Wednesday, May 10, 2000
by Will Stewart,

1999-2000: What a Ride

As the academic year winds down with exams this week and commencement on Saturday, it's difficult to believe that the year is almost over. It seems like only yesterday that the football team was on its record-setting run to the national championship game, changing the face of Hokie football forever.

Okay, so maybe it doesn't seem like "only yesterday" to you, the Tech football junkie, and maybe August 27th, the date of the football team's 2000 opener against Georgia Tech, seems as if it's years away, not months away. But to this scribe, who has been on one of the wildest rides of his life over the last nine months, it's all one big blur. To me, it has indeed all happened over many months, but it has also all occurred with just a snap of the fingers.

Imagine your every complaint about Hokie football: no media respect, no TV draw, no Heisman Trophy candidate, no national coach of the year, no 11-0 season, never played for the national championship -- all of that. And imagine it being erased away with one magical season.

Then broaden your horizons and imagine your every worry about Hokie sports: no all-sports conference, a men's basketball team floundering away in the Atlantic 10 with a boring style of play, a brilliant women's coach toiling away in an overlooked, unrespected conference, the ACC threatening to raid your football conference and tear it apart, leaving your team behind -- all of that. And imagine it being erased away in one year.

These things were all problems and worries that were supposed to be chipped away over years, not in one landmark August-to-May sequence of time. But here we stand, national champion runner-ups in football and fledgling Big East all-sports members. The Virginia Tech athletics program of 1999-2000 is light years away from the Virginia Tech athletics program of 1998-1999.

No one could have foreseen this coming. The Big East membership, perhaps, but not the national championship run and the Lee-Corso-led love-in that has become Virginia Tech football. Yet just as we get acclimated to what the Hokies have become, it's necessary to strap on another seatbelt just so we can hang on.

Football season tickets are already almost sold out for 2000. Soon, the proper political pieces will fall into place, Lane Stadium expansion will be formally approved, and the Virginia Tech money-raising machine will kick into gear to fund stadium expansion, which is an unfathomable 16 months away from completion of its first phase, the South end zone expansion

In the interim, we'll be blitzed with "Vick for Heisman" campaigns and weekly updates from the pigskin prognosticators on where they think he stands in the race. You won't be able to watch college football highlights without seeing the ubiquitous Michael Vick clips, and the SportsCenter anchors will be sure to bring you up to date on what the Hokies and Frank Beamer are doing.

And strangest of all, you'll be able to see a full slate of four Tech games on CBS this coming fall (whether that's good or bad is up for debate, but it will certainly be weird). If the planets line up, all twelve Tech regular-season football games will be on TV next fall.

Foundations are supposed to take a long time to build. They're supposed to go up over years, not all at once. But then again, you can argue that this juggernaut has been years in the making, from the time Frank Beamer was hired in very early 1987. It was pieced together slowly during a six-year bowl run that built fan support and funding, and it was finally sparked by a special freshman quarterback, a senior-led defense, and the seventh bowl in a row, the 2000 Sugar Bowl.

So maybe it didn't all happen in a year. Maybe this has all been coming for a long time. But truthfully, none of us thought it would happen just yet. Not like this. But as the first digit in the calendar rolled over from a 1 to a 2, there it was, and there was nothing left to do but get out of the bandwagon's way or get run over by it.

(I'll tell you with a good-natured smile that sometimes, I personally felt as if I was getting run over by it despite trying to get out of the way, but that's a story for another time.)

In just three short days, everyone will fill Lane Stadium for the 2000 commencement speech -- they still hold it there, right? -- and the academic year will come to an end. And we'll all be left with that "What just happened?" feeling that, quite honestly, we probably would have gotten anyway. I always do at the end of the school year, at least.

Then there will be two or three months of dead time before the football players all start to arrive on campus, and we hopefully start to do this all over again. But before then, there's still a few orders of business to be taken care of.

Softball and Baseball: Down the Stretch They Come

Tech's baseball and softball teams are winding down their seasons, and the A-10 tournaments for both teams are rapidly approaching.

This year, the softball team was hard-pressed to match last season's 54-16 season, which included a mind-boggling 26-game winning streak and a regular-season finish in the top 25. Last year, that awesome record was the product of just two pitchers, Ashlee Dobbe (29-8) and Clarissa Crowell (25-8), and the beauty part was, they were both just freshmen.

In 1999, the season didn't end well. The Hokies were unable to get past UMass in the A-10 tournament, and that flaw was fatal, as UMass was the only A-10 team to make the NCAA's. The Hokies sat at home with their gaudy record and stellar pitching staff.

With high hopes, the team entered this season perhaps expecting a repeat of last year, or a reasonable facsimile. Alas, it never transpired. 32 games into the season, the Hokies stood at a middling (relatively speaking) 18-14, barely above .500. Since then, they have put together a very nice 21-6 run, including a 12-4 A-10 record, to finish the year at 39-20 and sew up the second seed in the A-10 Tournament Ö second to UMass, of course.

The A-10 softball tournament starts Thursday for the Hokies, who will play Dayton, a team that Tech split a double-header with earlier this year.

Over on the baseball side of the ledger, there's still a few more regular season games left to play. It has been a very average year for the Hokies, who lost key players to academics and injury and have struggled to stay above .500. Tech is currently 28-22-2 with just four regular season games left.

Tech plays Campbell today at 4:00 and then has three weekend games against La Salle to end the regular season. The Hokies stand tied atop the A-10 West with George Washington at 13-5. The Colonials play three games this weekend against Duquesne. If it helps or matters, Duquesne may be pretty bad at 21-29 overall (10-8 in the A-10), but La Salle is just horrible at 9-35 (4-14 A-10). So perhaps the Hokies have the upper hand going into the weekend.

The Atlantic 10 tournament is the weekend of May 18-20 in the Boyertown, PA, and the A-10 only invites the top two teams from each division to the tournament, so it's just a four-team affair. The Hokies are in minimal danger of falling out of the top 2 in the West, but it could happen, because Tech is only two games ahead of third-place Xavier. We'll keep you posted here at HC.

Meanwhile, Men's LAX Starts the National Championship

Sadly, Tech's men's club lacrosse team failed to win the SELC championship weekend before last, falling to Tennessee, 16-14 in the final. That didnít stop the Hokies from getting an invitation to the 12-team national championship, where Tech is seeded 9th and takes on 8th- seeded Colorado today at 11 a.m.

If you want to follow the results of the tournament, you can do so at the USLIA web site by clicking here and at the Street and Smith's College Lacrosse web site by clicking here.


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