To say that the 2020-21 UVA volleyball season was tumultuous would be a severe understatement.
The Cavaliers played the season during a global pandemic and recorded a disappointing 2-12 record with their lone victories coming over the Citadel and Old Dominion. With six games left on the schedule, the rest of UVA’s season was cancelled as the entire coaching staff was relieved of their duties on March 18th.
A month-long coaching search concluded with UVA athletic director Carla Williams announcing the hiring of Shannon Wells, who served on the staff of the Florida Gators volleyball team for the last seven years, primarily as the program’s recruiting coordinator. Florida won three SEC titles and reached the 2017 NCAA championship game during Wells’ time in Gainesville.
“We are very excited to have Shannon Wells as Virginia’s head volleyball coach,” Williams said. “She is a perfect fit for who we are currently and what we aspire to be as a volleyball program… She is very highly regarded and respected across the country in volleyball. We’re ready to get started under her direction.”
Wells previously served on the staff at Ole Miss, Winthrop, and Southern Indiana, her alma mater. Wells spent the last seven years coaching alongside Florida head coach Mary Wise, a legend in the sport of volleyball who has taken the Gators to the NCAA tournament in each of her 30 seasons as coach, including eight Final Four appearances.
The Virginia volleyball program has not had a winning season since 2015 and has only qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice (1998 and 1999) in the school’s history.
“I’m so excited to be the head coach of Virginia volleyball and to start building an elite program,” Wells said. “For me, it’s always been about surrounding yourself with the right people and Virginia has some of the best in college athletics.”
UVA has a number of experienced players coming back this season. Mattison Matthews, a junior middle blocker, set a Virginia freshman record in 2019 for hitting percentage with a .382 season average, which was also the second-best hitting record in school history. Redshirt junior outsider hitter Grace Turner suffered a knee injury in 2019, but was third on the team in kills with 212 her first year at UVA in 2018 and recorded 93 kills in the abbreviated 2020 season. With the graduation of four-year starting setter Megan Wilson, junior Maddie Boylston should slide into the starting setter’s spot. Boylston appeared in 24 matches in 2019, including a 25-assist performance in a win over Elon. Kristen Leland, a senior defensive specialist, has appeared in 59 career matches and had ten digs against NC State last season.
The Cavaliers also have a number of talented incoming players, led by graduate transfer Alana Walker, who led the Northwestern Wildcats in blocks in each of her three seasons in Chicago.
The Cavaliers open their season with a tournament at College Park, Maryland. UVA will play against Maryland on August 27th and then Hofstra and Central Connecticut State on August 28th. Virginia will then host a tournament at Memorial Gymnasium, where they will play Akron on September 3rd and Winthrop on September 4th. UVA will play VCU and Ohio State in Richmond on September 10th and 11th before returning home to play Bellarmine and Georgetown on September 17th and Fairleigh Dickinson on September 18th to close out their non-conference schedule.
Virginia begins ACC play with three straight road matches at NC State (Sept. 24), North Carolina (Sept. 26), and Pittsburgh (Sept. 29). UVA then has a three-game home stand versus Duke (Oct. 3), Georgia Tech (Oct. 8), and Clemson (Oct. 10). The Cavaliers are then back on the road for four consecutive games at Florida State (Oct. 15), Miami (Oct. 17), Louisville (Oct. 22), and Notre Dame (Oct. 24), followed by another four home games against Virginia Tech (Oct. 29), Wake Forest (Oct. 31), Boston College (Nov. 5), and Syracuse (Nov. 7). UVA’s final four games of the regular season are at Wake Forest on November 12th, at home against North Carolina on November 14th and against NC State on November 20th, and at Boston College on November 26th in the regular season finale.