Cavalier Corner

April 2012

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Page 21 of 31

STABILIZING FORCE Third-Year Center Simone Egwu Has Been A Consistent Performer For The Cavaliers and the Cavaliers have risen and fallen and risen again in the ranks of the ACC. Through all the changes, one thing has remained con- stant for the Cavaliers: the play of Simone Egwu. Prior to coming to Virginia, Egwu was a U superstar at Arundel High School in Gam- brills, Md. Egwu helped lead her team to the state championship game in 2008 before fall- ing by two points to eventual state champion, Eleanor Roosevelt High School. The follow- ing season, Egwu and the Wildcats advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing again to Eleanor Roosevelt. The 6-3 Egwu imposed her will that season, averaging 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Egwu was rated as the No. 15 center in the country by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and was a highly sought-after pros- pect. After taking visits to the University of Florida and George Washington, Egwu committed to play for head coach Debbie Ryan and UVa. "[Virginia] was he perfect combination of school and basketball," Egwu said. "School is really important to me and so is basketball. I felt that I would get the best of both worlds at Virginia." Egwu was thrown right into the fire in her first season at Virginia. She was the only first-year to see time in 31 games, and started all but two of them. During her rookie sea- son, Egwu lined up against some of the na- tion's elite post players, including Florida State's Jacinta Monroe, Georgia Tech's Alex Montgomery, Duke's Jasmine Thomas and several other frontcourt players who are cur- rently in the WNBA. "It was pretty tough," Egwu said. "The ACC is a great conference and it was a dif- ficult transition from high school to college. I think that playing in all of those games has 22 ◆ CAVALIER CORNER BY DREW GOODMAN NIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA women's basketball has been a roller-coaster ride over the past few years. Key players and coaches have come and gone, helped me a lot now. I was able to make a lot of freshman mistakes and learn a lot about the game." Egwu averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 re- bounds per game in 2009-10, and the team finished third in the ACC. Teammate Monica Wright was named ACC Player of the Year, and the Cavaliers reached the NCAA Tourna- ment for the third consecutive season. The following season, the Cavaliers had the impossible task of replacing Wright, who finished her career as Virginia's all-time lead- ing scorer. Egwu established herself as the leader in the frontcourt. She was one of two Cavaliers to start every game and averaged 6.0 points per contest while scoring in double figures six times. The second-year also led the team in rebounds per game, averaging 5.2. Despite Egwu's effort, Virginia stumbled to an eighth-place finish in the ACC and failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Fol- lowing the campaign, Ryan resigned as head coach after 34 seasons in Charlottesville. "It was very sad to see her go," Egwu said. "The whole coaching staff was really good last year." Joanne Boyle was introduced as the new head coach of the program after a very suc- cessful stint at California-Berkley, and Egwu decided to remain with the Cavaliers despite the coaching change. "There was definitely a learning curve with the new coaching staff," Egwu said. "I think the most important thing is that we all bought in. It made the learning and the change a lot better." Boyle brought her hard-nosed defensive intensity to Charlottesville. The Cavaliers have clamped down on defense and held opponents to less than 60 points in 23 of 30 regular-season games. Egwu quickly stepped up and embraced Boyle's defensive scheme. "Simone is very book smart and has a great basketball IQ," Boyle said. "She is very visual and picks things up pretty well. She comes out every day and works hard." Egwu has continued to be a consistent per- former and stabilizing influence in her third year, helping the Cavaliers to a 21-9 regular- season record, including a 9-7 mark in the ACC, to put them in position for a return to the NCAA Tournament. She shot better than 45 percent from the field, and averaged 4.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. "Her toughness has gotten lot better," Boyle said. "She has really done a great job of demanding the ball on offense and is she is working very hard on the defensive end of the floor. Her presence as a post player has really improved as well." Egwu embodies the term student-athlete. A government major, she spends countless hours studying in addition to all her time on the basketball court, and has been recognized for her outstanding work in the classroom. In 2010, she received the Bob Williams Award, given to the student-athlete that best exempli- fies the partnership of academics and athlet- ics. She also was selected to the All-ACC Academic Team in 2010-11 and 2011-12. "It's tough to balance between athletics and academics," Egwu said. "The best thing about UVa is that we have a great support system. It takes a lot of determination on the student-athlete's part." Egwu has several lofty academic goals she hopes to accomplish before leaving UVa. She has applied to and hopes to attend the Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy. Egwu hopes to cap off her illustrious aca- demic career at UVa by attending law school. "She's a great role model," Boyle said. "She has a lot on her plate academically, but she always puts it aside to walk into practice and be there mentally for us." As for on-the-court goals, Egwu wants to continue to build off the success of this sea- son and to finish out her career strong. "I just want to be the best team we can be, and an ACC championship would be the cherry on top," she said. ◆ Egwu, who has started every ACC game of her career (44), averaged 4.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest during the regular season in 2011-12. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA

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