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October 17, 2012

Round 2

By: Marc Mullen

Virginia Tech women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff enters his second season as the head coach at Tech and will have more weapons at his disposal this season

Porschia Hadley

Season 1 of women’s basketball at Virginia Tech under head coach Dennis Wolff began rather promising. After the first week of ACC play, Tech held a respectable 6-9 overall record, but was unblemished in the conference after picking up two road wins to start the league slate.

However, a team that entered preseason featuring just nine scholarship players and three walk-ons had suffered a few bumps in the road – a midseason transfer and an injury cost Tech two low-post players – and a depleted lineup eventually caught up to the Hokies, as they dropped 14 of their final 15 games.

Season 2 begins with the Hokies fielding a 14-player roster, one that includes nine returners, one junior-college transfer and four freshmen. Wolff will have some depth at his disposal, which will help to keep players fresher and less drained as the season takes its toll.

“Overall, I expect to see improvement in every area from where we were last year,” Wolff said. “I thought that we established a pretty good idea of how we wanted to play. I thought the girls played pretty hard. Now, with us having increased depth and more people to turn to, I hope that we can be more efficient, particularly on offense.”

Wolff will lean on the experience of his upperclassmen. That group includes two seniors and two juniors, each of whom played in all 30 games last year and started a combined 113 games.

Guards Aerial Wilson and Alyssa Fenyn, both seniors, and junior guard Monet Tellier each logged more than 1,000 minutes, with their per-game averages of 35.6, 35.4 and 34.1 ranking second, third and fifth, respectively, among all ACC players last year. Junior forward Porschia Hadley saw more than 25 minutes per game.

Tellier finished 10th in the ACC in scoring a year ago at 13.7 points per game, while Wilson was 20th at 12.1 per game. Fenyn finished third on the team in scoring at 7.8. The trio was also 1-2-3 on the team in assists and steals, with Fenyn eking out an 88-87 edge on Wilson in assists (Tellier 73) and edging Tellier in steals 49-46 (Wilson 41).

Fenyn and Hadley are the top rebounders on the squad, with Fenyn grabbing 140, including 52 off the offensive glass, and Hadley with a total of 117 to go with her team-high 15 blocks.

“All the girls who are returning spent a lot of time in the gym this summer. They worked hard, and I think, from top to bottom, they’ve improved,” Wolff said. “They set a pretty good example for all the new kids. So I would be surprised if Aerial, Monet, Alyssa and Porschia don’t have the best years that they’ve had, and I think Nia [Evans] is healthy, where she wasn’t healthy last year. So I’m very happy with the way they approached last spring, the summer and the preseason.”

The newcomers include three international forwards, a necessity for the Hokies, in 6-foot-1 junior-college transfer Uju Ugoka from Lagos, Nigeria, and Canadians Alex Kiss-Rusk, a 6-4 freshman from Montreal, Quebec, and Taijah Campbell, a 6-3 freshman from Ajax, Ontario. Technically, the foreign player count jumps to four when Australian Hanna Young, a 6-1 freshman, joins the team in January.

“In terms of our recruiting, our No. 1 priority will remain trying to get kids from the state of Virginia,” Wolff said. “I think that, because of how late we were hired and everything that went into it, we’ve had to stay fluid with the recruiting situation throughout the year, and we tried to get the best kids that we could get given where we were at and where those kids were at in their recruiting situations.

“So I’m happy about everyone that we took. I am disappointed that Hanna still has to work on her eligibility situation, but I think that Uju will impact us immediately. She has already with how hard she plays, and she’s got experience at the college level. I think she’s going to be someone that will give us a different scoring option than we had in the post last year.

“I think Taijah and Alex are talented kids with a lot of potential who are going to be needing to learn the pace that you have to play at in college.”

Rounding out Wolff’s first recruiting class are guards Lauren Evans, a 6-0 freshman from Phoenix, Ariz., and Alexis Lloyd, a 5-9 freshman from Chicago, Ill.

“We gravely needed some perimeter depth,” Wolff said. “I think that Lauren and Alexis along with Kelsey [Conyers], who has improved, will give us three other people there, so we can rest the starters. It makes us look a little bit different.”

What may also make the Hokies look a little bit different is their uniform. Last season, Tech toured all over the country, with stops in Washington, D.C., California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida, South Carolina and Massachusetts. The Hokies played just six home games among their first 17 contests.

In a stark contrast, this season will see the team in Blacksburg 10 times in its first 12 games and leaving the state just once for a game at Michigan State. The Hokies will also welcome a number of highly attractive teams to Cassell Coliseum.

“What we tried to do is this, when I got the job, there were a lot of areas here that people wanted to see some things changed,” Wolff said. “They wanted to see better home games, so we will play Penn State here, we’ll play Wisconsin here and we’ll play Old Dominion here. And I think if we are going to try and recruit the type of kids we want to recruit, you have to have a challenging schedule from beginning to end.

“If you play a good, tough nonconference schedule, it prepares you for the conference schedule. Obviously, this conference schedule thing is a bear, and it’s only going to get harder. So it’s a tough schedule overall, and I think we also have a bunch of home games, which we didn’t have last year and that is nice.

“We’re also starting a series with Michigan State, where they’ll come back next year. We want to play some in-state schools, so we are playing Richmond, Hampton and Old Dominion. So I think in terms of the schedule, we’ve improved it.”

In all, the Hokies will play 18 home games this year, their most ever in a single season, and that even includes the years when Tech served as the hosts for postseason tournaments. The schedule will give Tech fans many opportunities to witness first-hand the rebuilding job Wolff and his staff have put forth in trying to restore the program to the days when the Hokies made postseason tournaments.