The Virginia Tech women’s soccer roster is a young one with a combined 16 freshmen and sophomores. Thanks to a COVID-created schedule, this group won’t be able to ease into the 2020 campaign.
The Hokies’ fall schedule begins today, Sept. 12, with a road contest against Virginia.
In all, the Tech women will play 11 matches against ACC opponents. Just eight of those will count towards league standings as each ACC school is playing an eight-game conference schedule (four home and four road matches). Four matches are designated as non-conference: two against Virginia (home and home), one at Duke and a home match against Navy.
The VT women have six home games with the home opener set for Friday, Sept. 25, against Virginia. The first home league game will be against Florida State on Thursday, Oct. 1. Matches against Pittsburgh (Oct. 4), Miami (Oct. 15), Louisville (Oct. 18) and the Naval Academy (Oct. 24) complete the Hokies’ home slate.
Road ACC matches for the VT women are at Clemson (Sept. 17), North Carolina (Sept. 20), Wake Forest (Oct. 29) Boston College (Nov. 1) and Duke (Oct. 9).
Tech’s first five matches are all against teams that made the NCAA championships in 2019.
“It’s going to be very challenging, just not being able to play games to build into that [type of schedule],” Tech women’s soccer coach Charles “Chugger’ Adair admitted. “We’re going to be learning in high-level games. That’s something we’ve got to push with them [his players] in training and make them see that in training. We’ll do our best with intrasquad sessions, but when we’re in those intrasquads, it’s not the same. We can’t replicate some of those ACC games.
“It’s challenging, but we’re going to do our best to learn on the fly and coach the kids up, and hopefully the kids will be willing to learn as they go and make good decisions in those situations.”
Adair still plans on reloading – not rebuilding – after his team finished the 2019 season with a strong 12-5-2 record. The Hokies beat three SEC teams in non-conference play and then won three of their final four matches to end the regular season with a conference record of 4-4-2. That earned them a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA championships and a home game against Xavier.
Unfortunately, Tech’s season ended with a 1-0 loss to the Musketeers, who had won the Big EastT title. That defeat still bothers Adair.
“I thought we played well during the season, but I was disappointed with the result and the way the game flowed against Xavier,” he said. “Credit to Xavier. They did a good job and played well and got us at the start [Xavier scored in the second minute], and we were chasing the game.
“You could probably attribute it to a lot of things. They were hot at the end of the year after going on a run to win the Big East, and we were also coming off a break and didn’t come out of the chute very well. I think we had 16 days off between games, so we were a little bit slow. I’m just frustrated with how that game went overall.”
Reloading for another season calls for replacing seven seniors from last year’s squad, including two who rank as among the best ever at Tech to play at their respective positions.
Mandy McGlynn, a goalkeeper, earned All-America honors last season and was a third-round selection of Sky Blue FC in the National Women’s Soccer League Draft. McGlynn started every game of her career and finished as the school’s all-time leader in shutouts with 32, while Kelsey Irwin, a defender, started 68 of the 70 games that she played in her career.
“We’re definitely working on emerging new leaders and putting people into new spots,” Adair said. “We have an idea who could step into those roles. We’re trying to move some people around and see how things are going to go. We’ve talked about the culture with the kids, and that’s what we miss with Mandy and Kelsey, as far as their experience and their leadership in addition to their on-field ability. So we’re trying to grow leaders and people who can fill those positions on the field, too.”
Tech’s roster features four goalkeepers – redshirt junior Alice Hamel, redshirt sophomore S.A. Phillips, redshirt freshman Dare Burnett and freshman Alia Skinner. None of the four has played in a collegiate game.
“We’re working through training camp to see how they mesh and who basically comes out on top as far as the starter, or if we’ll play multiple goalkeepers,” Adair said. “But I imagine we’ll try to have a starter go from the start and see how that goes.”
A trio of players is involved in the battle to replace Irwin as a center back. Kara Henderson, a redshirt junior, possesses the most experience, having started eight matches last season and played in 11, but she has played more in the midfield during her career at Tech and battled injuries throughout the past two seasons.
Two freshmen, Victoria Haugen and Averi Visage, bring impressive skills to Tech. Haugen has played with the Norwegian National Team.
Tech, though, lacks an experienced group of defenders. Kiersten Hening started 18 matches last season, but outside of her, no one else played more than five matches, and the group includes four true freshmen.
“That’s something we’re still working on, I’ll be honest with you,” Adair said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that can play. It’s just getting them playing minutes at the college level, and that’s something that is going to be important for us. Them gaining experience and them stepping up and making an impact right off the bat. They need to be committed and understand the defensive roles and the impact that they can have on the games.”
On offense, the Hokies are in much better shape as their four top goal scorers return, and seven goal scorers return overall.
Nicole Kozlova leads the Tech attack. The redshirt sophomore from Toronto finished with a team-best five goals and 12 points in 2019, and she also brings some international experience, having participated with the Ukrainian National Team for the past three years.
Emily Gray, Emmalee McCarter and Molly Feighan bring added punch as well. Gray scored four goals last season while McCarter and Feighan each scored three goals and had four assists. Adair also expects a bounce-back season from junior Karlie Johnson, who scored six goals as a freshman but failed to strike in 2019.
In addition, the head coach expects a couple of freshmen to make a big impact. Tori Powell, from Haymarket, Va., and Taylor Bryan, from Brooklyn, N.Y., are two athletic forwards with the ability to be dangerous.
The Hokies have the look of an intriguing team despite the personnel losses from a season ago. They possess a lot of talent at a lot of positions, and they figure to be a higher-scoring team than the ones of the past couple of years. But they lack experience and missed an opportunity to gain that when the pandemic ended their spring exhibition season after just two matches.