Ohio State’s frustration showed in its play and its demeanor.
By the 16th minute, Virginia Tech had 10 shots — eight of which were on goal — three corners, one goal, courtesy of Emily Gray, which moved her into sole-possession of second place in points (77) in program history. At that point, the rowdy crowd had already let out multiple roars that obviously affected the Buckeyes.
Ohio State forward Kayla Fischer had enough. She turned to her head coach and let out a yell, and then her team and let out another scream. Fischer tried to pump her team up, but it didn’t work.
The game didn’t get much better for Ohio State (9-9-2), aside from a game-tying goal in the 46th minute. Virginia Tech (12-5-2) scored two more goals later in the second half and dominated throughout in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on its way to a fourth consecutive win, 3-1.
“I’m so proud of our team,” head coach Chugger Adair told Tech Sideline postgame. “Though, we should have put them away a little bit earlier with all the chances we had. We were up 9-0 in shots at one point and we knew any slip or mistake could hurt us in the end.”
The Hokies scored first for the fourth game in a row. They racked up numerous shots early, a surprise to Gray and her teammates since Tech hadn’t played in two weeks after missing the ACC Tournament, and kept the offensive pressure up throughout the first half.
After forward Nicole Kozlova intercepted a deflected pass five feet outside of the 18-yard box, she quickly found Emmalee McCarter to her right at the top of the box. McCarter’s quick touch to a sliding Gray allowed her to knock it into the bottom left corner, past Ohio State’s keeper Bailey Kolinski, who made 10 saves Friday night.
“It was great,” Gray said after the game. “It was my last game at Thompson Field ever, I wanted to go out on top and with a bang. I’m so proud of my team and our fight.”
Tech kept the pressure on in the first half as it fired 12 shots and three quarters heading into the halftime break. Throughout the season, Tech’s continued to keep the offensive intensity up, even as it has jumped out to big leads.
Earlier in the season, VT blew out Liberty (3-0), Elon (7-1), Villanova (5-1) and Miami (5-0). So playing conservatively for the rest of the night wasn’t in the Hokies’ DNA.
Despite the Buckeyes’ game-tying goal coming out of the break in the 46th minute, the Hokies applied the pressure. But it wasn’t until the 61st minute that Virginia Tech used its abundance of chances to break through.
Victoria Haugen, who was in the near corner, crossed a pass to the left side of the box, which, once again, found the foot of McCarter. McCarter, as soon as she received the pass, tapped it to forward Tori Powell, who stretched her right leg out, buring the ball in the back of the net and giving the Hokies a 2-0 lead.
“It was exciting to get the goal,” Powell said. “The game was faster paced than I was expecting — really fast. There’s no feeling like it.”
And again, Virginia Tech controlled possession by playing a build-up passing style offense throughout the game, using short passes to advance down the field.
Aside from the only goal she allowed, Alia Skinner wasn’t legitimately tested by Ohio State for the rest of the night.
Though Virginia Tech controlled the match for most of the night, the Hokies didn’t put the game away until the 83rd minute. Off an assist from Gray in the middle of the box, defender Emma Steigerwald kicked in the Hokies’ third goal of the night, past the outstretched hands of Kolinski.
“We were trying to be the aggressor, and I was really pleased with the effort,” Adair said. “I was happy that two of our seniors [Gray and Steigerwald] scored goals, and I was glad [Powell] scored too so that she can build some confidence, heading into our next match.”
The final goal sent all 797 Hokies fans into a frenzy, and was maybe even the loudest Thompson Field had been since the pandemic began. The magic could be felt, and for at least one more day, the Hokies lived to fight again.
And to fight again, it’s been the mantra on the Hokies’ 2021 season. As a young team in 2020-21, they watched last year’s selection show with the hunch that they weren’t going to make the field. But with this season’s tough schedule, Tech felt it had done enough to get a favorable first round matchup.
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, which included a draw with then-No. 4 North Carolina and then-No. 2 Duke, Tech’s season began to take a 180, losing three straight games at Clemson, at Wake Forest and vs. Florida State, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship.
But after receiving a little bit of luck when it came to scheduling, Tech’s offense and defense improved, blowing out Miami, while beating Boston College and Syracuse by a goal, which kept its season alive, even after missing the ACC Tournament.
And on Friday, Virginia Tech had played as well as it had all year. The peaks and valleys of the season culminated into the Hokies’ offensively overpowering win over a lesser-talented team from Columbus.
The explosion led to a second round matchup against No. 2-seeded Arkansas, where the Hokies will travel to next week. The Razorbacks finished 16-4, are ranked as the seventh-best team in the country in the United Coaches Soccer Poll and defeated Northwestern State 5-1 in the opening round.
And while Tech and Arkansas don’t match up very often, neither are a stranger to one another. Gray and Steigerwald, both seniors, were on the team that knocked off Arkansas in this same exact situation back in 2018.
Though it wasn’t one of those “grind it out” games that the Hokies have played all year as Adair alluded to on Monday, it was more comforting that Tech got a favorable draw, playing at home in front of a packed home crowd.
“There was nothing like Thomson tonight,” Adair said. “It’s what this city and this town is all about.”