It was a rollercoaster season on the court for the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team. After an undefeated start, going 13-0 in non-conference play, the team hit a rough patch to start the ACC season. Seven straight losses in conference play had the Hokies in a hole heading into February. However, the team didn’t give up, and they finished strong with six wins in their final nine regular season games, including a win over #14 Miami at home.
“Obviously, we had high expectations and the ultimate goal was to make the NCAA Tournament, so in some aspects we’re disappointed that we didn’t reach that goal,” head coach Kenny Brooks said. “You have to look at the whole body of work, and to win 22 games and have some of the kids achieve accolades that haven’t been achieved in a long time, you have to be satisfied to some degree.”
The Hokies’ NCAA Tournament hopes were dashed by that seven-game losing streak in January. However, many of those games could have gone the other way and led to Tech victories. The team lost in overtime twice, lost by two against Florida State, and blew two double-digit second-half leads during that stretch.
“[That losing streak was caused by] a myriad of different things. The scheduling gods, if you look at our schedule, it was hard,” Brooks said. “I thought we lost our confidence, and things kind of snowballed, but we regrouped and the ball bounced our way a couple of times. We were able to regain our confidence and finish strong, probably came up a game or two short of making the tournament.”
While the Hokies didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, they had their own postseason run through the ACC Tournament and the Women’s NIT. After winning their first game in the ACC Tournament, Tech lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Clemson, 80-79. The Hokies were able to gain their fourth straight birth to the WNIT. They won multiple games for the third straight year and ended up in the regional semifinal, where they lost 70-66 to James Madison, Brooks’ former team.
“[Playing JMU] was hard. I grew up there, played basketball there, started my coaching career there, I got married on campus, my children were born in a facility on campus, so there were a lot of fond memories there,” Brooks said. “The only thing that made it worthwhile was the reception that I got from JMU’s fans in recognizing what we did there, and in essence I thought we were victims of the foundation that we set there, because you could see that they were excited to play against us.”
Although the team fell short of their ultimate goal, the team had their stars show out throughout the season. Seniors Taylor Emery and Regan Magarity were dominant for the Hokies and were large reasons why the team reached 20 wins for the third straight year. Emery was the team’s leading scorer for the second straight year with 19.0 points per game, good for third in the ACC. This included her career high of 35 points in the ACC Tournament loss to Clemson. Magarity dominated on the glass, leading the ACC in rebounds with 12.8 per game. She also racked up 23 double-doubles on the season in 34 games.
“[Magarity and Emery] came out and played extremely well. I think they were both All-ACC performers, and equally important, they were both All-ACC Academic performers,” Brooks said. “They did a tremendous job for us on and off the court, but I think both of them would say they came up a little short of their goal, which is carrying this team to an NCAA Tournament berth.”
Emery and Magarity may be moving on from Blacksburg, but a new star emerged this season in freshman point guard Dara Mabrey. The young New Jersey native broke the record for most three-pointers in a season with 80. She was efficient in her shooting also, shooting over 46% from beyond the arc, ranking third in the country. However, she didn’t just score, she also led the team in assists in her first year on campus.
“I will never evaluate [Mabrey] on her numbers. She’s a point guard, and we have extensive conversations about the nuances and little things that will make her better,” Brooks said. “I thought she had a very good freshman year considering we just gave her the keys to the car and let her drive.”
With Mabrey at the helm, this program is looking to take the next step over the next few years. Brooks has a solid recruiting class coming in this year, including 5-star forward Elizabeth Kitley. Kitley is 6’4” and is ranked as the 31st prospect in the nation according to ESPNW. The Hokies may not have been able to reach the NCAA Tournament this year, but Brooks could end the 13-season drought soon.
“I’m extremely excited, and I think we’re continuing to build the program. We play in the best conference in the country, and for us to win 20 games our first year, 23 our second, and 22 our third, those are pretty good numbers,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have to replace a lot of experience with Regan, Rachel [Camp], and Taylor, but I feel like we have kids coming in who really fit our philosophy and what we want to do.”