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Squad gears up for promising season after coaching changes

Virginia hopes for successful 2009-10 season, to fulfill expectations after receiving several preseason accolades, slots for television coverage

As the countdown to the tipoff of the first game in Tony Bennett's career as the Virginia men's basketball coach continues, the other basketball team on Grounds quietly prepares for the beginning of its season. With preseason awards, plans for television coverage and more exciting news rolling in, anticipation is building.

The No. 11 Virginia women's basketball team revealed Monday that it is one of ESPN's selections for two of its Big Monday editions. Big Monday is ESPN2's name for the Monday evening time-slot, which is reserved for the biggest college women's basketball matchup each week. The only school slotted to participate more in the upcoming season is Connecticut, which will appear three times.

"We're excited about our schedule and that we are playing at least eight games on television," Virginia women's basketball coach Debbie Ryan said. "We are going to have a lot of exposure during the season, and it is great to be in the ACC."

Also generating excitement about the season is senior guard Monica Wright's collection of numerous preseason accolades. Lindy's College Basketball Preview selected Wright as a preseason first-team All-American, while both the Wade Trophy and Wooden Award have listed Wright on the preseason watch list. Wright led the ACC in scoring, was a member of the All-ACC team and was an honorable mention for the All-American teams following the previous season.

Barring an injury or a significant drop in production, Wright likely will finish her senior year with the all-time Virginia scoring record. Last season, Wright set the single-season scoring record with 696 points, a 20.5 per game average.

Wright's early honors and the team's television coverage are not the Cavaliers' only notable offseason stories. Following the departures of assistant coaches Jeff House and Curtis Loyd in May, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage hired two new assistant coaches: former Virginia assistant coach Tim Taylor and former Virginia basketball player Wendy Palmer.

"I am very pleased and excited to have Tim Taylor and Wendy Palmer joining our family," Ryan said. "Our players will really benefit from the unbelievable knowledge and passion they both bring to our program ... Tim Taylor is one of the best tacticians in the game of basketball."

Taylor worked on the women's basketball staff for 2000-05 and then spent the next four years coaching the high school ranks, heading up the boys' basketball teams for Orange High School and Madison County High School during this time. Among Orange's honors during this time were a school-record 25 consecutive wins and a first-time berth in the state tournament.

"I am excited to return to the University of Virginia," Taylor said. "It is an opportunity to work with a great administration, staff and players to enhance the program on an everyday basis on and off the court."

Not all of the offseason news has been positive for the Cavaliers, though. Forward Kelly Hartig announced before the school year began that she had decided to transfer to the University of Colorado, Denver for academic reasons and will no longer play varsity basketball.

"I appreciate everything the University of Virginia women's basketball staff, support staff and players have done for me," Hartig said. "I wish them all the best and will always be a Cavalier women's basketball fan."

Though Hartig's presence as a starter, dominant size and team participation will be missed, her former team stands behind her decision.

"We will really miss Kelly but we support her decision to change directions academically," Ryan said. "She was an integral part of our program these past two years, and we all wish her the best in the future."

Questions about how the team plans to replace Hartig and graduates center Aisha Mohammed and forward Lyndra Littles linger and will not be answered until the season starts, but all other signs about the team's near future seem positive.

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