Willoughby

Virginia's Jocelyn Willoughby (13) was third on the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game and second in rebounding at 5.4 per game last season.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last season, the Virginia women’s basketball team ended a lengthy NCAA Tournament drought.

Virginia Tech hopes to do the same this season.

The Hokies have not made the NCAAs since 2006. But all seven players who saw action for Tech in the WNIT title game last March are back.

“It’s a lot of momentum that we have going into this year,” Hokies senior guard Taylor Emery said Tuesday at ACC media day at a Charlotte hotel. “After going through a lot of ups and downs and having to recreate our team a lot, just being able to get to that end point last year … showed how together we got and how much confidence we built from there. So going into this year, we’re bringing that confidence back because we got the whole crew again, and of course we’re bringing in new pieces.

“We’re going to do something special.”

UVa returns four starters from a team that made the NCAAs for the first time since 2010. The Cavaliers lost in the second round.

“It was our goal for last year, to get there, and now it’s just the standard,” UVa junior guard Dominique Toussaint said of the NCAAs. “We expect to be there, and we expect to go further.”

The Hokies return all five starters from a squad that went 23-14 overall but just 6-10 in ACC play.

“We have the team to do it,” coach Kenny Brooks said of making the NCAAs. “We have the experience.”

Tech has four seniors, including Emery, who made the All-ACC second team last season, and Regan Magarity, who already owns the Tech career rebounding record.

“We have so much potential,” said Magarity, a fifth-year senior forward. “The seniors, we’re so locked in because this is our last opportunity to reach the goals that we want.”

Last season, starting point guard Chanette Hicks left the Hokies after a Feb. 1 win at Syracuse. Rachel Camp had to move over from the wing to handle the point-guard chores.

The starting point guard in the Nov. 6 season opener against USC Upstate could be freshman Dara Mabrey. She is the younger sister of current Notre Dame star Marina Mabrey and former Notre Dame standout Michaela Mabrey.

“You would never know that she’s a freshman right now with the way she’s interacting with the group and how she’s leading them,” Brooks said.

Dara Mabrey was twice named the Gatorade player of the year for the state of New Jersey.

“She’s super competitive,” said Marina Mabrey, a Notre Dame senior. “She can shoot it from anywhere on the floor.

“She’s going to impact their team. I feel like she’s the missing piece. They have great guards. They have a great inside presence with Regan Magarity. They just need somebody to get them the ball.”

The Cavaliers went 19-14, 10-6 last season.

“We’re a little lacking in depth,” said rookie head coach Tina Thompson, a former University of Texas assistant. “But we do have a talented team.”

Thompson, a former WNBA star, was recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“She uses [her background] in a way not to say, ‘Oh, I’m a hall of famer, bow down to me,’ but more so saying, ‘I’ve been through everything that you’re doing. I know what we need to do as a team to be successful,’” forward Jocelyn Willoughby said.

UVa averaged 62.1 points last season under former coach Joanne Boyle, who stepped down for family reasons.

The Cavaliers will employ a more up-tempo offense this season.

“One of the things that we struggled with last year was scoring,” Willoughby said. “We’re going to run more. Transition’s going to be a big thing for us.”

ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, who once played with Thompson on the Houston Comets, said she expects Thompson will be a successful coach.

“There’s certain players when you’re playing with them at the WNBA level where you feel like they could be a really good coach. Their mind just seems to work that way. They communicate really well with their teammates. She was one of those,” Lobo said.

The Cavaliers will open the season at home Nov. 9 against 2018 NCAA Tournament runner-up Mississippi State.

“Having Mississippi State as our first game is a healthy fear,” Thompson said. “You can’t come into practice and half do anything and expect to be able to compete against them.”

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