Through adversity, the Virginia Tech Women’s Soccer team has found their way to a successful season so far. The Hokies currently have a 10-3-2 record, and all three of their losses came against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time. This impressive start has the team No. 10 in the RPI and looking to make it to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years.
“We’ve had a pretty good year, and we’ve competed in most of the games,” said head coach Chugger Adair. “I think most of the games, we’ve had somebody step up and play well and try to contribute the best that they can, so overall I’ve been pleased with the growth and development of the team.”
The Hokies lost one of their most impactful players, sophomore midfielder Emily Gray, to a torn ACL early in ACC play. After the team beat Miami in the league opener, Gray went down just minutes into Tech’s second ACC game against rival Virginia. Gray led the team in points at the time of her injury with 10.
“[Gray] is a special player and a special kid for sure, so losing her is something that hurt the team,” Adair said. “We are a team though, and we’ve had other players step up and play in her place. She’s not replaceable, but we’ve tried to adjust as needed.”
Someone who is quite familiar with this type of injury is redshirt freshman Nicole Kozlova. She missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but has bounced back and made a large impact in Gray’s absence. Kozlova currently leads the team in goals and points and is a large part of the Hokies’ attack.
“Nicole is a forward by trade, but we’ve had to play her in the midfield,” Adair said. “She’s done a good job of playing there; she’s somebody who can turn the game for us and score some goals and is pretty savvy with her soccer play.”
Gray’s injury could not have come at a worse time for Virginia Tech. The Hokies played a stretch of four consecutive top 10 teams immediately following the loss of their star sophomore.
After dropping the first two to Virginia and Clemson, they returned home and earned a scoreless draw against #10 Duke. Then, the Hokies took the defending National Champions, Florida State, to double overtime before losing on a golden goal. This part of the schedule was brutal, but showed that the Hokies can play with anybody in the ACC.
“We went through that stretch, and it was a difficult stretch playing some difficult teams,” Adair said. “I think it’s the mentality of the players and the buy-in from the group that have made us difficult to play against, and that’s the culture that we want to have within the group.”
Since that gauntlet of a two-week stretch, the Hokies have made strides in league play, gaining four points in two games with a draw at NC State and a win against Wake Forest. These results have moved Tech into a tie for the eighth spot in the conference with Pitt, the last spot in the ACC Tournament.
“When you look at the Wake game, we really kept them in their zone and limited a lot of chances for them to test our back line and our goalkeeper,” Adair said. “In the conference, you’re going to get tested, but we want to limit those options when we can, and we’ve done a good job of that.”
Defense has been a key for Tech all season long. Through fifteen games, the Hokies have only surrendered eleven goals. Much of this can be attributed to All-ACC goalkeeper Mandy McGlynn, but the entire defensive unit has stepped up this year.
“When we’ve been good in those big games, we’ve played well from the front back and played well in our team defending,” Adair said. “We’ve limited space and doubled down and tackled when we’ve needed to; we’ve limited the players’ opportunities to spread us out and break us down and have played tight-knit as a group.”
With just one week left in the regular season, it’s coming down to the wire for the team. On Thursday, the Hokies will welcome Boston College to Thompson Field. The Eagles are just 1-5-1 in league play, so it provides a key opportunity for Tech to grab some more points in the league. However, Boston College is on the outside looking in for the conference tournament, so there is a lot on the line in Blacksburg on Thursday night.
“When you look at Boston College, they’re a very dynamic team,” Adair said. “They’ve got a number of people up top that can break you down, and we have to limit their ability to put us under pressure and attack our back line”
However, Boston College isn’t close to the toughest test remaining on Tech’s schedule. The Hokies’ last week of the season is on the road. First, they’ll head down to Chapel Hill to face the conference-leading #3 Tar Heels on Sunday. Then, the season concludes in the Steel City when Tech takes on Pitt on Halloween which could be a battle for the final spot in the ACC Tournament.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to battle and finish the season strong, and hopefully give us a chance to be in the ACC Tournament,” Adair said. “Typically, if you’re in the ACC Tournament, you’re in a good spot for the NCAA Tournament as well, so that’s our goal as we get down the stretch.”