After two straight years of disappointment, the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team has been selected to play in the NCAA Tournament. The team will make its first appearance in the tournament since 2015. However, the Hokies were a staple in the tournament for eight consecutive years prior to the 2016 season.
“It’s been a big bummer getting so close the last two years, and almost getting a taste of it has been harder,” head coach Chugger Adair said. “This year it was great to see so many happy players when we heard our name called.”
The Hokies have little time to celebrate their birth in the tournament because they have to travel to play Texas in Austin on Friday. The Longhorns are the fourth seed in the region and finished their regular season 13-4-3. Texas’s defense is centered around their goaltender, junior Nicole Curry, who has allowed just 15 goals in the team’s 20 matches this year. On the attack, they are led by junior Cyera Hintzen who has accounted for 10 goals and 9 assists this season, leading the team in both categories.
“They’re very dangerous going forward, with a number of strong athletic kids who can score goals,” Adair said. “We have to be able to deal with those personalities up front, and from that we have to create our own offense.”
The Hokies received a tough draw having to play the Longhorns on the road. Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin has been one of the toughest places to play in the country this year, as Texas is 10-0 at home. In those ten matches, the Longhorns have outscored opponents 29 to 6.
“We have to focus and not be overwhelmed by the environment and the opportunity,” Adair said. “They have pretty good fan support and it’s a nice venue, but we have to focus on our game and tune that out.”
Although the Hokies only have six seniors who were on the team that went to the tournament back in 2015, their coach is able to offer a lot of tournament experience. Adair has been to the tournament eight times since coming to Blacksburg, the most recent five coming as the head coach. These appearances included some surprising runs. He took the Hokies to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011 and 2014. However, the most impressive run came in 2013 when he took the team to their only College Cup. This experience will be used to prepare the young Virginia Tech team for the differences in tournament play.
“We’ve tried to work on different scenarios we might see including how to close a game out, or to be behind and how we would adjust,” Adair said. “It’s important for us to understand it’s a one and done and we may have a gameplan or a certain way we want to play, but we have to adjust to the scenario.”
The experience alone of playing in the tournament will go a long way for the Hokies, who are relying on a lot of young players. Seven freshmen are in the top fifteen in minutes for Virginia Tech on the year. With these young players looking to grow throughout their careers, tournament experience early will be crucial for the improvement of the program in the near future.
“We had talked about it as a staff, how important [this experience] would be for the younger players,” Adair said. “For them to get a taste of being in the tournament is huge for them, and the ability for them to grow and experience that is important as well.”