Virginia Tech Women’s Soccer Earns NCAA Bid, Hosts Ohio State Friday

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Virginia Tech women’s soccer is going dancing. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

On Monday, Virginia Tech women’s soccer earned its third NCAA Championship bid in the last four seasons. The Hokies (11-5-2, 3-5-2 ACC) received an at-large bid and will host Ohio State in the opening round on Friday, Nov. 12 (6 p.m. ET).

Chugger Adair & Co. held a watch party for the selection show in the Merryman Athletic Facility and were joined by a large group of family, friends and support staff within the athletic department.

A young team in 2020-21, the Hokies watched last year’s selection show with the hunch that they weren’t going to make the field. This year, however, Tech had confidence entering this year’s draw, particularly after playing a tough schedule. 

“Our rough patch was against some of the best teams in the country,” senior midfielder Emily Gray told David Cunningham of Tech Sideline Monday evening. “[The ACC] really prepares you and after all those losses, we bounced back well. The ACC is the best in the country — there’s no doubt.”

Nine teams from the conference made the NCAA Championship field. Tech’s non-conference slate was solid, too, and two teams – Santa Clara and South Carolina – that the Hokies played made the field. VT beat the Gamecocks 1-0 on the road.

Four of Virginia Tech’s five losses came at the hands of teams that made the NCAA Championship. The outlier is a 2-1 loss at Cincinnati.

“[The toughness of ACC schedule] is something we’re going to have in the back of our minds that we know whatever the situation brings,” head coach Chugger Adair said, “we’re going to have to push through and try to grind through it, so we’re up for the task.”

Though Virginia Tech was never truly in a “must-win” situation, it almost felt like the Hokies were in mid-October. They had just dropped their third consecutive ACC match and time to improve their chances of drawing a favorable matchup in the NCAA Tournament was quickly running out.

After starting the season 7-2-2, Tech lost three straight games at Clemson, at Wake Forest and vs. Florida State, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship.

The Hokies needed a pick-me-up after they were held scoreless in two matches during their three-match losing streak, while forward Tori Powell’s hat trick was negated in a 4-3 loss to Wake Forest.

But with five days of practice  — and a little bit of luck from its schedule — VT blew out a much weaker Miami team that had yet to record an ACC win, 5-0, on Oct. 21.

The victory kickstarted a three-game win streak to end the season, a run in which the Hokies outscored their opponents 8-1.

“I like [our team’s] excitement and passion,” Adair said. “There’s a good mix of veterans and young players. … I’m proud of the way our players grinded through this season.”

Along with a strong non-conference slate that included a win at then-No. 12 South Carolina, two draws within the span of a week with then-No. 4 North Carolina and No. 2 Duke, and topping it off with a one-goal loss to Florida State, Virginia Tech (11-5-2, 5-3-2 ACC) earned an at-large bid, along with nine ACC foes. 

Early season losses to James Madison and Cincinnati didn’t haunt VT. The Hokies were strong all year, playing against 13 opponents in the RPI top-100, and were ranked in the United Coaches Soccer Poll for two weeks.

It’s upcoming opponents, Ohio State, finished seventh in the 2021 Big Ten standings, exiting the conference tournament in the quarterfinal round courtesy of its 1-0 loss to Purdue.

“I think Ohio State is a quality team when you look at what they’ve done,” Adair said. “We’ve been studying potential teams that we could play, and they’ve come up. … They could come up here and beat us. 

They’re not a cupcake. They’re a very strong team and we’ve gotta be ready for them.”

Emily Gray leads all ACC midfielders in points this season. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Despite Tech’s 1-3-0 all-time record against the Buckeyes, it has Gray, who led all conference midfielders in points during the regular season (29), accounting for 11 goals and seven assists.

And at home, the Hokies had tremendous success, losing only one of its 10 games at Thompson Field this season, scoring 23 goals at a plus-18 goal differential.

“Playing in the tournament is one thing, but hosting it is another thing,” keeper Alia Skinner said. “We’re all happy that we’ll all be here with our ‘shirtless boys,’ and we can prep how we want to prep because we’re used to playing here.”

Monday marked the third time in four years that VT made the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies made it to the round of 16 on five occasions, most recently in 2018, and qualified for the College Cup in 2013.

Admission to Virginia Tech-Ohio State on Friday is $10 to the general public and for $5 to fans ages 18 and under. The first 500 Virginia Tech students in attendance — with a valid student ID — can enter free of charge.

“We have the blue collar nature that, of course, Virginia Tech teams are known for,” Gray added. “If we put it all together, we’re going to be really dangerous.”

Men’s Soccer

While No.8-seeded Virginia Tech walked off a golden goal thriller against No.9-seeded Boston College in the opening round of the ACC Tournament over a week ago, it lost a heartbreaker on Sunday in the second overtime, 2-1, at No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh. 

The Hokies (10-5-3, 3-4-1 ACC) suppressed the Panthers’ (11-4-1, 5-2-1 ACC) attack for most of the match after giving up a goal in the fifth minute to Valentin Noel. And, 98 minutes later, lost on Noel’s brace that sent the Panther faithful into a frenzy.

Keeper Ben Martino was about as good as he was advertised all season, recording eight saves, and his most impressive save of the night came in the dying moments of the first overtime period. A rocket from Jackson Walti from outside the 18-yard box was close to finding the upper corner, but Martino extended to his left and sent the shot over the bar.   

Thanks to the quick response goal from Kyle McDowell, the Hokies were able to hang around for most of the match. In the ninth minute, Jacob Labovitz sent a ball across the box that eventually fell to the left foot of McDowell, who hammered the shot between the legs of the Pitt keeper, tying the score at one.

Sivert Haugli was re-inserted into the starting lineup again following his red-card suspension in the first round. However, the senior captain picked up an injury and only contributed 45 minutes.

Danny Flores and McDowell were also subbed off due to injury, but both players eventually returned.  

Jacob Labovitz earned First Team All-ACC honors on Wednesday. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

On Wednesday, three Tech players received All-ACC honors. Labovitz was named to the All-ACC First Team, and was Tech’s leading scorer with eight goals, while adding four assists.

Mayola Kinyua, meanwhile, was named to the All-ACC Third Team and recorded one assist on the season. Though he didn’t light up the stat sheet, his defensive efforts provided much more than what a box score can represent.

Midfielder Danny Flores was named to the All-Freshman team for his one goal and three assists during the regular season. 

Like Kinyua, he didn’t light up the stat sheet, but Flores made his presence known on Sept. 24 with his spectacular dribbling effort in the box that resulted in a game winning overtime goal against Notre Dame. In October, he was named the No. 3 freshman in the country by Top Drawer Soccer.

With his recognition, Labovitz becomes the seventh player in program history to be named first team All-ACC, while Flores is the seventh player from Virginia Tech to be named to the All-Freshman team. Kinyua is the third player from Tech to be named third team All-ACC.

The Hokies, who have their eyes on a seeded spot in the field, await their NCAA Tournament destiny with the NCAA Selection Show on Monday night.

Volleyball

The Virginia Tech volleyball team (10-15,1-12 ACC) faced another tough weekend in the Tar Heel state, losing 3-1 to Wake Forest on Thursday, while it was swept by Duke on Sunday. 

The Hokies got off to a hot start against Wake Forest, downing the Demon Deacons in the first set, 26-24. But it quickly fell off for Marci Byers’s squad, which quickly dropped the next three sets by 10 points or more.

Though VT was swept by Duke, it hung around and played a competitive match against the Blue Devils. The Hokies lost both the first and second sets by three points, but were overpowered in the final set, losing 25-17.

The Hokies return to action next Friday, hosting North Carolina at 4 p.m. Friday’s match will also serve as Tech’s senior day, honoring seven players.

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