A Determined Hokie squad had to overcome injuries and key departures that resulted in more that the usual lineup adjustments to punch their ticket to ncaa tournament In 2020.
Departures and gaps
Midfielder Daniel Pereira, the 2020 ACC Midfielder of the Year and the number one overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft departed after the end of the Fall 2020 season to enter the professional ranks. Departures at the end of the 2021 Spring season included forward Kristo Strickler, an All-ACC 2020 First Team and Second Team member in 2018 and 2019 who was a key element in Virginia Tech’s offense since joining the program as a freshman, defender Jakob Bluemler, a four-year starter at right back, and goalkeeper Mathijs Swaneveld who was the starter between the pipes in 2018 and 2019 and in seven contests in 2020.
Opportunity for Improvement
The biggest challenge and opportunity for improvement heading into the 2021 season is replacing the playmaking ability that midfielder Daniel Pereira and forward Kristo Strickler provided. Although the Hokies return several very capable finishers, the big play ability that Pereira and Strickler often provided in clutch situations will not be easy to replace.
Senior Jacob Labovitz (9g, 3a), a 2020 All-ACC Third Team selection with four-game winning goals, returns as the go-to goal scorer up-top. Transfer graduate student Poll Monells, a 2019 Big South All-Conference First Team selection at USC Upstate, looks to be a positive addition to the offense up-top. Senior Kahlil Dover (2g, 1a) is among other returning players who will add to the attack up-top. Junior Nick Blacklock (4g, 0a), who has been a starter for the past two seasons, adds another dimension to the offense in the midfield. Graduate student Camron Lennon, seniors Cameron Joice and Andrew Weber (1g, 0a), junior Mayola Kinyua and sophomore Landon Ameres are among a contingent of returning midfielders who will be in the mix in 2021.
With the exception of right back Jacob Bluemler (0g, 2a), everyone returns in the back. Redshirt senior Kyle McDowell (0g, 5a) who had a team leading five assists, senior Sivert Haugli (1g, 0a), a three-year starter, senior Chris Little (0g, 3a), redshirt junior Nathan Durst (0g, 1a) and senior Zane Bubb who transferred in last year from North Florida are among a solid group of defenders. Junior Matt Zambetti who started ten contests with a 1.45 goals against average last year returns in goal with the advantage of a year of starting experience under his belt. The Hokies were porous at times on the defensive side of the ball in 2020-2021 allowing opponents to score four goals on three occasions. Greater consistency and stability on defense looks to be a critical success factor for the Hokies in 2021.
If you are looking for a team with a challenging schedule in 2021 then you need look no further than Virginia Tech. This is a team that will need to jell early and hit the ground running. Virginia Tech head coach Mike Brizendine will not have to wait long to find out how competitive his team is with early season contests against Marshall, UCF and Seton Hall before running the always rigorous gauntlet of Atlantic Coast Conference play. Those early season contests provide the opportunity for national recognition but they could also put an early dent in the Hokies win-loss record that could be hard to recover from.
Last year Virginia Tech had an advantage in shots on goal in most of their contests but that didn’t always translate into an edge in terms of goals scored. Forward Jacob Labovitz (9g, 3a) and midfielder Nick Blacklock (4g, 0a) look to be the keys to the Hokies attack in 2021. It will be a big plus if a couple of the newcomers can add additional punch. Transfer forward Poll Monells looks to be the most likely suspect to do that. The midfield will be experienced but their ability, other than Blacklock, to add punch to the attack looks to be an unanswered question. The backline anchored by senior Sivert Haugli will be experienced which is a plus as well as the fact that netminder Matt Zambetti now has a year of starting experience.
Virginia Tech has a deep contingent of returning players and the recruiting class has the potential to be part of a lot of wins before their tenure in Blacksburg is over. This is a program under Mike Brizendine that now has a winning culture, likes the challenge of a competitive schedule, and expects to win. Their grit will again be tested with a brutal early season schedule followed by the rigors of ACC play. It promises to be an interesting as well as challenging season for the Hokies. Anything less than a sixth straight berth into the NCAA Tournament will be a disappointment.
Virginia Tech opens the 2021 season on Thursday, August 26 against Summit League member Kansas City.
Carter Hensley – Midfielder – Charlotte, North Carolina – Myers Park High School – Named the 2021 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. United Soccer Coaches High School All-American. North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association Player of the Year. Played for Charlotte Soccer Academy.
Tyler Taber – Midfielder – Bertrange Luxembourg – University of Nebraska High School – Played for Racing FC Union Luxembourg. Played with FC Metz in France. Luxembourg National Team participation.
Pol Monells – Forward – Barcelona, Spain – Graduate student transfer from USC-Upstate. Also played for Barton College in North Carolina. All-Big South Conference First Team selection in 2019. Conference Carolinas All-Conference First Team in 2018. Played for CE Sabadell for three years.
Danny Flores Gonzales – Midfielder – Half Moon Bay, California – YSC Academy – Played with Philadelphia Union II and Oakland Roots SC in the USL. Named to the 2017-2018 US Soccer DA Central Conference Best XI.
Ben Martino – Goalkeeper – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – YSC Academy – Played with Bethlehem Steel in USL Championship.
Declan Quill – Forward – Falls Church, Virginia – George Mason High School – Two-time First Team All-State selection. Region Player of the Year. Also competed in Rugby. Two-time All-Conference selection for Braddock Road Youth Club.
Jordan Black – Defender – Woodbridge, Virginia – Colgan High School – Played for Loudoun Soccer Club. First Team All-District. Team captain at Colgan High School.
Ethan Fraser – Forward – Leesburg, Virginia – Heritage High School – Played for D.C. United Academy for four years. Also played with Bethesda Academy.
Joel Opoku – Defender – Brampton, Ontario – St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School – Played club for Casper College. Played at semi-professional level with Vaughan Azzurri in Canada. Four-year letterwinner at St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School.
Carsten Bay – Defender – Chesapeake, Virginia – Frank W. Cox High School – 2019 All-Tidewater and VHSL Region 5A Second Team selections. Played for Beach FC.
Timi Adams – Goalkeeper – Atlanta, Georgia – Riverwood International Charter School – Played for NASA Tophat. 2021 All-Region selection at Riverwood International Charter School.
Chris Thompson – Defender – Woodbridge, Virginia – Colgan – Second Team All-District and team MVP at Colgan in 2019. Played for Northern Virginia FC.
Picture from Virginia Tech Athletics