With its regular season now finished, No. 2 Virginia Tech softball finds itself in rarified air – holding down the No. 1 spot in the current NCAA’s RPI ranking – a remarkable accomplishment for a team that was 23-30 just five seasons ago.
With No. 2 RPI Oklahoma hosting No. 8 RPI Oklahoma State this weekend, the Sooners might jump the Hokies next week for the top spot in the RPI, but that won’t diminish the team’s accomplishments this season, which will continue next week in the ACC Tournament in Pittsburgh.
Virginia Tech, which was not even mentioned as an ACC contender by Softball America before the season began (Clemson, Duke, and FSU were), finished the regular season with an overall record of 40-6, 21-2 in the ACC, good enough for the regular season title.
“You have five teams in the ACC ranked in the top 25,” Mark Packer said Thursday morning on Packer and Durham, “and Virginia Tech is 21-2 in the league. Enough said.”
But the team’s overall body of work might be even more impressive. Here’s a quick glance at the Nitty Gritty RPI sheets for the Top three RPI teams as of May 5.
Having the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule and a top-two RPI should certainly impress the NCAA selection committee when tournament bids and seeding are announced nine das from now (Sunday, May 15, 7:00 PM, ESPN2)
The top 16 teams will host NCAA Regionals at their home park and the top eight will also host Super Regionals the following week, should they continue to win. Consequently, it’s important for the Hokies to be seeded in the top eight, which would seem to be a certainty at this point.
But the Hokies’ current RPI ranking didn’t happen by accident.
In April 2021, head coach Pete D’Amour and assistant coach Mike Lewis noticed that the ACC scheduling rotation for Tech in 2022 did not include Duke, Notre Dame or Georgia Tech. Knowing that schedule strength is a big component of the NCAA’s RPI tool, the VT coaches decided that they needed to beef up the non-conference part of the Hokies’ schedule.
“We felt that we would have a team that could compete with anyone,” D’Amour said, “so we figured we would get aggressive in our scheduling and see what happens. Even if you happen to take a loss against a strong opponent, the system doesn’t unfairly penalize you.”
Shortly afterwards, Mark Allister reached out to D’Amour about the idea of a season-opening tournament in Leesburg, Florida. The Northern Lights/Southern Nights Tournament would feature numerous quality teams from cold weather areas. D’Amour quickly accepted.
Those five games in February would kickstart VT’s season as the Hokies recorded wins over Northwestern (current RPI No. 7), Missouri (No. 20), Kentucky (No. 21), Wisconsin (No. 29) and Michigan State (No. 103).
“Going 5-0 against all Power 5 opponents was a great start to the year,” D’Amour told Tech Sideline. “It confirmed what we thought when we started the season – this team has the talent to compete against anybody.”
The opening weekend also caught the attention of ESPN’s Amanda Scarborough.
What an opening weekend!
– @HokiesSoftball went 5-0 playing toughest schedule
– @OU_Softball’s FR Jordy Bahl can pitch
– @UWSoftball’s FR Olivia Johnson can hit
– @AlabamaSB digs the long ball
– @FSU_Softball looked solid
— Amanda Scarborough (@ascarborough) February 14, 2022
The next weekend brought a trip to Tuscaloosa. D’Amour knew that the perennial power Alabama usually hosted an early season tournament and a conversation with Bama coach Patrick Murphy secured an invite for the Hokies.
Although the Hokies lost two games (1-0 and 2-0) to the Crimson Tide, a pair of wins over Evansville and a single win over Middle Tennessee left the Hokies with an 8-2 record and a strength of schedule that softball guru Kenneth Massey ranked as No. 2 in the country.
The following weekend was the Carolina Classic, hosted by South Carolina. Tech again registered some quality wins, taking down Ohio State (RPI No. 24), Miami (No. 71) and the host Gamecocks (No. 48), before a game with Troy was rained out.
Then the Hokies began their ACC schedule, traveling to Clemson and sweeping the No. 9 Tigers. The NCAA released their first RPI report of the season a day later and the Hokies were rewarded with the No. 1 spot.
During the season, D’Amour also sought out quality mid-week contests with games against Charlotte (No. 35), Longwood (No. 74), Tennessee (No. 12) and a three-game weekend series with Central Florida (No. 16). A pair of games (and wins) against Liberty (No. 31) helped the schedule strength cause as well.
The win against the Volunteers in Knoxville raised numerous eyebrows, including this tweet from Rounding Third Softball.
— Rounding Third Softball (@Rounding3rdSB) April 21, 2022
Although it was frustrating at the time, in-season cancellations of two-game sets by Norfolk State (No. 243), Gardner-Webb (No. 244) and Radford (No. 210) likely helped Tech’s cause by not lowering their strength of schedule and RPI. Still, winning games is the goal of any team, and this year’s squad did just that, recording an overall mark of 40-6 heading to the ACC Tournament in Pittsburgh.
“Forty wins is a benchmark for any good team,” D’Amour said. “Getting 40 wins while having 10 rainouts/cancellations is even more impressive to me. We’ll rest up this week, ace all of our finals, and be ready to go next week in Pittsburgh.”
The Hokies’ season will resume at the ACC Tournament on Thursday, May 12 at 11 a.m. when they play the winner of Wednesday’s 8/9 play-in game. All games will be on the ACC Network, with the championship game being televised on ESPN2. Click here for the ACC Softball Championship Page.