After making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007, no one really knew what to expect from the Virginia Tech men’s soccer team as they entered tournament play. That is, no one really knew what to expect except for themselves. Displaying an unshaken confidence, the Hokies have made a run to the Elite Eight that they fully expected with wins over East Tennessee State, No. 9 Charlotte, and No. 7 Indiana.
As one of two unranked teams left in the Elite Eight (Providence is the other), Virginia Tech has thrived in the underdog role so far in the tournament. All four of Tech’s losses in the regular season came at the hands of opponents in the top 10 of the rankings. Now in the postseason, the Hokies have righted those wrongs with victories over Charlotte and Indiana, a perennial powerhouse with eight National Championships in men’s soccer. Next up for Virginia Tech? Wake Forest, the ACC Champion and No. 2 ranked team in the country.
“We’re very comfortable in that [underdog role],” said coach Mike Brizendine. “We’ve had to do it all year long. Now the one thing with Wake, we’re not going to sneak up on them. Whereas in some previous games, people were still like, ‘Eh, are they that good? They’re not that good, they can’t be that good.’ We like that, I would like Wake to think that, that would be great, but I don’t think that’s the reality. You don’t get to this level and not be at least competitive.”
Wake Forest will present the toughest task thus far for the Hokies. While both teams compete in the ACC, Virginia Tech has not played Wake Forest since 2014, a matchup in which the Hokies won 2-0.
“They’re [Wake Forest] very good,” Brizendine said. “Every player they have is technically very sound. They have a couple of special attacking pieces who will present us with some issues. I think we have some things that will harass them a little bit, but I expect it to be a good match. When you get to this stage, every match is going to be a grind, it’s going to be back and forth, and it’s a game of inches. Hopefully we win that game of inches.”
One of the biggest keys for the Hokies in their tournament run has been the play of junior forward Marcelo Acuna. A transfer from Houston Baptist University, Acuna has been the biggest boost for the Hokies’ attack, scoring a team leading 11 goals, including two goals in the second round win over Charlotte.
“Nobody believed in us, but I think we are a very capable team,” Acuna said. “It’s crazy because we were ranked, I don’t know, a hundred and something this year. We have a really talented group of players. I think we can beat any team right now.”
After the results so far, Virginia Tech has every reason to believe that they can beat any team. In fact, the results have been staggering considering the Hokies were a bubble team and didn’t even know if they would make the NCAA Tournament. Following the loss to Boston College in the ACC Tournament, Tech had to wait two weeks before hearing their name called for the tournament. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, there were certainly questions as to if the Hokies would be rusty from the layoff. All those questions were extinguished after the Hokies played a sound game, controlling it from the start in the 1-0 win over ETSU.
“We were idle for two weeks, so I didn’t know how we would play, but I was very impressed with how the team came out,” Brizendine explained. “Especially in the first 45 minutes, I thought that we did a good job of getting on top of ETSU. The rest is history.”
The rest was indeed history, including the golden goal win over Indiana in overtime. Junior midfielder Forrest White could not have picked a better time for his first goal of the year, as his curling shot from 18 yards out in the 97th minute sealed the victory and a spot in the Elite Eight.
“Well, I can definitely say if there is one person on this team to take that shot, I would pick Forrest any day,” said junior goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard. “I see about 10 of those [shots] a practice, so I know exactly what they’re like and how the other keeper felt. He’s got a great shot. Seeing him with the ball, I was a little nervous when he didn’t take that first one and took another touch. I was really hoping he would hit it and he finally did and it was a beauty.”
Why has Virginia Tech looked the part of an Elite Eight caliber team despite being unranked? Part of it can be traced back to the gauntlet that the Hokies had to run through in their ACC schedule. Tech finished ninth in the ACC rankings, but nonetheless they are one of the eight teams remaining. As a matter of fact, five of the eight teams remaining come from the ACC, including Wake Forest, Clemson, Louisville, and North Carolina.
“It’s unbelievable, our league,” Brizendine said. “UVA won the National Championship two years ago and they were the eight seed. They played us in the eight/nine game. We were the ninth seed this year and we’re in the Elite Eight. It just shows you what our conference has done. To be honest, I think there would be more, but UNC knocked out Syracuse and Louisville knocked out Notre Dame. If they could spread us out a little more, I think you would have seen more. The league is unbelievable every year. I think this year it’s a little notch above the previous years. Our league is a grind.”
Virginia Tech’s postseason run so far has been nothing short of amazing, but they’re still expecting more. Tech will be taking it one game at a time, but it’s worth mentioning that the Hokies are just three wins away from earning the first NCAA Championship in school history. Brizendine and Co. will only be solely focused on Wake Forest as the Hokies look to continue shocking the college soccer community.