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November 7, 2013

Six inducted into the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame

By: Jimmy Robertson

On Nov. 15, the Virginia Tech athletics department inducted six new members into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame at a banquet on the Tech campus. The new inductees bring the total number enshrined to 169. The Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame was established in 1982.

Here’s a closer look at each new inductee:


Joe Saunders has many memories of his playing days at Virginia Tech. But one that stands out couldn’t exactly be classified as “fond.”

“I remember getting mono [mononucleosis] and pitching in a regional game [NCAA] at Cal State Fullerton,” Saunders said. “That one stands out.”

Saunders, who missed the Atlantic 10 tournament that year because of his sickness, suffered a loss to the Titans, giving up six runs in seven innings. But that was a rare blip on an otherwise fantastic collegiate career.

His career at Tech almost didn’t occur. The Philadelphia Phillies selected Saunders in the fifth round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft in June of 1999 following Saunders’ senior season at West Springfield High School. He contemplated signing with the Phillies, who offered him a six-figure contract, but his parents – both Tech graduates – wanted him to come to Blacksburg, and he ultimately decided that playing college baseball would be best for him.

“That was an important decision in my life,” Saunders said. “I definitely think it was the right decision. You always wonder ‘what if,’ but I can’t imagine what if I hadn’t gone to Tech. I developed as a player and I met my wife there. I have a good life now and I’m enjoying every minute of it, and that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t made the right decision.”

Saunders won nine games in each of his three seasons at Tech. He became the only Tech pitcher to win nine or more games in three consecutive seasons when he went 9-2 in 2002. He led the Big East in strikeouts with 102 in 97.2 innings, while walking just 22 batters. His 1.81 ERA in league games was the best of any Big East starter and his overall ERA of 2.86 was a personal best. He was a first-team All-Big East pick.

Saunders’ 27 career pitching victories rank third on the school’s all-time list. After his junior season, he became the Hokies’ highest draft pick ever, going in the first round to the Anaheim Angels, who selected him with the 12th overall pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. He signed with the Angels, thus ending his career at Tech.

“I think my best memories are just traveling with the team and hanging out with the guys,” Saunders said. “Playing cards in the hotel room, just having fun. The fun for me was the friendships that developed and all the people I got to meet.”

After signing with the Angels in 2002, Saunders spent three seasons in the minors and was named the Angels’ Organization’s Pitcher of the Year in 2005. He made his major league debut on Aug. 16, 2005, against the Toronto Blue Jays and was selected for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2008. Over his nine full seasons in the majors, he has pitched for the Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles and currently the Seattle Mariners.

Saunders, his wife Shanel – a former Tech softball player – and their two children live in Arizona.


Clarisa Crowell opened the letter from Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver this summer and did a double take. She expressed disbelief that she, of all people, was going to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

“I was taken off guard,” she said. “My first thought was, ‘Was this supposed to be sent to me?’ In addition to being shocked, I was humbled and honored.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to represent our softball program. That’s the most important thing to me about this induction. I don’t feel like it’s about me. It’s about the entire program. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without my teammates.”

Crowell’s modesty is enduring, but truthfully, her play from 1999-2002 was a main reason why the Hokies enjoyed so much success during her time in Blacksburg. She batted .289 for her career, with 16 home runs and 35 doubles, while also going 65-25 in the circle. She finished her career with a 1.39 earned run average and 475 strikeouts.

As a freshman, Crowell went 25-8 with an ERA of just 1.05, had 209 strikeouts and three no-hitters, and earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Conference Team. In 2000, she was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference Team as an outfielder and was named to the Virginia all-state team as a pitcher and an outfielder as voted on by state sports information directors, becoming the first player in state history to make the team at two different positions in the same year. She hit .296 with nine home runs and went 20-8 in the circle with a 1.48 ERA.

Her junior season, Crowell moved to third base when not pitching and posted an ERA of 1.26 while hitting .240. In her final campaign, she earned first-team all-region and second-team All-Big East honors as a third baseman. She led the team with a .367 batting average and had 11 doubles and 30 RBIs.

Crowell still stands second all-time at Tech in winning percentage as a pitcher (.722) and remains third in career ERA and shutouts (26), and fourth in wins and complete games (62). She is ninth in career runs batted in (103) and 10th in career hits (200), doubles and runs scored (104).

Crowell became just the second Tech softball player inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Michelle Meadows, who was inducted in 2010.

“There have been so many great players in Virginia Tech history,” she said. “I played with some great players myself. Ashlee Dobbe was a phenomenal pitcher, Carmen Farmer was a great player, Kara Krumhardt … the list goes on and on. For me to have been chosen among that group, that’s a pretty special award because they’re all great players. I’m humbled and honored, and hopefully in the future, some of those other great players will be inducted.”

Today, Crowell, who graduated in 2002 with a degree in psychology, is in her second year as the head softball coach at Miami University in Ohio. She spent the previous six seasons as the pitching coach at Oklahoma State, leading the Cowgirls to the Women’s College World Series in 2011.


Jimmy Milley grew up in Danville, Va., and like many in that area of this state, he became somewhat fond of the North Carolina Tar Heels, whose campus resides roughly 90 minutes from Danville.

He liked the Tar Heels’ tennis program, but when it came time to make a college choice, he took a more practical view of the situation.

“There were three children coming up behind me, so I needed to go where I could get some scholarship help,” Milley said.

Then-Tech coach Joe Collins offered Milley a scholarship and it turned out to be an astute decision, as Milley elevated the Tech men’s tennis program in the mid-1970s. He beat out former teammate and current good friend Tom Hood for the No. 1 spot, and as a senior, he became the first Tech player to earn a national ranking and the first to participate in the NCAA singles championships.

“Carolina had such a good tennis team at the time, but I probably would have gotten lost there,” Milley said. “Virginia Tech was the best place I could have gone. I got to play No. 1 right off the bat and got to play a lot of good players at that position.”

As a freshman, Milley post a 12-13 mark, playing against the opposing team’s best players. That group included a couple of players whom Milley grew up admiring – North Carolina’s Billy Brock and Maryland’s John Lucas, who was an outstanding basketball player, too. Both of those players were All-Americans.

Milley nearly upset Brock. He won the first set 6-2 and led the second set 4-2. But Brock won the next 10 games to win the match.

Milley went 20-3 as a sophomore and 20-7 as a junior in singles competition. As a senior, he put together arguably the best season ever by a Tech men’s tennis player.

He went 27-2 in 1979 – a season that still stands as the best single-season finish for a Tech tennis player. He became the first Tech player to participate in the NCAA Singles Championships, but his season ended when he lost in the first round to the No. 4 seed, Robert Van’t Hof of the University of Southern California. Van’t Hof went on to win the national championship the next season, played professionally for a while and later served as pro star Lindsay Davenport’s coach.

Still, the defeat didn’t blemish Milley’s accomplishments or his career.

“I would always watch the guys I was getting ready to play and think that they were very good, and then I’d get on the court with them and do fairly well against them,” he said. “That was right about the time when players started lifting weights. Before that, it was frowned upon for a tennis player to lift weights, but we did lift some weights back then and that helped. And when I went to Tech, that was the first time I had played tennis year round. That helped, too.”

Immediately after graduating from Tech with a degree in mass communications, Milley spent some time on the professional circuit, earning Association of Tennis Pros ranking points in singles and doubles, while playing in satellite tournaments on the East Coast and in Europe. He was invited to participate in two Grand Prix tournaments.

It was quite a tennis career from a man who never had a lesson growing up in Danville.

“I just started playing with my dad,” Milley said. “He would hit with his friends, and I would hit with him. I never really had any lessons.

“I played a lot with a guy named Ron Charity [an African-American tennis player who helped coach Arthur Ashe]. He helped start The Arthur Ashe Foundation. He didn’t teach me, but we played a lot. I guess I was just blessed with good hand-eye coordination.”

Milley currently lives in Richmond, Va., where he works as an operating room nurse at Memorial Regional Medical Center.


As a kid, Bobby Beecher never harbored any aspirations of playing basketball. He never gave the sport a second thought until his dad, who had played basketball at Kentucky for legendary coach Adolph Rupp, talked him into it two years after the family had moved from New Jersey to North Carolina.

“It [basketball] didn’t interest me,” Beecher said. “We moved down from New Jersey when I was in the fourth grade. My dad just came to me when I was in the sixth or seventh grade and said, ‘I want you to try basketball.’ I wasn’t tall at the time. I hadn’t had my growth spurt at the time. It wasn’t until the eighth or ninth grade when I really started growing. He asked me to try it, and I did and started enjoying it.”

Thank goodness for fathers with a keen eye for seeing potential in their children.

Beecher went on to become a key cog for then-coach Charlie Moir on those great Tech basketball teams of the early 1980s. He, Dell Curry and Keith Colbert formed one of the top-rated recruiting classes in Tech men’s basketball history, and the trio propelled the Hokies into prominence. Curry went on to become the school’s leading scorer at the time (he’s still second), but Beecher was successful, too.

In fact, the 6-foot-9 forward started 33 of 34 games as a freshman during the 1982-83 season and led the team in field-goal percentage (57 percent) and free-throw percentage (91.3 percent) while averaging 13.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He was named the Metro Conference Freshman of the Year, beating out Curry for the honor.

“I don’t boast on things, but it was an accomplishment that I was proud of,” Beecher said. “That was a surprise, when you have guys like Dell Curry. To this day, a lot of people don’t realize that.

“Playing with Dell was enjoyable because we were successful. I’ve made this comment so many times, but we played team basketball. There were so many nights – more so with Dell because he was a great shooter – but when someone got hot, the ball was fed to that person. It was a team effort rather than just relying on one or two people.”

Beecher averaged 9.8 points per game as a sophomore and led the team with 46 blocked shots as the Hokies received a National Invitation Tournament berth for the second straight year. His junior year, he averaged 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, helping Tech receive an NCAA Tournament bid. That summer, he played on the USA team in the World University Games.

As a senior, Beecher averaged 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds to finish his Tech career eighth in scoring (1,548 points) and sixth in rebounds (797). He played in 128 of 129 games as a Hokie, starting 126. Currently, he still ranks third all-time at Tech in blocked shots (170) and stands in the top 10 in career rebounds, field goals made (640) and free-throw percentage (.807). He is 16th all-time in scoring.

Beecher’s most memorable moment – and the most memorable basketball moment of many Tech fans – came during that 1985-86 season when the Hokies knocked off No. 2 Memphis at Cassell Coliseum. Memphis was slated to go to No. 1 in the polls before the Hokies knocked off the Tigers.

Today, people still bring up that game in general conversations with Beecher.

“It’s amazing. A lot of people remember it better than I do sometimes,” he said. “I remember just the excitement. A lot of people don’t realize this, but back when I played with Dell Curry and those guys, we had students camping out for tickets for every home game. It was a packed house every night, but that game especially, it was over the top as far as the excitement and the crowd. It was just electric. Everyone played well that game.”

Beecher, who was selected in the fourth round of the 1986 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, earned his Tech degree in human services with an emphasis in family and child development. He currently lives in Roanoke, Va., where he works as the lead estimator for the mechanical department of Varney, Inc.


The Virginia Tech golf team practices at one of the finest facilities and on one of the finest courses in the nation. But former golfer Johnson Wagner remembers a different era.

“We used to pick up our own balls at the campus course,” Wagner said. “We’d hit balls right there at the first tee and then walk out there and pick them up. The locker room wasn’t much to write home about. Now you go in their facility and they have their own end of the driving range and a study room, a locker room, and a conference room. They’ve got everything now. All our trophies are in there. It’s pretty cool.

“When Coach [Tech coach Jay Hardwick] was showing me around, I was kind of whining, ‘Why didn’t we have this when we were around?’ He said, ‘Well, Junior, you guys built this place. If it wasn’t for you all, we wouldn’t have this.’ That made me feel good, and it’s nice to see the Virginia Tech golf program on the up and up.”

Wagner, who played at Tech from 1998-2002, was a big part in the huge rise of Tech golf. As a freshman, he recorded the lowest stroke average (75.79) on the team and ended up being named the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year. As a sophomore, he led the nation in eagles made in the final NCAA regular-season statistics with eight. In 2001, when Tech moved to the Big East, he was one of the team leaders as the Hokies captured the conference title and finished eighth in the NCAA Championships.

Wagner garnered All-Big East honors his last two seasons, winning the conference tournament individual title as a senior in 2002, while the Hokies repeated as team champs. Tech made another visit to the NCAA Championships, finishing 20th, and Wagner was named All-South Region and third-team All-America.

“There were so many,” Wagner said of his favorite memories at Tech. “We had such a good team my junior and senior year. We finished eighth my junior year at Duke [at the NCAA Championships]. My freshman year, we were one of the worst teams in the country, and in two short years, to go from one of the worst teams in the country to finishing eighth was huge.

“Also, my senior year, I was selected third-team All-American. That was a huge boost in confidence. I never thought that would happen, and to get that honor was great.”

The 2002 Tech graduate finished his career with a scoring average of 73.96, which was the best in school history at the time and still ranks 10th on the all-time list. During his time at Tech, Wagner became the first amateur ever to win all three major titles of the Metropolitan Golf Association (NY) in one calendar year (2002).

Wagner currently plays on the PGA Tour along with another Hokie and former teammate, Brendon de Jonge, who was a year behind Wagner at Tech. Both of them are married, live in Charlotte, N.C., and remain great friends. Their kids are close together in ages.

Wagner has won three events on the PGA Tour – the 2008 Shell Houston Open, the 2011 Mayakoba Golf Classic and the 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii.

No matter where he goes these days, he finds Tech fans cheering him passionately.

“I find it amazing that, every town I go to, there is always someone following me with a Virginia Tech shirt or hat,” he said. “The alumni are so loyal and proud. Virginia Tech fans come out for everything and proudly display their colors. I think that’s unique to our school that that is the case.

“I was even in Malaysia last year and saw some Virginia Tech people! It’s pretty unique, and it’s always nice to see the maroon and orange.”


John Engelberger made the most of his time in Blacksburg, going from walk-on, to four-year starter, to second-round NFL Draft pick, while earning All-America honors and his college degree along the way.

Engelberger, who came to Tech from Springfield, Va., joined the Tech football team in 1995 as a tight end. The coaching staff redshirted him that year, and during the spring, they moved him to defense and awarded him a scholarship. He played in every game during the 1996 season, including seven as a starter. His six sacks tied him for fifth in the Big East Conference and his 64 tackles led the Hokies’ defensive linemen. Engelberger had a career-best 70 tackles in 1997 and contributed 15 tackles behind the line, including six more sacks. He followed that up with 7.5 sacks and 16.5 total tackles for loss in 1998, earning second-team All-Big East honors for the second straight season.

As a senior, Engelberger teamed with Corey Moore to give the Hokies one of the best pair of defensive ends in the country and helped spark Tech to an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the national championship game. He contributed 53 tackles, seven sacks, six additional tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hurries on the way to second-team All-America honors from The Associated Press. His career totals for sacks (26.5), tackles for loss (25) and total tackles behind the line (51.5) still rank in the top five all-time at Tech.

A hard worker who was one of the top performers at the 2000 NFL Combine, Engelberger was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He played in all 16 games with 13 starts as a rookie and went on to a nine-year pro career that included five seasons with San Francisco and four with the Denver Broncos. He started 80 of the 139 games he played in the NFL.

Engelberger, who graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, currently lives in Leesburg, Va.