Coach Shannon Wells had a massive project ahead of her when she accepted the Virginia Women’s Volleyball head coaching job in 2021. Before her tenure, the Cavaliers finished dead-last in the ACC standings twice out of the previous four years.
Wells inherited a team that went 0-11 in ACC play the previous year with a 2-12 overall record. Worse, the former Florida associate head coach entered with another disadvantage — recruiting. Volleyball recruiting happens early, approximately two years in advance.
“At that time, I'd been in the SEC for 11 years,” Wells said. “I really didn't have a ton of experience in the ACC… didn't know our own team, and our strengths and our weaknesses.”
Wells and the coaching staff instantly had to look ahead to the 2023 recruiting class. While they would coach the team for two years before then, the Wells era wouldn’t fully be underway until the first set of 2023.
In 2022, the ACC continued to be a thorn in the side of Wells’ squad during her second year. They finished with a 4-14 record in ACC play last season, compared to a 12-17 overall record. Entering her third season as coach, Wells finally has her first Virginia recruits on the roster.
Almost half of the 16 personnel roster are newcomers for the 2023 season, with the purpose of barging the squad to new heights, both figuratively and physically. All of the freshmen in the 2023 recruiting class, except for the libero position, are at least six-foot-two.
“The biggest difference [from] last year to this year is, with seven new people — our potential is so high,” Wells said. “There's chances for more people to come in and compete and take our team to a new level.”
The biggest headline in the offseason for Virginia was securing the transfer of junior libero Milan Gomillion from Maryland. Despite more pressing positional needs, Virginia’s heads were immediately turned to Gomillion, who stood out in the transfer portal like a sore thumb.
“Milan was the best player [in the portal] and there wasn't an immediate need,” Wells said. “I have three other players that have experienced that libero and felt really comfortable going into the season with all three of those athletes. But at the end of the day, my job is to recruit the best players in the country and help us win.”
Gomillion is considered one of the premier liberos in the league for the past two years she has played for the Terrapins. A defensive specialist, Gomillion led the entire Big 10 with 4.67 digs per set as a freshman. Gomillion’s impact on the Cavaliers has been immediate. The transfer is currently leading the team in digs and has played every single set possible for the Cavaliers.
Wells used her SEC history to secure graduate student outside hitter Ciera “CiCi” Hecht from Texas A&M. The two had crossed paths before, with Wells coaching from the Florida sideline while Hecht played outside hitter for the Aggies.
“I've just always admired her game,” Wells said about Hecht. “She's an undersized outside. Just a little baller, little chip on her shoulder, always found her way on the court”
An Honorable Mention All-American by both Under Armour and PrepVolleyball.com, her experience in the SEC for Texas A&M has been visible on the court for Virginia. Hecht is currently fourth on the team in kills this season and has played the majority of sets.
Another graduate student, setter Regan Trueblood arrives in Virginia from Illinois Springfield, a Division II program, though she spent her freshman year in Division I at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. Having played Division II volleyball herself, Wells knew Trueblood’s level of competition well.
“We needed somebody that could add some tempo to what we were doing,” Wells said. “The best Division II teams can beat any… of the smaller mid-major division one schools”
Trueblood had a full-time job by the time Wells called her about the opportunity to play for Virginia. The setter jumped at the opportunity and is currently on an eight-month break from work to play for the Cavaliers, where she looks to be a nice, effective, rotation piece for Wells.
Freshman outside hitter Lauryn Bowie was the first recruit to commit to Virginia under Wells’ regime. Recruited from Westerville, Ohio, the six-foot-two outside hitter racked up the accolades in her high school career.
“We knew she had an elite arm,” Wells said of the recruiting process. “She [played] right side for a really top level club in the country, and then she played outside for high school. So we always knew that she had potential.”
Bowie has been a key player for the Cavaliers in the first few matches of the season, and her role will only continue to grow this year. She is currently second on the team for kills.
A Raleigh native, freshman defensive specialist Meredith Reeg made waves in the North Carolina high school volleyball circuit as a dual-threat defensive specialist and libero. Reeg garnered national recognition, earning spots on the AVCA All-American Watch List and the JVA Watch List.
“Meredith was somebody that we targeted a while ago — she'd been committed for over a year, [we] really felt that she can contribute right away to our program from a defensive perspective,” Wells said. “She's jumped in really well and been able to contribute.”
Reeg has been a reliable option off the bench during her Freshman year, even winning the game for the Cavaliers against UMBC on September 10th with an ace.
Lily Gervase & Nala Cornegy
Alongside instant contributors, Wells secured depth and sustainability in a pair of tall middle blockers. A Raleigh native and club teammate of Reeg’s, freshman middle blocker Lily Gervase joins the class standing at six-foot-four, instantly making her one of the tallest players on the squad. Gervase has found her way into some sets but hasn’t been as involved as Reeg.
Standing at six-foot-three, freshman middle blocker Nala Cornegy was the second to officially commit to Wells’ class of 2023. Originally hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Cornegy played high school volleyball in Virginia at Episcopal High School, ranked as the 19th best recruit in the state by PrepDig.com.
With the influx of new talent, Wells is ready for her team to take the next level, while attributing a successful transition to the initiative of the returning players. By the time the coaches walked into the gym in August, the players already had a good feel for each other, according to Wells.
“We just try to keep a really close eye on them and keep building those relationships on-and-off the court, and be really clear and honest about what their roles are and where they need to improve,” Wells said. “I think that that process has worked really well for our program.”
While Wells secured the Virginia job in 2021, this 2023 season is the first time we see her team-building skills in action. The Cavaliers, currently sitting at 7-3 after their early-season tournaments, will face their first ACC test in Chapel Hill, North Carolina Sept. 22 against North Carolina. Later this season they will host Virginia Tech in John Paul Jones Arena— a testament to the strides the program has made under Wells.
“This is going to be a fun team. Because where we started the first week, definitely will not be where we end at the end of the week, or the end of the year.”