JUSTYN MUTTS: HOKIE forward makes impact known on and off the court The Official Publication of Virginia Tech Athletics Vol. 15 No. 3, December 2022
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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. Bailey Angle Editor John Sours Designer Dave Knachel Photographer Contributor Clay Brunner Virginia Tech Sports Properties December 2022 Vol. 15, No. 3 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 2 A Word from Whit 4 Veatch Coaches Corridor in Merryman honors Bud Foster 7 Davis, Gilbert-Lowry named 2022 ACC UNITE Award recipients 8 Roth Report 9 Boitnott family spearheads locker room renovation 12 Ashley Owusu: A Change in Perspective 16 Virginia Tech Wrestling primed to compete at the highest level 18 Taylor Price recaps stellar freshman season 21 Justyn Mutts: Impacting the Youth 25 Scholarship Impact: KJ Tillmon 28 Monogram Club News 4 9 12 18 16 25 21 7
2 Inside Hokie Sports Dear Hokie Nation, On behalf of Virginia Tech Athletics, we would like to wish you a happy and safe New Year! 2022 was an incredibly eventful and impactful year for Hokie sports, and we anticipate 2023 to be the same for our 22 varsity teams in Blacksburg. Currently, the winter athletics season is in full swing. Coaches Mike Young and Kenny Brooks have built our basketball programs into strong contenders for ACC titles, and we are very encouraged by the solid starts they have had to their respective seasons. The same can be said for our wrestling program. Tony Robie and his talented lineup of student-athletes are in an extremely competitive race for ACC and national titles, and they have the potential to bring home trophies to Blacksburg at the conclusion of the season. Swimming and diving is striving for top 25 finishes yet again in 2023, and coach Sergio Lopez Miro has our Hokies in position to ascend to new heights. Finally, Dave Cianelli has built an incredible standard of excellence in track & field, and our indoor team is more than capable of defending both the men’s and women’s ACC championships. We are encouraged by the progress our football program has made throughout this past season. We knew this was going to be a challenging process, but Coach Pry and his staff have made strides in our recruiting footprint throughout the Commonwealth and continue to show positive signs of growth. The seeds of a winning culture have been planted by this staff and our student-athletes, and you can already see the progress of this cultural shift. This is the right staff to reestablish our program as a contender in the ACC and nationally, and they’re working tirelessly to make this happen. Hokie Nation demonstrated they are the most passionate group of supporters in the country this past fall. We finished in the top three in the ACC in football attendance by percentage of capacity, and ticket revenue also increased by five percent from the previous season. Even through a challenging season, Hokie Nation showed that it will back our football program with an unabashed commitment to making Lane Stadium an incredible atmosphere for our student-athletes. As we turn the page to a new year in 2023, it is time to once again emphasize the need of providing the resources for our student-athletes to reach for excellence. Through the Hokie Scholarship Fund (HSF), we are able to afford over 600 Hokies the opportunity to receive a first class education and a premier student-athlete experience that only Virginia Tech can provide. By making a contribution to the Hokie Scholarship Fund, you are helping our athletics department take crucial steps towards the promising future of Virginia Tech athletics. We encourage our dedicated supporters to make an impact on the Hokie Scholarship Fund before the new March 1, 2023 deadline. March 1 is also the deadline to renew all 2023 season tickets for Football, Men’s Basketball, and Women’s Basketball. In order to lock in your seats and secure all exclusive benefits like seating, parking, and postseason ticket opportunities, be sure to complete your HSF giving and ticket orders by this date. Thank you for all your support of our student-athletes. We couldn’t do this without you, and hope to see you in Blacksburg soon! Go Hokies! Whit Babcock Director of Athletics A WORD FROM WHIT
FINAL DEADLINE: MARCH 1, 2023 RENEW YOUR GIFT RENEW YOUR TICKETS Renew your tickets and/or gift to the Hokie Scholarship Fund before the deadline!
4 Inside Hokie Sports Virginia Tech director of athletics Whit Babcock announced that in recognition of Jeff Veatch’s continued long history of generosity and service to his alma mater, the corridor on the main level of the Merryman Center and includes the assistant football coaches offices will now be known as the Veatch Coaches Corridor (contingent upon Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approval). Per Veatch’s wishes, this space will be dedicated to longtime defensive coordinator, Bud Foster. Veatch co-founded Apex Systems, an information technology services company, in 1995 with fellow Tech alums Brian Callaghan and Win Sheridan. Foster coached at Tech for 33 seasons and helped lead the Hokies to 27 consecutive bowl berths. He was the architect of Tech squads that ranked in the nation’s top five in scoring defense on seven different occasions. The winner of the 2006 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, Foster’s defenses pitched 34 shutouts during his career and posted 894.0 sacks from 1996-2019, college football’s best total over that span. The Nokomis, Illinois native retired following the 2019 season and currently serves as a special assistant to Babcock in the Tech Athletics department. “Jeff epitomizes theVirginia Tech spirit of Ut Prosim in somanyways,” Babcock said. “We certainly appreciate his long history and sustained financial support of Virginia Tech Athletics. In addition, Virginia Tech’s Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has made a profound impact on the lives and career trajectories of many students on our campus. We also appreciate Jeff’s service on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and respect the many decisions he makes to help ensure the future of our university remains strong.” As anactivephilanthropic investor, Veatch formed theVeatchCharitable Fund which focuses on education, healthcare, and the community. Virginia Tech has been one of many benefactors of Veatch’s generosity. honors BUD FOSTER in Merryman COACHES CORRIDOR Veatch Tech alum, Board of Visitors member Jeff Veatch recognized for longtime generosity Jeff Veatch, alongside daughter, Lindsey, mother, Pat, and Bud Foster.
“Anyone who knows me understands the love I have for Virginia Tech, as well as how much I appreciate the many ways that Coach Beamer helped transform our university and our football program,” Veatch said. “But I’ve long believed that Bud Foster played a very critical role in that process, as well. Whether it was his Lunch Pail Defense, his knack for getting the best out of our players, or the way he continues to serve as a fabulous representative of what we hold near and dear as Hokies, you can’t write the story of Virginia Tech without Bud. That’s why I believe dedicating the Veatch Coaches Corridor in honor of Bud is the perfect way to permanently cement his legacy on our campus and help support a new era of Tech Football under Brent Pry.” Foster’s lineage of coaches who served with him in Blacksburg include current Tech head coach, Brent Pry, who worked as a graduate assistant for Foster in 1995-96. Current VT defensive line coach J.C. Price played for Foster in the 1990s and then later returned as a grad assistant for Foster from 2002-03. Pierson Prioleau also played on Foster’s defenses in the 1990s and enters his first campaign as Tech’s safeties coach in 2021. The illustrious inside.hokiesports.com 5 Continued on page 6 Director of Athletics Whit Babcock speaks at dedication. Frank Beamer, Jeff Veatch, and Bud Foster pose beside corridor signage in Merryman Center.
6 Inside Hokie Sports list of players who honed their skills under Foster at Tech included four first-round picks in the NFL Draft: CB DeAngelo Hall (2004), CB Kyle Fuller (2014), LB Tremaine Edmunds (2018) and S Terrell Edmunds (2018). “I’m deeply honored and appreciative that Jeff and Tech Athletics have sought to honor me in this way,” Foster said. “There have been so many great players and so many talented coaches that have walked down that hallway, so it means a great deal to have my name associated with the Veatch Coaches Corridor. Jeff is a wonderful friend, but even more importantly, he’s a great Hokie. I know how much Virginia Tech means to him and I can’t express how grateful I am for everything he’s done to support his alma mater and Tech Football.” Continued from page 5 Friends and family of Coach Foster and Jeff Veatch joined in SAPC for dedication brunch.
inside.hokiesports.com 7 Virginia Tech’s André Davis and Reyna GilbertLowry have been selected as recipients of the 2022 Atlantic Coast Conference UNITE Award, which was created to honor individuals affiliated with the league who have made an impact in the areas of racial and social justice. The UNITE Award is presented annually by the ACC’s Committee for Racial and Social Justice to individuals who: • Best exemplify ACC CORE’s mission to promote and encourage racial equity and social justice through education, partnerships, engagement and advocacy; • Have helped create meaningful, lasting change by improving systems, organizational structures, policies, practices and attitudes; • Have been a pioneer and/or helped pave the way for minorities either at the institution or in the community Davis shined as a two-sport star in Blacksburg from 1998-2001 as a wide receiver for the football program and a sprinter in track. The Upstate New York native caught 103 passes for 1,986 yards and 18 touchdowns during his four seasons at Lane, while also winning a total of four outdoor and four indoor Atlantic 10 championships in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. Davis continued his athletic career professionally after being selected in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, eventually finishing a prosperous career with four teams that spanned nine seasons in 2011. In 2014, Davis co-founded the 2LiveBeyond Foundation, which focuses on the care of disadvantaged children, in the mission to share both domestically and internationally that children are able “2LiveBeyond ourselves so others may dream beyond their circumstances.” Davis has also worked with Africa New Life Ministries in efforts to provide medical and dental care to children in Kigali, Rwanda. Davis committed an undisclosed philanthropic gift in 2016 to the football program and Hokies’ leadership institute to assist with providing resources for a Leadership Culture speaker series and a Global Leadership study abroad program for Hokie student-athletes. He currently serves as the Director of Student-Athlete Support and Community Engagement within the Virginia Tech Department of Athletics, promoting the mission of student-athletes preparing for life after graduation. Davis lives in Delaware with his wife Janelle and four children Daylen, Bryce, Laila and Noelle. Gilbert-Lowry, who was recently promoted to Senior Associate Athletics Director for Inclusive Excellence and Alumni Engagement, has led the call to inclusive action within Virginia Tech Athletics. Furthermore, she has shown specific care for Tech student-athletes in their journey to curate their feelings into expressing their voice and turning their voice into action. In 2020, she spearheaded the #LOVE Project, the department’s program to amplify the voices of VT student-athletes to send a message of unity to the student-athletes, campus, staff and community. Her efforts continued in spring of 2022 with #LOVE: Our Black Community, a collaboration with the external team to highlight Black History and culture within the New River Valley. In the fall of 2022, Gilbert-Lowry launched the Black Athlete Alumni Network with the goal of providing comprehensive opportunities for Virginia Tech’s black student-athlete alumni to engage with one another, Virginia Tech Athletics and the campus community. Gilbert-Lowry has also worked to support the VT Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s student-athlete-led Awareness to Action Unity Walk during ACC Unity Week in October 2021 and the Rise and Unite Student Leadership Panel discussion in April 2022, which featured Hokie student-athletes and student leaders from across the Virginia Tech community. In addition, she has collaborated with campus partners in the Cultural and Community Centers and Office of Inclusion and Diversity to host town hall discussions and educational workshops for student-athletes, coaches, and staff that focused on race, diversity, equity, allyship, and microaggressions in an effort to enhance the culture of inclusion within the department An employee of Virginia Tech since 2008, Gilbert-Lowry resides in Blacksburg with her husband Spencer and two daughters, Brooklyn and Harlow. DAVIS, GILBERT-LOWRY named 2022 ACC UNITE AWARD recipients Award honors those who make an impact in the areas of racial and social justice DAVIS GILBERT-LOWRY
8 Inside Hokie Sports The Story of the Year for Virginia Tech football? The Team’s Passionate Fan Base. By Bill Roth Clearly, the 2022 football season wasn’t as successful as Virginia Tech fans would’ve liked. The Hokies endured a 3-8 season during a time of historic transition in the program. But despite the on-field struggles, Virginia Tech fans continued to pack Lane Stadium, a feat that now appears to be the true story of the year for Tech’s program. For the season, the Hokies averaged 64,387 fans per game, and their season long capacity was at 98.06-percent. Those figures rank 3rd in the ACC and 23rd nationally. (Of note: those rankings would’ve been higher had the Virginia Tech-Virginia game been played. Tech would’ve ranked 2nd in the ACC behind only Clemson.) The following factoid might make ya cringe, yet give you hope: Only two teams in the country lost eight games in 2022 yet averaged over 60,000 fans per game: Nebraska (86,637) and Virginia Tech. While that’s not a list anyone in Blacksburg (or Lincoln) wants to make, those numbers are indicative of the tremendous passion Virginia Tech fans have for their team, even during a season in which the onfield results were underwhelming. It also reflects creative marketing campaigns from Tech athletics what proved to be winners for Hokie fans. Student attendance is as good as anyone in the ACC. One look at Lane Stadium’s south endzone or the upper east stands during the 2022 season was proof of that. Also this past season, new packages for the Upper South Endzone saw that area sell out for all six home games. Perhaps most notably, community engagement campaigns through group ticket programs led to over 8,000 tickets sold to groups throughout Virginia and over 1,500 tickets for Troops to Veterans. The net result? Lane Stadium rocked again in ’22 as if the Hokies were in the CFB Playoff hunt. “We’re building it to be sustainable, and hopefully so it can withstand a downward trend in the wins column,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Brad Wurthman told me. “Nearly 20-percent of all fans are single-game buyers now in Lane. That number used to be 0-percent. It’s awesome to see because it builds the pipeline.” New people were exposed to the Lane Stadium experience this season. First-time visitors bought-into the culture of fan participation at the Home of the Hokies. “I’ve been so impressed with Hokie Nation this season,” ACC Network analyst Eric Mac Lain told me. “No matter the circumstances, those passionate fans have brought it every game.” The circumstances? Of course, are losing games. That Lane Stadium is loud and crazy and fans are jumping around, singing and making an impact is nothing new. But for this to happen week-after-week during a 3-8 season? “Virginia Tech is one of my favorite places the ACC Huddle has visited,” Mac Lain said. “When Lane Stadium is rocking it’s one of the toughest environments in all of college football.” It’s a top selling point for Tech coach Brent Pry: “That stadium and those crowds are a big, big positive for our team,” Pry said. “When you come down that tunnel and see and hear that crowd, that’s motivating. “When you have a bunch of recruits in town, that’s the environment they want to play in.” “For me, the message to recruits is this: Here is a team that’s in a transition year and struggling to get wins, and look how we’re packin’ them in. Imagine when we get this thing rollin’ what it’s going to look like.” When long-time Virginia Tech fans talk about amazing crowds at Lane Stadium, they often talk about the primetime games in the 90’s. Thursday games against Clemson and WVU. Or the Miami game when Tech ended the ‘Canes 31-game winning streak. But in a way, two games this season stand-out among the most notable crowds ever at Lane. The home games against Wofford and Georgia Tech. Why? The Wofford game on September 17 was played at 11 a.m. which was the earliest kickoff in school history. And even though the opponent was an FCS team with a 12-game losing streak, Lane was packed. An hour before kickoff at 10 a.m., the student section was full, which was remarkable for typically sleepy college kids. The Georgia Tech game on November 5 was played in foggy, rainy, miserable conditions, yet Lane was packed again with over 60,000 fans. The Hokies were 2-6, sheets of rain were cascading in front of the stadium lights, and yet the place was jammed. And loud. Could any other fan base in the ACC do that? It’s easy to pack a stadium when the team is great, chasing a league title, and in the playoff hunt. But when a team is struggling, enduring its third straight losing season and the weather is miserable? At Virginia Tech in 2022, it didn’t matter. The fans came anyway. And participated. Television networks love live theatre. And Lane Stadium provides that theatre each week which makes it even more valuable for ACC media partner ESPN for the 2023 season. This fall, ABC/ESPN loses the Big Ten rights, opening attractive windows for ACC games on the Disney networks. That, of course, will change in 2024 when ESPN gets the SEC exclusively and Texas and Oklahoma join that conference. But in 2023, the Hokies have the chance to show off their ‘theatre’ in a big way. Attendance figures and packed stadiums resonate with sponsors too. There are plenty of teams with winning records that can’t match Virginia Tech attendance figures or fan interest. That sponsor interest drives revenue for the entire athletics department. And of course sponsor interest drives NIL participation. That has a positive impact on the entire program as well. So when the on-field results turn in the Hokies’ favor, the place will be even more special for fans and players alike. Oddly, I recalled visiting with former Vanderbilt and UAB head coach Watson Brown about playing games in Blacksburg. His teams lost to Tech 18-0 in 1989 and then 37-0 in 1997 in Blacksburg. When the Hokies visited Birmingham in 1998 and shut them out for the third straight time 41-0, coach mentioned “It’s was never (Lane) stadium, it’s those dudes on defense that caused us problems.” In 1999 at Lane, Brown and his Blazers finally did score, but the Hokies won anyway 31-10. That day, Tech held UAB to just 63 total yards for the entire game after which Brown joked that “at least we scored,” and credited the crowd for several false start penalties that day. UAB had 10 penalties on the day. It’s a note to recall because a crowd and the team can work together. Home field advantages are real, and Lane can be intimidating. If you have a top-10 team full of NFL dudes, that makes it even better, right? Regardless, the crowd will be critical for Tech in 2023 if the Hokies are going to reach the level of success they want. The ’23 schedule is significantly tougher than ’22 with Purdue, Pitt, Syracuse, N.C. State, and Wake Forest visiting Blacksburg. Those are all winning programs as we know. On the field, 2022 was not a season to remember. But in the stands, it certainly was.
Culture: that’s what attracted Adam and Dawn Boitnott to Virginia Tech women’s basketball. Ultimately, it’s what led their company, Hylaine, to move forward with a generous, philanthropic contribution to the team’s locker room renovation project in the Hahn Hurst Basketball Practice Facility. “Coach Brooks understands relationships, not only with his players, but with alumni and other coaches at the university,” said Adam Boitnott, a 1998 Virginia Tech graduate and CEO of Hylaine. “We talk about that a lot at Hylaine. Relationships with our employees and the community. So, we like to give back to the community.” Boitnott founded Hylaine, a software consulting firm, in 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the help of friend and Tech alum T.J. Eberle (‘89). In the span of the short, yet prosperous history of the company, Hylaine has opened additional offices in Raleigh, Atlanta and Dallas to coincide with the demand of their project-based technology approach to finding IT solutions. Even before the success of Hylaine, the Boitnott’s fostered a special relationship with Virginia Tech women’s basketball. Dawn and Adam’s oldest daughter, Hylton, began attending basketball camps inBlacksburg even before Kenny Brooks was hired in 2016. Adam and Dawn were appreciative of the way Coach Brooks connected with Hylton during Boitnott family spearheads locker room renovation Continued on page 10 Family’s company, Hylaine, contributes to project for women’s basketball inside.hokiesports.com 9 Adam & Dawn Boitnott with head coach Kenny Brooks and Taylor Soule. Adam and Dawn joined by Adam’s brother Ryan (far left) and nephew Mason (second from right) at Hokies’ game vs. Longwood.
10 Inside Hokie Sports the youth camp, and the family began to closely follow the team in the years after. The Boitnott’s made the trek from Charlotte to Cassell Coliseum on a regular basis as season ticket holders, all the while keeping in mind the possibility of one day making a substantial contribution to the program. “The opportunity to be a part of something bigger was huge to us,” Adam Boitnott said. “Virginia Tech gave a lot to us in life. We thought, ‘When we can do more, we would like to do more.’ Now is one of those times.” Kenny Brooks, who led the Hokies to their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2022, has nothing but high esteem for the Boitnott’s. “The gift is really the cherry on top of what they really do for us,” said Brooks, who met the Boitnott’s several years ago at an event in Charlotte. “They do a tremendous job of spreading the word for us to other Hokie fans and donors who might not know everything about us yet.” This philanthropic contribution to women’s basketball will provide the bulk of resources needed for a full renovation of the team’s locker room in the Hahn Hurst Practice Facility. This will include a completely renewed dressing area, meeting room and team lounge. This particular area of the facility is the epicenter of development for the team culture. Women’s basketball student-athletes often complete their schoolwork, recover after practice and host team bonding movie nights all in this space. “It’s an arms race so to speak to run with other programs that are consistently upgrading their facilities,” Brooks said. “For them to step up and give us this gift, it really allows us to compete and show the new space to recruits. It’s also where our current team spends 80% of their lounge time, so it gives them the comfort level to go in and enjoy a really great space.” Dawn Boitnott, a 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech and native of southwest Virginia, built a successful career in the insurance industry after she left Blacksburg. She reflected on the significance of investing in women’s athletics initiatives while adding her perspective from a successful career. “It’s incredibly important,” said Dawn, who most recently served as Vice President, Chief Underwriter at Legal & General America. “There have been many times where I’ve been the only female in the room. To be able to support women’s basketball to support their career, to support their growth, give them the opportunity to do whatever they might want to do, whether it’s continuing basketball after a college degree, is really important to our family.” As for Adam, he hopes that this contribution to the Virginia Tech women’s basketball program will galvanize more support from other successful alums from he and Dawn’s generation to women’s athletics in Blacksburg. “I want to encourage them to reach out and start a relationship,” Adam stated. “The part I like about women’s sports here at Virginia Tech, and even extended to the pros, is accessibility and how much they appreciate a gift. That’s why I’d say form a relationship, whether it’s with the Hokie Club or the team. Start paying attention to what’s happening and what they need.” Renovations for the locker room are set to begin in spring 2023. Boitnott family spearheads locker room renovation Continued from page 9 ©2022 Martin Travel Agency, LLC 22_1383263c2 GOING PLACES? Martin Travel specializes in customizing group travel experiences for Virginia Tech alumni and sports fans. What do you need to have the best trip? Martin knows. 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 av e l . com/ Hok i e s | 540 - 343 - 5400 | I n f o@Ma r t i nTr av e l . com
A P A R T M E N T S
People often ask me what’s my passion for speaking up about the American Red Cross and the importance of donating blood. I mean, if I’m being completely honest, I never donated blood or even thought about donating until it literally saved my life. It was back in March, two weeks after we came back from the NCAA Tournament in Spokane. I’d been feeling kind of sick and was sleeping a lot. But like most things, you just brush that kind of stuff off and keep on going, right? That’s what I did, and it ended up being a big mistake. Once I got back home, I found out I had mono. But it hadgone undetected for somanymonths that my body was starting to shut down, and I needed blood transfusions. My first stay in the hospital lasted four days, from March 30 to April 2 and included five total transfusions. My second stay came a week later, from April 9 to the 10th and I underwent three transfusions during that time. When you’re super young, there are times when you start to think you’re invincible, you know? That nothing will ever happen to you. I made that mistake once already, and I don’t ever plan on making it again. 12 Inside Hokie Sports Continued on page 14 Change in A
inside.hokiesports.com 13 By Ashley Owusu
14 Inside Hokie Sports A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE Ashley Owusu Women’s Basketball 11/4/2022 8:00:00 AM People often ask me what’s my passion for speaking up about the American Red Cross and the importance of donating blood. I mean, if I’m being completely honest, I never donated blood or even thought about donating until it literally saved my life. It was back in March, two weeks after we came back from the NCAA Tournament in Spokane. I’d been feeling kind of sick and was sleeping a lot. But like most things, you just brush that kind of stuff off and keep on going, right? That’s what I did, and it ended up being a big mistake. Once I got back home, I found out I had mono. But it had gone undetected for so many months that my body was starting to shut down, and I needed blood transfusions. My first stay in the hospital lasted four days, from March 30 to April 2 and included five total transfusions. My second stay came a week later, from April 9 to the 10th and I underwent three transfusions during that time. When you’re super young, there are times when you start to think you’re invincible, you know? That nothing will ever happen to you. I made that mistake once already, and I don’t ever plan on making it again. MY OWN MIRACLE If it happened to me, it could definitely happen to anyone. Most people don’t even realize there’s an actual shortage of blood right now. So, I think the fact that I was able to get as much as I did when I needed it was huge. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to me if I didn’t get those transfusions. Giving blood is a lot more important than people think because it can literally save lives. If even one life can be saved, I’d think that qualifies as something that needs to be talked about a lot more. Don’t you think? I know now from that incident to never take anything for granted. Never be afraid to ask for help, and at the same time, you should always be willing to give it. I’ve carried those life lessons with me from Maryland to Virginia Tech. I’m just fortunate to be alive, healthy, and playing basketball at a place that has shown me all kinds of love since I arrived. I intend on repaying it by being the best version of myself both on and off the court. THE SENIOR TRANSFER I’m just looking forward to playing now, you know? It’s a new environment, new team, new conference, new everything—and I’m just super, super excited to finally get out there with my teammates and just compete. Continued from page 13 Change in A
inside.hokiesports.com 15 Everything about this transition has felt so natural, and it’s just so easy to be around everyone here. I still have two years of eligibility left, and I’m going to enjoy every second of it. My time on the court playing the game that I love is something else I’ll never take for granted ever again. I might be young, but I know I’m not invincible. I hurt. I bleed. I show emotions. I fail. It’s easy to lose sight of that sometimes, you know? But if you’re not careful, life has a crazy way of reminding you all on its own. My medical situation helped me realize just exactly how much I appreciate the opportunity to do what I do. My life has never been about being perfect. It’s about taking my lumps and continuing to push forward for as long as I can. Just by me being here is a miracle. I’m the only person in my family that’s ever played basketball at this high of a level, and I take a lot of pride in that. One of my favorite things about being a college athlete is serving as that strong representation of my family in the classroom, on the court, and in the community. Just being that positive reflection of them, while also doing my small part to try and uplift others, that’s what I see myself as being put here to do. NOTHING LASTS FOREVER I want to continue using my voice and my platform to talk about things that need to be talked about and to shed light on certain things, particularly with everything that’s been going on with the American Red Cross. It’s just as important here as it was in Maryland. As much as we all love this game, it doesn’t last forever. There’s going to come a time when we all have to put the ball down and go out there to live our lives. That’s why it’s important for me to remember that I’m more than just a basketball player or even a student-athlete. There are some things much bigger than this game, you know? I might not be able to change the world on my own, but I can surely do my part in using my platform to help heal it — one person at a time. I would never tell someone else how to use their platform, but I would encourage all of the freshmen not to take it for granted because it can fly by so quickly. I remember being a freshman and coming in for the very first time and just looking up to all of the seniors. Now, I’m the senior and one of the older people that everyone else looks up to for stuff. I would say to have fun and enjoy the journey for as long as you can, even when things get difficult. Just know that basketball isn’t everything, and you have a life outside of the sport. Playing basketball is just something that you do. It’s not who you are. As long as you keep those things in perspective, there’s no way you can fail.
16 Inside Hokie Sports Over the better part of the last decade, Virginia Tech wrestling has gradually become one of the top programs in the country. Led by three-time ACC Coach of the Year Tony Robie, the Hokies have racked up four conference titles and finished in the top 11 at the NCAA tournament four times in the past five years. The success under Robie wasn’t built overnight. It took time for the program to earn and maintain its elite status. “[It’s been a] long process for sure,” Robie recalled. “A lot more people involved than just me, for sure. It’s been a somewhat gradual climb. We’ve been pretty consistent with where we’ve been the last several years. Virginia Tech’s rise to one of best programs in the nation has been fueled by success at the individual level, touting 17 All-Americans over the last five seasons — the most notable being Mekhi Lewis’ national championship in 2019. Tech is the only ACC school and one of just four schools nationally to have at least three All-Americans in each of the last nine seasons. “I think the next step in the future for us is to try to break through to the next level. We’re kind of establishing ourselves in that six to 10 or four to 10 range [in the rankings]. We’ve been as high as four, as low as 11. For us, we want to get closer to that top group of teams. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.” The reason the Hokies have been able to sustain success at the highest level can be traced back to the type of people who have been brought into the program, whether it be coaches or student-athletes. “I think it’s just the people that you have and the continuity that you have in the organization,” Robie said. “I feel great about the people that we have in our program from our coaching staff [and] our support staff, to our senior and older guys and the leadership we get from them. Once it’s in place, it’s about maintaining it. I think the culture part has been built and it’s about continuing to bring in the kind of guys who fit our program with our philosophies.” Much of the responsibility to maintain that winning-culture falls on the shoulders of upperclassmen in the program. It’s a duty that veterans of the program take pride in carrying on. “I feel like I’m a leader on this team, and it’s really cool because I feel like I’m a big part of the culture and trying to maintain that and keep it going,” redshirt junior Sam Latona said. “I think one of the biggest things is just being able to talk and communicate with guys and being close with the young guys and being able to pass [the culture] down to them. Latona, a two-time All-American and 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year, enters his fourth year in Blacksburg eager to teach the traditions of the program to the underclassmen on the team. PRIMED to COMPETE at the highest level By Jack Brizendine Program established as national contender SAM LATONA CALEB HENSON TONY ROBIE VIRGINIA TECH WRESTLING HEAD COACH
inside.hokiesports.com 17 @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. “It’s just being able to be around the younger guys and let them see the rituals and the stories and the traditions that we do and keep them around it. Hopefully they’ll pass it down to the next generation. I’m trying to be a leader by example and just keep the ball rolling because when I’m done here and I’m an alumni, I want to see Virginia Tech wrestling keep it going and keep the standards we had while I’m here.” If the Hokies are able to uphold the current standards with its current and future freshmen classes, the program could be pushed to new heights. True freshmen Tom Crook and Caleb Henson have already cracked the starting lineup this year, with a top-five 2023 recruiting class coming in right behind them. The program’s rise has played a part in the Hokies’ ability to land commitments from some of the best high school wrestlers in the nation. However, it all comes back to the people and relationships built within the program in the end. “It was really the relationship I built with a lot of the coaches here,” Henson said about his decision to commit to Virginia Tech. “It was just a great bonding the way they approached the recruiting process and how it felt with them and especially once I got to see them in person and meet the team. “It felt like home.” Robie and his staff have put an emphasis on building strong connections with recruits during the recruiting process, which has helped Virginia Tech stand out among some of the other top wrestling programs in the country. Those strong bonds don’t end once recruits get on campus, however. The Hokies’ staff takes a holistic approach to developing guys as wrestlers and as people, on and off the mat. “It starts with just having the kind of relationships with the guys that you know what’s going on in other areas of their life than just the sport of wrestling,” Robie said. “We’re fortunate to a certain degree that we don’t have a roster like football where you have 100 some guys on your roster, it’s a little bit harder to manage something like that. For us with 30 guys on our roster, it makes it easier for us to understand these guys and to know them, to have the kind of relationships with them where they’re comfortable coming to you and talking to you about other areas of their life. “It’s a lot of work, for sure, but at the end of the day, I think that kind of approach gets guys to buy in, when they know that you care about them. It gets them to do the things that sometimes maybe they don’t want to do but are required for them to be a part of what we’re trying to build and trying to be a part of. The relationship part of it is huge and they say this is a people business and we’ve got great people in our organization.” Elevated by this comprehensive method of developing studentathletes, Virginia Tech has competed with other elite wrestling programs in the NCAA tournament in recent years. Tech has finished No. 14 or better in the tournament in every year of Robie’s tenure. The Hokies still haven’t finished first, though, and they’re on a mission to bring a national championship back to Blacksburg. “That chip on the shoulder that we have right now, we’re coming for heads,” Henson said. “[We’re] head hunting this season, next season [and beyond]. We’ve got a group of guys that want to make a name for themselves that feel disrespected in a way and we want to be respected as one of the top programs in the nation. I think that’s where our trajectory is going.”
18 Inside Hokie Sports A golden opportunity arose as the soccer ball slowly dribbled to the far right side, orange jerseys converging on all sides of the shaded Albert-Daly field. Virginia Tech’s captain Tori Powell received a wide pass from fellow junior Riley McCarthy. As Powell surveyed her options, the young freshman Taylor Price, who was making her first collegiate start, sauntered into the box with her eyes fixed on Powell. Powell saw the potential for a beautiful play and struck a centering pass for Price to work with. Price lifted her right leg to meet the ball with a powerful karate-like kick to smack the go-ahead goal over the William & Mary Tribe. The goal was not only a marvelous play on its own but the start to a season full of special moments for Price. “It lit a fire under me and was what motivated me to score in other games,” Price recalled. “Scoring that goal in my first game was the perfect start to the season and something to build off of.” Coming into Blacksburg, Price had been a highly skilled star for her club and high school teams. She was the Offensive Player of the Year with 50 registered points at Briar Woods High School and won four conference titles with TSJ FC Virginia. When Price arrived in town, she was certainly expected to make her presence felt early. “Coming in, I definitely knew I wanted to make an impact for the team so it was really special to come in and score some goals and make an impact as a freshman.” Price said. Some of these expectations could have put the pressure on Price to do too much, but she certainly didn’t see it that way. She relished the challenge of high expectations and used it to fuel her desires for how the season could play out. “We set goals at the beginning of the season and one of mine was to be one of the starting forwards and to maintain that spot for the rest of the season”, Price explained. “That was something I was working for every day in preseason and every day throughout the season.” It is safe to say that Price’s wish from earlier in the year was accomplished in full. Not only did Price start in all 19 games for the Hokies, but she was one of the standout freshmen in the ACC. In her first five starts, the fantastic freshman notched four goals and an assist. “Consistently scoring goals kept building my confidence more and more,” Price said. “In practice, I would take more opportunities which led to me taking more goal scoring opportunities in games.” The highlight of Price’s scalding hot start to her career came in the Hokies match versus Old Dominion where she racked up a goal and an assist . The latter play was set up well by Price for Powell to strike and deliver Tech’s second goal of three in the victory over the Monarchs. Price’s pretty feed returned the favor to Powell from game one of the season, and a special connection was formed. By Will Locklin Hokie forward shines at Thompson Field Continued on page 20
recaps stellar freshman season inside.hokiesports.com 19
20 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! “Coming in, I wanted to play with Tori Powell because she was a top goal scorer in the past, so if I got the chance to play with her we’d be able to set each other up for success.” Price and Powell were the Hokies top points leaders by the end of the season, finishing at 19 and 16 respectively. Together, the dynamic duo spearheaded an 5-0-1 start to the 2022 season. While the on-field chemistry was evident to Hokie fans, it was their comradery off the field that played a big role in the team’s success. “It’s all about our culture, everyone on the team is super close on and off the field,” Price remarked. “Learning how to play together, and in practice focusing on how we connect and what works best for each other is what helped us have success on the field this season.” Additionally, Tech’s coaching staff wanted Price to keep improving with every practice even with all the early success. They challenged Price to become the best version of herself. “They were hard on me and pushed me in practice because they knew that they wanted to see potential from me,” Price said. “They helped me so much by giving me the tools to be successful.” The constant motivation from teammates and coaches pushed Price to deliver for the Hokies in big moments later in the season. When the Hokies traveled to Raleigh, N.C., to take on the NC State Wolfpack, Price stepped up in a major way. In minute 62, Price scored the first and only goal of the match to lead the Hokies to a significant victory. “My favorite moment was the NC State goal because we worked so hard that game defensively, and we out worked the other team,” Price stated. “Scoring the goal to get the win for my team was so special because we deserved that win.” Three weeks later, Tech invited their in-state rivals, the then No. 13 ranked Virginia Cavaliers, to Blacksburg for an epic Commonwealth Clash. Price scored the opening goal of the night in what ended up being a 3-3 tie in comeback fashion for the Hokies. “The atmosphere of the fans and being here at home with the lights flickering and everybody cheering, scoring a goal against our rival team was one of my favorite moments.” Price said. Price’s consistent development led to an excellent freshman season with multiple ACC honors. First, Price claimed a clear spot on the All-ACC Freshman Team. She also was decorated with a special placement onto the All-ACC Third Team. The double dip in the ACC Women’s Soccer awards cemented Price’s season as one to remember. “I grew a lot and am a different person and player from when I first came here,” Price said. “I learned what it takes to play at the highest level and how to help my teammates succeed by getting involved in every play.” Price’s first season at Thompson Field concluded with the freshman scoring a team-high eight goals and an impressive three assists. Going into her sophomore season, Price has plenty of tools she’d like to sharpen for 2023. “I don’t focus too much on the highs. I don’t think I’m at the top and that I’m going to stay there, because it’s easy to fall off.” Price said. In a year of turnaround with lots of new faces mixing with the familiar guard, Taylor Price shined brightly as an elite talent for the Hokies. She made a name for herself quickly and vigorously worked to keep her name at the top throughout her freshman season. Price will be a fixture of Virginia Tech women’s soccer, and aims to lead the program to more success in the seasons to come. Taylor PriceContinued from page 19
I grew up in an incredibly athletic family. You name the sport, and chances are I played it. As I got a little older, I focused on soccer and basketball. Soccer was actually my favorite sport, but I grew to be 6-foot-7, so naturally, basketball was a perfect fit for my size and skillset. Early on, I always considered basketball a fun hobby, but it was my family that really pushed me into believing it could be much more. Basketball could help pave the way for my future. But I never wanted to be defined by basketball. As a student-athlete at Virginia Tech today, I take great pride in being a student first and focusing on my education and the power that it has to set me up for success in life. I already have three college degrees. I’ve studied at three different colleges. While my college journey has been anything but linear, it’s empowered me to put my education at the forefront and use my platform as a Division I athlete to give back and impact the youth. IMPACTING Youth THE By Justyn Mutts The road from High Point to Blacksburg I started my college career playing basketball for High Point University. It’s a small campus with a tight-knit community, and it turned out to be the ideal place for me to evolve at the DI level. Obviously, it doesn’t have the notoriety of Virginia Tech and the ACC, but High Point was where I was able to see how my game stacked up to DI competition. inside.hokiesports.com 21 Continued on page 22
22 Inside Hokie Sports It brought me a substantial amount of perspective. Due to a coaching change, I ended up transferring to the University of Delaware the following season to continue my education and playing career. Once again, most people don’t look at High Point and Delaware as powerhouses with national exposure, but I’ll always be thankful for the experiences I had at those schools as a student-athlete. Those chapters were instrumental to my game and personal development. Playing for two smaller universities, I wasn’t used to having such a large and supportive fan base. I never played home games in an arena that holds close to 10,000 people like Cassell Coliseum. I wasn’t accustomed to charter flights to tournaments and away games. I learned very quickly that the Power Five and the ACC are completely different ball games. If I had started my career as a Hokie in Blacksburg, I don’t think I would have the same outlook and appreciation I have today. So, I’m eternally grateful to High Point, Delaware, and especially Virginia Tech for the opportunities to compete and continue my educational journey. The power of mentorship Psychology is always something that’s fascinated me. In fact, two of my three degrees are in the psychology field. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology from Delaware, and I earned my second master’s degree this past May from Virginia Tech in educational psychology. I always took a great interest in psychology because I wanted to focus on being the best version of myself. And to have the right state of mind to accomplish that. I’ve learned so much in the last few years of studying this field — I’m in a position now where I want to help people improve their mental health and maximize their potential. More precisely, I have a special place in my heart for mentoring the youth. I recently had the opportunity to get involved with a youth program for the West End Center in Roanoke. I had an absolute blast talking to the kids, shooting some hoops with them, and ultimately, just being someone that’s there to listen to anything they want to talk about. They view me as a towering figure, both literally and figuratively. Being a basketball player at a big-time program like Virginia Tech, I can use my platform to my advantage. When I talk, the kids listen intently and give me their full attention when I offer advice or words of wisdom. I know I had a mentor when I was around the middle school age, and this person was an extremely influential person in my life that helped guide me down the right path. That’s exactly who I want to be for these kids. If they don’t have a mentor in their life, or anyone they can reach out to for support, there’s no telling what might happen. One bad decision could negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. That said, being a mentor is not a responsibility I take lightly, and I’m blessed to have the platform that I do to help guide and lead the future generation. A career of giving back One moment I’ll never forget is when I came back to the West End Center for a second time after my initial visit. It caught me a little off guard how surprised the kids were to see me again. “You’re here!” “You’re actually here!” “You came back!” That affected me in a major way because that showed me these kids aren’t used to seeing the same visitor multiple times. I don’t visit these kids as a photo op or to show face. I visit them because I genuinely care about them and want to be a positive influence in their lives. Because the thing is, giving back to the youth is a career goal and ambition of mine. I want to play basketball for as long as I can, but when my playing days are over, I’d love to be a counselor in some capacity. Having the chance to be a coach would also be amazing. I’m not entirely sure what my exact position looks like when I stop dribbling the basketball, but I do know it will impact the youth in a beneficial way. Unfortunately, being an athlete doesn’t last forever. One day, whether that’s tomorrow, next year, or ten years from now, basketball will come to an end. You have to find other things in life that you’re passionate about. I’m hoping I’ve still got a fair amount of buckets, boards, and double-doubles in my future, but when I hang up my sneakers for good, I feel confident that I have a number of other endeavors to fall back on. And plenty of young lives to positively impact and change. Virginia Tech graduation, May 2021. From left to right: Justyn Mutts, Keve Aluma, Jonathan Kabongo, Tyrece Radford, and Alise Svihla in the front. IMPACTING Youth THE Continued from page 21inside.hokiesports.com