Coach Kristen Salyer’s Cavaliers enter the 2018 campaign with only two seniors and two juniors on the roster. The remainder of the 15-woman roster features six sophomores and five freshmen.
The Cavaliers struggled through a 6-24 season last year, which included a 2-14 Mountain East Conference record.
Salyer said a year of experience in the MEC will make Virginia-Wise an improved squad in the coming season.
“We had a lot of freshmen last year and we depended on freshmen. They didn’t have a lot of game experience and we lacked a little in leadership as well,” Salyer said. “I don’t necessarily think our talent has improved as much as just our experience and leadership. I think that this same team will get much better than they did last year just by having that.
“We’re adding five freshmen that I think are also very talented and will come in and at least fight for roles immediately and then push the upper classmen. I think our depth will be a little bit better because of that. And obviously the leadership that we’ve kind of gained and then just going through our spring season. I feel a lot more confident about that as well.”
The leadership for the Cavs starts with returning second-team All-MEC pick Ciara Kain.
The 6-foot senior outside hitter from Northern Virginia made big improvements on the floor last season for the Cavs and closed with an average of 12.3 kills per match.
“She had a phenomenal junior season, maybe better than anyone expected her to,” Salyer said of Kain. “We’ll definitely be looking to her to put the ball down in tight situations.”
Kain seems poised and ready to improve, citing a particular personal ambition.
“This year the goal is to get first-team All-MEC after getting second team last year,” Kain said.
As for team goals, Kain is looking to lead by example, especially for the younger players.
“It’s hard to come into college. It’s a completely different game than high school. They really stepped it up and I’m super excited to see what they do with how much they’ve improved,” she said.
Virginia-Wise’s other senior is former Gate City star Kyra Jessee, a defensive specialist Salyer looks to for leadership on and off the floor.
“One of the best things about her is how unselfish she is and she puts her team first no matter what,” Salyer said of the 5-9 Jessee. “She’s a kid that every single kid in the nation wants to have on their team. She’s a phenomenal teammate.
“Everyone looks to her and they see how hard she works every day and she’s just a motivator for everyone else on the court.”
Jessee steps into the leadership role like she does everything else — with plenty of enthusiasm.
“I’m loud on the court. I’m always talking,” she said. “Always behind somebody telling them what they can do, what they can do better, and they’re telling me the same thing.”
She said she didn’t have a lot of confidence coming into the program as a freshman. But now Jessee looks to instill more confidence not only in herself, but also in her younger teammates.
“I hope to help these freshmen so they can come in with more confidence. And our sophomores did well last year, last spring season. So it’s important to build on that,” Jessee said.
Salyer said she is looking for big things up front from Madelyn Lawrence and Brook Abbott, both sophomore middle blockers. The duo had strong springs in off-season practices.
Junior Morgan Milligan also returns as a setter, but she may move to more of a defensive role. Salyer is also expecting sophomore setter Makayla Ledford, a graduate of Daniel Boone, to take a strong role.
Among the five freshmen pushing for playing time are Dobyns-Bennett alum Abigail Byington, Lee High grad Claudia Alsup and Abingdon’s Matelyn Gibson
The Cavaliers open the season Aug. 28 at Milligan.