Youthful Hokies Hope for an 11th Consecutive Trip to the Postseason
By Charlene Curtis for theACC.com
"The tribute ribbon appears as a patch on athletes' jerseys as an inspiration and celebration of the victims' lives and the unforgettable mark they left on the Virginia Tech community, the nation, and the world." Thus reads the description of Virginia Tech's official tribute ribbon logo worn by the Hokies to remember the victims of the April 16, 2007 tragedy.
The nation and the world mourned with the Hokies following that tragic April day. The memory of that day will always be embedded in the hearts of the Virginia Tech fans, players, coaches, and staff. But moving forward and focusing on a new season with lofty goals, including an 11th consecutive trip to postseason competition, is on the minds of the 2007-08 Hokies basketball team members.
Head coach Beth Dunkenberger believes this team understands the importance of maintaining the Hokies' post-season streak. As quoted in the 2007-08 Virginia Tech Media Guide, Dunkenberger stated, "Even though we have a young team, they are enthusiastic and gained a tremendous amount of experience last year. We have been to the postseason for the past 10 years and these young ladies have been recruited to Virginia Tech to climb up ladders and cut down nets."
A 6-8 conference record was good enough to get the Hokies into the NCAA tournament just 2 seasons ago. Last year, the 6-8 ACC record was coupled with three non-conference losses resulting in a post-season trip to the WNIT and not the NCAA. Returning to postseason play and the NCAA Tournament will require a very youthful team of four juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen to play like experienced veterans early and often.
Getting off to a good start and then playing its best basketball in the January, February, and March will be important. The Hokies' head coach is looking forward to her team's development. Dunkenberger said, "Typically, young teams get better and stronger as the season progresses and hopefully we will be playing our best basketball as the ACC schedule unfolds."
Defense will again be a focus for the Virginia Tech Hokies. When holding their opponents to less than 70 points, the 2006-07 Hokies won 18 of 21 games. WNBA draftee, 6-6 Nare Diawara, is no longer in the paint recording 53 blocks and garnering an average of 8.1 rebounds. Double-figure scorers Kirby Copeland and Brittney Anderson have completed their eligibility and graduated. Yet, head coach Dunkenberger and her Hokies are optimistic about the upcoming season. Why? Because Virginia Tech's style of defense consistently holds opponents to less than 70 points per game. As such, the Hokies are always in the game with a chance to win down the stretch.
When asked about the most important key for her team's success this season, Dunkenberger replied, "consistency on defense.
"Certainly, we're going to have to be consistent on the defensive end. We're going to have to be able to stop people. When you're talking about a league like the ACC with some of the most dynamic players in the country … you've got to find a way to stop them. There are too many nights when your shots just won't fall. And if we can find a way to consistently do that (defend opponents) I think we're going to be in games."
As the team's returning leading scorer, red-shirt junior Brittany Cook must get help from her less experienced teammates on the offensive side of the ball. Returning point guard, Laura Haskins, must become more of a scoring threat in order to become a more effective point guard. And Amber Hall, a 6-2 junior forward, must step up early and provide a true inside scoring presence.
The needed additional scoring responsibilities, however, may well fall in the lap of first-year player Andrea Barbour. Dunkenberger speaks very highly of Barbour and predicts that Barbour could be one of the most exciting and explosive players to have ever donned a Virginia Tech uniform. "Andrea is a special athlete who can score in a number of ways. That's what makes her so hard to guard. She can score off the dribble going to the basket or off a jumper, create contact and get to the foul line, and rebound for stick-backs on the offensive end."
Cook describes her new teammate Barbour in one simple term: "athletic." The Hokies will need Barbour to live up to the hype and to play like a seasoned veteran.
Although Hall and 6-4 sophomore Eleanor Brentnall bring size and experience to the Hokies' frontcourt, freshman Brittany Gordon stands 6-4 and will be counted on to provide a presence in the paint as a scorer, rebounder, and defender.
On paper, the Hokies will not over-power their opponents with their size or their girth. But look for Virginia Tech to use its athleticism and length on the perimeter to disrupt opponents' offenses and its mobility in the post to create difficult defensive match-ups.
Dunkenberger and her coaching staff will be challenged by a young squad and a solid early game schedule. Yet, this young, well-coached, and inspired Hokies team will be competitive from the beginning to the end. They will have to be if they want to keep their post-season hopes alive.