Soon after the season came to a conclusion in College Park, Md., the offseason attrition for Virginia Tech began.
Two graduate students, Aisha Sheppard (now a Las Vegas Ace) and Emily Lytle, played their final collegiate minutes on March 18. In a 15-day span between March and April, three players – Azana Baines (Seton Hall), Rochelle Norris (Central Michigan) and Shamarla King (Stony Brook) – entered the transfer portal. That left the Hokies with just ten scholarship players, five shy of the limit of 15.
Out of that ten, two players are using a COVID year of eligibility (D’asia Gregg, Kayana Traylor) in 2022-23. Chloe Brooks (r-Sr.), while on the roster and still with the program, has medically retired due to a foot injury. Charlise Dunn, Carleigh Wenzel and Maddie Vejsicky are three talented freshmen, but none have collegiate experience.
That leaves four players, a core that Kenny Brooks has centered his team around for the past few seasons. Three are seniors – reigning ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, Cayla King and Taylor Geiman – while Georgia Amoore is a junior.
So how did Brooks & Co. turn their good roster into a great one in a matter of weeks? By doing what that staff has done best for multiple years now, ever since Brooks arrived in Blacksburg: mining the transfer portal.
Boston College center Clara Ford (6-3) was the first to commit on April 18. She’s from Vienna, Va., will be a graduate student in 2022-23 and has 91 career games under her belt. Ford averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds per game while shooting 59% last year.
Next, arguably the biggest pickup for Brooks since receiving a commitment from Sheppard in December 2016 – signing Maryland’s Ashley Owusu (6-0), a two-time AP All-American, on May 4. The 2021 Ann Meyers Drysdale Award winner, an honor given to the best shooting guard in the country, she’ll slide right into Tech’s pro-style offense. The Woodbridge, Va. native averaged 14.3 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 2021-22.
On top of that, Tech rounded out its starting five on Friday, May 13. Another Boston College transfer, forward Taylor Soule (5-11) signed with the Hokies. A three-time All-ACC performer from West Lebanon, N.H., Soule averaged 16 points and 5.5 rebounds last year, starting all 33 games for the Eagles.
How They’ll Fit
Two inches shorter than Norris, Ford will have a similar role in 2022-23 – provide depth for Kitley. That was the plan for Norris, though a non-contact ACL injury over the summer forced her to sit out the season.
The dynamic may change slightly on the wing. While Sheppard was known for her range – she graduated as the all-time leading 3-point shooter in the ACC – Owusu is known more for her ability to get downhill. She was just 40.6% from deep last season on 32 attempts, whereas Sheppard was 38.7% on 248 shots. However, Owusu attacked the rim, shooting 42.4% from the floor and hitting 79.7% of her free throws.
Owusu is also a slightly better ball-handler than Sheppard, which means she can pick up some slack in that area if needed. She can also create her own shot off the dribble. The Hokies already have two capable point guards in Amoore and Traylor, though.
Here’s a good five-minute video from her game against Baylor last season, which shows how she can impact Virginia Tech. If you want to see an impressive sequence, skip ahead to 1:30.
As for Soule, she’s a like-for-like replacement for Baines for Virginia Tech. She’s a large upgrade in points (Baines averaged 5.2 in 2021-22) and free throw percentage (68.3% to 46.5% of Baines), while field goal percentage and rebounding are close to the same. Soule is a really good passer, an efficient shooter and a frontcourt player who can run in transition.
So Much Talent… Now What?
Last year’s Hokies squad was one of the best in program history.
First-ever trip to the ACC Tournament semifinals, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, five ranked wins, program-record 13 ACC wins. That doesn’t even list the individual accomplishments. But what might next year’s squad have that Virginia Tech lacked in 2021-22?
At the ACC Tip-off in Charlotte in October, Brooks told the media that he had depth in talent, not in numbers. That became very evident throughout the season when the team didn’t have more than an eight-man rotation at times due to injuries.
If Tech can stay healthy, the 2022-23 season is more promising in that regard. It’s a veteran-laden group with four seniors, a redshirt senior and four graduate students, but there’s depth at each spot. Not only is the roster really talented, but the Hokies could potentially use around ten different players if needed.
Last year’s ACC Tournament is a great example of when depth matters the most. King and Kitley both picked up injuries in Greensboro, leaving the Hokies with essentially a six-man rotation. Geiman, who was injured for most of the season, stepped in and gave them some quality minutes, but against NC State, the eventual ACC Champions, they were outmanned as a whole.
This upcoming season should be different. The freshmen will have time to grow and develop, and the other ten players are very experienced. Tech still has two open scholarships available, too, should it choose to use them. Another spot of importance this offseason: replacing associate head coach Shawn Poppie, who became the head coach at Chattanooga.
There are still some boxes Brooks & Co. need to check in the coming months, but the future looks bright. As it stands in May, Virginia Tech has a legit case to be one of the favorites in the ACC this season. That’s very different from two months ago when some questions loomed. The Hokies have answered them, and then some.