SEATTLE — The celebration began at the same time as the final buzzer, and that owed, perhaps, to the significance stitched into the moment, glorious as it would be. This was the Virginia Tech women’s basketball program. This was the NCAA tournament. This was the team that had never been to the Final Four clinching its first berth.
They knew what the moment meant, all of them, as the buzzer sounded and the band boomed and the Hokies players dashed toward school officials with arms outstretched. They wanted those regional championship hats, made trucker style, with black bills and white backs. They wanted those maroon T-shirts announcing the magnitude of their achievement. They had earned those; had fought doubt and elite conference opposition and injury; had upended tradition, both in how they played and how well, in a sport where tradition tends to separate, to matter, in order to obtain wardrobe enhancements.
Yes, this moment meant pretty much everything. Almost. But as Virginia Tech’s players and coaches donned their new gear, took pictures and gave themselves a confetti shower near midcourt, before snipping at the only basketball net they’ve ever wanted to cut down, their team mascot stood nearby. The reaction from this “HokieBird,” known on campus and beyond as, simply, Gobbler, provided another pertinent signal. He celebrated, just not that much. He clapped. He shimmied. But he knew what the team knew. The moment from Monday was great, historic even. But don’t confuse that with the overall goals. The Hokies are not done yet.
For 42 years, across 42 seasons, Virginia Tech has fielded a women’s basketball team, with varying degrees of success and the highest degree forever elusive. The Hokies played for five coaches—three women and two men. They played in four different conferences, won 722 games, lost 550 times, won two regular-season conference titles and three conference tournaments. They made 12 NCAA tournament appearances and spent 79 weeks ranked, somewhere, in the AP poll. They had some success, in other words, but not often and not like this.
They knew what it meant. It was obvious, starting with their coach, Kenny Brooks, in both demeanor and words spoken publicly. Start with Monday night, as he paced the sidelines in cream jogger pants, clapping, shouting and imploring in white shoes so clean they were either fresh out of the box or have their own toothbrush. One more, he told them, before Virginia Tech topped Ohio State, 84–74, at Climate Pledge Arena. Two more, he’ll tell them next.
For these NCAA tournaments in general and this Seattle 3 region in the women’s bracket specifically, the games at Climate Pledge provided yet more proof of how women’s basketball is changing, morphing, growing, shifting. Many traditionalists looked at this region and saw the inevitable: UConn vs. Tennessee, same as it ever was, for a berth in the Final Four.
They forgot to check with the Hokies on that one, though. Virginia Tech spent chunks of the season ranked in the top 10, while winning 30 games. The Hokies can flat-out play. Their roster features a slew of elite prospects, who, as Brooks noted last weekend, didn’t dream of playing only for a Tennessee or a UConn. They dreamt of this, exactly this, Elite Eights and Final Fours and big-game triumphs. So he asked his team to do something that’s simple and infinitely complex: Relish in it.
Brooks’s directive shouldn’t be too hard to fulfill after Monday night. Not when Virginia Tech clinched in its first national semifinal slot in program history. This, after reaching the Elite Eight for the first time. That, after toppling the Volunteers twice in one season. All of which, Brooks said, “Just validates who we are.”
Anyway … relish it? Weren’t they already doing that? Brooks flat-out admitted his players read the headlines—or noticed the absence of enough of them. Junior guard Georgia Amoore spent part of her news conferences and post-game on-court television hits for ESPN noting what apparently had bothered her. Negative social media posts. No respect. A dearth of experts picking the Hokies to do what they did all year: win. Her coach even (mildly) complained about the network’s assigning of Tennessee and Connecticut alums to its broadcast team for the region. Otherwise, as Brooks noted, they didn’t say a whole lot. They didn’t need to.
He also pointed to a specific, recent ESPN article for evidence of the trend Virginia Tech described. The piece wasn’t journalistic malpractice by any stretch; it featured Sweet 16 predictions and asked, in the headline, whether a classic rivalry would be granted another chapter in Seattle this March. Brooks said the players saw the article. He said it motivated them. And he said, aptly and poetically, “These kids are helping to build our history.”
Someone please find the man a writer’s room in southern California. What a season. What a story. In battering a strong team (ranked 12th overall) from the strongest conference in women’s college hoops, Virginia Tech won its 15th straight game, in a season of firsts. First ACC conference championship. First No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. First Elite Eight. First Elite Eight win. First Final Four berth.
Here's the thing about that, though. The Hokies didn’t just advance to the national semis; they’re headed down to Texas to win the whole damn thing.
Virginia Tech could be the hottest team in college basketball and one of the more dominant ones, period. The Hokies last loss came more than two months ago, in late January, at Duke. They didn’t lose another game that month, didn’t lose any game at all in February and continued to all-they-do-is-win-win-win through March. These weren’t close wins, either. They weren’t fluky victories. Only one—including Monday’s historic triumph—resulted by fewer than eight points.
It's easier to find signature wins for V-Tech than overall losses. Start with the Duke rematch, a home stomping just after Valentine’s Day. Then: 15 victories over Quad 1 teams (counting Monday night, good for second-most nationally) and eight victories over Quad 2 teams (eighth-most and lowered by sheer number of Quad 1 wins!). Then: topping Louisville by 18 at home in early January. Or: those twin Tennessee declarations of intent to win it all. Or: another bludgeoning of Duke in the conference tournament. Or: winning one tournament (conference) but eyeing a larger prize (NCAA).
Skeptics kept returning to the same place—the Hokies supposed lack of big-game experience. Did those 15 match-ups with Quad 1 teams somehow not qualify? How about the ACC tourney? The 18 conference games? Please! Just to win the ACC tourney, Virginia Tech had to beat Miami (made the Elite Eight), Duke and Louisville.
The Hokies then just kept winning. They dominated Chattanooga in their NCAA opener, then topped South Dakota State, behind double-double machine Elizabeth Kitley, a senior forward, then drummed the Volunteers, again. They ranked sixth nationally in defensive rebound rate. They frustrated teams that like to push the ball, which is most, with their deliberate pace. They can boast of a dominant post player (Kitley), a leader and sharpshooter at guard (Amoore) and solid depth.
All of that showed against Ohio State, which looked primed to hand another No. 1 seed an upset. For a half, anyway. Throughout the regular season, Buckeyes senior guard Taylor Mikesell played more minutes than any other player in the Big Ten conference. But in Ohio State’s victory over UConn, she provided a rare sight for the raucous crowd—she went to the bench in the second half, visibly in pain. She came back after 89 seconds and described the injury as minor the next afternoon, then declared herself ready for Monday night. She made another prescient point in that same news conference, when discussing Virginia Tech’s preferred pace—glacial to some; deliberate to others—saying “it plays well in our favor,” because Ohio State likes to press and can find transition baskets off its pressure. For 20 minutes at least, she wasn’t wrong.
Perhaps Mikesell should consider a career in orthopedic rehabilitation or college basketball analysis. She wasn’t “ready” for the Hokies; she was ready to decimate their defense. Ready to shift a first-quarter deficit into a first-half advantage. Ready to push OSU on a 15–5 run to end the opening quarter. Ready to press, harass and defend. Ready to hit runners and pull-up jumpers and mid-range shots. By halftime, Mikesell had already scored more than her season average. Her 19 points—and another strong outing from freshman forward Cotie McMahon—staked the Buckeyes to a 48–45 lead.
Throughout Climate Pledge, there were banners, dance teams, bands—the works. For the Hokies, all were necessary. For the Buckeyes, all became a reminder of what was lost Monday night. There’s no shame, of course, in reaching the Elite Eight amid a solid but turbulent season like the one Ohio State just fought through to get to this point. Still, this defeat also extended the program’s Final Four drought to 30 years. The Big Ten as a conference, meanwhile, entered the Elite Eight with three teams vying for four bids. Only Iowa survived, while Maryland and Ohio State both lost Monday night. If there’s any consolation for the Buckeyes, it’s that they lost to a team that ranks among the best in the country. Again, no shame in that.
The Hokies, meanwhile, all but floated into their news conference. Brooks brought with him something like half the team. Five players sat to his right; another, graduate guard D’Asia Gregg, wore her hat backward with a strand of the net tucked in and the regional champions trophy resting on the table just in front of her. After the introduction, where the moderator nearly knocked his laptop off his lap, Brooks laughed, then said, “We don’t mind if you want to start over and talk about that regional champion part. It has a nice ring to it.”
They passed compliments back and forth. About the game—“high level,” Brooks said. About his youthful enthusiasm—“this man is still fit,” Amoore said. About her shooting, the making of more three-pointers than any other player in any other NCAA tournament through four games. About the significance—“it means everything,” Kitley said. Some even said almost nothing. “I’m for real speechless,” said Taylor Soule, a graduate forward.
Brooks, the only Black male head coach in Division I, also turned momentarily serious. He urged inclusion, diversity, a place for men like him in the women’s game. A place for everyone, really. Including teams like his that aren’t named UConn or Tennessee but can rise to that level, now more than ever before. “The moment's not too big,” he said.
That’s Virginia Tech. That’s the Hokies season. It’s not about how they reclaimed the lead in the third quarter Monday night. It’s not about how they pulled away. It’s not about the Final Four berth, even, nor the celebration that dragged, understandably, deeper and deeper into the evening, everyone in uniform, everyone still on the court. No, this team can win it all in Dallas. So their season, naturally, is about what’s next.
All of which begs the question: Should Virginia Tech manage to upend South Carolina down in Dallas, would that mark not the end of UConn’s dynasty, but the beginning of a new one?