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Busy off-season builds excitement for rejuvenated women’s basketball program

Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has doubled down in her efforts since the end of a successful first season

<p>Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has re-energized a Cavalier program that looks to take another big step forward next season.</p>

Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has re-energized a Cavalier program that looks to take another big step forward next season.

The Virginia women’s basketball team took a sizable step forward in year one under Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton. The Cavaliers began their 2022-23 campaign with a 12-0 record, and in late December found themselves ranked in the USA Today Coaches poll for the first time since 2011.

Although a bad case of the injury bug and a brutal ACC schedule slowed Virginia down during the second half of the season, there was still plenty of reason for fans to be encouraged. The Cavaliers earned a postseason invitation to play in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament — which they turned down due to a lack of available players — and average attendance at John Paul Jones Arena doubled from the 2021-22 season to the 2022-23 season. 

Early this off-season, Agugua-Hamilton and her staff have been busy in the transfer portal and on the recruiting circuit, giving Virginia fans lots of encouraging news and more reasons to be optimistic.

Transfers

The Cavaliers have added two key pieces to their roster through the transfer portal so far this off-season — rising sophomore Paris Clark and graduate transfer Taylor Lauterbach.

Clark, a 5’8” guard from The Bronx, was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school before she committed to play for Arizona. A 2022 McDonald's All-American from Long Island Lutheran High School, Clark averaged over 25 points and 8 rebounds per game during her high school career and earned New York State Gatorade Player of the Year honors after her senior season.

Clark was limited by an injury early in her freshman year at Arizona but saw an increased role as the season progressed. She’s a three-level scorer who will be a weapon on both sides of the floor for the Cavaliers. 

The addition of Clark also means that Virginia’s 2023-24 roster will feature four former McDonald’s All-Americans — Clark, graduate forward Sam Brunelle, who will be returning to Charlottesville after a foot injury cut her season short, rising senior guard Mir McLean and rising freshman guard Kymora Johnson. The collection of highly rated players is a testament to Coach Agugua-Hamilton’s prowess on the recruiting and transfer portal trail, especially considering that Virginia failed to recruit McDonald’s All-Americans for over a decade prior.

The Cavaliers’ second transfer-portal addition, Lauterbach, is a 6’7” center from Appleton, W.I., who played the last three seasons at Kansas State. A former top-100 prospect, Lauterbach played limited minutes at Kansas State but was a force on the boards and a shot-blocking threat when she was on the floor.

Lauterbach provides much-needed height to an otherwise undersized Virginia frontcourt. Additionally, she earned a spot on the 2022 Academic All-Big 12 first team.

Recruiting

In addition to adding through the transfer portal, the Cavaliers also bolstered their roster by landing a commitment from Edessa Noyan, a 6’3” forward from Botkyrka, Sweden.

Noyan gives the Cavaliers more size up front but also has the ability to put the ball on the floor. She played the last several seasons for Sodertalje BBK, a club in Sweden’s top women’s basketball division, where she averaged 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season.

At the 2022 U18 Nordic Championships, Noyan showed her ability to be both an elite scorer and rebounder. She averaged 18.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as she led Sweden to the title.

Noyan’s experience playing against older competition overseas allows her to be an asset to the Cavaliers by being well-prepared for the bigs of the ACC. Her size and rebounding ability paired with intriguing handles make for an exciting commitment to a Cavalier team that looks to compete hard in the paint. 

Noyan joins Virginia’s 2023 recruiting class, which already features a pair of top-50 recruits in Johnson and Olivia McGhee.

Speaking of Johnson, the 5’8” five-star recruit from St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville became the Cavaliers’ first women’s basketball signee to play at the McDonald’s All-American game since 2009 last month.

Johnson, who repeated as the Gatorade Virginia Girls Basketball Player of the Year after averaging 22.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 4.4 steals per game last season, helped the “West” team to a 110-102 victory in the contest.

Johnson’s smooth assist in the first quarter gave Virginia fans a preview of her elite playmaking ability, but it was her performance in the three-point contest the night before the game that stole the show. Johnson drained 17 of 25 shots during the final round of the competition, posting a score of 20 on her way to victory in the “2023 JamFest 3-point shootout.”

Johnson is cause for plenty of excitement for Cavalier fans. The last time a hometown high schooler won the shootout was when Brunelle did so in 2019. Virginia was not an attractive location for recruits at the time and Brunelle committed to Notre Dame before returning last season. The program has since taken strides under Agugua-Hamilton, and the Cavaliers can now retain electric homegrown talent. Her future in orange and blue will be a testament to just how far the program has come. 

With most of their core group returning from last season to go along with a great recruiting class and the addition of two key transfers, the Cavaliers will look to take another big step forward next season.

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