MOUNT AIRY — During her high school basketball days at was always the center of attention.

She was an all-Tri-State and All-County selection during her illustrious four-year varsity career and was a preseason All-American selection in Street & Smith's basketball preview her senior year in 1987, when she averaged more than 24 points a game.


Now, a 6-foot-2 junior forward at the University of Virginia, Wagener has stepped out of the limelight somewhat and is very comfortable with a more team-oriented, supporting role.

And why not?


The Virginia Cavaliers (21-1, 9-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) were ranked No. 1 by both wire services (Associated Press and United PressInternational) entering the season and -- with the exception of one week -- have stayed at the top of both polls.

"It's a great feeling (being on the top ranked team in the country)," Wagener said, "The whole year so far has been one big memorable moment."

Wagener began the season coming off the bench. But after the first game, she was penciled in as a starter and has maintained that status ever since.

"Melanee has improved steadily through her career here," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "She has gotten a lot stronger through the years and I rely on her to score inside. She also is a solid passer."

In 21 games, she has averaged 5.4 points and just under four rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

Her role at Virginia is much different than it was in high school -- where she needed to provide the majorityof the team's scoring.

The Virginia scheme has everyone contributing in one way or another and complementing each other.

"I just try to be consistent. We run a lot of high-low plays, and I usually play up high and pass off," she said.


And while her career at Virginia is now on steady grounds, it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to reach that point -- beginning with the adjustment of high school ball to the big-time college level her freshman year.

"The biggest thing is that it is so much more physical in college," she said. "The biggest adjustment was adding strength. I'm a finesse player but a little more physical now because I've had to be."

After a summer of lifting weights and adding the much-needed strength, she beganher sophomore year a starter.

She lost her starting job midway through the season but continued getting playing time as the Cavaliers finished the season with a 29-6 overall record, an ACC title and an appearance in the Final Four.

"I find myself more dedicated now than ever," the 20-year-old said. "You have to be here. There are so many good players here it takes my game to a greater height."

Although the Cavaliers have been perched at the top of the national rankingsalmost all season, Wagener said she doesn't feel any added pressure.


"It's not on the top of our minds. Most of the ACC teams are gonna be gunning for you anyway if you're leading the conference. We've played in some more physical games and a lot of teams get psyched up against us, but there's not much of a difference," she said.

Wagener would like to continue playing consistently and feels the team has the right ingredients to win another ACC title and a return trip to the Final Four in New Orleans.

"This is probably the closest team on the court I've ever played with. We are also extremely close off the court as well. We have a great chemistry together and would like toreach the Final Four," she said.

Off the court, Wagener is majoring in communication and would like to go to graduate school or law school.

For now, however, her attention is on reaching the goals shehas set both on and off the court.