Neither is 6' 4" senior forward Cierra Bravard of Florida State (24--8; 11--3), who led the Seminoles in points (15), rebounds (7.8), blocks (.84) and field goal percentage (54.5). "Cierra understands angles, she is strong, and she finishes," says coach Sue Semrau. "And she is an exceptional defender."
We know this much about North Carolina (28--9; 8--6): The Tar Heels can and will go fast. Beyond that, coach Sylvia Hatchell faces a few uncertainties as she tries to make up for the 36.5 points per game she lost with three departed senior starters. One is frontcourt depth: Until 6' 6" junior center Waltiea Rolle, the ACC's leading shot blocker the last two years, returns from having a baby (due in early November), UNC will rely on 6' 5" senior center Chay Shegog (8.9 ppg; 4.9 rpg) and 6' 1" senior forward Laura Broomfield (8.0 ppg; 7.8 rpg), who were both among the ACC's top 10 in field goal percentage last year.
Georgia Tech (24--11; 9--5) will miss the versatility of 6' 1" Alex Montgomery (13.9 ppg; 8.6 rpg) the first ACC player selected in the 2011 WNBA draft. But the Wreck has other good parts. Five seniors, including point guard Metra Walthour (8.9 ppg; 3.8 apg) and center Sasha Goodlett (9.9 ppg; 5.8 rpg), will keep up Tech's signature defensive pressure, while sophomore guard Tyaunna Marshall, who scored 23 points in a 71--51 loss to No. 1 UConn last year, will keep defenses honest.
North Carolina State (14--17; 4--10) may be undersized—only one of last year's regular starters was over 6 feet—but led by scrappy 5' 11" senior forward Bonae Holston, the ACC's top returning rebounder (8.4 rpg) and third-leading scorer (16.3 ppg), the team gets its share of boards. But the Wolfpack will have to improve its defense (its 40.8 field goal percentage defense and 71.3 points allowed were both worst in the league) if it wants to break into the top half of the ACC.
The good news for Joanne Boyle, the new coach at Virginia (19--16; 5--9), is that the Cavs have their top four leading scorers back. The bad news is that none of them averaged in double figures last year. Look for 5' 11" sophomore guard Ataira Franklin, whose 47.8% three-point shooting, 9.4 points and 4.3 boards earned her a spot on the ACC All-Freshman team, to break out.
No ACC team lost as much as Boston College (20--13; 5--9) did with the graduations of three seniors who combined for 43.2 points, 20.3 rebounds and 8.2 assists a game in 2010--11. In what could be a long rebuilding year, the Eagles will count on junior guard Kerri Shields (11.0), sophomore forward Kristen Doherty (9.0 ppg; 4.9 rpg) and junior transfer Alyssa Fressle, a 38.1% three-point shooter as a sophomore at Colorado.
Last year Wake Forest (15--17; 5--9) shot an ACC-worst 27.2% from behind the arc. Help will come with the return of fifth-year senior Camille Collier, who made 115 three-pointers in three years before sitting out last season with a right ACL injury. Wake also gets back four starters, including 6' 3" junior center Sandra Garcia, whose 56.0% shooting from the field was second best in the ACC last year.
Clemson (10--20; 3--11) may not get many more wins in year two under coach Itoro Coleman, but with more consistent scoring from 6' 3" senior center Shaniqua Pauldo (8.7 ppg; 4.3 rpg) and strong interior defense from 6' 4" senior post Lindsey Mason, whose 1.5 blocks were fifth in the ACC last year, the Tigers will be a dangerous opponent every night.
At Virginia Tech (11--19; 1--13) first-year coach Dennis Wolff has called taking over the Hokies "probably the biggest challenge of my coaching career." And that's not just because the former Boston University men's coach has never coached a women's team. The program he takes over has finished last in the ACC for four straight years, and the chances for a big leap this year are slim. However, when Wolff has to face UNC, Miami and Maryland in the span of a week next January, he might find comfort in Meier's story: It can take a while, but upward mobility is possible in the ACC.