For the first time since 1999, Virginia Tech is ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. The Hokies checked in at No. 24 in the poll, which was released on Tuesday morning. Tech opens the season at home against Davidson on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
The ACC also released its preseason predicted order of finish from its Blue Ribbon Panel and head coaches, in which Tech was picked to finish fourth. It’s the highest predicted order of finish for the Hokies since the school joined the ACC in 2004.
Here’s the full poll, with point totals for each team.
The expectations are high entering the season. Head coach Kenny Brooks is eyeing a Sweet 16 bid after defeating Marquette, 70-63, in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, but was outclassed by a more experienced Baylor team that went on to lose to UConn in the Elite Eight.
“We knew where we wanted to get to, and we had to see [Baylor],” Brooks told reporters at the ACC Tipoff in Charlotte, N.C. on Nov. 13. “It was tough, but we learned so much from it. We’re going to continue to advance even further next year, and I think it’ll be because of games like that.”
Meanwhile, fifth-year guard and two-time All-ACC First Team nominee Aisha Sheppard and junior center Elizabeth Kitley, both of whom were named to the All-ACC Preseason First Team Wednesday morning, aim to contend for an ACC Championship.
“The Sweet 16, that’s our goal and our mindset,” Sheppard quipped. “We’re thinking top-five [in the ACC], and the ACC Championship. We’re high caliber and elite.”
“An ACC Championship is the goal,” Kitley said. “We’ll have a lot of fun getting there.”
Tech returns the experience it needed to contend with top talents like Baylor. All five of its starters from last season will be on the floor this season, and four of them are juniors or older (sophomore point guard Georgia Amoore is the lone starter that’s on the younger side).
In terms of numbers, VT doesn’t have a ton of depth, but it’ll make up for its small roster size in veteran leadership as nine of the 12 scholarship players on the roster are juniors or older.
“After the [NCAA Tournament Second Round] game, [Baylor’s head coach Kim Mulkey] came over to me and shook my hand,” Brooks said. “She told me that we’re talented, but we had some inexperience. She gave me a vote of confidence and said that we’ll be very good [in the coming years].”
In ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 published in April, Charlie Creme listed the Hokies at No. 24. Since then, they’ve added two guards — senior Kayana Traylor (Purdue) and graduate student Emily Lytle (Liberty) — and 6-foot-5 center Rochelle Norris (West Virginia) from the transfer portal. Norris, however, will miss the entire season after tearing her ACL over the summer, Brooks said.
Virginia Tech is one of five ACC teams ranked in the AP Top 25 to open the season, joining NC State (No. 5), Louisville (No. 6), Florida State (No.16) and Georgia Tech (No. 17). Tennessee, who travels to Cassell Coliseum and faces the Hokies on Dec. 5, is No. 15 in the rankings.
Kitley, Sheppard Earn All-ACC First Team Honors
Both Kitley and Sheppard were named to the All-ACC Preseason First Team on Wednesday morning. Kitley received the second-most votes (42) for ACC Preseason Player of the Year, which went to NC State’s Elissa Cunane, while Sheppard received one.
Kitley, who’s listed at 6-foot-6 after growing an inch over the offseason, averaged 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in 2020-21. It comes after she was named to the All-ACC First Team, was the 2021 VaSID Player of the Year and a finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award, which is given out to the nation’s best center.
“I’m comfortable doing whatever — shooting the three, rebounding, in the post,” Kitley said. “When I committed [in 2017], I didn’t realize my [or the program’s] full potential, so it’s been funny seeing it all play out.”
Sheppard, a 5-foot-9 guard from Alexandria, Va., returns for her last dance, using her extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA over the offseason.
Sheppard said she thought about turning pro after ranking third in the conference in scoring with 17.7 points per game, but chose to return to Tech to write her last chapter on her illustrious career as a Hokie.
At season’s end, she’ll walk away as the most decorated player in the program’s history.
A 2020 and 2021 All-ACC First Team Coaches pick. A 2021 First Team All-ACC Blue Ribbon Panel selection. The all-time record holder in 3-point field goals made in school history. And by the end of the year, Sheppard will likely be the all-time scoring leader, needing just 345 points to break it.
“The biggest thing I want people to know is that I stayed the course, trusted the process and I allowed myself to be a great teammate,” Sheppard said last week. “I tried my best to be the best leader I could. And overall, I tried to be a Hokie — one that people can talk to and look up to. My character is something I want people to realize more than anything.”