along the way. Finally, though, this team is right where she always envisioned. The days of reaching the WNIT at the end of the regular season should soon be replaced with regular trips to the NCAA Tournament. "Of the four places I've been it's been the hardest here," Boyle said. "It's just taken a little bit longer. This is such a great place, there's such great potential here. I've always felt strongly this could be an unbelievable program. "This year, this team in particular, feels like a team I've had in the past. It's in a perfect spot to take off." ◆ Dominique Toussaint, a first-year point guard, earned a spot on the ACC All- Freshman Team after averaging 9.5 points and 2.4 assists per game. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA First-year Felicia Aiyeotan, a 6-9 center, finished the season ranked third in the ACC in blocked shots with 1.64 per game. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA

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