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Virginia women’s basketball prepares for first season under leadership of Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton

Expectations for the Cavaliers are on the rise following an eventful offseason

<p>With several new faces and a plethora of returning talent, the Cavaliers look to make strides forward in their first season under new Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton&nbsp;</p>

With several new faces and a plethora of returning talent, the Cavaliers look to make strides forward in their first season under new Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton 

With the 2022-23 season fast approaching, the Virginia women’s basketball team is hoping for a fresh start under new Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton.

Following a disappointing 2021-22 campaign in which the Cavaliers went just 5-22 overall, including a 2-14 record in the ACC, Athletic Director Carla Williams made the difficult decision to terminate the contract of former coach Tina Thompson. In her four years at the helm of the program, Thompson’s squads struggled to find their footing, amassing a 30-63 record overall and finishing below .500 each season.

Succeeding Thompson is Agugua-Hamilton, who takes on the challenge of rebuilding the struggling program. Agugua-Hamilton is a Virginia native who graduated from Oakton High School in Vienna before playing college ball at Hofstra. After her playing days, Agugua-Hamilton went on to be on the coaching staffs at VCU, Indiana, Old Dominion and Michigan State, before becoming the head coach of Missouri State in 2019. 

In just three seasons at Missouri State, Agugua-Hamilton achieved a lot. Her Lady Bears posted an impressive 74-15 record, won two MVC regular-season titles, and made two NCAA Tournament appearances which included a run to the Sweet 16 in 2021. Agugua-Hamilton also earned the honor of MVC Coach of the Year in both 2020 and 2021.

In a difficult ACC, achieving similar success right off the bat will be a lofty challenge, but Virginia fans should hope to see the implementation of a new vision for the program and some significant steps in the right direction on the court. 

Shape of the roster

The Cavaliers — who were projected to finish 11th in the ACC’s preseason poll — return seven players from last season’s roster — Senior forwards Camryn Taylor and London Clarkson, senior guards Taylor Valladay and Carole Millerm, junior guards Mir McLean and Kaydan Lawson, and graduate student guard McKenna Dale.

Joining Virginia are freshmen guards Yonta Vaughan and Cady Pauley as well as two transfers — graduate student forward Sam Brunelle from Notre Dame and junior guard Alexia Smith from Minnesota.

The Cavaliers are hoping for a big year from Taylor, a 6-foot-2 forward who led the team with 12.8 points per game last season before taking a leave of absence after 12 games for personal reasons.

Brunelle — who was recently named to the preseason watch list for the Katrina McClain Award which recognizes the nation’s best power forward — is a major addition for Virginia. A 6-foot-2 forward who grew up in Virginia and was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Brunelle played three seasons for Notre Dame, where she battled through injuries while appearing in 80 games. She brings a lot to the table for the Cavaliers offensively including the ability to stretch the floor from deep while also being highly efficient around the basket — she led the Fighting Irish in shooting percentage on 2-point field goals last season at 56.9 percent.

Several other returning veterans will also be important pieces for Virginia. McLean was a force for the Cavaliers last season after transferring to Virginia midway through the season. She led the squad with 8.3 rebounds per game while also scoring in double figures in eight of her 11 games as a Cavalier. Valladay also returns for Virginia after leading the team in both assists and steals a season ago.

Overall, Virginia enters the season with a veteran-heavy roster which has hopefully helped make the transition to a new coaching regime easier. The development of some important contributors from last season as well as the addition of Brunelle and others make this a much more balanced roster than what Cavalier fans saw last season.

The schedule

Virginia will get a chance to stack some wins in non-conference play beginning with the season opener on Nov. 7 against George Washington inside John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers then host UMBC Nov. 10 before getting an early ACC matchup against Wake Forest Nov. 13.

After the bout with the Demon Deacons, Virginia begins a long stretch against non-conference opponents highlighted by a pair of games against Big Ten opponents — versus Minnesota Nov. 26 and at Penn State Nov. 30 in the ACC/B1G Challenge.

Cavalier fans will truly get to see what Agugua-Hamilton’s squad is made of when the main stretch of ACC play gets underway in late December, beginning with a trip to Durham, N.C. to take on Duke on Dec. 21.

Five ACC teams begin the season ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 — No. 7 Louisville, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 10 NC State, No. 12 North Carolina and No. 13 Virginia Tech — and two others received votes as well — Miami and Duke.

After a trip to the Final Four last season, No. 7 Louisville is projected to once again be a powerhouse in the conference despite a revamped roster. The Cardinals received 31 out of 60 first-place votes in the preseason ACC poll. Virginia will get their shot against Louisville Feb. 9 in Charlottesville.

No. 13 Virginia Tech earned the number two position in the ACC preseason poll — its highest-ever preseason ranking — after bringing back the reigning conference player of the year in junior center Elizabeth Kitley and grabbing a third-team All-American from the transfer portal. The Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg Jan. 5 and host the Hokies Jan. 29.

With a new coach, veteran leadership in the locker-room, and some key additions to the roster, Virginia should be much more competitive in the ACC and can realistically hope to find themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble come March.

The season gets underway Monday inside John Paul Jones Arena at 7 p.m. against George Washington as part of a women’s-men’s double-header. Coverage will be on ACC Network Extra.

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