Teams of the Fall: Virginia Tech
Teams of the Fall: Virginia Tech
With a great big mound of obstacles piled against them, the Virginia Tech Hokies ended their fall of 2021 in fine style, winning NCR's DIAA playoffs.
But the playoffs were really just evidence of what they had been ab le to accomplish. The Hokies found themselves in a 2021 Chesapeake Conference that was much changed from its earlier inception. Conceived as a conference for like-minded programs that were relatively close to each other, the Chesapeake saw some significant shifts as Mary Washington and Mount St. Mary's ramped up their on-campus and alumni support, and school-supported programs Queens University Charlotte and Southern Virginia joined.
By this time Towson had already moved to the MARC, and then Georgetown also moved and dropped to DII. Following the shift in the types of program in the conference, Salisbury and James Madison also moved to the MARC, but Virginia Tech remained. And they took their lumps, losing to MSM 35-0 in their opener, Queens 35-3, and UMW 76-12. But there were encouraging signs, too. They scored over 50 on Maryland and NC State, and their loss to Southern Virginia was by an encouraging score of 19-14.
That might have been the end of it, except that the NCR brains trust wisely saw that the liked of Queens, UMW, and MSM were closer in quality to the top Liberty Conference teams and Rugby East than the DIAA teams. This decision to split the Chesapeake (and also the Liberty) was supported by the results as Queens almost made it to the top DI final while West Chester, Boise State, and St. Joseph's all beat teams from the Liberty's second tier.
For Virginia Tech, then, this was a chance to show that, player-coached as they were, and 2-4 in conference play as they were, they had not folded, had not cried about their lot, had not resorted to dirty play—they just kept working on getting better.
"We knew we were a good team off the bat," said Tech's Daniel McKillop, who is also part of the coaching and leadership group. "We're playing really great programs ... absolutely fantastic varsity programs so we knew we had to catch up in terms of skillwise, in terms of recruiting. So we did what we could. Our goal was to get more experience and more chemistry working together. We haven't had a coach in about four years. But the legacy the alumni left us and we wouldn't be able to do this without the foundation they laid. And we work for everything we have."
So they entered the playoffs and while their opening-week opponent, Salisbury, was a little depleted, the Hokies' 91-0 crushing of the Sharks put people on notice. They followed that up with a 27-11 defeat of a very strong Boise State team, and then a dramatic comeback final win over West Chester 34-22.
"That first playoff ... that's when it all clicked; we finally realized out potential," added another player-coach, Fernando Anduaga. "We always have a burn your boats mentality which means empty what you have in your tank, leave it all out on the field ... it's what we came with into [the final] and into every game so far."
They got better through the year, and were perhaps fortunate to have a chance to show how much they'd improved. But with that chance, Virginia Tech showed how they have embraced the true rugby spirit, getting on with the job and making whatever they have work for them.
"I came into this season thinking it's a rebuild year," added all-conference hooker Rocco Munna. "But look at where we are now."