Elizabeth Kitley’s Health Overshadows Hokies’ Loss At UVa

Elizabeth Kitley’s situation on Sunday for the Hokies reminded everyone that there’s more to life than basketball. (Ivan Morozov)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The No. 5 Hokies closed the regular season with an 80-75 loss at Virginia on Sunday night, but more than anything, it was a reminder that there’s more to life than basketball.

Matilda Ekh found Elizabeth Kitley for a fast-break opportunity with over six minutes left in the third quarter in John Paul Jones Arena. The six-foot-six center sprinted down the floor and dropped in a layup with some light contact, if any at all, before crumpling to the ground and holding her knee.

The two-time ACC Player of the Year and All-American has played nearly 5,000 career minutes over 151 games, but in a flash, it felt as though none of that mattered anymore. Though she’s averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds per game this year and felt almost invincible in moments, for maybe the first time in her entire career, she looked mortal in her spot underneath the basket.

A silence filled the arena, one packed to the brim with Virginia Tech fans. Sunday’s crowd of 11,975 was the largest for a women’s basketball game in the Commonwealth, surpassing the 1994 national championship game in the Richmond Coliseum between North Carolina and Louisiana Tech (11,966).

But in that moment, and for the remainder of the evening, the only thing crossing everyone’s minds was Kitley. Yes, there was a basketball game on the line, and UVa won it, handing the ACC champions their second consecutive loss. Yet, realization quickly set in that it might be a very serious injury, an experience much larger than hoops.

Those watching on television watched Kitley shake her head, her family’s reaction and Kenny Brooks’ emotional conversation with her. In person, she was slow to move before being helped to the locker room.

Elizabeth Kitley had such a serious reaction to her injury. (Ivan Morozov)

Though she returned to the bench later in the game with a smile on her face and received a standing ovation from the Hokie faithful, she didn’t check back in. And she was the only thing Brooks could think about in his post-game press conference.

“I’ll be very honest with you, I don’t know Kitley’s status, and to be honest with you, that’s where my mind is,” a noticeably shaken up Brooks said.

He’s repeatedly told observers of women’s basketball to not take Kitley’s greatness for granted. That might not have set in for some until just after 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.

It’s easy to think about how her potential absence, whether long or short, impacts the Hokies this season. They’re the overall No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., her hometown, but they could potentially be the second straight regular-season champion to lose their star player right before the postseason, joining Notre Dame and Oliva Miles.

They potentially had a shot for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament until their loss in Charlottesville, too. They’re still in great position for a top-four seed, meaning they’ll host a regional, though there’s a chance their team doesn’t look the same again this year.

Kitley is everything to Tech; Brooks said so himself after the game. But he also made the point that “she’s more than a player for us.”

Her number will eventually be retired by the school. However, her legacy and impact on women’s basketball reach beyond what she’s done on the court. She’s a trailblazer and an icon in the sport, especially in the ACC, and is one of the greatest players to ever compete in the conference. And she’s set the bar extremely high as far as drawing in fans and support from all over — having a warm and friendly personality is part of that.

All Hokies head coach Kenny Brooks could think about after the game was Elizabeth Kitley’s health. (Ivan Morozov)

That’s why Sunday was so jarring. She’s a generational player, and what she’s been able to accomplish on the hardwood makes her seem untouchable in moments, though her charisma has made her more than that. But in Charlottesville, many were reminded that she’s a human, not just a basketball player.

Without her on the floor for the final 15 minutes, the Hokies couldn’t hold on against Virginia despite Georgia Amoore putting them on her back. She had a career-high 39 points on 13-of-26 shooting and was nearly unguardable, but it wasn’t enough.

She didn’t have much help in the scoring category. Kitley was Tech’s only other double-figure scorer with 20 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes. True freshman Clara Strack stepped up and played 21 minutes, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds, but fouled out. Carleigh Wenzel had an important layup late while Carys Baker and Cayla King each got a trey down, but Olivia Summiel and Matilda Ekh were scoreless.

While Amoore and Kitley combined for 22-of-37 (59%), the rest of the team was 6-of-24 (25%). Tech (23-6, 14-4 ACC) turned it over 17 times against a team in UVa (15-14, 7-11) that hedged ball screens well and occasionally trapped. It shot better than the Cavaliers — 46 percent to 42 percent — and was plus-three on the glass but allowed 34 points in the paint (minus-10) and 21 points off turnovers (minus-eight).

Kymora Johnson led UVa with 21 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Camryn Taylor and Paris Clark joined her in double figures with 17 and 16, respectively, while combining for 13 rebounds. Nine of the 11 players who saw time scored, including Sam Brunelle, who knocked down two clutch free throws late.

The Hokies and Cavaliers were tied with 1:52 remaining after Wenzel’s bucket but allowed two quick baskets, one of which came off a miscue. Two free throws made it a six-point game, and a three-point play from Amoore wasn’t enough as the team’s final three field goals didn’t fall.

It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, though. The loss was disappointing for Virginia Tech while the crowd was unbelievable, but Kitley’s health was in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Box Score: Virginia 80, No. 5 Virginia Tech 75


15 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Unfortunately Liz and Georgia are not enough. One of the announcers stated VT need a third strong shooter and the past that has been Kayla King and Baker. Kayla has been off the last couple of games and Baker’s shots would have been airballs had she not caught the side of the backboard, not close. It will be interesting to see how Coach rebuilds in 2025 with Liz and Georgia (probably) gone.

    1. *Cayla

      For really most of this season, she hasn’t been at the level she was last year. Hope everything is ok with her, too, and that she can shine in both tournaments!

  2. I agree with all the comments regarding Liz. I hope she is o.k. Georgia was outstanding to keep us in the game, and I think the very questionable foul call on the screen, when Georgia made the long three pointer, was the turning point in the loss.

  3. Sad to see and really pulling for Liz! Sure the medical staff will look at everything and she will do what’s best for her future…and I’m 100% okay with that!

    David..just a quick note to say your writing has really stepped up in quality this past year. This is a great article that does a great job of capturing everything we all were feeling after Sunday. Kudos!

  4. Looking on the briight side, Liz was not helped to the Locker room nor when she returned to the bench. and she was not wearing any sort of brace and her knee was not iced. Her facial expression was not indicative of structural damage. I see what looks like a bruise on her left knee. .

    1. Knee injuries are very strange. You can walk and even run around with a torn ACL.

  5. Great article David – for a moment I felt I was reading an AB article. Kenny builds great PEOPLE and Liz and the Team will keep moving forward and adapt as best they can. Yes it absolutley stinks and is awful and the timing could not be worse. We are a great team with Liz on the floor, and not the same with out her – how could we be…But these young ladies are growing up right and learning to deal with adversity and the mental toughness needed for LIFE. Prayin for you All. Lean on and into each other. You are great people! GO HOKIES!

  6. Good summary, David. I was there, with 9 others. We left the arena devastated by Liz’s injury, and with a bitter taste in our mouths from the horrendous officiating. I watched CKB’s post-game comments back at the hotel room and was floored. Didn’t sleep worth a lick. Praying Liz is OK.

  7. Nice write up, David. I had tears in my eyes, when Kit came back out and sat on the bench – flashing a classy smile. With no disrespect to the rest of the VT players – I stopped ‘caring’.

    In any case – great showing by the VT fans.

  8. Wasn’t watching when Kitley went down. She’s taken so much abuse over her years at Tech and just keeps shaking it off. Till now. Praying for her and her family.

  9. These days, two fleeting qualities in college sports are humility and grace. Liz Kitley demonstrates both. Thanks to the Kitley family and to Kenny Brooks and the VT WBB staff for fostering those qualities in Liz for all to witness.

  10. Nicely done David. I have never had my mind switch from caring so much about winning a game to caring so little once she went down. I think we’re all very worried about her and what we may have just witnessed…the end of a career that we haven’t seen the likes of since Mike Vick. Praying for good news today.

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