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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Virginia women's basketball team aims for fresh start in season opener against JMU

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Virginia guard Amandine Toi, right, moves past Clemson guard Destiny Thomas during an ACC game last season.

After a tumultuous 2020-21 season that was limited to just five games due to a rash of injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia women’s basketball team is eager for fresh start for its 2021-22 campaign.

That fresh start begins on Tuesday night in Harrisonburg, when the Cavaliers take on James Madison at the Atlantic Union Bank Center.

As Virginia begins the fourth season of the Tina Thompson era, here are five things to know about Tuesday night’s matchup with the Dukes.

Long time coming

Tuesday night’s contest will be Virginia’s first game in nearly 11 months. The last time the Cavaliers competed in a game was Dec. 13, 2020 in a 69-51 loss to Florida State.

After that loss to the Seminoles, COVID-19 issues and a rash of injuries left the Cavaliers’ roster depleted. Over the rest of December and early January, Virginia had six consecutive games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols before the program decided to opt out of the remainder of the 2020-21 season on Jan. 14.

With a retooled and replenished roster, the Cavaliers are ready to return to action this season.

“Our girls are really, really excited to get back after it and compete,” Thompson said. “It’s been a long time coming. To actually be playing against someone other than ourselves or our practice guys is something that they are really, really excited about.”

Revamped roster

The Virginia team that takes the floor on Tuesday night will look much different than the one the Cavaliers fielded in limited action last season. UVa added four transfers and one true freshman to the roster during the offseason in an effort to provide an influx of talent and depth.

The Cavaliers are hoping to see a lot of production from graduate transfers Eleah Parker (Penn) and McKenna Dale (Brown), who both played at a high level in the Ivy League.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 post player, was a two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year as well as a three-time All-Ivy League selection at Penn. She enters this season as one of 20 players on the Lisa Leslie Award watch list.

Dale, a 6-foot guard, averaged 17 points per game and shot over 38% during the 2019-20 season at Brown. Neither Parker nor Dale had a chance to play last year after the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia also added forward Camryn Taylor and guard Taylor Valladay, who both transferred from Marquette. The one true freshman on the team is Annaliese Griffin, a 6-foot-1 guard from Joliet, Ill.

Player to watch

Amandine Toi played well during Virginia’s limited 2020-21 season, averaging 14 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in the five games the Cavaliers played.

After going scoreless in last year’s season opener against UCF, Toi scored in double figures in each of Virginia final four games, including a 23-point effort against Clemson.

Toi has faced numerous challenges during her time at UVa. She missed her first two college seasons due to injuries, then saw what was shaping up to be a productive 2020-21 season cut short due to COVID-19. But the Paris native has not let the obstacles deter her from getting better as a player and a leader.

“She’s an example of not feeling sorry for yourself,” Thompson said. “Of course, in the beginning, it was tough. It was a mental battle for her, but she trusted the process and she trusted us and was able to work past that and then grow from the experience. I think she is a tougher player because of that. Her game has grown.”

The growth should be on display this season for Toi, who is poised to have a breakout season for the Cavaliers.

We meet again

JMU was one of only five opponents that Virginia faced last season. The Dukes came to John Paul Jones Arena on Dec. 3 and earned a 71-67 win. JMU had three players score in double figures in the game, led by 16 points from Jamia Hazell. Anne Francoise Diouf finished just one point shy of a double-double (9 points, 10 rebounds) in the win.

Virginia had four players score in double figures in the loss to the Dukes, led by a then-career-high 17 points from Toi. Carole Miller added 16 points, five rebounds and six assists in the loss.

Virginia leads the all-time series with JMU, 16-10.

Familiar face

Current JMU guard Brianna Tinsley knows the Virginia women’s basketball program well.

The former St. Anne’s-Belfield standout spent two seasons with the Cavaliers before transferring to JMU following the 2018-19 season. After sitting out the 2019-20 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Tinsley was a solid contributor for the Dukes last season, averaging 5.1 points, 1.7 rebounds and a team-high 2.6 assists per game.

This will be Tinsley’s second time facing her former team. In last year’s matchup at JPJ Arena, she finished with nine points, six assists and three rebounds.

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