User ID: Password:

September 3, 2008

Volleyball and soccer ring in new year with wins

By: Matt Kovatch

Well, it’s here folks. Another season is upon us. And not just another football season – the entire athletics calendar is back in full swing. We’re talking the men’s soccer team’s challenge to produce an encore to last year’s College Cup appearance, the women’s soccer team’s quest to get over the hump and into the postseason, and the volleyball team’s mission to get back to its winning record of just two seasons ago.

The 2007-08 academic year was the most successful in Virginia Tech’s athletics history by all accounts, including ACC championships, NCAA postseason performances and student-athlete grade-point averages. The Hokies even posted their all-time highest finish in the United States Sports Academy Directors’ Cup, ranking as the 37th-most successful collegiate athletics program in the nation. And after seeing what the Hokies accomplished during the opening weekend of fall sports action, Tech could be well on its way to matching – or even bettering – that mark in 2008-09.

Let’s start with the men’s soccer team, which took on Portland and Washington in the Nike Invitational in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29th-31st. Not only did the Hokies venture out to the great northwest to take on a pair of West Coast powers – Portland and Washington met in the NCAA Tournament a year ago – but they came away unblemished, returning home with a 1-0-1 mark.

Weiss scheduled these games with the postseason in mind. The Hokies had never made a trip to the Pacific Coast before, and thinking ahead to late November when the NCAA Tournament draw might send Tech westward to where many soccer talents reside, he wanted his team to have an experience to look back upon. It turned out to be a worthwhile trip, as the Hokies battled to a 2-2 tie with host Portland in the opener before downing the Huskies 2-1 in double overtime two days later.

What’s even more impressive is the way in which the Hokies scored their goals. Remember last season, when Tech had a handful of foreign athletes join the team and make a huge impact? Three of the team’s top five point scorers were newcomers, and though they only stayed in Blacksburg for one season, they proved that Weiss knows how to evaluate talent. Now, fast forward to the 2008 opening weekend. All four of Tech’s goals were recorded by newcomers – two by Emmanuel Akogyeram, one by Philip Aseweh and one by Luiz Yamashita – as were three of the five assists. But the good news is that all three of those players are not one-year rentals. They’re freshmen who are here for the long haul, and this team should be an exciting one to watch as the season unfolds.

Speaking of youngsters, the volleyball team features plenty – seven true freshmen, in fact – and they were on full display Aug. 29th and 30th as Tech swept its own Hawthorn Suites Hokie Invitational for the third consecutive year. Tech opened the weekend with a 3-1 win over Maryland Eastern Shore before dusting Winston-Salem State 3-0 and finishing off the sweep with a 3-1 defeat of Coastal Carolina.

The Hokies led the ACC in blocking in 2007 and should once again boast a solid defense, but it’s the offense this season that has a new look. After having limited depth at the setter position for the past two seasons, head coach Chris Riley welcomed in a talented freshman, Erin Leaser, to split time with incumbent junior Michelle Lang. Leaser was thrown right into the mix and ended up being named to the all-tournament team after tallying 70 assists in the three matches. Whether she takes over the setting reins fulltime to allow Lang to utilize her great net presence on the weak side, or whether the two continue to share duties, Riley at least has an option this year.

Besides Leaser, three other freshmen – Alison Blasingame, Justine Record and Kirsty Blue – were featured regularly on offense and each received double-digit attacks. Also of note was junior middle blocker Betsy Horowitz, who could be poised for a breakout season after earning tournament MVP honors by posting a team-high .463 hitting percentage, 24 kills and 12 blocks.

Another offense looking to explode this fall belongs to the women’s soccer team, which got off to a 2-1 start after winning back-to-back home games over Evansville (4-2 on Aug. 29th) and George Mason (2-0 on Aug. 31st). Even in the game that the Hokies lost, a 2-1 decision to Davidson on Aug. 23rd, they dominated in every offensive category except the final score.

This team features no shortage of playmakers – Marika Gray, Robin Chidester and Emily Jukich scored two goals each throughout the first three games – and head coach Kelly Cagle hinted in the preseason that they would the keys to success this year. Tech’s defense was not a problem in 2007 – it only allowed 20 goals in 18 games – and it looks to be stout once again after limiting its first three opponents to just 13 shots and four corner kicks combined. So if the Hokies can keep games close, Cagle says her crop of attackers has the ability to strike right up until the final horn.

Fittingly, all seven of Tech’s goals in the first three contests came in the second half. While it would be nice to see the Hokies get off to some stronger starts in the first half, it’s at least encouraging that they have the composure to stay focused and aggressive as the clock ticks time away.

All things considered, opening weekend for the Hokies’ non-football teams was a quite a success, and all signs to point many more throughout the rest of the fall. If you’re in town for a football game, don’t forget about the other guys. Chances are there will be some sort of Olympic sporting event going on that weekend, as even the promising cross country team will serve as hosts for three meets this fall. There are some new and exciting student-athletes to watch, so come out and support them if you get the chance – you won’t be disappointed.