March 26, 2009

Hokies Take Lumps, Even After First ACC Win

by Jesse Baumgartner | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Senior Rachel Culp leads Virginia Tech with 33 goals this season, including a couple of clutch tallies in the Hokies' first-ever ACC win March 14 over BC.

It certainly wasn't a result that drew much attention, but Virginia Tech's 16-14 overtime win against Boston College on March 14 meant an awful lot to a group of women back in Blacksburg, Va.

Because while most eyes were on powerhouse matchups like Georgetown-Duke or North Carolina-Virginia, the Hokies were busy celebrating an important milestone for the program -- their first ACC victory since entering the league in 2005.

And for those who have been there for most of the transition, it was just that much sweeter.

"When I came in as a freshman, we had just kind of entered the ACC, and we were definitely a far cry from getting that first win," senior Rachel Culp said. "And it took all three more years to finally get it, and just to be on that field when it happened, it was awesome."

Entering the ACC is no easy task given the type of elite, national championship contenders that teams must face throughout the season. While that can be a good thing for improving the program and drawing in recruits, coach Katrina Silva said she thought it was "daunting" for her team when she arrived at the school for the 2007 season.

"Because we had gotten smushed, and for them, I'd come in and be like, 'We're going to win,' and they're looking at me like, 'Oh boy,'" Silva said. "And I was like, 'No, you've got to change your attitude. It starts there, and you've got to believe that you've worked hard enough to win.'"

That can be a trying process, though, and Culp identified last year's 10-9 loss to BC as a particularly low point on the journey to that first crucial step. The Hokies also lost to the Eagles 16-15 in 2007.

But it does help to have a senior leader like Culp, who Silva said has shown dedication by continually working on her game even on her own time.

"That's what it takes to elevate a program. That's what it takes to really compete at this level," Silva said.

It was fitting, then, that Culp supplied six goals in the BC win -- including the one to send it to overtime and then the go-ahead score in the extra period.

On the other hand, the harsh reality of ACC competition is always there to bring the Hokies down to earth. After the big win, they waltzed into Durham last Wednesday and left with a 21-3 defeat to Duke on their minds.

"We were still kind of thinking about the win on Monday and Tuesday. We weren't really focusing I guess on Duke as much as we should have," Culp said.

Virginia Tech followed that up with a 14-8 loss against Louisville last weekend and then a 12-8 loss Wednesday at UNC.

While Culp and fellow senior Kari Morrison (goalkeeper) lead this current team, a positive for the Hokies is that only three players on their roster are upperclassmen.

And while this current group continues to grow, Silva will be buckling down on the recruiting trail as her program plays catch-up.

"Just trying to find kids that want to establish themselves as a pioneer, and, 'Hey I want to do something different. I want to go to a program that hasn't won consistently, and make them a consistent winner and an ACC champion or even a national champion,'" she said when talking about the challenges of the ACC transition.

"That's a special kid that chooses that kind of route."

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