Vol. 14 No. 5, April 2022 The Official Publication of Virginia Tech Athletics Inspired run in Brooklyn lifts Hokies to first-ever ACC Tournament title 2022 ACC Men’s Basketball TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS!
www.vcom.edu are you to care for athletes? Join the more than 430 Virginia Tech alumni who were inspired to attend the private state-of-the-art osteopathic medical school in Blacksburg,Virginia. VCOM is a proud partner of Virginia Tech athletics and has a Sports Medicine Fellowship program with physicians who provide care for Hokie athletes. Visit us online to find out how you will be inspired... Visi t www.vcom.edu/outcomes for a copy of our Outcomes Report. ©2022 Edward Via Col lege of Osteopathic Medicine. Al l r ights reserved. VCOM is cert i f ied by the State Counci l of Higher Educat ion to operate in Vi rginia.
Published by the Virginia Tech Athletics Department • Inside Hokie Sports (ISSN 8750-9148, periodical postage paid at Blacksburg, VA 24060 and additional mailing offices) covers Virginia Tech athletics and is published six times annually. The publisher is the Virginia Tech Athletics Department, 21 Beamer Way, Blacksburg, VA 24061. Mail all address changes, written inquiries and complaints to Virginia Tech Athletic Fund, P.O. Box 10307, Blacksburg, VA 24062-0307 or call 540-231-6618. Inside Hokie Sports assumes no responsibility for companies and persons who advertise in this publication. Reproduction of contents in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Publisher does not guarantee accuracy of information contained in any advertisement. ATTN POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Virginia Tech Athletic Fund, P.O. Box 10307, Blacksburg, VA 24062-0307. Printed by Worth Higgins & Associates of Richmond, Virginia. John Sours Designer Dave Knachel Photographer Contributor Christopher Fair Virginia Tech Sports Properties April 2022 Vol. 14, No. 5 inside.hokiesports.com *To advertise with Virginia Tech athletics or Inside Hokie Sports, contact Kyler Pilling at Virginia Tech Sports Properties— 540-418-6307 contents 2 A Word from Whit 3 Writing HERstory: Lisa Karlisch still making an impact at Virginia Tech 4 Inspired run in Brooklyn lifts Virginia Tech to first-ever ACC Tournament title 5 2022 ACC Men’s Basketball Champions 6 Leading the Charge 12 A True Pioneer: Emily Gray Paving the Way for the Future of Women’s Athletics in Blacksburg Hokie Highlights 16 Swimming & Diving 17 Track & Field 18 Women’s Basketball 19 Wrestling 20 A Legend’s Homecoming 27 Monogram Club News 29 Inside the Huddle 3 4 5 2 17 24 29 6 12 16 18 19 20
Dear Hokie Nation, I hope you enjoyed the exciting close to the winter sports season and are looking forward to an action packed spring of Hokie sports. We made big strides as a department to start 2022, and I’m proud of the work our student-athletes, coaches, and staff put in to make those strides possible. Thank you very much for the role your support played in our collective success. I’d be remiss if I did not take this time to congratulate some of our winter programs on their successes in the final months of the season. Lindsey Butler and Rachel Baxter brought home the gold at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in the 800m and the pole vault, respectively. Track & Field clinched both the men’s and women’s ACC Indoor Championships in Blacksburg, which is another triumphant chapter in the storied career of head coach Dave Cianelli. On the mat, Virginia Tech Wrestling succeeded as well with an 8th place finish in the NCAA Championships. Mekhi Lewis’ return to the national final serves as an inspiration to Tech fans everywhere, and Tony Robie has done such a great job constructing a winning identity for this program. This basketball season was such a memorable stretch for both of our programs. Our women’s basketball team won more ACC games than any other team in program history and attracted a new generation of fans to the sport in Blacksburg. Elizabeth Kitley became the first Hokie to be named ACC Player of the Year, which is such an impressive feat, especially when you consider she also presented such a strong academic record to be named the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year as well. On the men’s side, our Hokies captured the attention of the sports world with such an emotional and enthralling run to the program’s first ACC Championship. The entire team stepped up throughout a dramatic four game stretch, and it was so cathartic to see our student-athletes and staff cut down the nets in Brooklyn. In addition to the team’s success, Justyn Mutts was awarded ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, completing Virginia Tech Basketball’s sweep of the award. Mike Young and Kenny Brooks are wonderful at leading their programs, and I’m so optimistic about the potential they have to succeed in the future. Coach Sergio Lopez Miro’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs also represented our school well to close out the winter sports season. The women’s team finished No. 23 in the nation, with Emma Atkinson earning All-American honors in the 200 back. Youssef Ramadan and Carles Coll Marti earned All-American finishes in two events each, and the team tied it’s best ever finish at No.11 in the NCAA Championships. As spring fully comes into bloom in Blacksburg, we turn our attention to our spring sports seasons that continue to heat up. English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park is a beautiful place to take in a baseball game, so we encourage you to take in a ballgame whenever you get the chance to see John Szefc and his program. The same can be said for Tech Softball Park as well. Head coach Pete D’Amour has done such a masterful job at making his team an ACC and national contender. The softball program reached as high as a No.1 ranking in RPI this season, and the team’s No.5 overall ranking is the highest in program history. Hokie fans should back this program fully as the season comes to a close. Virginia Tech Lacrosse also has some challenging games coming up in their ACC slate, but we have a ton of faith in Kristen Skiera and the bounds she’s made in her first year heading the program, with ranked wins over JMU and Notre Dame. On the links, Women’s Golf has made an impression on the national scene. Emily Mahar earned an invitation to compete in the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur. We are overjoyed and proud to have someone representing Virginia Tech on the most storied golf course in the country. It has been so impressive to see how so many passionate members of Hokie Nation have bought into our vision to shift Virginia Tech from a challenger to a champion brand in collegiate athletics. After ambitiously setting our Drive for 25 goal in 2016, we were able to surpass the 25,000 donor threshold confidently in 2022. This year has been such a record-breaking year in terms of fundraising for Virginia Tech Athletics, and I cannot thank you all enough for continued support of Hokie student-athletes. We have momentum now, and we need to keep pushing to maintain our current impressive trajectory. Thank you for being a part of the best fanbase in all of sports. We hope you enjoy a happy and safe spring with you and your loved ones. Go Hokies! Whit Babcock Director of Athletics 2 A WORD FROM WHIT
inside.hokiesports.com 3 Lisa Karlisch (formerly Lisa Pikalek) is a management consultant for Sparkfire Strategy, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. During her time at Virginia Tech, Karlisch became the most decorated student-athlete in the history of Virginia Tech Volleyball. She still remains the program’s all-time leader in kills and kills per set, and she became one of only two female student-athletes at Virginia Tech to have their number retired. Karlisch graduated in 1992 and was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. Q: Why do you feel compelled to give back to Virginia Tech? LK All of the good things in my life circle back to Virginia Tech. I got a great education there which has positioned me incredibly well for everything I’ve done since. Volleyball specifically has given me a ton of life skills that allowed me to be incredibly successful throughout my life. So not only did I have the formal education at Virginia Tech, but I got the informal education that volleyball provided around discipline, time management, accountability, teamwork, all of those things. I also met my husband at Virginia Tech, so with him being an alumni as well, we both feel very committed to paying it forward. Now that I’m in a position where I can be generous, I want to give back to the place that benefited me so much. Q: How did your experiences in volleyball steer the direction you went professionally? LK Volleyball allowedme to go somewhere out of my home state and have a new perspective. Playing a Division I sport really differentiates people. If I just got good grades and stayed in my lane in terms of my academic career, I probably wouldn’t have stood out all that much. Whether it’s applying to school or applying to employers, people recognize the work that it takes to be successful at that level. Volleyball really provided me with that work ethic to be successful as I moved on to graduate school and into my career in consulting. Q: What do you think female former-student-athletes can add to your field? LK I do think the concept of team is really important. Women can lead from different directions. A lot of times, when you think of being a leader, you think of a marching line and a leader is in the front and everyone falls behind. In our world today, that’s not really how it works. You have to lead sideways, you have to lead from behind. You have to share accountability and purpose. It’s not command and control leadership, but more collaborative where more voices can come to the table. Women studentathletes are equipped for that. Q: What would you say to alumni that are considering giving back to the sport that provided them a scholarship? LK Once you have the good fortune of being able to take care of yourself and your family, I think it’s really important. My husband and I have been incredibly fortunate, so I think it’s important for us to pay it forward. Without the support of scholarships, a lot of young athletes would not have the opportunity to experience this special place. I want to make sure others have that same opportunity that I did. Not all athletic programs provide a level of support and treat people not just as athletes, but also as a whole human like Virginia Tech does. Giving back to make sure student-athletes can experience that is incredibly important to me. Karlisch and her husband, Brian (’93), live in Alexandria. Their son, Quinn, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, and their daughter, Ava, will attend school here in the fall. Virginia Tech Athletics’ campaign tabbed “Writing HERstory”, presented by Truist, celebrates the incredible achievements of its female student-athletes, both past and present, while inspiring the next generation of women who aspire to achieve their dreams through athletics. Writing HERstory: Lisa Karlisch still making an impact at Virginia Tech Former Tech volleyball standout utilizes experiences in Blacksburg to succeed in consulting
4 Inside Hokie Sports One of the most improbable, inspiring runs in the prestigious history of the ACC Tournament ended with maroon and orange confetti falling to the floor of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. For the first time ever, the Virginia Tech Hokies are the champions of the ACC. Months before they kick-started a historic run to the ACC final, the Hokies sat in the depths of the league with a 2-7 conference record on Jan. 26. The Miami Hurricanes silenced the crowd at Cassell with a backbreaking, half-court buzzer beater to hand Tech its third straight loss. To the Hokies credit, the team did not crumble. Mike Young’s crew sparked one of the largest turnarounds in ACC history, finishing the regular season on a 9-2 stretch, which solidified them as a seven seed in the league tournament. “We were talking about it in those moments, it was a dark place,” point guard Storm Murphy said of the team’s slow start in the regular season. “But the resilience of this team and the belief never wavered… when it really got real, we pushed through and continued to grind and have fun, and now here we are.” The fun certainly erupted when the Hokies pulled off their first win in the tournament. Down two in overtime with under five seconds to play, Darius Maddox traversed the court and drilled a 3 at the buzzer to keep the Hokies’ postseason hopes alive. Maddox’s heroic 3-pointer lifted Tech into the quarterfinals against Notre Dame, where the Hokies’ momentum continued into a 87-80 triumph over the Irish. Keve Aluma’s 20-point performance and Justyn Mutts’ fourth doubledouble of the year lifted the Hokies into the semifinal for a chance to play North Carolina for the third time in 2022. Despite the Tar Heels getting the better of the first two matchups, the Hokies had different plans for round three in Brooklyn. Maddox’s electric shooting off of the bench culminated in a career-high 20 points. Tech’s defense held No. 25 UNC to a 3-for-26 showing from beyond the arc, propelling them to a 72-59 victory and a trip to the first ACC final in program history versus top-seeded Duke. Not only was a conference title on the team’s horizon, but the urgent need to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. “I think just because we’re desperate doesn’t mean we’re not confident,” Keve Aluma said after the win over North Carolina. “We just know we’ve got to win.” The crescendo of the 2022 ACC Tournament had finally arrived. The Hokies, who fought through the gauntlet of the opening three games, were now pitted against the ACC regular-season champions, the No. 7 Blue Devils. The Hokies faced Duke in December in Durham and fell 76-65. Like the previous night against North Carolina, Tech’s shooting rewrote the wrongs of the regular season contest. Hunter Cattoor led the charge beyond the arc for the Hokies. “I was going through a rough shooting slump, and every time in practice, every time in the games, my teammates would tell me I’m the best shooter in the gym,” Cattoor shared on his outlook going into the final. “I dreamed of moments like this, and it happened, so I’m grateful. The junior from Orlando went absolutely unconscious from3-point land. Cattoor nailed his first six trey attempts without missing and finished with a career-high 31 points. Aluma added an impressive 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The Hokies shot 50% from the field and jumped up by as much as 18 over the Blue Devils in the second half, finalizing the title run with an 82-67 victory, the largest win over Duke in the 100-year history of the matchup. “It means a lot just for the history of Virginia Tech,” Cattoor said, who was named MVP of the tournament. “Coach Young mentioned before we’re not doing it just for our team here in that locker room. We were doing it for all the players before and everyone that came through Virginia Tech before.” The Hokies cut down the nets as the first seven-seed to ever win the ACC Tournament. Even as the excitement washed over the team and Virginia Tech faithful crowded into the lower level of the Barclays Center, Mike Young balanced his elation with the anticipation of the next challenge. “It’s significant, but we’re going to play in the NCAA Tournament next week,” said Young, whose program is going to the big dance for the second consecutive year. “We’re going to put a lot of time and effort into our next opponent, and there will be a time when we’ll look back on it. This is very significant for our program, for our coaching staff. A lot of fun.” INSPIRED RUN in Brooklyn lifts VIRGINIA TECH to first-ever ACC TOURNAMENT TITLE By Bailey Angle This is a special thing for Blacksburg; for southwest Virginia where I’m from, where I grew up; for the state of Virginia; for our unbelievable Hokie fan base. They’ll always remember this, this team, and what they’ve accomplished. Tech head coach Mike Young Hokies knocked off Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke en route to league tournament championship
Hunter Cattoor knocked down 7 of 9 from 3 en route to a game-high 31 points and MVP honors. Darius Maddox drilled the game-winning trey in overtime against Clemson in the second round of the ACC Tournament. Storm Murphy is overcome with emotion after the Hokies knocked off No. 7-ranked and top-seeded Duke, 82-67. Mike Young improved to 6-0 in conference tournament championship games. inside.hokiesports.com 5
Brent Pry embracing leadership role of Tech Football. By Jackson Didlake TH Twentyseven years ago, Brent Pry made the 200-foot walk through the claustrophobic Avery Tunnel as a graduate assistant for head coach Frank Beamer. Pry’s career arc will come full circle this fall when he leads the Hokies out of that same tunnel, this time with him holding the title of Virginia Tech head coach. 6 Inside Hokie Sports
THE CHARGE inside.hokiesports.com 7
8 Inside Hokie Sports Instead of following the lead of his mentors, Frank Beamer and Bud Foster, this time Pry will be leading the charge as the head coach of Virginia Tech. “I think it’s a good opportunity to walk in that stadium and lead this team, this organization and represent this university,” Pry said. “That’s exciting to me. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, really.” Pry spent three years in Blacksburg from 1995 to 1997 as a graduate assistant, where he got to learn under the wings of Beamer and Foster before his long journey to becoming a head coach. “My wife would get on me because I didn’t have an interest in being a head coach strong enough to go after a job, but this place was different,” Pry said. “I knew for certain out of the gate as soon as this [job] opened up that it’s something that fit me and that I’d be excited about and would be great for my family.” When Pry was interviewing for the Hokies head coaching vacancy, he wanted to stay true to himself and take a “this is me” approach. “If this isn’t what they’re looking for, that’s okay,” Pry said. “This is how I would do it and what’s important to me.” Luckily for Pry and the Hokies, the important values lined up. Now, Pry wants to take the same approach in recruiting. He wants to make sure that recruits and their families truly know what it’s like to come to Virginia Tech and be part of the football program. And if it’s not for them? That’s okay. “We want people that want to be here,” Pry said. “I knew I wanted to be here, and I wanted to make sure the administration understood that.” At Penn State, Pry had an immense amount of success recruiting in Virginia and he knows the caliber of football that is being played in high schools around the Commonwealth. “We need to flip this roster,” he said. “Right now, there are more kids from out of state than in state. There’s plenty of good players in this state that are going other places. “[Penn State] is going to come down and get a guy or two, but we’ve got to be in more of those battles. That’s going to take time. We have to put the work in.” Luckily for Pry, there have been things that he hasn’t had to learn at Virginia Tech thanks to his past experience. He already has relationships with people in the area and coaches in the state, which he said has made his transition to Blacksburg much easier. “It’s not like it was one year,” Pry said about his prior stint with the Hokies. “It was three years, and it was with Coach Beamer and his staff that were here for such a long time.” Pry still credits a lot of the things he’s learned and his mentality for the coach he is today back to Beamer, Foster and the other defensive coaches that he worked with day in and out. When Pry looks back on his time in Blacksburg, one memory serves as a catalyst of what was to come for the Hokies—Virginia Tech’s home victory over Miami in 1995. The Hokies had a rough start to the season falling to both Boston College and Cincinnati with a nationally-ranked Hurricanes team coming to Lane Stadium on the horizon. “We just out-physicaled them and outplayed them,” Pry said. THE CHARGE Continued from page 7 The Pry Family (L to R): Colby, Madeline, Catherine, Brent and Amy.
inside.hokiesports.com 9 THE OFFICIAL KIDS’ CLUB OF VIRGINIA TECH ATHLETICS TO CHOOSE FROM Visit hokiesports.com/hokiekidsclub to join! ORANGE LEVEL: FREE MAROON LEVEL: $35 TWO PLANS The Hokies dropped Miami and went on to win their next 10 games, turning around their season and what Pry sees as a turning point for the program. “They had a little success to that point but nothing like a Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl that were lying ahead,” he said. “I think that game was a defining moment in my memory.” There was a lot of excitement and success ahead for Virginia Tech when Pry left Blacksburg 25 years ago, a sensation he hopes to renew for the Hokie faithful in the coming years. “I know what a sleeping giant [Tech] is and I know the type of football team you can build here that’s attainable at Virginia Tech,” Pry said. Towards the end of his time at Penn State, Pry spent his days working hard for the Nittany Lions but at night, the thoughts of what a potential staff at Virginia Tech would look like creeped in his head. Pry knew there were a handful of guys from State College that he wanted to bring with him and once those agreed, Pry only had to interview for a single staff vacancy. “Things went the way I hoped they would, and I think we put together an unbelievable staff,” Pry said. Among that staff is Tyler Bowen, who was at Penn State from 2017 to 2020, then he spent last season as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ tight ends coach, before Pry gave him the call to become the Hokies’ offensive coordinator. Much like Bowen, Pry has had a long relationship with new defensive coordinator Chris Marve. He most recently served as the linebackers coach at Florida State, but his long-lasting relationship with Pry dates back to his playing days at Vanderbilt. Pry and his new staff are no strangers to hostile environments after coaching in front of packed crowds, but Pry wants to ensure that he and his staff take a moment to soak it all in when Metallica starts blaring at Lane Stadium. “I’ve been in a lot of big environments, and you have 100 other things on your mind,” Pry said. “I’ll make sure I stop and take five seconds to enjoy the moment and soak it in. Then it’s put the headset on, let’s go to the coin toss and get ready to coach a football game. “I understand how special it is. I’m going to take time to make sure we do and I’m going to have my staff do that. I want them to enjoy it for a little bit for the five to 10 seconds. That’s it.” Blacksburg is less than 100 miles from Lexington High School, where Pry excelled at quarterback and defensive back. He went on Continued on page 10
10 Inside Hokie Sports 99 Bradley Drive Christiansburg NRV Mall 540-381-8100 www.holidayinn.com/cburgnorth Full Service Restaurant Bar & Grill Game Day Catering. Dine in or Room Service Welcome Back HOKIES! THE CHARGE Continued from page 9 to play collegiately at Maryville College and Buffalo before he suffered a career-ending injury. Pry began as a student coach at Buffalo in 1992 before moving on to coaching East Stroudsburg, an important stop on his journey to becoming a head football coach because that’s where Pry met the Warriors’ starting quarterback, James Franklin. Pry joined Franklin’s staff at Vanderbilt when he became the head coach and followed him to Penn State in 2014 where Pry went on to become his defensive coordinator before leaving for the Hokies. Pry learned a lot watching Franklin lead the Nittany Lions to battle, but one of the most important lessons he learned was off the field. “There’s not a whole lot of time that you’re not the head football coach,” he said. Pry knows what comes with the job, but when he does have a second to catch some fresh air, it’s spent FaceTiming his family, exploring the Blacksburg community, or supporting other Virginia Tech athletic programs. “That environment is fantastic,” Pry said about the Hokies faithful at Cassell Coliseum. “The fans are awesome.” “It’s been fantastic from students to the faculty and staff, to the community, to the coaches across the state. It’s been a warm welcome and it’s been a busy couple of months.”
™ A P A R T M E N T S CEDAR POINTE A P A R T M E N T S
When the pick came in last December, history was made for Emily Gray and the Virginia Tech women’s soccer program. On the Saturday before Christmas, she gathered with her family, teammates and supporters in Lane Stadium, overlooking nearby Thompson Field—her home pitch of four seasons where so many of her Hokie memories had been made. As the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Draft began, Gray sat stoically with her legs crossed and her fingers wrapped around each other. Her calm demeanor would soon change to that of elated shock, delight and accomplishment. Interim NWSL CEO Marla Messing called out that Gray was now the newest member of the North Carolina Courage as the room around her erupted into cheers and tears. Gray cupped her right hand over her open mouth while her eyes raised with glee. As she embraced the hugs from her family, a new page in her story was just beginning while the legacy of the last few were now stamped in print. “I’m proud of myself for leaving a legacy on the program and leaving the door open for someone to go No. 2 or No. 1 eventually,” said Gray. Gray had been selected with the third overall pick by the Courage, tying her for the highest draft pick by a Virginia Tech female student-athlete across school history. Angela Tincher, a dominant softball pitcher for the Hokies, was drafted third overall by the Akron Racers during the 2008 National Pro Fastpitch Draft. Gray had also joined an exclusive club with Michael Vick, Bruce Smith, Daniel Pereira and Angela Tincher as the only Hokies to have been taken within the top three picks of a professional sports draft. For Gray, this accomplishment was a long time coming and always part of her plan. “When I made it to Virginia Tech, I wrote down a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish before I left,” Gray said. “One of them was to be drafted.” The fulfillment of this goal was a result of Emily’s dedication to her craft on the pitch and overcoming any challenge that came her way. One challenge she faced was season-ending ACL surgery that shortened her sophomore campaign in 2019. “It wasn’t the injury as much as it was the timing of everything,” Gray said. “I had surgery in October of my sophomore year and was recovering when COVID happened. That was a transformative year.” That 2019 season, Gray was on pace for a breakout year. Prior to her September injury against No. 1 Virginia, she had scored three match-winning goals through 10 appearances. Despite being sidelined and away from the team during her recovery, Gray still managed to make an impact and grow as a leader for Virginia Tech. “The best thing she could do was continue to work on her own, be there for the team off the field and lead,” said Virginia Tech women’s soccer head coach Chugger Adair. “We didn’t have to keep on her because we knew she was doing all that she could to get back.” When Gray came back for her junior season, it was a big relief to not only herself, but for her teammates and Coach Adair. However, Gray’s return was shadowed by new adversity as she and her teammates learned how to play through the COVID pandemic. Competing almost exclusively within the ACC during the fall of 2020, Tech opened against seven consecutive ranked opponents, prevailing on one occasion. After a more encouraging spring, the Hokies finished with an 8-9 record—short of what Gray knew she and her teammates were capable of. “Our season, my junior year, was quite bad on the field,” Gray said. “We were middle of the pack and that teaches you a lot about working for everything. We’re not entitled to anything and that’s how Virginia Tech is across the board— we earn everything.” The work she put into her recovery process and the lessons she and her teammates learned from a disappointing 2020-21 season would soon manifest itself in a big way for Gray and the Hokies. They bounced back during the 2021 season to the tune of a 12-6-2 record that was filled with highlights and memorable moments. “I will watch every goal we scored this season and be so proud because the whole sideline is in the air, including support staff and doctors,” Gray said. “Everyone is in unison and as a leader, that was my proudest moment to see the evolution of the team.” Continued on page 14 12 Inside Hokie Sports
inside.hokiesports.com 13 A TRUE PIONEER: EMILY GRAY PAVING THE WAY FOR THE FUTURE OF WOMEN’S ATHLETICS IN BLACKSBURG By Will Locklin
14 Inside Hokie Sports “They say ‘Hokie Family’ a lot here and I think that is something that’s even better now,” said Gray. “When I look back at my freshman year to now, I think it’s a better community than it was when I first made it here. I think Tech does a great job with making everything equal.” Gray was connected to Virginia Tech not just through her athletic career, but through her academic career as well. Within the budding sports media and analytics program at Virginia Tech, Emily found a passion for broadcasting. “When it did become a major, I was over the moon,” Gray said. “Bill Roth (who leads the program) was always in good communication with me and supported my journey.” One of the coolest experiences for Gray as a broadcaster was when she would receive feedback from other soccer players. Their reaction was overwhelmingly positive, especially as her career went on. “A lot of [the men’s players] would come up to me and be like, ‘Hey Emily! It was really cool how you saw that. That was exactly what our game plan was,’” Gray said. “I see the game better because of that.” With everything Emily Gray accomplished and experienced during her four years at Virginia Tech, she’s still intent on giving back as a Hokie alumna. She especially wants to encourage the path of both women’s soccer and becoming a female broadcaster at Tech. While her soccer career provided Emily with some of her favorite college experiences, so did the opportunities she pursued off the pitch in Blacksburg. Gray participated in many organizations that were affiliated with the Virginia Tech athletics department, like HokieVision, Hokie Women RISE, and SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). “We want women to grow while they’re here as overall people, that’s first and foremost for us,” Adair said. “Emily was really open and bought into what we tried to do as a staff and as a program.” For Gray, the opportunities she took advantage of during her time as a Hokie supported her in many different ways off the field. They strengthened her relationships with the support staff, connected her to multiple career pathways and established her brand as an involved student-athlete. “There’s always at least one percent of [organization meetings] that you’re going to take away and store in your brain that will help you out for years to come,” Gray said. In addition to the general opportunities that came with being a student-athlete at Virginia Tech, the influence of Title IX—which paved the way for equality in women’s college athletics in 1972—has played a significant role in shaping Gray’s collegiate development. To Gray, Virginia Tech has made a point of emphasis to recognize and work towards fairness across all men’s and women’s athletics. A TRUE PIONEER: EMILY GRAY PAVING THE WAY FOR THE FUTURE OF WOMEN’S ATHLETICS IN BLACKSBURG Continued from page 13 Emily Gray answers the phone from North Carolina Courage head coach Sean Nahas after being selected No. 3 overall during the 2022 NWSL Draft.
inside.hokiesports.com 15 “Definitely—any way that I can give back and continue the tradition of the program,” Gray said. “I am even changing my Instagram bio to ‘VT soccer alum’ so that people can see where I came from.” Although Title IX has provided so many incredible opportunities for women’s athletics to develop across five decades, there is still work to be done on that front. Gray wants Virginia Tech fans to keep their support going strong. “I would encourage Virginia Tech fans to continue to invest not necessarily financially, but invest their time in supporting women’s sports and Olympic sports in general that do not get the attention they deserve,” said Gray. Emily Gray succeeded on so many fronts at Virginia Tech. She became one of the best players in Virginia Techwomen’s soccer history, furthering her legacy as a No. 3 NWSL Draft pick. She was heavily involved in the athletics department, grew in the commentary booth as a student broadcaster for ACC Network and actively pursued every opportunity that came her way. Gray’s path as a Hokie has been one of perseverance and trailblazing—a path to help women’s athletics grow to even greater heights.
• 65 finalists • 14 medals • 12 school records • Men finished 3rd (1,054 points); Women finished 7th (636 points) • Gold medals: Sam Tornqvist (200 Back) , Youssef Ramadan (100 Free) , Carles Coll Marti (200 Breast) , Youssef Ramadan (100 Fly) , Carles Coll Marti (200 IM) I swear, in the last 25 [yards], all I had in my mind was my team. I knew they were cheering for me. [...]. I did it for them. Carles Coll Marti YOUSSEF RAMADAN 2022 ACC Most Valuable Swimmer •Gold in the 100 Fly •Gold in the 100 Free •Silver in the 200 Medley Relay •Bronze in the 50 Free •Bronze in the 400 Medley Relay YOUSSEF RAMADAN CHASE TRAVIS REKA GYORGY CARLES COLL MARTI SAM TORNQVIST 16 Inside Hokie Sports
Virginia Tech track & field won both the men’s and women’s ACC Indoor Championships, the first host school to do so in conference history. Rachel Baxter celebrates winning the NCAA pole vault title with a new ACC record of 15’ 1.75”. Lindsey Butler earned the Hokies’ 19th NCAA title, joining teammate Rachel Baxter as champions in 2022. inside.hokiesports.com 17
18 Inside Hokie Sports RECORD BREAKERS ; AISHA SHEPPARD AND ELIZABETH KITLEY All-ACC athletes cement legacies with fantastic 2021-22 hoops season
LIVE FOR THE POST-SEASON Wrestling crowns 3 ACC Champions, 3 All-Americans, 1 National Finalist, 8th Place Team Finish MEKHI LEWIS Redshirt-Junior MEKHI LEWIS Redshirt-Junior MEKHI LEWIS Redshirt-Junior BRYCE ANDONIAN Junior KORBIN MYERS Graduate Student NATHAN TRAXLER Graduate Student inside.hokiesports.com 19
From the moment Ace Custis walked the campus, he knew Virginia Tech was where he wanted to be. Years later, Custis sits on the Hokies’ bench at Cassell Coliseum, where he looks up into the rafters and sees his No. 20 jersey retired. Back, where he wanted to be. “I always wanted to come back here,” Custis said. “It [was] a dream of mine. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been back in Blacksburg.” Custis played for the Hokies from 199397, becoming the third player in program history to score 1,000 points and snag 1,000 rebounds. “People joke about it all the time,”Virginia Tech forward David N’Guessan said. “[You have to] listen to him and respect him because he’s a legend around here.” Custis had plenty of individual accolades, but it came with team success, too. “I always wanted to see the team excel,” Custis said. “If the team excelled, I was always happy. I just went out and tried to play my best each and every night. I could only control one thing and that was my effort.” The 1994-95 Hokies finished the regular season 20-9 and felt they deserved a spot in the NCAA Tournament. But they didn’t get in. Instead, having to settle for the NIT. “We all had a chip on our shoulder,” Custis recalled. The Hokies ran through the tournament to set up a championship matchup against Marquette, a game that Custis will never forget. With 0.7 seconds remaining in overtime, junior forward Shawn Smith stepped up to the free-throw line with the Hokies down one. He sank both. “It was a surreal moment,” Custis said. “When that shot went through and the horn went off, I could say we were the 65th best team that year.” Virginia Tech flooded the floor in excitement to celebrate a monumental feat, but the job wasn’t finished. The next season, the Hokies didn’t forget how close they were to the NCAA Tournament. “We wanted to leave no doubt that we should be in the NCAA Tournament,” Custis said. “Throughout the year, it was one game at a time. We played Hokie basketball.” Virginia Tech left no doubt, finishing the regular season 22-4 and ranking as high as No. 8 in the country, etching a spot in the Big Dance. The Hokies took down Green Bay in the Round of 64 before bowing out to the eventual champions, Kentucky. Continued on page 22 20 Inside Hokie Sports
By Jackson Didlake LEGEND’S A inside.hokiesports.com 21
22 Inside Hokie Sports Those Virginia Tech teams were very tight knit and some of the players are still in contact thanks to social media, but for others, it’s easier to maintain a relationship, especially when you see each other at work every day like Custis and strength and conditioning coach David Jackson. Years later, the two bring the same energy to Virginia Tech as they did when they were on the court. “It’s awesome being around Coach [Jackson] every day,” Custis said. “To see him in the weight room and his demeanor, [it’s] the same attitude he has in the weight room that he had 30 years ago.” Jackson recalls Custis’ fiery nature and intense competitiveness that has translated to the modern-day Hokies. The same fire that Custis brought with him when he took to the professional level. “As a youngster growing up, everyone dreams to be in the NBA. That’s the ultimate goal of anyone who plays basketball,” he pointed out. “I came up a little short.” After going undrafted, Custis signed with the Dallas Mavericks, where he suffered a knee injury in the preseason. He went on to play semi-pro for the Grand Rapids Hoops in the CBA before deciding to take his talents overseas. “It was a cultural shock at first. There was a language barrier. We had translators to translate the coach and players,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time overseas. It was a great experience.” LEGEND’S A Continued on page 24 Continued from page 20 Custis cuts a piece of the net following the Hokies’ 65-64 overtime win against Marquette in the 1995 NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York. 1290 Roanoke Street , Christiansburg, VA 24073 • 540-382-7500 • www.gandhappliance.com Find us at G&H Appliance G&H bringing you the best sauce and rub vendors on the market! Get yours today!!
ORTHO LIKE NO OTHER When Hokies need help with sports injuries, they turn to Carilion Clinic. Because when you need to get back in the game, you need the best in orthopaedic care. Our expert team is proud to provide specialized sports medicine treatment for Virginia Tech’s student-athletes. Carilion Clinic is the official health care provider for Virginia Tech athletics.
24 Inside Hokie Sports “Ace is one of those guys, you never hear a bad thing about him,” Young said. “A guy that has done it at a high level and deservedly has his number retired. That’s powerful.” Now, Custis serves as a mentor for those in the same shoes he once walked in. Custis shares his previous experiences with the guys and tries to help guide them. Sometimes he likes to make a joke out of it, but the team knows when he’s serious. Custis played as long as he could until he knew it was time to hang it up. “They always told me to play until your wheels fall off,” Custis said. “[With] my knee injuries over the years, I knew it was time for me to walk away.” But Custis knew he didn’t want to step away from the game completely. Custis always wanted to be a coach. Even in high school, he used to pay attention to the little details and took something from every coach he was around. He landed an assistant job at Virginia State before moving on to Maryland-Eastern Shore for five years. Although the two weren’t close, Custis and Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young faced off during his time at Wofford and knew each other through basketball circles. “Talking to folks here, I knew coming back to Virginia Tech was important for him,” Young said. “It was something he desired to do. He loves Virginia Tech.” The more the two talked, the more Young knew that Custis would be a perfect fit on his staff and asked him to be the coordinator of basketball relations, a gig he only served for one season before being promoted to special assistant to the head coach. Continued from page 23 LEGEND’S A Custis, who was an assistant coach for Maryland Eastern Shore, shakes hands with former teammate David Jackson prior to a nonconference game between Tech and UMES on Dec. 10, 2017. The two are now reunited on the same staff at Tech.
inside.hokiesports.com 25 @PrestonsRestaurant @InnVirginiaTech 540.231.0120 | www.InnatVirginiaTech.com 901 Prices Fork Rd, Blacksburg, VA 24061 (inside The Inn at Virginia Tech) Reservations recommended. A delicious game-day tradition. BEFORE THE GAME OR AFTER, Preston’s Restaurant is a delicious place for a new game-day tradition. Start with our fresh breakfast. Order lunch or dinner from our mouth-watering menu of seasonal cuisine. Sip on hand-cra ed cocktails or a selection from our award-winning wine list. And don’t forget the Valley’s best brunch, every Sunday at Preston’s. Make Preston’s Restaurant your game-day tradition. “He’s been through everything we’re going through now,” N’Guessan said. “It’s easier for him to give advice because he’s been through it. It’s helpful to have him because he’s always there to help.” A lot has changed in the 30 years since Custis was walking the campus at Virginia Tech, but his journey still resonates. From a young age, Custis was always the tallest in his class. He had to play the older kids because he was bigger than his age group, but he thinks that helped toughen him up. He excelled through high school and when the time came to look at colleges, it didn’t take long for Custis to decide he wanted to be in Blacksburg. “I came on my visit and cancelled all my other visits,” he said. “Virginia Tech felt like home.” Custis knew Blacksburg was where he belonged then, and the feeling has never waned. “When you love what you’re doing, you aren’t really working,” he said. “I’m able to give back to the university that gave me so much.”
26 Inside Hokie Sports
inside.hokiesports.com 27 Continued on page 28 FROM HOKIEVISION ON BEAMER WAY TO NFL GAMEDAY When people think of making it to the NFL, they often think about the players on the field. But the NFL goes far beyond what you see on the gridiron. We caught up with three VT Monogram-winners who have made it to the NFL, not from a football being in their hands but through the lens of a video camera beginning on Beamer Way to now on NFL Gameday. Nolan Nichols– ’14 (email@example.com), Club Director for Managers, Video and Trainers, recently connected with three monogram-winning student videographers at VT about their emerging video careers. Elyse Ricigliano (’20) is now a Broadcast Production Intern for the Green Bay Packers; Darrell Grant (’21) is now a Seasonal Digital Video Intern for the Atlanta Falcons; and David Kelsey (’20) is now a Gameday and Live Events Producer for the Kansas City Chiefs. Q: What’s your role like working in the NFL? Elyse Ricigliano: “A lot of my day is spent preparing and editing for our show, “Total Packers with Matt LaFleur,” and covering media availability and press conferences.” Darrell Grant: I edit our “Mic’d Up” and “Film Review” segments early in the week. After that, the rest of the week is mainly filming and editing press conferences leading up to gameday. David Kelsey: My typical day revolves around creating video content for our video board show inside Arrowhead Stadium, as well as producing and directing our live pregame and postgame shows on the Chiefs social media pages. Q: What do you enjoy most about working for an NFL team? Elyse Ricigliano: Something I really enjoy about working for an NFL team is that all the focus is on your one team. You really feel like you are part of the team, even though it’s such a big organization with so many people working behind the scenes. Every game feels so important. Darrell Grant: There are so many different moving pieces that work together to provide their fans the best content possible, and I think that’s the coolest thing ever. Also, seeing some of my favorite NFL players is pretty cool. David Kelsey: Every gameday the entire city is only focused on one thing and that is Chief’s football. It is extremely rewarding to have the fan base behind you and know that your content is helping create that fan engagement and excitement. It is very similar to the type of passion that Virginia Tech fans exhibit towards their Hokies! Q: How did working with HokieVision prepare you for this opportunity? Elyse Ricigliano: Without HokieVision, I wouldn’t have been prepared for this opportunity. Having all the extra knowledge I learned during that time has helped me out so many times. Darrell Grant: HokieVision helped prepare me for this opportunity because it showed me how a team is supposed to move and operate. It showed me that a team cannot excel if everyone is not on the same page, and I’m thankful for that. David Kelsey: At VT, I learned from the best in the business and gained hands-on experience. When I left HokieVision, I had the confidence to contribute to a professional team because of the resources and knowledge they provided me as an undergraduate student-intern. Q: What has been the biggest difference from working in college to pro football? Elyse Ricigliano: It’s definitely the length of the season, which also means more work to do with the extra few months of games. For me personally, my job responsibilities, especially on gameday, are a lot calmer because I’m solely focusing on specific roles. Darrell Grant: The scale of production in the NFL compared to college is night and day. The NFL is very keen on their numbers and analytics and is always looking to get ahead of the competition. They look at everything to see what works and what does not work. David Kelsey: There is an extremely exciting opportunity in the NFL to reach a large group of people who are eager to consume team content. With the viewing audience being greater, it is also often easier to build connections with the audience, which allows for more effective storytelling and higher engagement. Q: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned? Elyse Ricigliano: The biggest lesson I’ve learned since starting in the NFL is that it’s important to take some time away from work. It’s busy working in sports, but it’s also definitely possible to make time away from everything, even if it’s just in the evenings or one day a week. Darrell Grant: My biggest takeaway has been that I’m not just a videographer, I’m a content producer. If you make the viewer feel any type of emotion while watching your piece then you’re doing something right. David Kelsey: An important lesson that I’ve learned since working in the NFL is that at the end of the day the NFL is a business. The athletes are all professionals and while there is a passionate fan base like those at the college level, the organization exists to make money. Q: What are your next goals as you move forward in your career? Elyse Ricigliano: My next career goal is to continue working in sports videography but in a more permanent position. I’d still love to go back to working in baseball one day, but I’m open to anything once my internship in Green Bay ends! Darrell Grant: I’m looking to find a full-time job in sports because sports is my passion, and the love that I have for sports is unfathomable. David Kelsey: My future career goals are to eventually become a Director of Live Events and Gameday Productions for a professional sports organization. SOCCER – A FAMILY ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT Scott (’07 & Men’s Soccer) & Jessica (Myers) Spangler (’04 & Women’s Soccer) live in Jacksonville, FL. Scott and Jessica met in 2002 at VT, however, they didn’t start dating until 2009 when they reconnected in Pennsylvania and then married in 2011. Both had very successful soccer careers at VT, with Scott being team captain of the 2007 Final Four team, and Jessica garnishing 2x Offensive Player of the Year (2002 & 2003) and Big East Player of the Week (2003). Their experience as VT student-athletes led them into their current careers. Scott Spangler (’07) currently owns a sports company, Future Captains Sports, and has been the head soccer coach at Penn State Brandywine (2013-15), coached for the Olympic Development Program (2010-19), was assistant coach with the Philadelphia Union Academy (2017-20), and presently is the Youth Director for Jacksonville Soccer Club. Scott says, “Virginia Tech provided me with soccer connections to build a sports company and advance in my coaching career. I really enjoy helping youth develop and reach their goals!” Jessica (Myers) Spangler (’04) really enjoyed the relationships she had with the athletic advisors at VT and wanted to follow that career path. She started at the University of Maryland (2006-09), University of Delaware (2009-20) and now serves as an Athletic Advisor at the University of North Florida. Jessica said “I love being around college student-athletes and helping them through the transition from high school to determining what they want to do after college and helping them reach their goals.” The Spangler’s are a very active family with their four children, Scott (9), Thomas (8), Carolina (6) and Salma (4). In 2021 their son, Thomas, won the 2014-age-group 3v3 National Championship, and the Arizona so Thomas could attend the Barca Residency Academy. They say that the biggest joy is “watching our children grow and supporting their interests and spending time together as a family.” (Blair Nelson– ’04, Director for Women’s Soccer – HokieBeach757@gmail.com) monogram.hokiesports.com
28 Inside Hokie Sports Martin Knows WE’RE HERE FOR YOU As you think about future vacations and trips, travel with someone you trust. As your source for all things travel, Martin Travel is here for you before, during, and after your trip. ©2020 AAA Club Alliance Inc. 20_717265b C o n t a c t a M a r t i n T r a v e l A d v i s o r T o d a y Ma r t i nTr a v e l . c om / H o k i e s | 5 4 0 - 3 4 3 - 5 4 0 0 | I n f o@Ma r t i nTr a v e l . c om TR_IN_20_717265b_Martin Travel_Hokies Insert-7.5x4.8_DN3.indd 1 6/19/2020 9:51:28 AM Continued from page 27 WOMEN’S GOLF Mary-Katelyn Holanek (’17) was on the golf team as a graduate transfer in 2016-17, while earning a master’s degree in Information Technology. After graduation in December 2017, she started her career in the entertainment industry in Belmont, NC. Since November 2018 she has worked as an assistant to Kevin Jonas, Sr. of Jonas Group Entertainment. She is booking photo shoots, planning marketing tours, facilitating radio shows, and connecting with mixers for studio labels. Her job also involves partnership in the restaurant industry at Belmont’s charming Nellie’s Southern Kitchen. “It has been really great—it’s wonderful actually.“ Holanek attributes many skills to her time as a collegiate athlete, including time management in the fast-paced entertainment industry. Daily she manages preparing upcoming performances, returning phone calls, and conducting research such as trends in the radio for the benefit of her artists. “No days are given to you—you have to prove yourself every day.” She describes it as hard work but also rewarding. In a similar way to golf, you put in the effort and have fun with the results. Four years later, Holanek touts highly her university. “I just loved my time in Blacksburg.” Holanek reports it is common to run into fellow Hokies, especially in the Raleigh—Charlotte area. All who bear the maroon and orange during an encounter with MK are sure to be met with a hearty, “GO HOKIES!” . Contact Women’s Golf Director, Whitney Herr–17 (whits1@ vt.edu), for information about the Club and women’s golf activities, news, and events. SOFTBALL Softball Director, Whitney Davis Showalter – ’10 (whitd@ vt.edu) , caught up with Courtney Liddle Barbour (’13) and her replies are below. WDS: You left your name (Courtney Liddle -’13) written in several categories in the softball record books. How does that feel? CLB I set pretty lofty goals when I got to Blacksburg as a freshman, so it was rewarding to accomplish some great things with my teammates and now see a legacy of that in the record books. However, it’s even better seeing the current players set the bar continually higher for VTSB! I have loved seeing the way they represent Virginia Tech! WDS: What’s a lasting moment from your time as a student-athlete? CLB All of my best memories revolve around the great people in my life during my college years—teammates, friends in campus ministries, and my family. The most influential lasting moments, though, were witnessing the Virginia Tech community rally around our family during my mother’s fight against breast cancer. WDS: In one word, what does Virginia Tech mean to you? CLB HOME! WDS: Where has life taken you since Virginia Tech? CLB I played professionally for a few years, then coached athletes from every age—college to 12u! Now I’m focusing on being a great mom and wife to my husband, Lance Barbour –’12 (who played football at VT), and my two children, Kai (4) and Glori (1). We recently moved just outside of Charlotte, NC, and it’s awesome getting to finally spend time with my sister again! I teach high school English and still get to flex my athleticism every now and then by doing Crossfit. It’s been so fun to see my son join the workouts and find his love for sport! WDS: What are your plans for the future? CLB Lately, God has been guiding me to excel at the roles I’m in and “bloom where I’ve been planted.” I want to grow as a wife, mother, teacher, Christian, and even become a better athlete! Something I learned as a college-athlete was perfecting my craft. My craft(s) look different now, but I still feel that drive to perfect them! And of course, now that we live closer, I can’t wait to get back for a softball game in Blacksburg! GO HOKIES! WDS: If you had to give one piece of advice for current or future Hokies what would it be? CLB Use every moment of your collegiate years to grow! Grow as a student and as an athlete, but more importantly, grow as a person and cherish the people around you! The relationships should be the most beautiful part of the student-athlete experience!inside.hokiesports.com