How Elizabeth Kitley And Cayla King Shaped Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball

Elizabeth Kitley and Cayla King completely changed Virginia Tech women’s basketball. (Jon Fleming)

To build something special, you have to have a solid foundation. At Virginia Tech, Kenny Brooks found that in Cayla King and Elizabeth Kitley.

He was entering his second season at the helm when King committed in August of 2017. She loved the program so much that she took a trip to Blacksburg at every opportunity. Her parents, Tom and Elda, joke that she visited Tech as a recruit more than anyone else had in its history.

Despite her being great friends with Kitley, Brooks made an emphasis to recruit them separately. The Greensboro natives were on the same AAU team and were fresh off a 4A state championship in March, which they won in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. (A year later, they won their second in the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.)

Kitley, the No. 33 prospect in the country, per ESPN, joined King and committed to Tech in December of 2017. The Hokies beat out some of the North Carolina schools, including Wake Forest, where her dad, Ralph, played from 1986-90.

“We wanted to get high-IQ, good basketball players that we can mold, and those two really fit the billing,” Brooks told Tech Sideline this week. “And when they got here, it was a plus that they were two of the hardest-working kids that I’ve ever been around, and all that combined makes you able to build a program.”

The relationships and family atmosphere sold it. Every time the girls visited Blacksburg, they became more comfortable with Brooks and his staff. It was the same for the parents, who saw the plan to take Virginia Tech to new heights and bought in. And they got to know the Brooks family — Chrissy, Kendyl, Chloe and Gabby. That kind of inclusiveness made everyone feel at home.

“The way they embraced the whole family, and Raven [Kitley], I never doubted it,” Ralph Kitley said. “I knew she was in good hands. We love Blacksburg. She’s in a college town, it’s a great feel to it. We never doubted it.”

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Cayla King and Elizabeth Kitley believed in Kenny Brooks’ vision from the jump. (Michael Shroyer)

The program under Brooks was still in its infancy, though the coach felt confident about the future with Kitley and King in the fold. However, the players had to believe in a vision that didn’t exist.

When they enrolled, the Hokies were entering Year 3 of the Brooks era and were 10-22 in the ACC, with two 20-win WNIT seasons. They had to put their trust in Brooks and have confidence, even though they didn’t know what would await on the other side or how things would turn out. They had to trust the process, and they did.

“I think they just both wanted to be part of building a program, rather than just going to someplace that was successful and being plugged in,” Tom King said. “Especially Liz, the girl wanted that challenge. … And that’s what I love about both of them, that they meet things head-on and go and conquer.”

Kitley started immediately as a freshman and averaged 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. King’s path was different — she played in all 30 games but had to prove herself, which she did. Her minutes jumped from 13.8 per game as a freshman to 30.9 as a sophomore and she started 23 of the 25 games.

“She’s going to do whatever the coach wants from her, and watching her figure that all out and earn some playing time and his trust was probably what I’m most proud of,” Tom King said. “She didn’t just walk in there and get playing time; she had to earn it, earn his trust. And you look at what their relationship is now and how much he trusts her on the court, it’s just a very cool thing to witness.”

It took plenty of perseverance on both ends, though. King and Kitley each suffered ACL injuries in high school. After making it to college and playing in the regular season as a freshman, COVID hit.

The program slowly grew, but they had to overcome setbacks. They lost by 42 in the NCAA Tournament to Baylor as sophomores. The following year, they improved their ACC regular-season record from 8-8 to 13-5, but they lost in the first round of the Big Dance to Florida Gulf Coast. Yet, Kitley and King never wavered.

It hasn’t always been an easy path for Elizabeth Kitley, Cayla King and Virginia Tech. (Ivan Morozov)

“I remember times when it was difficult,” said Loretta Rowland-Kitley, Liz’s mom. “She’d come out after a loss and it just broke my heart. But to watch [Elizabeth], and everyone else along with, persevere through all that and keep grinding and keep working hard because she knew it could be better. And she’s kept her personality.

“I’ve always told her since she was a little girl, ‘You are your own girl, and you will shine in whatever you choose to do,’ and she does. I’m so proud of that and happy for her because she also seems happy doing it.”

In the age of the transfer portal and NIL, teammates come and go frequently. They’ve had 35 different teammates over their five seasons, a ridiculous number but also a normal one in this era of college basketball.

“That’s why the main thing about Cayla has just been her consistency in my life, and vice versa,” Kitley said. “I think we’ve had a million teammates over the five years come in and out, but I’ve always had her to sit down with at the end of the day and talk about everything with, and it’s just becoming less and less common.”

Through that entire time, they set the standard of winning at Virginia Tech. Even when they faced adversity, they stuck together; they never thought about transferring or going anywhere else. Rather, they stayed true to their original commitments, put their head down and continued to improve. And it blossomed into a beautiful thing.

“Coach Brooks is pretty consistent in what he says,” King said. “And just seeing how much work he puts into it and how much he puts into individual players; he’ll have sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make this team better and how to help us win. So when you see someone like that, … when you have people around you like that who are putting in the hard work, it’s pretty easy to put hard work in.”

“They’re my foundation,” Brooks said of King and Kitley. “They’re the meal and everything else is a supplement that goes with the meal, but they know exactly what I want. … They don’t have a silver spoon in their mouth like some of these blue bloods have, they’ve had to work to get to where they are, but when the jump ball is about to go up, I never think they’re going to be intimidated. I don’t care where we are. … I look at them and I’m like, ‘OK, we’re as good as anybody in the country.”

Elizabeth Kitley (middle) and Cayla King (right) won an ACC championship in their hometown. (Jaylynn Nash/ACC)

As seniors, they had one of the greatest seasons ever witnessed in Blacksburg. They went on a tear after mid-January, winning 10 straight games to get to the ACC Tournament final, where they beat Louisville and became conference champions in their backyard.

When Ralph Kitley was at Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons played their home games at the Greensboro Coliseum before LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem was built. Elizabeth won an ACC championship in that same building, which he couldn’t find the words to describe.

Meanwhile, King was part of the elementary school groups that took field trips to the arena for the ACC Tournament and was a ball girl. She raised the trophy on that floor, too.

“To see her out there holding the trophy, it was a dream come true for her,” Elda King said. “Didn’t come easy, but they did it. … It was awesome … to see her so happy, to be able to accomplish what I’m sure she always dreamt of.”

But, even after extending their winning streak to 15 games and making a run to the Final Four as a No. 1 seed, both players decided to return for a fifth season.

The Hokies are 22-4 (13-2 ACC) this year and are in the driver’s seat for an ACC regular-season title. With favorable results on Thursday during their off-week, they have an opportunity to clinch a share of that and the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament on Sunday.

Their impact has been far greater than individual numbers and awards, though. Because of the way King and Kitley have carried themselves and led the charge, combined with the team’s success, there are more eyes on the Virginia Tech program than ever, evidenced by the attendance numbers.

The attendance for Virginia Tech women’s basketball has skyrocketed. (Jon Fleming)

The Hokies had never sold out a regular-season game before this year. Sunday’s game vs. North Carolina will be the fifth in a two-month span. And they rank 13th in average attendance (6,337), second in the ACC behind Louisville.

While they’ve seen a jump of 74.2 percent from last season, the numbers looking back to 2019-20, when King and Kitley were freshmen, are remarkable. In that time, their attendance has shot up 303.9 percent. They’re one of three schools in the nation that has seen a 300 percent increase in five years and one of two in the top 100 (LSU). They ranked 94th in average attendance back then; now they’re up 81 spots.

“I think that’s what we’re really most proud of, being able to build this program,” Kitley said. “We wanted to get the program to a point where it was respected and valued in the community and nationally, and I think we’ve definitely been able to do that. Having these things happen to us make it very apparent.”

That’s a big reason why Tech is the first ACC school to host ESPN’s College GameDay Sunday morning, 11 a.m. ET from Cassell Coliseum — is one of six teams to ever welcome the show, joining the likes of UConn, Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa and LSU.

That’s how quickly the program has grown in such a short time. And Kitley and King have witnessed all of it.

“The fact that they’re coming here is pretty insane,” King said. “If you would have told us that our first year, we would’ve just probably laughed it off, like, ‘No way.’ Our goal that year was to just make it into the tournament. And now here we are. We were a No. 1 seed last year, hosting, and now College GameDay is here. At this point, I think the sky’s the limit.”

They’ve been best friends since freshman year of high school and have spent almost every day together for the past nine years. They lived together for a few years at Tech, too. “It was meant to be,” Elda said. Loretta was her yoga instructor when they first met; Tom and Ralph played pickup together, and he helped convinced the Kitleys to get Elizabeth to play basketball instead of softball.

Cayla King and Elizabeth Kitley have changed Virginia Tech for the better. (Jon Fleming)

But King and Kitley have played such an instrumental role in something bigger than themselves. They’ve transformed Virginia Tech women’s basketball, and with it so many lives. They can’t go out in public without being recognized, nor can their parents.

Before they arrived, the Hokies were 60-168 (.263) in the ACC. In their time, that mark is 59-26 (.694). With a win vs. UNC on Sunday, King and Kitley would be responsible for exactly half of the program’s all-time ACC wins — all because they took what Brooks described as a leap of faith.

“Coach Brooks, he’s a special person, and I’m sure Virginia Tech and Blacksburg know how lucky they are to have him,” Ralph Kitley said. “That man has a vision like I’ve never seen. I’m just so happy that Elizabeth got to spend five years from him and learn from him. The love and admiration she has for him is tremendous. The trust they have in each other is just tremendous. I’m just so thankful and appreciative to him.”

When they arrived, there was little history of success. Virginia Tech was just a speck in the greater women’s basketball universe. Brooks was trying to construct something, and they bought in for the long haul and believed, never thinking twice. They put in the work, continued to get better and improved over time.

With it came an ACC Tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament run to the Final Four, and more basketball awaits in the postseason. On top of that, they’ve brought to life an extremely supportive fanbase that waits an hour after games for autographs. They’ve “transcended” the game, in Brooks’ words, and not just at Virginia Tech.

“What they’ve done is not only through their play, but the kind of people that they are,” Brooks said. “A lot of times they were just trying to get respectability, and they didn’t whine about it, they didn’t complain about it; they just kept playing. Kept playing when it was 1,500 people in the stands. It still mattered. And now it’s to the point where people really want to come see it. It just warms my heart.

“It’s one of the things we’re most proud of, the attention we brought to the community. … It does amaze me sometimes when I sit back and think about where we were to where we are now and a lot of that has to do with those kids and their hard work and dedication, but then the fact that they’re still as humble as they are. … You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Elizabeth Kitley and Virginia Tech are signing autographs all the time now. (Jon Fleming)

When Kitley and King will walk across the floor before Sunday’s game with their families on senior day, many will think about the big moments they’ve been part of, from Kitley’s buzzer-beaters against UNC and NC State, respectively, where King had the game-winning assists, or the historic postseason run in 2023 that took the Hokies to a Final Four and new heights.

But they’ve set the example of how to transform a program, showing that it’s more than basketball; it takes a special kind of person, backed by a special family, with a special coach and teammates.

That is their legacy.

“I’m forever indebted to those two, in particular, for taking a leap of faith, because you couldn’t see it,” Brooks said. “I credit them and every time I hug them, I tell them I love them. I’m very appreciative of what they’ve done for this program, but also me.”

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44 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Players playing for the love of the sport, their family, their team, their school and their community describes the best of college sports (the ideal). Love this article, these girls (and their team)
    and Virginia Tech.

  2. Great Article David, I’ve had tickets to VT ladies basketball for almost 30 years, Best of times. Proud of Coach Brooks and what they have accomplished. Hard to find words for it.

  3. David, great writing! You did an excellent job of putting a basketball and human interest story together to make a must read. I don’t think any sports columnist could do it better.

  4. One thing I’ve observed about Liz, is even after she gets mugged and knocked down, within moments she is up and smiling. Cayla is a great defender and I love it when she hits her threes. These two have laid the foundation for what we have now and their legacy is already showing up in that Coach Brooks is getting attention from some of the best players out there. I had a fiber optic tech working at my place in Floyd, a good ole country boy, and he said that he and his family try to go to Tech women’s games often. Just this week, an attorney I use, a UVa grad, said she was so proud of Tech’s women’s basketball team and Kenny Brooks. I don’t know if we’ll ever go to the final four again, but I’ll never forget this team and these players. Great writing David. Thanks for being a Hokie.

  5. Well done David….. and thanks Liz and Cayla for your commitment to excellence and Virginia Tech.

  6. THIS! THIS is why I love Hokie sports. Liz & Cayla are EXACTLY what we want all Hokies to be. Nobody wins every game even though us fans (me especially) hopes for it every game. I’ve said dumb stuff or overreacted about individual performances but these two have shown what it means to just keep grinding. What we all want is effort and caring about representing VT. Thank you Liz & Cayla! You’ve done that in every single game you’ve played, and that’s all we can ask for. We all want to see a special ending to these young ladies’ careers. Liz’s mom said it best about Liz; she will shine no matter what. Many people including myself wanted her to be some bruiser at 6’6. The fact that she’s developed into an all time great through working to develop HER skill that best suits her frame & build while also developing the toughness we’ve all wanted to see from her these past 4 years is a testament to the competitor she is. We’ve witnessed her get knots of her head & be used by opponents as a jungle gym by opponents & she’s handled it all with amazing grit & grace. We’re all lucky to have witnessed her career. Cayla’s grit & defense isn’t noticed as much by outsiders who critique her when her shots don’t fall but she’s GLUE to this team’s underrated D. Seeing so many more of their games in person all of this shows more in person than on TV. Hope all you Hokie fans get to see these two at JPJ &/Greensboro for the ACCT if you’ve yet to witness 2 of the best players in VT sports history. Let’s Go!!!

  7. What a great article! Not only are they talented athletes but they are great representatives of our Women’s Basketball team and our University! The type of people we can all appreciate and be proud that they are Hokies! I’m so proud of these young women for the way they play and conduct themselves on and off the court!
    Kudos to their parents for raising such wonderful young women and to Coach Kenny Brooks for his vision for the program and developing these ladies into champions!

    1. I couldn’t say it better! Outstanding article on great athletes and a coach who had a dream!! It’s wonderful to be member of this experience.

  8. Great article. Love the relationship between Cayla King. Liz Kitley and coach Brooks. The NC state buzzer beater at home was the best basketball moment I’ve ever witnessed in person my entire life.
    We have been fortunate to see what these young ladies and coach Brooks have created in Blacksburg.

  9. Another great article, David, perhaps your best ever. An All-star quality piece and worthy of being carried by national media. Please don’t hit the portal and seek those big, national media NIL dollars. We need you here, dude!

  10. I had to try hard to keep my emotion in check while reading this. Thank you so much for this great article.

  11. There will be time to reflect on the impact of the three great players that have propelled the WBB program to new heights, but that will be at the end of this season – there are many important games remaining this year so writing postmortems is premature. Obviously Kitley, King, Amoore and their families are critical to the success that VT WBB has enjoyed, but let’s wait for the victory lap until the season is over (which hopefully will not be for several weeks yet).

  12. Awesome article! One of the best ever on Tech Sideline! Liz is the best player in the history of Tech basketball! Retire number 33!!

    1. Agree with you totally. I have followed VT basketball since the days of Chris Smith and Bobby Ayersman. So many great players but Liz is on a par with Michael Vick in terms of what she means to VT. If her number doesn’t go up soon then I will lose a lot of faith in the powers to be at VT. Love what she means to our university.

  13. So glad these legends decided to come back for one more season. To summarize: they did everything the right way, and Hokie Nation is proud and fortunate to have them.

  14. The late grate Frank Howard passed away last year, #33. Kitley #33. I think it is safe to say that will always be my favorite player number forever and I’ve added another player to my pantheon.

    It’s hard to qualify “that was special” There are a lot of great teams out there, and probably a lot of good/great friendships but at the risk of being a homer, don’t see how you beat this, from high school, through covid, from small crowds to final four jubilation this is the fairytale of fairytales. I’ve got a good visual of Kitley kissing Cayla’s forehead in one game (GT? or did I see that on tv?) The connection between all the players, T. Soule coming back down for games, and of course Georgia. Ekh and Summiel got that “Let’s do this” look too. Clara lobbing the ball into Liz’s low post, Carleigh, and even Carys popping in on Queens of Cassell. These players are buddies.

    I don’t think you’ll ever see this again, not that there won’t be great teams and fun people just that we won’t come this way again. Great timely article.

  15. I will miss Liz and Cayla—and their families—more than I can say. Have never enjoyed following and cheering for a team more than these young ladies. But I think their example will be felt around here for a long time. Just look at how the new players and the young players carry themselves, how they play and how they play for each other. They learned that from Liz and Cayla.

  16. Wow! Outstanding article, underscores the value of hard work and being part of a team. This is what makes America great and certainly true at VT.

  17. Great article, but I remember when after a few seasons there were some posters questioning
    whether Brooks was the right person for the job. They complained about his daughter playing to
    much & Witt made a bad hire. Guess they’re now eating crow.
    Sometimes we just have to let things play out.

    1. Definitely some large crow to be eaten I also recall some grumbling about extending his contract during Covid – “bad optics” as I recall.

  18. David- you took a good human story and by coupling the necessary reporting work with excellent writing made it come alive in a great piece.

  19. We are fortunate as a University and Program to have both of them. I watched them play in HS, amazing the growth and effort that they put in.

  20. Character counts. VT alum will be forever appreciative and grateful they chose CKB and VT. Great article to capture the impact of trust and love between these young ladies and a dedicated coach with heart and a vision.

  21. Great stuff David. Thank you.
    We sure are going to miss them. But grateful for them.

    Love that the parents all emphasized “happiness” as their description of their girls. Too often, in collegiate athletics, that’s not a word thrown around a lot. It’s all about results.
    But those parents get it. Happiness in what you’re doing, allows the hard work and success to follow.

  22. Great article David! Count my family in as one of those fans on the bandwagon. I remember watching a game on TV during the 2021-22 season and recognizing there was something special building. It is refreshing to watch a true college TEAM sport again. Count us in again for next year!

  23. Great article. Cayla and Liz will be missed but they will have left us with s lot of great memories.

  24. Great write up. Liz and Cayla will go down as Hokie greats for their play sure, but also program stewardship and lifting up the women’s game as legit entertainment. LOVE watching this team. Got to sit behind the Kitleys and Kings in Seattle. Can tell you the apple doesnt fall far from the tree. Great parents great conversations. Soak it up Hokies we are watching legends.

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