After one of the most successful seasons on paper, the Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball program is returning to the NCAA Tournament; getting selected to the No. 5 seed in the Spokane Regional.
They open up tournament play on Friday, March 18 at College Park, Md., home to the University of Maryland, when they face No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast University, the Atlantic Sun Champions.
It is the first time since 2006 that the Hokies were selected to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
In Kenny Brooks’ sixth season at the school, this year’s team finished 13-5 in the ACC, which was the most ACC games won in a single season. Eight of them came at home, which is almost the most conference games won in Cassell Coliseum since joining the league back in 2004.
Center Elizabeth Kitley became the first Hokie to win ACC Player of the Year after she averaged 17.4 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game, both of which were team-best.
Guard Aisha Sheppard moved to the No. 1 spot in the all-time program scoring list with her third consecutive season of 4000+ points. She passed Renee Dennis in their game at Louisville on Feb. 23; Sheppard now sits at 1874 career points.
Following an accomplished regular season, the Hokies won two games in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. They advanced to the semifinal round after defeating No. 13 seeded Clemson and No. 4 seeded North Carolina, where they eventually lost to eventual ACC Champion, No. 1 N.C. State.
Fingers were crossed that the Hokies did enough during the year to host the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Blacksburg for the first time since 1999, but they will settle for a 4.5-hour car ride to begin for what they hope will be the start of a successful postseason.
The road to Minneapolis will not have an easy start as they will take on the No. 23 nationally ranked Eagles side, who finished 29-2 on the year. They had a 15-1 conference record and were perfect away from Fort Myers, Fla. with a 9-0 away record and a 6-0 record on a neutral floor.
The high-flying offense has soared to the top as one of the best scoring teams in the nation, ranking ninth in Division 1 with 78.4 points per game.
Big contributors to the offensive production include guards Kierstan Bell, who averages a team-best 23.2 points per game, and Kendall Spray, who ranks sixth in the nation with a three-point percentage of 45.1%.
15 years ago, the program made a run all the way to the Division II National Championship before losing in the final. The school transitioned to Division I during that summer and made their first NCAA Tournament in 2012. Since then, they have appeared in eight of the 10 tournaments starting in 2012.
The Eagles have been the No. 12 seed on three separate occasions. They are 1-2 in their first round matchups, winning their most recent contest over No. 5 seeded Missouri, 80-70, in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
This matchup will surely be circled on your calendar if you are a fan of scoring. Both Virginia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast rank in the top 40 in field goal percentage, with the Hokies (44.2%) having a slight edge over the Eagles (43.9%) by four spots.
It’s still not clear if Elizabeth Kitley or Cayla King will be available for the Hokies come Friday, but the hope is that the 13 days between a loss in the semifinal round in the ACC Tournament and the first round of the NCAA Tournament is enough time for the two starters to fully recover.
The tip-off for Friday’s game between the Hokies and Eagles is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on ESPNU.
Whoever comes out victorious in the first round will have a date against No. 4 seeded Maryland or No. 13 seeded Delaware on Sunday, March 20th. That matchup will come 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Hokies-Eagles game and will also be presented on ESPNU.