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The Virginia Tech women’s basketball team recorded their first-ever ACC Tournament victory on Thursday night when they defeated Wake Forest 73-60. The win improves the Hokies’ record to 20-8, and all but locks up an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in their second round game against Duke. The 7th seeded Hokies will take on the #2 seed Blue Devils on Friday night at 7pm.
When Bonnie Henrickson left Virginia Tech to become the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, maybe were concerned about what the future held for the women’s basketball program, and rightfully so. The Hokies were one of the top programs in the Atlantic 10 and Big East with Henrickson at the helm.
Henrickson coached at Virginia Tech for seven seasons. She compiled an excellent overall record of 158 wins and 60 in her tenure in Blacksburg. She averaged 22.6 wins per season and never failed to win 20 or more games in a season. Henrickson’s teams appeared in five NCAA Tournaments and two WNITs. They made it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament on each occasion, and once advanced to the Sweet 16.
Those are difficult numbers for Beth Dunkenberger to live up to, but she has done a pretty good job thus far. Virginia Tech made the NCAA Tournament in Dunkenberger’s first season as head coach…barely. The Hokies were 17-11 after the ACC Tournament, and were literally the last at-large team selected for the NCAA Tournament. Tech faced off against DePaul in the first round and dropped a tough 79-78 decision after coming back from a big deficit.
This season, Virginia Tech got off to a rough start in conference play. They were 1-5 in ACC play after six games, and an NCAA Tournament bid looked like it would be difficult to attain. But the Hokies got it in gear in the second half of the season. The only games they lost after starting 1-5 were to Duke and North Carolina. VT got big wins against Virginia, Florida State and Wake Forest.
At this point, Virginia Tech is a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament. Their 20-8 record gives them an RPI of 23 heading into Friday night’s game against Duke, who is #3 in the RPI. The Hokies strength of schedule is ranked #19 in the nation. If they got in last season at 17-11, all that’s left to worry about this season is what seed they will get and whom they will play.
Tech can certainly help their seeding with a victory over Duke on Friday night. The Hokies played Duke twice during the regular season and lost both games. Back on February 6, they played the Blue Devils tough in Blacksburg, but eventually fell 73-62. On February 22, they traveled to Durham and got crushed 93-51 on Duke’s Senior Day.
Virginia Tech’s marquee victory in women’s basketball came against the Blue Devils back on November 17, 1998. The Hokies played #4 Duke on the road and came away with a remarkable 72-70 victory. That was Bonnie Henrickson’s greatest win at Virginia Tech, and the Hokies went on to a 28-3 season and a trip to the Sweet 16, where they eventually fell to Tennessee.
Virginia Tech will play in one of four ACC Tournament games on Friday. The second round commences at 11 am, when #1 seed UNC will take on #9 seed UVA, who defeated Boston College on Thursday. The winner of that game would face the winner of #4 Florida State and #5 NC State in the semifinals. Florida State and NC State will tip off at approximately 4 pm.
On the other side of the bracket, the Hokies and Blue Devils will tip off at 7 pm Friday night. The winner of that game will square off against either #3 Maryland or #11 Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech pulled off an upset of #6 Miami on Thursday. If the Hokies manage to defeat Duke tonight, they will play in the semifinals on Friday at 3:30pm. The game will be televised by Fox SportsNet.
In Dunkenberger’s first two seasons, the Hokies have struggled somewhat against ACC competition, going 6-8 and finishing seventh in the conference both seasons. But Tech finished strong this year, and it looks like they’ve finally got this ACC thing figured out. But there is one problem. Four of Virginia Tech’s top five scorers are seniors. Beth Dunkenberger must have some key backups step into the starting lineup and play well next season.
Tech will lose arguably their best player in Kerri Gardin, who is second on the team in scoring (12.4 ppg) and first in rebounding (9.7 rpg). They also lose Carrie Mason, a four-year starter who averages 11.9 points per game and hits 45.2% of her three-point shots. Leading scorer Dawn Chriss (12.8 ppg) will be gone as well, plus center Megan Finnerty, who started every game this season.
The best player that returns next year is Kirby Copeland, Tech’s fourth leading scorer at 10.3 points per game. Copeland started 26 games for Tech this year. Besides Copeland, seven other players from this year’s team will return next year. Those seven players have just six starts among them.
Dunkenberger has proven that she can win with Bonnie Henrickson’s recruits. Beginning next season, she must prove that she can win with her own.
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