Even as the frustration of a first-round loss to FGCU set in for head coach Kenny Brooks and his team, they knew something special was still brewing for this program in Blacksburg. After all, the 2021-22 Virginia Tech women’s basketball team set numerous program records and established itself as one of the best teams in the conference.
Their 13 ACC wins marked a record number for the program as did their overall finish of third in the conference. Additionally, their five victories over ranked teams in the regular season were also a program record. In the ACC tournament, the Hokies elevated the bar by defeating UNC in an overtime thriller and advancing to the semifinals for the first time. It was a tremendously successful season for Brooks' program as a whole and the exact level-up they needed to continue their growth process.
With the end of any season comes a tough process of losing girls to the WNBA, graduation, and the transfer portal. For Virginia Tech, Aisha Sheppard graduated with her Master's degree and moved on to the WNBA. Sheppard was drafted by and played her rookie season for the Las Vegas Aces.
Elsewhere, Azana Baines who started in 20/33 games for the Hokies last season, transferred to Seton Hall. The likes of Emily Lytle, Shamarla King, and Rochelle Norris have found their way off the team either through the transfer portal or graduation. With a key starter, three depth pieces, and a program record holder gone, the onus was on Brooks and the coaching staff to deliver fresh faces for 2022-23.
It started with the addition of Clara Ford on April 21st. The 6’3 center from Boston College was the Hokies first move in the transfer portal for next season. In this past season, she only started in one game and averaged 2.2 PPG. Still, her experience will lend itself useful and she will be a much-needed backup to the returning ACC POY Elizabeth Kitley.
A couple of weeks later, the Hokies landed Ashley Owusu. The heralded All-American from Maryland is a massive addition for Tech. She’s a 6’0 tall guard who was one of the best players in the Big Ten. In 2021, she was named to the All-Big Ten first team and the AP All-American third team. Owusu averaged 14.3 PPG last season and scored 20 points or more in eight games. Her explosive and powerful slashing skills combined with a knack for hitting tough shots make Owusu a major addition to the Hokies guard room.
Then after another week of silence, Tech reaped the rewards of the transfer portal yet again in the form of Taylor Soule. Like Ford, Soule too is from the Eagles of Boston College. She started in all 33 games for the Eagles and averaged 16 PPG on 51% shooting. Soule was named to the All-ACC second team for her 2021 campaign and the All-ACC first team back in 2020. The 5’11 forward brings a versatile skill set that will be a big-time boost to the Hokies on both ends this winter.
The additions of Soule and Owusu will surely help the Hokies replace the production of Sheppard who was the program's all-time leading scorer. Neither Soule nor Owusu make their living from the three-point arc like Sheppard but they still get their own in other ways. Both could likely start from day one in Blacksburg. Owusu at the starting shooting guard spot next to Georgia Amoore in the backcourt. Soule could accompany last year's starting wing Cayla King at one of the two forward positions. Even with these major moves in the transfer portal, Brooks and company weren’t done on the recruiting trail.
In 2022, the Hokies will welcome three new freshman recruits to their program ranks. Charlise Dunn is a 6’2 freshman guard from Victoria, Australia. That makes her the second Aussie on the team next to Amoore. Dunn was part of the U-19 Australia Gems team that took home silver in the 2021 World Cup. She was ranked as a top ten international recruit in her class and has the size to play a lot of positions in the future.
Next up in Tech's latest class is Carleigh Wenzel. The San Antonio native played for O’Connor high school and Antonian College Prep where she stood out in all of her four years. Wenzel was a top 50 recruit in the 2022 class and a TAPPS First-Team All-South Texas player in 2021. She’s been lauded for her shooting touch and feel for the game which is what Brooks hopes to see from her in the years to come.
Then the final member of the freshman class on the team is Maddie Vejsicky. Vejsicky comes in from Newark high school where she led the team to four straight state championships. She was a part of the All-Conference first team and won MVP of the Title Nine tournament. Vejsicky brings a heater of a three-point shot to the table as she set her high school record for threes in a single season and hit 10 threes in a game once.
After adding more quality players to an already strong returning roster for the upcoming 2022-23 season, Virginia Tech looks ready to compete at the highest levels of the ACC and the country. ESPN way too early top 25 poll ranked the Hokies as the 11th best team in the country. A big reason why has to do not only due with the incoming players but also who’s returning.
Back in the maroon and orange will be the reigning ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley for her senior season. The AP All-American will continue to be a force down low and the main cog of Tech’s offensive attack.
Georgia Amoore is now a junior and will most likely have an elevated role this season. She’ll resume being the main ball handler and will most likely have even more responsibilities as a lead creator from the perimeter.
Sharp shooting wing Cayla King will keep knocking down three-pointers at a 40% or above clip and playing great defense. Then the main spark plug off the bench for last year's team Kayana Traylor will shift back into that same role for another season.
The mix of familiar faces and talented newcomers will give this Virginia Tech women’s basketball team lots of options heading into the winter. The starting lineup and key bench pieces could look something like this.
- Guard- Georgia Amoore
- Guard- Ashley Owusu
- Forward- Cayla King
- Forward- Taylor Soule
- Center- Elizabeth Kitley
Key Bench Players:
- Guard- Kayana Traylor
- Forward- D’asia Gregg
- Center- Clara Ford
There’s lots of flexibility and multiple lineup combinations for Brooks and the Tech coaching staff to experiment with. Losing Sheppard hurts especially from a team shooting perspective. The Hokies will miss out on her threat as a floor spacer that allowed others to operate in space. However, Soule and Owusu bring extra slashing and opportunities to bend the defense with added paint touches.
Tech might end up playing a style that involves drives and re-drives versus the inside-out drive and kick for three-pointers game they played last season. If this is the case, the Hokies will still be extremely dangerous as they’ll force tons of rotations with all the movement and downhill driving attack. Any way it goes down, this iteration of Kenny Brooks' squad will be ready to take on the challenge of anyone in the ACC with a reloaded roster that looks to contend at the highest level in 2022.