Thirty years later, UVA is 8-0 for the first time since 1992-93. Nobody’s predicting a deep run in the NCAA Tournament for this team, but in the Wahoos’ first season under head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, they’re erasing memories of the program’s recent struggles.
After the Hoos advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s second round in 2017-18 – their final season under head coach Joanne Boyle – success became harder to achieve. They posted a 12-19 overall record in 2018-19, their first under Tina Thompson.
The Cavaliers went 13-17 in 2019-20, and they were 0-5 when their 2020-21 season was canceled because of concerns about the team’s health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last season, the Hoos finished 5-22 and Thompson was dismissed as head coach. Agugua-Hamilton, who goes by “Coach Mox,” was hired to revive a program that, under Debbie Ryan, was a fixture in the NCAA Tournament and made three Final Four appearances.
Agugua-Hamilton arrived with impressive credentials. In three seasons as Missouri State University’s head coach, she posted a 74-15 record, including a 46-6 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference. Her assistant coaches at Missouri State – Alysiah Bond, Tori Jankoska and CJ Jones – followed her to Charlottesville, as did strength and conditioning coach Chris Toland.
From the new coaching staff’s first workouts in the spring with the Cavaliers’ seven returning players – Camryn Taylor, Mir McLean, London Clarkson, Taylor Valladay, Carole Miller, Kaydan Lawson and McKenna Dale – Agugua-Hamilton expressed optimism about the team’s prospects. The addition of four newcomers – freshmen Yonta Vaughan and Cady Pauley and transfers Sam Brunelle (University of Notre Dame) and Alexia Smith (University of Minnesota) – bolstered her confidence.
“I told them even in preseason that we could be really, really good,” Agugua-Hamilton said Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena. “Once it really clicks and we play together and just understand we get confidence from our preparation, we can be good. And I tell them [that] all the time and it’s something that I truly believe. … I take it one game at a time, for sure, but I go into the games very confident because I believe in the talent we have and the character we have and then also the family we have.”
Brunelle came to UVA from a winning program, so this success is nothing new for her. For the players who endured the Cavaliers’ 2021-22 season, though, the turnaround has been especially gratifying.
“One hundred percent,” said Dale, who joined the UVA program last year after graduating from Brown University. “I think we’ve really moved forward as a program. We keep in our minds what happened last season, but I think as a team, we’re just focused on this year and what we can do, and our coaches did a great job prepping us for this season.