Kenny Brooks paused and looked up at the crowd, perhaps with a few tears in his eyes. A few Virginia Tech players had already gone back to the locker room in Cassell Coliseum, all through a sea of maroon and orange that was hollering for them. To which, most of them offered a wave after running to high-five the crowd. The head coach stopped and offered praise to the fans that watched him build the women’s basketball program from bottom dwellers to title contenders.
He pointed up at the crowd and clapped for them. It’s a group that’s been so kind to him after his teams started playing winning basketball. It wasn’t easy to fill Cassell at the beginning of Brooks’s tenure in 2016, mainly because of the hole Dennis Wolff left him to dig out of.
But Friday night’s first round game in the NCAA Tournament vs. Chattanooga was the first time Cassell had sold out in the Kenny Brooks era and was the highest-attended game with 8,925 fans, the fourth-largest in program history. That crowd witnessed a Virginia Tech victory, 58-33, over the Mocs.
“It was fantastic, I thought they were loud,” Brooks told reporters postgame. “I’m really proud of where we’ve come, and for my kids to be able to experience this – that is tremendous.”
Blacksburg knew exactly what to do for the first time postseason basketball returned to Cassell since 2019, when Brooks’s team hosted the WNIT, though only 781 fans showed up.
This time, however, the mass was much larger and much rowdier, and one that might have amped Elizabeth Kitley up a little too much. As the fans bellowed the lyrics to Enter Sandman moments before tip-off, the Hokies’ All-American center jumped a second too early as she lunged for the basketball that had yet to leave the referee’s hand. She also fired the basketball into Chattanooga’s bench 15 seconds into the game.
“I wish they would let us play Enter Sandman,” Brooks said. “I think the roof would have blown off.”
But none of Kitley’s blunders mattered by the end because, in a result most expected, the No. 1-seeded Hokies blew out the No. 16-seeded Mocs in the first NCAA Tournament game that Cassell Coliseum hosted since 2004. And no, Tech didn’t beat Chattanooga by nearly as many as a No. 1 seed often does. But there’s a good reason for that.
Friday marked former VT associate head coach Shawn Poppie’s return to Blacksburg for the first time since he took the Mocs’ head coaching job at the end of last season. While no players from Tech went with him, he knew just how to stop the Hokies’ offense – something he helped coach during his time with Brooks.
“Shawn wore many hats here, which was great for me,” Brooks said on Thursday. “Later on in his career, I gave him more and more responsibilities that were going to help prepare him for his next opportunity. And that’s how much I relied on him, but it’s how much I trusted him.”
In fact, the play that was drawn up for Kitley’s game-winner against North Carolina this season was a Poppie-designed play, one that he calls “VT” at Chattanooga.
But everything else, outside of Poppie’s knowledge to limit Tech, played into the Hokies’ favor, including the crowd.
“That was awesome, that means everything to us,” Kitley said. “Just the way that [the fans] showed out at the end of the regular season, I knew it was going to be great energy in here.”
Early on, Cassell Guard, Tech’s student section, was so deafening that it drove the Mocs to a pair of shot clock violations in the first half. On one occasion, Chattanooga was still passing and dribbling the basketball around on its end of the floor once the shot clock buzzer went off, unaware that it even sounded. On another, a few of Chattanooga’s players complained to one another that they couldn’t communicate with each other or their coaches.
“We struggled getting play calls to all be on the same page,” Poppie said. “There were a lot of possessions where four of our kids were in something, and the fifth kid [didn’t hear], and how we play, we need all five. So, that would throw us out of rhythm.”
And it went on like that for all 40 minutes until the final horn sounded. It was then Virginia Tech took a victory lap around its home venue, high-fiving and hugging fans, before heading back to the locker room. And it was then that Brooks rose up and pointed to those in maroon and orange above the Cassell Coliseum tunnel before walking back to talk to his team and to begin game-planning for his next opponent on Sunday.
“It’s not like they just filled the seats,” Tech point guard Georgia Amoore said. “It was really loud. It honestly makes a difference to the game, like free throws and everything like that. The stadium was literally shaking.”
Box Score: No. 1 Virginia Tech 58, No. 16 Chattanooga 33
Transcript: Kenny Brooks, Elizabeth Kitley, Georgia Amoore
Transcript: Shawn Poppie, Yazz Wazeerud-Din, Abbey Cornelius
28 Responses You are logged in as Test
OK folks, we have had ONE big crowd under Brooks and it is time for the Blacksburg/Christiansburg community to embrace Tech women’s basketball. Back in the late 70’s and 80’s when I was working in Charlottesville, the women’s game would always have a very good crowd of locals.
I have asked and never get a response, but where has Owusu gone? A 2nd team All American at MD last year, who appears to have recovered from a broken finger is getting zero minutes. Is it an attitude problem? Fit with Brooks style of play? I fully expect her to hit the portal as soon as this season is over!
Brooks did give an explanation that when she went out due to injury the team ran their sets that really didn’t fit her strengths. Owusu is a fantastic mid range shooter, but she has to have the ball in her hand. He just felt that going back to her would have disrupted their mojo. I give Owusu credit that she has hung in there although she did send out a “Free me” tweet. If she stays next year and Kitley leaves she will have a prominent role, but that is unlikely. One problem is that it will not sit well with the Pope Paul VI crowd which is a women’s basketball factory in NOVA.
Not every recruit or transfer works out, for various reasons. At this point in the season, it is best to focus on the wonderful young ladies who are playing hard, putting in the work, and representing VT so well. There is really nothing to be gained by bringing this up in the midst of a historic time for the program.
I encourage fans to watch the TV broadcast but listen to Evan Hughes on VT radio using Varsity app. You can hear the crowd and you get insightful commentary and play by play. Last night Evan had Mac McCarthy with him too. Go Hokies!
Every time I try the tv stream is Way behind the play by play. No fixing that and my mind can’t follow that much disconnected action.
We need an engineer to come with a way to delay the audio while watching satellite/cable feeds.
Liz’s reaction to the singing was epic!
The comment about digging out of the hole that Dennis Wolf left, got my blood pressure moving up.
Among the laziest and least inspiring hire by Jim Weaver. It still irritates me.
So pleased that Kenny Brooks has built this program. Will be even more difficult to sustain this level of excellence. What has been accomplished is significant
Weaver was a football guy through and through. He did a lot of damage to the basketball programs.
Weaver ALMOST “Killed” both programs with his last two coaching hires. Brooks, Williams and Young have all done well at making VT basketball relevant again. GO HOKIES!!!
Weaver was too busy executing his Global War on Tailgating
So much fun to watch. Couldn’t be any prouder of this team.
The crowd noise is interesting. I was able to start watching with about 4 or so minutes left in 2nd qtr.
The crowd seemed dead. I attributed it to the team having the big lead.
yeah – you missed it.
Winning Bacon still had the loudest response
I could tell while watching that ESPN or that particular production crew did a bad job of mic’ing the crowd. The experience WASN’T conveyed well to the fans watching at home. It’s possible that the mic’s were good, but that whoever was doing the sound mixing turned the crowd down too much so that the viewers could hear the play by play and commentary.
This. I tried the tv guys for a change. I’m going back to the VT broadcast.
I don’t think Cassell has been mic’d very well all season long by ESPN.
Yesterday was the worst- tiny voices out of a can with ZERO crowd impression.
Too many games and not enough talent and equipment on production side.
The broadcast audio was not indicative of what it was like in the stadium
All I can say is wow I’m so proud of this team and my school Go Hokies!!!!
Brooks and this team made it happen ,So gald VT fans did their part and showed that they had this team’s back. Go Hokies
Dude – you have to embed the students/crowd signing.
Let’s make it shake again on Sunday! Go Hokies!!!!!
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