Chugger Adair is one of the longest-tenured and most successful coaches currently at Virginia Tech. The 46-year-old women’s soccer coach has won just over 68 percent of games he’s coached, and has led the Hokies to five NCAA Tournament appearances.
With Adair’s past record of success, it would be fair to classify the 2017 season as a speedbump.
Virginia Tech women’s soccer finished 2017 with a record of 7-6-5, including just a 1-5-4 mark in the ACC. The Hokies missed the NCAA Tournament, and failed to record at least 10 wins for the first time since 2007. The season was a struggle, and included multiple missed opportunities.
“It was hard. There were some ebbs and flows to the season where it was challenging,” Adair said. “At the beginning, we were struggling to score goals, but the good thing was that we were creating opportunities. So we just kept saying, ‘It’s going to happen, its coming, they happen in bunches, stay positive.’ As the season went, there was a little more frustration from the players, from the staff, then we’ll start talking about it too much. So trying to balance that is important, and hard to do sometimes.”
A lack of offensive firepower was indeed an issue for the Hokies, who had to replace stars Murielle Tiernan and Candance Cephers, who had exhausted their collegiate eligibility. The Hokies averaged just .89 goals per game, which tied them for 277th out of 333 teams in the country.
“Scoring goals consistently was one of our major challenges,” Adair said. “Looking at our possession, we weren’t as strong with possession as we’ve been the past couple years, and some players were not as comfortable. That affected a little bit of our rhythm going forward, and we ended up changing and going a little more direct, and changing our system as well.”
The Hokies’ offensive issues hindered them in ACC play, where they scored just three goals in 10 games. Two of those goals came in Virginia Tech’s marquee win over Notre Dame, with another coming in a heartbreaking draw to Pittsburgh. Virginia Tech’s defense, which ranked in the top-100 in scoring, kept the Hokies in just about every game on their schedule, which was one of the toughest in the country. They went to overtime or double overtime in five of their 10 ACC contests, and still finished 55th in the women’s soccer RPI. The Hokies finished the season with another draw to Syracuse, a game Adair thinks Virginia Tech could have easily won.
“Seven wins, 7-6-5 and a No. 55 RPI is pretty good still. When you look at the record, it’s a ho-hum record, it wasn’t like the 10 or 11-win season. But, it shows the quality of games we’re playing. We just need to take a few of those games,” Adair said. “The year before, we didn’t make the tournament, and we were 11-5-3. Our record was much better, but we didn’t have the schedule.
“I think when you look at our record, if we win (vs. Pittsburgh and Syracuse), 9-6-3 is a lot better. If you look at our losses, RPI-wise, our worst loss was Clemson, who was around 30 at the end. So it’s a significant schedule that we’re playing, and it’s challenging games. We didn’t really drop games, but we didn’t really just dominate and put games away. That was kind of a theme.”
Adair is hoping to flip the narrative this offseason, and return Virginia Tech to their history of making the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies are in the process of announcing their Class of 2018, and are continuing to make progress on their future recruiting classes.
“I feel good. This next class coming in, we’ve got a lot of good, talented kids,” Adair said. “The ’19 class is pretty much done, and the ’20 class is pretty much done. I can’t comment on those classes, but they’re pretty good.”
In the meantime, the Hokies are in the middle of their offseason workout program, focusing on physical and mental fitness.
“Fitness is the first thing,” Adair said. “Mental toughness, culture, it’s always something. New group, new leaders, trying to develop that and grow, and establish that culture within the group. Then, the ability to play and what we value. Then individual growth. When we talk about playing, ‘How do we want to play moving forward? How are we going to integrate the kids coming in the fall?’ We’ve got to make sure this group is ready, and bought into them coming in.”
The Hokies have a lot of growing up to do this offseason. Adair is counting on several players to make strides and assume big roles next season — namely Bridget Patch, Allyson Brown and Mikayla Mance at forward. All three will be relied on to alleviate Virginia Tech’s scoring issues.
“Allyson scored a few goals for us, kind of ebbed and flowed a little bit with her consistency, so we’re trying to help that,” Adair said. “Patch just wasn’t at her best this year, started the season with a little bit of a knee injury and never got quite to her form from her freshman year. Mikayla Mance had a better year as a sophomore, had a lot of opportunities and goal scoring chances, and we’re trying to keep that going where she’s translating some of those into goals for us.”
As a collective, Virginia Tech is striving to develop a competitive mindset, and return in 2018 hungrier than ever before. The Hokies, including Adair, have a bad taste in their mouth from 2017 and are certainly motivated to get things back on track.
“I think we’re trying to grow the group and develop them this offseason, as far as being mentally tough to put ourselves over the top in those tight games,” Adair said. “That’s important, because the variance between the teams and the games are so tight, how do you change that? I think part of it is a mentality of being competitive and push through some of those moments. We talk about being tough when we’re doing our fitness, we talk about it when we’re playing games, in our training. ‘How competitive are you going to be?’ That’s something that’s important.”