Hall of Fame Head Coach Debbie Ryan has seen some pretty spectacular players during her 33 years at the helm of Virginia women’s basketball. Cathy Grimes. Donna Holt. Dawn Staley. They won national accolades, set records in their time, and had their numbers retired. Yet none of them scored as many points as current senior Monica Wright will when the sun sets on her college career.
“[Wright]’s an incredible leader,” says women’s head coach Debbie Ryan. “You can win a lot of games, but there’s a right way to win, and Monica always does it the right way.”
In all likelihood*, Wright set the Cavalier scoring record on Monday night against Maryland. The game ended too late for press time, but Wright needed only 16 points to surpass Staley’s career tally of 2135 points. She’s on pace to finish her career as the ACC’s third-best scorer.
Staley, now the head women’s basketball coach at South Carolina, is sanguine about ceding the record. “Monica Wright is a good player who works hard to do what the team needs to be successful,” says Staley by e-mail. “That’s the way I played during my career at Virginia, so it’s great that that type of player is overtaking my record.”
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Wright’s assault on the history books is how consistent she’s been. The 5’11" guard from Woodbridge, Virginia, has started every game of her career. As a freshman, Wright averaged 15 points per game and was named ACC Freshman of the Year. Last season Wright led the ACC in scoring, averaging 20.5 points per game, and made first team All-ACC honors. It was enough to put her on the national stage—this season, Wright was preseason All-America.
“She’s grown a lot,” says Ryan. Wright was quieter as a freshman, learning how to lead from point guard Sharneé Zoll. But Wright quickly took over as team roll model. “I thought that was kind of cool,” Ryan says, “watching her go through the paces of how to be an encourager, yet also having to be an enforcer, because she had never really been an enforcer before.”
Despite her leadership and prolific scoring, Wright still has some work to do to join the highest echelon of Virginia basketball. In particular, her teams haven’t had the postseason success of Staley’s teams. While Staley danced three times to the NCAA Final Four—and to the 1991 championship game—Wright hasn’t played in even a Sweet Sixteen. This season, Cavaliers are a solid 11-4 as they enter the conference gauntlet and vie for a place in the NCAA tournament.
Yet regardless what records, trophies or plaques she ends up taking home, Wright will have something at least as valuable: The esteem of her veteran coach.
“Everyone knows that her character is beyond reproach, and that to me is what makes her a great basketball player, that’s what makes her unique,” says Ryan. “I’m as proud of her for the person she is as I am for the player that she is.”
*UPDATE Tuesday, January 12: In the January 11 game against Maryland, Monica Wright scored 20 points, enough for the record, though the Cavs lost by one point.
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