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Inside Virginia Tech's Road to a #1 Seed Ahead of a Historic NCAA Tournament Opener

Soule Kitley Gregg Amoore VT UL 2023 From VT
Will Locklin | @locklin_will
Writer/Basketball Analyst

After years of climbing and looking up at the ACC’s mountain top, Virginia Tech’s women’s basketball program reached the summit as the Hokies clinched their first ACC title (regular season or tournament). They did so by winning three straight games en route to taking the 2023 ACC Tournament title at the Greensboro Coliseum last week.

The run included victories over Miami, Duke and Louisville, and personified the Whit Babcock athletic department’s mantra of not just being a challenger, but also ascending to being a champion.

“Whit (Babcock) talks about going from a challenger brand to a champion brand,” head coach Kenny Brooks said following the selection show ceremony. “That’s what we’ve done. It’s what we talked about earlier this year, it’s what we went out and accomplished.”

When Brooks took over the program in 2016, the Hokies hadn’t seen a 20 win season since 2006. Now, Tech has seen six 20+ win seasons in his seven-year tenure in Blacksburg. Now for the first time ever, Tech earned a coveted number one seed for the NCAA Tournament.

“You don’t set out to be a number one seed, you take baby steps first. Try to go from a five to a four so you can host,” Brooks said. “But now you have that seed and there’s responsibility with that. You have to go out there and play like a number one seed.”

The Hokies are riding an 11-game win streak and haven’t lost since January 26, when they fell on the road to Duke. That loss, along with others on the road against Clemson and Miami provided the Hokies with fuel and motivation to reinvent themselves to find success.

“After those games we didn’t even get to shake their hand because they were in the middle of the court celebrating. You have to go out there and handle that responsibility because people want to take you down with a number beside your name,” Brooks said. “They responded beautifully ever since and that’s what has helped us transition from that challenger brand to a champion brand nicely.”

One lesson absorbed from the losses and over the course of the year has been to take each part of the journey one step at a time. Tech’s laser-focused mentality on the one game at a time approach was a catalyst for the late season success on the hardwood.

“This group is locked in and focused, they’ve done that for the last month and a half where they focus only on the task at hand,” Brooks said. “The only thing we can control is what happens today and that’s to go 1-0.”

Tech learned from the losses when they beat Miami in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals and beat Duke two times, the latter of which was in the semifinals to advance to the title game. Like Brooks, the players too have adopted the ‘control what you can control today’ mentality.

“Focusing on us, you can’t always control what another team does, you can only control what you do.” Taylor Soule told reporters after the ceremony.

Soule earned All-ACC Second Team honors this season, the fourth All-ACC selection of her career. The Hokies placed two players: Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore on the league’s First Team. That trio may have been the catalysts for this team, but the unwavering support of Hokie Nation filling the seats in Cassell has added an extra element not only to this year’s team but the program.

“I knew the community was really passionate about Virginia Tech and that’s something that I wanted,” Soule said. “My expectations were way exceeded and I love Hokie Nation.”

Indeed, the support this team has garnered from Virginia Tech fans in Blacksburg has been paramount to the Hokies success this season. Tech went 14-1 inside the confines of Cassell Coliseum, losing just a single ACC game for the second consecutive season.

“Give Hokie Nation an opportunity to come out and represent. Our fans are great, they’ve been great all year, just look at the turnout today,” Brooks said on the floor of Cassell following his team’s selection. “Just to reward them and to reward our kids and seniors with another game in here is something special.”

Not only did hundreds of fans show up to support the team when Tech’s name was called as a number one seed Sunday night, but Hokie fans have already gobbled up every available ticket. After just hours of online sales, tickets for both the first and second round games at Cassell Coliseum sold out.

Fifteen hundred seats were allocated to students, who will enter a lottery to win tickets free of charge.

“That’s huge, Cassell Guard and everyone has done a great job of showing up,” Brooks said. “They come in here and they’re loud and represent us, it’ll be a fun night.”

With the full-fledged support of Hokie Nation behind them, Virginia Tech women’s basketball will be in the best shape they’ve ever been in when the Big Dance tips off in Blacksburg Friday night.

“This atmosphere is unlike any other in the country, I’ve been to a lot of other arenas but none of them can compare to Cassell,” Georgia Amoore said. “It’ll be electric, it’s so good for us but it’s also so good for Virginia Tech and everyone that comes.”

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