Category archive: Virginia Tech Hokies

BC holds its ground in loss to UNC

October, 4, 2009
NEWTON, Mass. -- I've seen a few strange things unfold on a soccer field. North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance has seen far more. So perhaps his take on Thursday's showdown between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Boston College is the place to begin.

"One of the most bizarre games I've ever been a part of in 33 years of coaching," Dorrance said.

The Tar Heels remained undefeated on the season (although for only about 72 hours, after a 1-0 loss at Virginia Tech on Sunday) by virtue of a 2-1 win that included two second-half penalty kicks off Boston College handballs. Both whistles appeared questionable, bordering on dubious, but it's always easy to armchair-quarterback a referee. And in this case, while the result is important in the race for eventual NCAA tournament seeding, it may not be as telling as the game.

Back-to-back, one-goal losses against Florida State and North Carolina notwithstanding, Boston College is a legitimate threat to make the trip to Texas for the College Cup.

"Two great teams, and in my opinion, maybe two top-four teams, battling it out in a very exciting game," Dorrance said. "The other thing I really respect about BC is they attack. Most teams we play bunker back and try and keep the score low. But they had no compunction but to go forward at every opportunity, and they're very dangerous going forward. They have talent all over the field, and I have a lot of respect for them and the way they played against us."

Two years ago, North Carolina escaped a trip to Massachusetts with a 2-1 overtime win on a cross from Meghan Klingenberg that fortune guided into the back of the net. But far more than was the case that night, the Eagles seized opportunities Thursday night to take the game to the opponent, something they can do because of a front five every bit the equal of North Carolina, Stanford, Portland and any other team you want to throw in the mix.

In Gina DeMartino, who missed parts of last season because of obligations to the Under-20 national team, sophomore Julia Bouchelle and senior Brooke Knowlton, the Eagles had a base of offensive talent returning this fall. But the addition of freshmen Victoria DiMartino (Gina's sister) and Kristen Mewis took things to a level that made Thursday's game so compelling.

"Both of them, obviously, have played in a lot of big games, both coming off the U-17 World Cup as two of the top scorers for the U.S. team," Boston College coach Alison Kulik said of her freshmen a week and a half before the North Carolina game. "And they're as proficient as two finishers that I've ever seen and that we've ever had in the program. That certainly has added to our attack. They're two of the reasons why you've seen -- because they're great servers of the ball, too -- why you've seen us score so many multiple-goal games."

Nobody flusters North Carolina's back line of Whitney Engen, Kristi Eveland and Rachel Givan, but Boston College isolated and pushed them to the edge repeatedly Thursday night.

Villanova makes best of soggy weekend

August, 30, 2009
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- If you're going to a game at Villanova this season, don't leave early.

And bring an umbrella.

All right, perhaps the weather was a one-time issue Friday, when Mother Nature and spartan accommodations combined to make a soggy mess of matters (although the field held up far better than the scribe). But on the field, the hosts turned in two dramatic finishes against quality opponents in the Villanova Classic and improved to 2-0-1 this season.

Kelly Eagan's strike in the closing minutes of double overtime gave Villanova a 2-1 win against Virginia Tech on Friday, and Katie Ryan's 90th-minute goal Sunday led to a 2-2 draw against Nebraska.

I was on hand only for the former, but coach John Byford's early assessment proved prophetic.

"What we take away from it is just the way we fought," Byford said of the win over Virginia Tech. "And that was something we didn't have as much last year, and as I said to the kids this year, that will take us a long way. If we can grind out games, just compete and compete and compete, we have enough talent to score."

Eagan is a three-time all-Big East selection and an anchor in the middle of defense, as Virginia Tech standout Emily Jukich learned with frustration. She's also a walking definition of clutch, with all five career goals serving as game winners, including two in overtime. But if Eagan is the face of Villanova, Rachel Schuyler may symbolize this team's upside and the program's future under its second-year coach. Byford didn't recruit Schuyler, but with a big leg and creativity, she's a perfect piece for a system built on playing fluid, attacking football.

"Rachel's got the ability," Byford said. "For a kid who's not very big, she's very good in the air. She can hit good, quality long passes -- not just smack the ball forward, she can play a good, quality pass. And we've got a lot of pace up front. She's a gamer. Sometimes she's not the best practice player, but when the game's on, she comes to play."

A young Villanova team with a new coach gave up 28 goals in 19 games last season, the most per game in more than a decade. But last year's team also scored better than two goals per game for the first time since 2001. Virginia Tech had the edge in attack for much of the second half Friday, but given the conditions and the calendar, Villanova's ability to build through midfield and get the ball to the extremely impressive Ryan hinted at what could be in store this fall.

• STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Another week and another good show in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Starting a rebuilt back line that included two sophomores and one freshman, No. 14 West Virginia pulled out a 2-1 win against No. 8 Penn State. The Mountaineers withstood a Nittany Lions attack that produced 14 shots and enjoyed the run of play for much of the second half.

With so much youth, West Virginia may not hit its stride until conference play. But after a 2-0 exhibition loss against Maryland and a 0-0 tie against Ohio State to open the regular season, Saturday's physical battle represented about eight steps in the right direction.

The Mountaineers have a lot of parts, if not proven pieces, in the attack (led by the healthy return of Megan Mischler), and whatever ups and downs are ahead, they have a nascent identity.

"I think when you have such a young team as we have, it's such a learning curve but it's such a quick curve," coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. "And these girls have worked so hard in the last two weeks. The staff has put in so many hours and the girls have put in so many hours; I mean, it's a 360."

A look at softball's weekend ahead

April, 22, 2009
In three weeks, every game will matter. For now, here are 10 weekend series with extra heft.

Illinois-Chicago at Cleveland State
(Three games)

The top three seeds in the Horizon League get a pass on the first set of games in the double-elimination conference tournament, so as enticing as this is, the series between the conference's current top two teams isn't going to settle anything. (Third-place Wright State also visits fourth-place Loyola this weekend.) Cleveland State ace Amanda Macenko has nearly 100 more strikeouts than any other pitcher in the league.

Maryland at Virginia Tech
(Three games)

Does the ACC get a fourth team into the NCAA tournament? Virginia Tech is 7-8 in the league but five games under .500 overall with nine to play before the ACC tournament. Mathematically, the Hokies could lose one or two more. Realistically, they need them all. Maryland has more to work with. The Terrapins have stopped hitting in league play (.314 slugging percentage), but sophomore Kerry Hickey has a 1.90 ERA despite three starts and a relief appearance against North Carolina and Florida State.

UNLV at Colorado State
(One game)

Friday's game in Fort Collins is part of a bigger weekend for both teams. UNLV has a reasonably strong at-large profile for the NCAA tournament, but at 2-6 in conference play, that profile can't really afford a loss at Colorado State or New Mexico the following two days. Meanwhile, Colorado State is 4-3 in the league but is buried in the RPI. Yet if the Rams could somehow sweep the weekend at home against UNLV and San Diego State, the Mountain West would get much more interesting.

No. 7 Northwestern at Illinois
(Two games)

Jenna Hall has been gone for a few years, but folks in Champaign-Urbana should still be familiar with the intentional walk. And as the Illini look for at least one win that would go a long way toward cementing their NCAA tournament at-large profile, they may want to use the free pass against Northwestern's Adrienne Monka. The freshman earned NFCA Player of the Week honors last week and is slugging .919 this season. Then again, whom are you pitching to instead? Erin Dyer went 5-for-8 with a pair of home runs against Illinois last season.

Cal State Fullerton at Long Beach State
(Three games)

The second-best home team in the Big West hosts the league's most successful road team, a week after Long Beach separated itself as the lone challenger to Fullerton and Cal Poly. Pitching ruled last season's series, with just 11 runs scored as Fullerton took two of three, but with the exception of Brooke Turner, it'll be new faces in the circle this time around. Ari Cervantes has been excellent for Fullerton in league play (1.72 ERA), and first baseman K.C. Craddick is hitting .448 against the Big West, compared to .130 out of conference.

No. 13 North Carolina at No. 20 Georgia Tech
(Three games)

We're back to the ACC, where Georgia Tech looks to make up some or all of a 2½-game deficit behind first-place North Carolina. Add in Wednesday's doubleheader against Alabama, and it's a make-or-break week for the Yellow Jackets in terms of claiming a seed in the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech has beaten North Carolina twice in the teams' past eight meetings. During that span, the Yellow Jackets have pushed across just 10 earned runs in 45 innings against current Tar Heels Lisa Norris and Danielle Spaulding.

No. 15 Tennessee at No. 11 Georgia
(Three games)

Strictly speaking, there's not a lot on the line here beyond conference tournament seeding. But with Alabama looming next week, Tennessee could use a road win or two to feel better about a potential NCAA tournament seed. Likewise, a strong closing push for the Bulldogs would help ensure a potential super regional in Athens. And after scoring seven runs in seven games against Washington, Florida and Alabama, it's another chance for the Bulldogs to prove that their otherwise prolific offensive numbers are indeed legit.

No. 14 Oklahoma at No. 10 Missouri
(Two games)

Two of the highest-profile programs unwilling to post their statistics online (making them more secretive than Nick Saban and Charlie Weis) meet in Columbia. The three runs Texas Tech scored in a 10-3 loss against Missouri last week marked only the third time in 15 games that an opponent scored more than two. Both teams are justifiably known for offense, but might this be the week that Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine's pitching depth and innovative bullpen philosophy gain a deserved spotlight?

No. 2 UCLA at No. 8 Arizona State
(Two games)

As usual in the Pac-10, UCLA and Washington swap places for single games Friday. Arizona State freshman Hillary Bach seems to be taking the Pac-10 learning curve with all four wheels on the ground. She's one of only three pitchers with an ERA of less than 3.00 in league play (2.42), joining UCLA's do-everything starter-reliever-slugger Megan Langenfeld and Washington's Danielle Lawrie. And while everyone's line is what it is for a reason, it's worth noting she has a 0.94 ERA in her six conference starts that didn't involve Arizona.

No. 3 Washington at No. 9 Arizona
(Two games)

It's the best offense in the nation against the best pitcher in the nation in a pair of games that will go a long way toward determining whether the conference title is done and dusted for the Wildcats or up for grabs in the final two weekends. What else needs to be said?