The Virginia Tech women’s basketball program got a taste of tournament action last season, making it all the way to the WNIT final. However, in Kenny Brooks’ third season in Blacksburg, an NCAA Tournament bid is the goal.
“It was fun going through it and I watched each and every one of these kids grow individually and as a team,” Brooks said at ACC Media Day. “Having everyone back from that team and adding a couple pieces gives us that valuable experience we need to propel us to where we want to be ultimately; that’s the NCAA Tournament.”
Coming into the 2018–19 season, the Hokies return all five starters and all players who were active in the WNIT. Four out of the five starters returning for Brooks are seniors, with the lone outlier being last year’s freshman standout Aisha Sheppard.
The Hokies have improved in Brooks’ two seasons at Virginia Tech, winning more than 20 games each season and making it to the WNIT quarterfinals and the championship. However, Tech is 10–22 in the ACC during Brooks’ tenure and 1–12 against ranked teams. Heading into his third season, Brooks will be looking to make a leap in the ACC and earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006.
Brooks and the Hokies will rely heavily on seniors Taylor Emery and Regan Magarity. Emery is a prolific scoring guard who averaged 18.5 points per game last season and finished on the All-ACC second team. Throughout Tech’s run in the WNIT last season, Emery hit big shots and was the center of scoring for the Hokies. The Tampa, Florida native broke the Virginia Tech record for points in a season with 667 and begins this season on the preseason All-ACC team.
“Being able to play in the WNIT Championship gave us a lot of confidence and made us play together as a team,” Emery said at ACC Media Day. “We really learned (how to play with) each other and how we can progress into this year.”
Forward Magarity has scored over 1,000 points in her career and owns the Virginia Tech records for career rebounding (864) and single-season rebounding (317). In the redshirt senior’s final season in Blacksburg, the Hokies will be looking for her to lead the way in the low post once again. Magarity averaged 13.2 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game last season. The Norrkoping, Sweden native will dominate the rebounding game for the Hokies this season and look to add a solid low-post scoring element to Tech’s offense.
“I think she’s one of the most underrated players in this league, if not the most underrated player,” Brooks said. “She does so many things for us; she’s like my security blanket. She’s hands down the smartest player I have ever coached.”
Sophomore guard Sheppard is a spark of youth on an experienced Virginia Tech roster this season. In Sheppard’s freshman campaign, she set a program record for single-season 3-pointers made by a freshman with 76. Sheppard averaged 8.3 points per game, despite starting only 10 of the 37 games she played in. The former ESPN five-star recruit supplies an exceptional scoring presence alongside Emery in the Tech frontcourt.
Seniors Alexis Jean and Rachel Camp will both return to the Tech starting lineup this year in their final seasons in Blacksburg. Jean is a solid scoring forward whose rebounding will help lock down the paint alongside Magarity. The Port St. Lucie, Florida native averaged 8.8 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game last season.
Camp, a redshirt-senior guard, missed all of the 2016–17 season with an injury. The Forest City, North Carolina native returned in 2017-18 and averaged 8.6 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. She played nearly every position last season and showed scoring flashes late in the year, putting up double-digit scoring in five of the last seven games for the Hokies. Camp’s versatility and leadership will be vital for the Hokies this season.
“I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a fun brand of basketball. I know Hokie Nation is excited about it,” Brooks said. “I know we can score; we just need to learn to play a little better defense this year.”
Following one of the better seasons in program history, the abundance of returning players this season gives the Hokies a chance to make a run in the ACC. With the dynamic duo of Emery and Magarity leading the way, Tech will look to secure its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
The Hokies begin their season on Nov. 16 against USC Upstate at Cassell Coliseum. ACC action begins Jan. 3 when the Hokies visit Miami. Tech will host the preseason No. 1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Jan. 16.