With its 70-53 loss on the road against No. 5 Louisville on Sunday, Virginia Tech’s regular season has officially come to a close, and despite the 17-point loss, it’s hard not to think of this season as a massive success for the women’s basketball program.
Sitting at 21-8 (11-7 ACC), the Hokies have put together one of the most balanced squads in school history, and one that is very much on its way to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. Even better, it will be the team’s first season over .500 in conference play since the 2003-04 season when they finished 10-6 in the school’s final season in the Big East.
But before even thinking about the NCAA Tournament, where Tech is projected as a seven-seed according to Charlie Creme’s Bracketology predictions, head coach Kenny Brooks’ team first needs to go through the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. Now a five-seed in the tournament after dropping the season finale, the Hokies will be getting a first-round bye while they await the result of the 12- and 13-seed first round matchup between North Carolina and Wake Forest.
So just how far can this team go?
According to their ACC resume, a deep run doesn’t seem likely for the Hokies. Against teams with a conference record that’s .500 or better, they have just a 3-6 record, and against teams in the top-4, they’re only 1-5, with the only win coming against Duke in their home finale on Feb. 27.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance. Underestimating a team this skilled would be undermining an entire season of statement wins and incredible individual performances. This is a team that consists of impact players like Freshman of the Year-candidate Elizabeth Kitley, who is first in field goal percentage and blocks per game among freshmen in the ACC, and Aisha Sheppard, who has continued to build her already historic career as a Hokie by scoring over 1,000 career points in a season where she’s improved in nearly every statistical category.
Beyond those two, the Hokies roster consists of a handful of skilled role players that have proven capable of taking control of games if Kitley and Sheppard are being neutralized. There’s Dara Mabrey, who behind Sheppard, has proven to be a deadly shooter around the perimeter, and Trinity Baptiste, who’s mid-range jumper and inside scoring ability has been a perfect compliment to Kitley’s post-game prowess.
We also can’t forget about Taja Cole, a player who’s pass-first skillset has been crucial to the team’s balanced scoring this season. Virginia Tech hasn’t had a player so deftly able to find an open shooter, and her ability to punish teams that are slow on the fast break has been huge for the team.
The fact of the matter is, this team has a ton of potential to make a deep run if they play up to that level, even if they’ve struggled against the top teams of the conference. It’s clear this team enjoys playing together; you can see that especially in their post-game interviews, and if chemistry alone won championships, this team would be the favorite, but in a conference as deep as the ACC, they’ll have their hands full with some truly fantastic teams (see: Louisville). One thing’s for sure, coach Brooks’ team has proven this season that they won’t go down easy, and that this is just another test on the road toward the NCAA Tournament.