CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Only four players who saw action for the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team last season are back.
The same is true for the Virginia women’s basketball team.
So both squads will be looking to newcomers, be they transfers or freshmen, to make contributions.
“The biggest challenge for us is just building that chemistry,” Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said of his team Thursday at ACC women’s basketball media day at a Charlotte hotel.
UVa has added five freshmen, and all of them will play this season.
“They’re just going to have to learn on the job,” Virginia coach Tina Thompson said. “All of them are going to have to contribute as much as they can.”
Virginia Tech, which is coming off its fourth straight NIT appearance, must replace a pair of All-ACC second-team picks from a squad that went 22-12 overall but just 6-10 in ACC play.
Regan Magarity, a WNBA draft pick who has signed with a team in Turkey, averaged 14.1 points and 12.8 rebounds as a senior. Taylor Emery averaged 19 points as a senior.
“You’re … looking for kids who are going to be able to step up and fill those minutes, those points, those shots,” Brooks said. “We have capable kids.
“I love the physical stature of the group. We’re getting bigger, we’re getting longer, we’re getting deeper.”
Dara Mabrey (11.2 ppg), who made the ACC all-freshman team last season, is back for the Hokies.
“My numbers will definitely go up … because of what we have to replace,” Mabrey said.
Also back are Trinity Baptiste (10.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Aisha Sheppard (7.4 ppg); and Kendyl Brooks, who will be undergoing exploratory hip surgery. Brooks could return to action by Christmastime.
The Hokies have added graduate transfers Taja Cole and Lydia Rivers.
Cole averaged 11.1 points as Georgia’s point guard last season, when she ranked fifth nationally with an average of 7.0 assists.
“She’s exciting to watch because she’s really fast,” Mabrey said.
Mabrey played point guard last season, but the arrival of Cole means Mabrey will also see action on the wing this year. Cole and Mabrey will play together in the lineup.
“[Cole] being able to take some of that [point guard] responsibility off of her, it allows her to be able to run free,” Kenny Brooks said of Mabrey. “We’re going to use her kind of like a little slot receiver in football. We’re going to move her around.”
Rivers made the All-Big South first team last season, when she averaged 12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Big South champion Highlanders.
“It’s going to take a little time for her to get comfortable because [Radford coach] Mike McGuire’s system is probably a little bit different than mine,” Brooks said.
Elizabeth Kitley, one of four freshmen who have joined the Hokies, will also help in the paint. The 6-foot-5 center was rated the No. 33 high school senior in the nation by ESPN.
“She’s going to see significant time inside,” Brooks said.
But Tech will miss Magarity, who was the leading rebounder in Tech and ACC history with 1,299.
“We need to focus on rebounding more because Regan, … she was just so good in every aspect,” Mabrey said.
Both Virginia Tech and UVa had depth and injury woes last year.
UVa went 12-19 overall last season — its first losing season in five years. The team went 5-11 in the ACC.
“You can’t have a season like that and not be motivated,” guard/forward Jocelyn Willoughby said. “It was a disappointing season for us, but I think some of the greatest seasons come from disappointment. You’ve seen that with our men. Not that we’re going to have the same level; maybe it’s not going to be quite a Cinderella story. But I think it’s … something that’s igniting us to work even harder.”
UVa has only 11 players this year, but it still boasts more depth than it did last winter.
“Having more players is exciting,” Willoughby said. “Our environment in practice has been better, just having better competition.”
“It also gives us a little more versatility and just allows us to do more things,” Thompson said. “Now we have the ability to be a little bit more complex.”
Willoughby (14.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is one of three returning starters, along with fellow seniors Dominique Toussaint (11.1 ppg) and Lisa Jablonowski (7.2 ppg).
Felicia Aiyeotan, who played in just seven games last season because of injuries, is also back. But there is no timetable on when the center will return to action.
Guard Amandine Toi, who missed the past two seasons with ACL injuries, will make her UVa debut at some point this season.
Former Purdue forward Dani Lawson will help the Cavaliers in the paint. She sat out last season after transferring.
“She brings an inside presence, and that was something we lacked last year,” Thompson said. “Dani plays strictly with her back to the basket.”
The freshmen include Shemera Williams, who was rated the No. 55 high school senior in the nation by ESPN.
UVa averaged just 58.6 points last season.
Will the team score more this year?
“I definitely think so,” Thompson said.