Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Elizabeth Kitley scored 27 points while Aisha Sheppard dropped 16 as Kenny Brooks' side opened up their season with a 105-41 win at home over Saint Francis.
Kitley, the 6'5" freshman forward from Summerfield, North Carolina, shot 13 for 15 in her Hokie debut. Head coach Kenny Brooks said postgame that Kitley is the “coveted post player” that Tech has been trying to get.
“She’s had a big impact on our program since the day she committed to us,” Kenny Brooks said. “She gives us an opportunity to have a low post presence… Tonight is just a glimpse of what she can be.”
Both Brooks and Sheppard mentioned how she compares to former Hokie forward Regan Magarity, who graduated in the spring and was one of the best women's players to ever play at Cassell Coliseum.
“The biggest difference between those two was that Regan could run one through five,” Sheppard said. “Liz is so dominant in the paint.”
One of the many categories the Hokies dominated was rebounding, a battle which they won 46-18. Lydia Rivers led the way for Tech with eight, while Trinity Baptiste added six and four players added five.
Rivers was all over the floor coming off the bench for the Hokies, scoring nine points and adding six assists and four blocks in 26 minutes of play.
“She was a stat sheet stuffer,” Brooks said. “You add that production off the bench and her leadership to a very talented younger group and you add in three hungry players who are ready for a more prominent role in Trinity [Baptiste], Dara [Mabrey] and Aisha [Sheppard]. As long as they continue to play together, it’s a good possibility for success.”
The Hokies shot 64.7 percent (44-68) from the floor against the Red Flash on Tuesday evening, including a 50 percent mark from behind the arc. Add the fact that Tech had 28 assists and turned the ball over only nine times and the Hokies had a field day.
“It’s funny because turnovers have been a point of emphasis all preseason,” Brooks said. “I also don’t think I’ve ever been associated with a team that’s had 28 assists. That’s like… Golden State-ish.”
The 28 assists against Saint Francis tied the record for most assists in Cassell, while the 44 made field goals also tied the record for most in the arena.
The 105 points scored tied the record for most scored in Cassell in women's basketball program history.
Sheppard was impressive for the Hokies, shooting a team-best 3-4 from behind the arc and dishing out five assists. The junior from Alexandria, Virginia, scored 10 of the team’s first 25 points and finished with three rebounds.
“I can be a lot better,” Sheppard said. “I just thought I took the right shots and made the right passes.”
Tech also held Saint Francis to 26.4 percent shooting, something Brooks spoke highly of postgame.
“I was very proud of them defensively,” Brooks said. “In our scrimmage against West Virginia, it [defense] was very bad in the beginning. Then we kind of clamped down… We can’t just try to outscore people; we have to be able to stop people.”
Taja Cole led the Hokies with nine assists in the backcourt, along with seven points and five rebounds. The graduate student from Richmond transferred to Blacksburg from Georgia and is one of the highest rated point guards in the country. She was named to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List in the preseason, an award given to the nation’s top point guard.
“Taja, being a fifth year, she just sees the game differently,” Sheppard said. “She sees when we’re open, and we don’t even know it.”
The Hokies also received production in the post from Alex Obouh Fegue, the redshirt junior forward from Chateroux, France. She finished with 14 points and five assists in 16 minutes of play, and Kenny Brooks was very impressed with her performance.
“I’ve been really hard on Alex throughout the preseason because I know her capabilities,” Brooks said. “You can tell she’s a team favorite. She was nervous tonight for her opportunity, but I thought she played extremely well and I’m very happy for her.”
Virginia Tech had two other players in double figures on Tuesday in Dara Mabrey and Trinity Baptiste. Mabrey finished with 15 points (6-12), five rebounds and five assists, while Baptiste contributed ten points (4-5) and six rebounds.
Makayla Ennis and Cayla King, two of the other newcomers on the Hokies’ roster, added a few buckets as well in their debuts. Ennis scored four points and grabbed four boards, while King tallied three points.
The Hokies were without freshman Taylor Geiman for the opener, with Brooks not specifying the injury, but mentioning Tech should have her back in two weeks. Brooks spoke highly of the freshman guard from Hannover, Pennsylvania.
“She doesn’t score like Liz but she’s a jack-of-all-trades,” Brooks said. “She’s like my Swiss Army knife. She can play the one, two, three… if I need her to play the four, she can do that.”
Tech will also be without senior guard Kendyl Brooks for the entirety of the season due to hip surgery. The Harrisonburg native is fourth all-time in three pointers at Tech with 160.
Virginia Tech is now 1-0 on the season and travels to Fairfax on Sunday to face George Mason at 2 p.m. The Hokies are 1-0 against the Patriots under Kenny Brooks after defeating GMU in the 2018 WNIT in Blacksburg.
While Sheppard called Tech’s opener on Tuesday the best first game the team has had since she’s been on campus, Kenny Brooks still sees lots of untapped potential.
“We haven’t really touched the surface of what we can do.”