Inside HOKIE SPORTS | Vol. 14 No. 5 | April 2022

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