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McCall embraces time to shine

Senior forward earns starting spot, proves pivotal to future Cavalier success

With less than two minutes left in the second half of Sunday’s game, senior forward Telia McCall hit a free throw. It capped a personal 8-0 run for McCall and gave the Cavaliers a slim 3-point lead. The lead would not hold, but the impact would remain — a lone bright spot in a disappointing game for the Virginia women’s basketball team.

Sunday’s game marked another stellar performance in what has become an impressive senior season for McCall. Against Georgia Tech, she almost single-handedly kept Virginia in the game, scoring 28 points and going 16-for-17 from the free-throw line, while playing the entire 40 minutes. When it appeared the Cavalier offense had all but completely stalled against a brutally physical Yellow Jacket team, McCall managed to force her way inside and make the tough baskets. It was certainly an eye-opening individual performance to most observers, but for McCall it was just business as usual.

“I felt very relaxed,” McCall said. “Coach [Joanne Boyle] already told me how they were playing me before, so I was already prepared to capitalize on what I needed to do.”

McCall’s ability to seize opportunities has been a vital attribute for one of Virginia’s breakout contributors of the year. Earning the starting spot for the Cavaliers for the first time in her career at the start of this season, McCall was excited to step into a bigger role. Utilizing the added pressure as motivation during summer workouts, McCall built herself up as a force in the paint on both sides of the ball.

“[My teammates] pulled me off the to the sides in the summer and said, ‘T, you’re unstoppable. I hate playing against you, because you always score,’” McCall said. “They were right there, keeping my confidence up. They were like, ‘We have confidence in you. Take the shot. Get the rebound.’”

McCall showed her strength from early in the season, landing 14 points and eight rebounds in the team’s Nov. 12 win against Penn. She has been a consistent scoring option for the Cavaliers ever since, averaging 8.4 points per game. Her interior offense is an important option for Boyle, who has used her to give the opposing defense different looks. McCall has responded to Boyle’s recent strategic adjustments, scoring in double digits in five of the team’s last seven games.

“It’s not rocket science — if someone’s hot, you’ve got to give her the ball,” Boyle said. “We just try to put her in a position to get a good shot off, and she’s really converted.”

On the defensive end, McCall has been Virginia’s primary ball hawk in the paint, leading the team in rebounding in 10 of the team’s 21 games. Her eight rebounds per game are good enough to put her among the top 10 rebounders in the ACC.

McCall has invested considerable time and energy training to be a tough post presence, but Boyle also sees an innate ability for rebounding in the rugged forward.

“She’s just got a knack for being around the ball,” Boyle said. “She’s got a great confidence with her post partner in [senior center] Simone [Egwu]. She’s a quick twitch player, which means she can get off the ground really easily, and so she’s got a knack and a sense for where the ball’s coming off.”

The Cavaliers currently sit in fifth place in the ACC, and with matchups against punishing teams such as Duke and Maryland still looming ahead, McCall’s presence in the post is going to be crucial. For Virginia to make the NCAA tournament, the team needs to rack up more wins against top conference teams, and Boyle will be relying on strong performances from all of her players.

“We’re a little short-handed in [the post], so we need 40 minutes of their best basketball on both ends of the floor,” Boyle said. “That’s the great thing about Telia. For the most part she’s been able to keep herself out of foul trouble, and she’s in great shape, so she can play that 35 to 40 minutes for us.”

The task ahead is a tall one, but McCall has a quiet confidence. She embraces her role as the Cavaliers’ go-to player in the post, knowing full well that her teammates are relying on her consistent play. After three years of learning and training, she is relishing her time to shine.

“It feels great,” McCall said. “I’m glad that it’s finally coming through for me.”