With a record of 13-20, the Virginia Tech softball team isn’t having the season it was expecting. However, this year will still be memorable for the program as it celebrates its 15th year in NCAA competition.
While the Hokies have seen all of the highs and lows of starting a program, one thing has always remained constant — head coach Scot Thomas.
In 1995, Thomas took over Tech’s brand-new team, despite having no experience with fast-pitch softball.
When talks of a softball team began, Thomas, who is a native of Blacksburg, expressed interest in being involved with the program, perhaps as an assistant coach.
However, after Rick Bertagnolli, coach of Division II powerhouse California, changed his mind and returned to Cal right before the Title IX deadline, Tech gave its head-coaching job to Thomas on an interim basis.
“I wasn’t worried about the X’s and O’s part of it, so much as the recruiting part of it and in particular the pitching part of it,” Thomas said. “It’s funny, I took an NCAA book and went through to look for the previous NCAA champions and called a bunch of coaches to see if they had anyone interested in being a pitching coach.”
Fifteen years later, Thomas has established a premier program in one of the best conferences in college athletics.
But it wasn’t easy.
Tech’s softball team started just like every new team entering a sport — it struggled. Starting off as a member of the Atlantic 10, Tech’s newest team went 16-32 in its inaugural season, and 6-10 in conference play.
In the years that followed, though, the Hokies have shown steady improvement.
After increasing its win total every year after its inaugural season, the team set a program record during the 1998-99 campaign, when it won 54 games and nearly took the Atlantic 10 championship.
Two years later, after another successful second place finish in the A-10, the team made a move toward tougher competition, joining the Big East.
In four seasons as a member of the Big East, the Hokies failed to find the same success that A-10 competition brought. Tech’s best finish as a member of the Big East was in 2002. In 2003, the Hokies took a step backward with their first losing season since 1996.
Despite the bumpy stretch, however, good things were close for Thomas and his program.
In 2005, the Hokies made another leap in competition by joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, where they continue to play today.
While the team saw increased competition every time it switched conferences, Thomas says its impact on recruiting cannot be understated.
“The first recruiting bench that I was able to sell them on was the fact that they were going to be able to play right away. The next one was ‘Hey, we’re going to be playing in the Big East,’ and it was an easier sell … and then with the ACC, it got even bigger,” Thomas said.
Since joining the ACC, the Hokies have seen exponential growth in skill and recognition.
In 2005, the Hokies made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a memorable run in the ACC Tournament.
Tech continued to get better and in 2007, captured its first regular season conference title.