Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reflection: Virginia Tech

Shanel Harrison
2010-11 season: 11-19, 1-13 ACC. First-round loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament (81-58)

Who's leaving: Nikki Davis 6.4 ppg, 3 rpg, Brittany Gordon 4.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, Elizabeth Basham 3.3 ppg; Beth Dunkenberger resigned after seven seasons coaching the Hokies.

Who's coming: Larryqua "Reka" Hall, 5-10 guard, Hillgrove (Ga.): Averaged a team-best 14.4 points and 4 steals while leading her team to a 22-6 record and the state quarterfinals. Named Cobb County Girls Basketball Player of the Year by the Marietta Daily Journal.

High point: Stunning Vanderbilt 74-68 on Dec. 30. Monet Tellier was the tournament MVP for the Hokies, who won their own Hilton Garden Classic. Tech trailed 34-19 at the break only to score 55 points in the second half to defeat an SEC opponent for the first time since 2004.

Low point: Losing 66-52 to Robert Morris on Dec. 11 at Cassell. Robert Morris led by as many as 28, shooting 51 percent in the first half.

Stock of program: In flux

Hokie fans grew weary of losing in 2010-11, particularly in the ACC where Tech's lone victory came against Clemson. Conference struggles are nothing new for the Hokies, just 9-48 in their own league in the last four years. The most daunting blow: a 50-point loss at Duke, the most lopsided by Tech ever in the ACC.

Dunkenberger, who we rooted for given her passion for her alma mater, led the Hokies to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances her first two years, but those were largely behind players recruited by former coach Bonnie Henrickson. The program needs a facelift.

Enter Dennis Wolff, a seasoned men's coach but a curious choice to head the women's team. Unlike Virginia's Craig Littlepage, Tech AD Jim Weaver didn't scan the nation for a new coach. Weaver didn't leave campus to find Wolff, working as the men's basketball director of operations. Wolff was grossly overqualified for that job, as he was men's basketball coach at Boston University from 1994-2009. Most folks don't think of BU for its athletics, but Wolff was wildly successful there, leading the Terriers to three straight conference titles (2002-2004) and four postseason appearances.

Weaver stressed at the press conference announcing Wolff's hiring that he had found the right man for the job. If we have a reservation, it is this. Wolff has no experience coaching the women's game, and we wonder if a upstart young female coach might have added energy and vision to a program that has the resources to compete with the ACC bigs. Wolff's daughter, Nicole, played at UConn and we don't doubt that he was instrumental in her development. But that experience is not the same as recruiting, coaching and connecting with a team of young women. We like the addition of former Vandy star Chantelle Anderson to his staff, though her only experience is a year of assistant coaching at the Division II level.

Tech's first order of  business is recruiting, as Dunkenberger was unable to snag the state's best players in her tenure. Wolff has talked about the need to build the Hokies from the foundation up, and that requires him and his staff to draw elite players to Blacksburg. There's no reason why he can't if  Tech is willing to make a sincere commitment to the women's program. The ACC is a great conference to play in; Cassell is state-of-the-art with a core fan base ready to get behind a winner. All you need to know about the practice facility is it cost $21 million. Great digs.

Yet much like Virginia right now, Tech has only pieces of a team. Two of the significant pieces are junior Shanel Harrison and freshman Monet Tellier. We particularly like Tellier's upside, especially if she can cut down on turnovers; no other Hokie had more last season.

Change will be anything but quick. Wolff has been candid about expectations, and we can't help but look at programs including Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami and wonder how the Hokies can making any inroads in that mix. Henrickson produced the kind of ball Tech fans would love to return to, but seven years later, the conference might be even deeper given the emergence of the Hurricanes and Seminoles. Nor can we overlook Virginia under savvy recruiter and new head coach Joanne Boyle and NC State under impressive Kellie Harper. A tough task indeed is ahead of Wolff and staff, and we await what he's got in the works.

Don't expect miracles for 2011-12, Hokie fans. But in the words of the Black Eyed Peas, "Let's Get it Started."

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