The banner uncoiled from the rafters of John Paul Jones Arena, forever retiring Virginia senior Monica Wright’s No. 22 jersey. Most of the 6,264 fans that attended the Cavaliers’ 55-46 win over rival Virginia Tech on Sunday stayed long after the buzzer sounded, celebrating the Woodbridge native who has cemented her spot as one of the finest players in Virginia women’s basketball history.
Wright played her final home game on Sunday and was the lone senior honored on a day when the Cavaliers (21-8, 9-5 ACC) clinched the No. 3 seed in this week’s conference tournament.
The post-game ceremony included a video presentation with words of praise and appreciation from her teammates. Wright spoke, thanking God, each member of the coaching staff, her teammates, her parents and Virginia’s fans.
“I tried not to look at the coaches, because they were all tearing up,” Wright said. “I didn’t want to cry.
“I was just in my head going through all the people I wanted to thank. Just trying to make sure my speech was intact.”
The afternoon was more fulfilling because of the victory. Wright broke Virginia’s scoring record in a Jan. 11 loss to Maryland, creating a bittersweet evening. Sunday’s ceremony would not have been as heartwarming for everyone involved had the Cavaliers lost to the Hokies (15-14, 4-10).
Wright started the game sluggish as a result of end-of-season exhaustion and received intravenous therapy at halftime to bolster her for the second half. She finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, while the rest of her teammates shot only 25.8 percent from the field and together barely outscored the Cavaliers’ star.
“Let’s have a big party and welcome her to the WNBA and level out that playing field,” Virginia Tech Coach Beth Dunkenberger said.
Before Wright departs, there remains a burden to overcome. Virginia has not reached the regionals of the NCAA tournament since 2000 after becoming a regular during the 1990s.
As Ryan said before the season started, it helps that Virginia has Wright. She has received all-ACC honors three times during her career, and will soon add a fourth. It continues a career that started at Forest Park High, where she led the Bruins in scoring in each of her four seasons, was a three-time All-Met and was the 2006 All-Met Player of the Year.
Ryan emphasized that Wright’s legacy will be entrenched as much for her off-the-court persona, where she has remained a model citizen during her time at Virginia. Teammates spoke about Wright’s example in the classroom and her willingness to stop and talk with kids and fulfill autograph requests.
Young girls filled John Paul Jones Arena on Sunday with shirts featuring Wright’s No. 22. Those shirts will likely give way to a new crop of Virginia stars in coming seasons, but Wright is “honored” to know that her jersey was retired.
Virginia returns everyone next year, except Wright, the current crop of Freshman were the #3 ranked recruiting class in the country by Blue Star.