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Moving on from Monica

Ryan asks for group effort to fill legend

Imagine trying to replace a three-time Associated Press All-America selection, 2010 ACC Player of the Year, 2010 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All-ACC performer, all-time school scoring leader and two-time Wooden Award finalist. Such is life for this season's Virginia women's basketball team and coach Debbie Ryan, as they prepare to play without the legendary Monica Wright.

Accordingly, the team was picked to finish 10th in the ACC preseason media poll. Ryan knows her team is capable of much more, however, if all her players can provide solid contributions and fill the void left by Wright, who graduated from Virginia last year and was selected second overall in the 2010 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx.

"I'm really excited about this year's team because we are going to be so different," Ryan said. "We're going to have to be a team that four or five players have to be in double figures, or at least three players in double figures with a lot of other people contributing from a lot of different areas."

Wright was the only player who averaged double figures last year; junior forward Chelsea Shine, who scored eight points per game last season, is the leading returner. She scored in double figures 12 times.

To boost both team and individual confidence, Ryan got a bit creative. She made each player list her strengths on a blackboard, hoping each will focus on fulfilling her own potential.

All strengths combined, Ryan is assured that her team will be successful and surprise the pundits who picked her team to finish so low in conference play. She noted Wright was particularly successful because of her consistency and knows her team can emulate that level if her players keep it simple.

"We've really made it clear that if we're going to be good, we have to be good doing the things that we are really accomplished at doing, instead of trying to do 15 things that we think we are accomplished at doing," Ryan said.

Virginia welcomes a talented freshmen class that includes lengthy guard Ataira Franklin, forward Jazmin Pitts, whom Ryan praised for her rebounding ability, and guard Kelsey Wolfe, who is known for her ability to shoot from beyond the arc. And although sophomore guard China Crosby - a high school McDonald's All-American - said her class has demonstrated marked improvement, the team understands it is still coming into its own.

"We are still learning our team identity," redshirt senior forward Jayna Hartig said. "Losing [Wright] last year, we kind of lost a big part of our scoring and our leadership and our defensive hustle, so I think we are still developing that and everyone's still coming into their own roles."

Sophomore center Simone Egwu noted the team's unity will go a long way in helping the Cavaliers play without Wright.

"I've never been on a basketball team that genuinely loves to be with each other this much," Egwu said. "So having that show up on the court is our biggest strength."

And even though Wright set the bar, this year's Cavaliers still think they can meet - and perhaps surpass - her standard of success.

"I think a successful season for us would be making it back to the NCAA Tournament and improving upon what we did last year," Hartig said.

Virginia will have the opportunity to make its first statement tonight against Hofstra. Tip-off in Hempstead, N.Y. is slated for 7 p.m.

-Stacy Kruczkowski contributed to this article


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