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An Unimaginable Ending to a Historic Run

VT Team Coaches Fans 1 LSU 2023 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

"It wasn't supposed to end like this."

Those were some of the first words out of Kenny Brooks' mouth after Virginia Tech suffered a heartbreaking 75-72 loss to Baylor in the second round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament to end their season this past Sunday evening. Days later, that phrase could be applied to how Hokie fans are feeling about the seemingly sudden end of the Kenny Brooks era following his departure to Kentucky.

Go back one month in time to February 25th and the Hokies were soaring at the top of the ACC with College GameDay in town to witness a Senior Day victory over North Carolina where the Hokies clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the first time in program history. The Hokies were once again surging at the right time with all signs pointing towards another year of contending for a national title for the Hokies with Brooks and Liz Kitley and Georgia Amoore leading the way as always.

With Kitley in her final year and Amoore likely as well, the script seemed to be building towards a crescendo of another run at a national title that at least could mean a second-straight ACC Tournament title, another one seed, and another Final Four.

Personally, I was keeping the weekend of April 6th-8th clear knowing that another Final Four run for the Hokies seemed very possible if not likely given how they were playing.

It all seemed inevitable, like the perfect Hollywood script setting up for a dramatic ending for a pair of legendary players with stars of the future around them and a director prepping the next movie for those future stars.

But that's the beauty and brutality of sports. There are no guarantees at any point. Anything can truly happen and usually does. You can try to predict, but there's a reason why companies like FanDuel and DraftKings are quite profitable, because sports can't be predicted.

That inherent unpredictability can't be replicated by those in Hollywood. The lack of guarantees compels us to watch, buy tickets, travel, support and cheer loudly knowing that even us as a fan can maybe have the smallest impact that brings about the best result.

And so for most of the Kenny Brooks era, Tech fans experienced the beauty of sports at their highest peaks.

This would a program that had its moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s dominating the Atlantic 10 and then being one of the top challengers behind Connecticut in the Big East. However, Bonnie Henrickson would leave for Kansas by the mid-2000s and the program slowly descended into irrelevance in the loaded ACC seeming destined for purgatory in the bottom tier.

But that's the beauty of sports, there are no guarantees and with one hire of Kenny Brooks, things started to change at Virginia Tech with a program that suddenly would start knocking on the doorstep of the NCAA Tournament while showing glimpses of grand potential in non-conference play and the WNIT.

Then Virginia Tech lands a five-star recruit in Liz Kitley to be Virginia Tech's next superstar, finds the perfect compliment to her to orchestrate it all in a hidden gem in Georgia Amoore, and develops an ace wing that is a high level shooter and defender in Cayla King. These type of things don't usually happen for many than a very select few, and those few usually don't happen in a small town in eastern Appalachia.

All of a sudden, those WNIT appearances become winning records in conference, trips to the NCAA Tournament, curiosity from a fan base that starts to sense something incredible happening before their eyes, something a community and a region can rally around.

And then it kept building as a talented JUCO player D'Asia Gregg arrives in Blacksburg ready to do whatever it takes to help VT win. Then the next year, an All-Big 10 Honorable Mention player in Kayana Traylor decides to move on from stardom at Purdue to take on a new role complimenting the star duo of Kitley and Amoore.

The layering of talent continues the following year as an All-ACC star at Boston College in Taylor Soule decides she wants in and joins the Hokies, endearing herself as a Hokie great despite only having one season in Orange and Maroon. You also have Maryland star and All-American Ashley Owusu who jumps in as well, something that would seem crazy for VT to pull off yet becoming a harsh reminder that even the most surefire addition can prove to not work out sometimes, showcasing the unpredictability of sports.

It's one thing for this coming together of talent to happen in the NBA or at a college basketball program that already has a massive brand. It's another thing for five all-conference plays to come together to play for a region that had only seen the Sweet 16 twice between both the men's and women's teams. It was something that no one could have predicted just years prior yet was a new, exciting reality.

All of a sudden, Virginia Tech Women's Basketball has the type of serious momentum that allows the beauty of sports to fully kick in and the dreaming of endless possibilities to begin for Tech fans. This program that seemed destined to permanently be at the bottom of the ACC was continuing this gradual ascent to not only threaten to become the queens of the conference, but also to pursue becoming the queens of the sport and not just that gym at the corner of Washington Street and Beamer Way.

As the team kept winning, the support grew with crowds growing from the 2,000-3,000 range to 5,000-6,000 fans and then sellouts with 9,000 and many more claiming that they were there. Then, the magic of sports kicked into gear with a run that no one imagined as the Hokies just started winning and then kept doing so as the winter of 2023 wore on, leading the Hokies to lift an ACC Tournament trophy that once seemed like it could never find its way to Blacksburg.

With that success brought national recognition that no one could imagine with the Hokies receiving the first number one seed that any basketball team had ever received. Sure enough, what seemed like a crazy dream slowly becomes a reality as the Hokies cruised through a pair of home games to reach the Sweet 16 for the only second time ever.

Then comes the trip to Seattle where the Hokies may be the one seed, but a giant in Connecticut and one of college sports' biggest brands in Ohio Stated loomed on the other side while another historic power in Tennessee awaited them first. Historically, it would seem crazy for the Hokies, this team with only one Sweet 16 prior, to have any chance to get out of Seattle even with all their talent.

Yet, that's why we love sports. Because there is no guarantees. Because no outcome can be predetermined for ratings. Because giants can build dynasties and new powers can rise up to change the way things are. Because things don't stay one way, things change as greats come and go.

And so this magical run that enthralled not just a school, but a fan base and a region continued with victories over Tennessee and Ohio State to send the Hokies to the Final Four for the first time.

Suddenly, this downtrodden program had made its steady ascent from the basement of the ACC to the greatest heights of the Final Four, playing like an unstoppable force that might just be destined for a title.

Then came that trip to Dallas where Hokies far and wide took great pride in spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to buy tickets and flights and hotels. Anyone who couldn't make it got together with friends on their Friday night choosing to watch this team that dared a region to dream.

And on that night, those dreams of ultimate glory seemed as real as anything as the Hokies got punched in the mouth early and then fought back taking a commanding lead into the fourth quarter that felt untouchable.

But that's the beauty and brutality of sports. There are no guarantees. What seems like destiny or the perfect script can change in an instant. It's what gives fans hope and draws them to spend so much to support their team believing that something greater could happen. It's what allows fans to be let down and yet still enjoy the experience because of the hope that cheering on your favorite team brings.

And as such, sports' lack of guarantees revealed itself once again as great shooters went cold for the Hokies, and LSU made a stunning fourth quarter comeback on their way to taking down the Hokies and then beating Iowa to climb to the pinnacle that seemed like it would be Tech's at one time.

In the brutality and heartbreak of that moment, the joy of getting to dream shined while the fear of a future without that moment's biggest star set in. But the story wasn't done with Liz Kitley returning along with Cayla King to reunite with Georgia Amoore and Kenny Brooks for one more go.

New pieces came in including All-Big 10 players like Matilda Ekh and Rose Micheaux plus a Wake Forest starter in Olivia Summiel, none of them worried about how large of a role they would have but all of them focused on the mission of ultimate success. Carleigh Wenzel's time to play arrived following a redshirt year while one of the best recruiting classes was ready to be part of this incredible supporting case before being the torch-bearers for the next generation.

And in this, there was suddenly a more resolute belief and hope that while there were no guarantees, that maybe this dream of a national title could be realized, a dream that didn't even seem like a reasonable dream just a few years prior.

Early season struggles on big stages against Iowa and LSU raised doubts for a moment, but then as the story went previously, this team just started winning and kept winning. Suddenly, the beauty of sports was on full display again and it became more than just what happened on the floor in Cassell where the Queens reigned.

Rather, this was a team that endeared themselves to a community and a region. A podcast with Kitley and Amoore became a must listen for many Hokie fans. Young boys and girls across Southwest Virginia started emulating the Amoore stepback on driveway courts, dreaming of one day becoming the kings and queens of the Cassell themselves.

A women's basketball team became the ultimate pride of a region, dominating watercooler talk throughout work days whether in white collar offices or at blue collar construction sites located hours away from Blacksburg. For me personally, construction workers on a job I was overseeing found out that I was a Virginia Tech fan and the questions started being about how Kitley, Amoore, and the Hokies would do.

Media from across the country sensed that there was something more special happening in that small town in eastern Appalachia. There was a story brewing that only sports could produce, a moment where sports' lack of guarantees meant a struggling, overlooked program could become the proud front porch of a region often overlooked yet enjoyed by those who dare to stop in and say hello.

And so this team, these fans, and this region got their showcase on February 25th, a day that went about as well as you could imagine with College GameDay being a celebration and Virginia Tech taking down North Carolina on Senior Day.

And in that moment, it seemed that nothing could go wrong. It seemed that this would be the time, that last year was a preview of the perfect Hollywood ending to come in a perfect setting, a blue collar city in April just several hours away from home.

But the lack of guarantees in sports creates the beauty and brutality that brings us to the edge of our seats and enthralls us. It's why we love to watch sports because anyone can rise up and fall at any moment, even if the team you love may be the ones who rise and then suffer. It's the hope that draws us into sports even when that hope crumbles into heartbreak.

And that's where this story of inevitability goes awry. As we all know, Liz Kitley's final appearance would come just a week later as she would suffer a torn ACL on the road in Charlottesville in front of a crowd that was the largest for a women's basketball game in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, largely because of the dreams that stars like Kitley allowed Tech fans to dream.

And then it spiraled from there with an early exit in the ACC Tournament combined with the Kitley injury dashing a repeat hope of a one seed, but at least one more NCAA Tournament weekend in Cassell Coliseum was achieved, albeit with a tougher road and a weakened team. That team fought to the very end, but they were undermanned due to circumstances out of their control and a second round exit that seemed impossible weeks earlier became a harsh reality on a cold late spring evening in Blacksburg.

Days later, an era that seemed destined to go on for much longer with more waves of great stars to come suddenly ended. Instead of Tech making a trip of several hours to Cleveland in early April in pursuit of fulfilling a dream, it became the Brooks family making a trip of several hours to Lexington ready for a new challenge.

And so the brutality of sports reappeared. This wasn't how this era of legends like Kitley, Amoore, and Brooks was supposed to end. It wasn't supposed to end in an emotional Cassell Coliseum. It wasn't supposed to end with the greatest player in program history being forced to watch from behind a table on the sideline due to a freak injury. It wasn't supposed to end after eight historic seasons, but after 20-30 seasons of greatness that not only redefined what a basketball coach could do in basketball, but cemented a region as an iconic power in a sport.

It wasn't supposed to end as an early round upset, but as a euphoric culmination of success that led to ultimate glory, a national championship.

But that's the brutal beauty of sports. There are no guarantees. There are heights that we can't imagine that will come and there is heartbreak that we can't imagine that will come. Sports allows us to dream and hope that our team can climb the ultimate heights because it truly is possible, but it is also not guaranteed. Sports prove to be a microcosm of life at times with the full human experience of joy and heartbreak on full display.

And yet even in the disappointment and heartbreak, sports reminds us that it can never truly satisfy the great hope that our souls ultimately and rightly have, but it can teach us that hope is worth having and holding onto, and that hope is a good thing. Sports make clear that hope is worth it even if sports themselves will let us down at some point and not be the thing that can ever perfectly satisfy that hope.

And so the book on the Kenny Brooks era closed with a sudden, brutal end that no one could imagine would happen just a month ago. But then again, the eight-year ascendance of Virginia Tech Women's Basketball from a bottom dwelling ACC team to a national powerhouse that rallied a region, inspired the next generation, and redefined what was possible for a basketball team in Blacksburg was something that no one could have ever imagined.

This week has been an unimaginable end to a historic run of Virginia Tech Women's Basketball. This incredible era wasn't supposed to end like this, but would you imagine trading it for something scripted? Would you trade the hope and heartbreak that you felt over the eight years of this era in Blacksburg, especially the crescendo of the past two seasons?

I wouldn't. And that's the beauty of sports.

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