Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball: A Special Group Focused On Success

Virginia Tech is 2-0 in the ACC heading into Sunday’s game at Wake Forest. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

In the first five years of the Kenny Brooks era, each Virginia Tech women’s basketball season seemed to follow a similar theme: Dominate non-conference opponents, slip up at the beginning of ACC play, and try to play catch-up down the stretch.

The first three seasons all included a poor stretch of conference games where the Hokies essentially dug themselves a giant hole to climb out of. In 2016-17, it was losing 11 straight games after starting 3-1 in the ACC. The season after, they had a stretch of four losses in five games to drop from 5-6 to 6-10 in league play. A horrid 0-7 start in the conference killed the team in 2018-19.

Virginia Tech’s last two seasons – one NCAA Tournament appearance that would’ve been two if not for COVID – have been better. The Hokies used a 2-2 start in 2019-20 to finish 11-7 in the ACC, and then went 8-8 in 2020-21 after a 2-4 record through the first six games.

Currently, Brooks & Co. are 2-0, and they got there in dominant fashion. In a 17-point win at Florida State (first win vs. FSU since 2014) and a 22-point win vs. No. 15 Duke, the Hokies won with ease.

But if the program has learned anything from the past, it’s that you have to be on your A-game in every conference contest, not just at the beginning or end of the season.

This current Virginia Tech team is special. A veteran-laden group, its headlined by one of the most dynamic duos in the country. Aisha Sheppard will soon become the program’s leading scorer, while Elizabeth Kitley is a dominant force in the post. 

Alongside them, Georgia Amoore is young, only a sophomore, yet playing fantastic basketball at point guard. Cayla King is a do-it-all wing and a sharpshooter, who Brooks describes as the ‘team’s swiss army knife.’ Kayana Traylor is a lightning quick veteran, while Azana Baines does the dirty work inside. D’asia Gregg always provides an important spark off the bench. Emily Lytle is a flexible, experienced option, and Taylor Geiman can give quality minutes at a variety of positions.

“We have the inside game, we have the outside game, and I think Florida State and Duke, it worked at the same time,” Amoore said after Thursday’s win over Duke. “That’s what’s scary. It’s happening, and it’s happening at the same time. It’s really difficult for the defense to adjust. We have looks inside and out and that’s what our offense runs on.”

Depth in talent, not in numbers.

That’s a statement Brooks mentioned multiple times in the preseason to describe his group, and it’s showed so far. The Hokies (10-3, 2-0 ACC) only rotate through eight or nine players, but they’re a tight-knit group that complement each other well.

But can they stand the test of time, better known as the gauntlet of the ACC schedule, and have a chance at achieving their goals for the season like competing for a conference championship? Brooks, Amoore and Kitley think so.

Georgia Amoore’s improvement has had a huge impact on Virginia Tech this season. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

“We’ve really gone through some stretches and come out on the better side,” Amoore said.

“I think we’ve seen how we can turn the page now that we’ve actually done it, so when we get down again, we can turn the page again,” Kitley commented.

Despite a poor 72 hours in early December when Tech blew a lead vs. No. 11 Tennessee and then got blown out at Liberty, this team has been pretty steady. Most importantly, the Hokies have learned from their mistakes. 

Since the defeats, the players have locked in more. They’ve studied the scout more – Brooks said he’s noticed it – and they’ve played their best basketball to date this season in the last two wins.

“We learned we need to be locked in for 40 minutes,” Kitley said on what Tech learned from those losses. “We learned that knowing the scout will really help us. And taking pride on defense – we can’t do it all on offense. Bringing energy on defense will give us good offense.”

How do you create consistency? Any smart person would tell you it starts with goals and habits.

One thing Brooks mentioned after Thursday’s win over the Blue Devils was how different it was for his players once final exams for the fall semester were over. When the spring semester starts back up on Jan. 18, how will the Hokies keep that focus and maintain that stability? 

“After the Liberty game, I could really see them lock in,” Brooks said. “And it kind of coincides too with the fact that we finished exams. So when you go through exam week, you’re not going to get their best. As soon as exams are over with, they’ve been locked in like crazy.

“We’ve got tough games on our schedule, but I do think that this team is more prepared to get off to a good start. It’s not easy going to Florida State and winning. And then coming back and playing the No. 15 team in the country. … The way we’ve handled both of them with convincing… The fashion in which they did it is impressive as well. But I just think it’s a different group. Different group with a different mindset, and I think the sky is the limit for them as long as they continue to play well.”

This Virginia Tech team is different. Kitley is an asset never before seen in program history. Sheppard is one of the best to ever play in Blacksburg. But more importantly, the surrounding cast – particularly those that come off the bench – know their roles. 

“I think what I’ve seen is they’ve matured into their roles, they know what we need from them,” Brooks said. “We don’t need another six-foot-six center inside, we’ve got a really good one. We don’t need another all-time leading scorer in Virginia Tech history, we’ve got one out there. When they get their opportunity, they’ve done a real good job of morphing into us and not trying to do something that’s out of the realm of what they’re capable of doing.”

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Hokies. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

When the Hokies are on, like they were against Florida State and Duke, they’re one of the most difficult teams to beat in the conference. The schedule moving forward isn’t exactly what Brooks would call favorable, but it’s winnable. Tech’s next four games are at Wake Forest (Sunday, Jan. 2), vs. Virginia (Thursday, Jan. 6), at No. 24 North Carolina (Sunday, Jan. 9) and vs. Duke (Thursday, Jan. 13).

The slate gets more difficult starting in late January. That last ten-game stretch includes six games against ranked opponents: at No. 5 NC State, at No. 17 Notre Dame, vs. No. 16 Georgia Tech, vs. No. 24 North Carolina, at No. 3 Louisville and vs. No. 5 NC State.

This team has the tools and the talent to fight through the adversity and take some positives away from that dangerous stretch. But it’s going to take focus, discipline and for the players to be locked in every single game. 

Slip up and you join the previous five teams who faltered along the way. Keep your composure and you could be one of the best teams in program history.

“We’ve been really good when we’ve continued to lock in and say, ‘one game at a time,’” Brooks said. “That’s not coach-talk. We’ve been really good ever since we’ve been 1-0, and we started saying that when we were 2-7 in the conference last year. … In this league, you look ahead, start counting, that’s when you slip up. We’ve done a tremendous job as a staff, as a program, as a team when we say, ‘let’s just go 1-0.’”

6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Watched my first game of the season against Duke. The teamwork is great and the seemed to have recovered from the Liberty disaster. Look forward to watching many more games and I would like to get down and see one live. Go Hokies!

Comments are closed.