Power Rankings: Hokies making history

Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech

Shannon Mayrose said the Virginia Tech soccer team has a hard time getting the attention it deserves because of teams like North Carolina and Wake Forest in its conference.

In the section that chronicled program history, a recent edition of the Virginia Tech women's soccer media guide extolled the virtues of back-to-back winning seasons, a feat the Hokies managed for the first time in 2007 and 2008.

It was not, all things considered, a particularly lengthy section.

But if the history in Blacksburg is a bit thin, a 2-1 overtime win against Wake Forest on Thursday continued one of the stories of the moment in college soccer. So long an ACC afterthought, Virginia Tech is putting up results indicative of the best teams in the conference and the country.

Virginia Tech didn't have a varsity program until 1993, and in 2004, it was tossed in the deep end of college soccer in the ACC. It hasn't been an easy existence. Even with five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances to their credit, the Hokies entered the season with an 8-46-5 all-time record against Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest. But wins against the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons (in addition to ACC newcomer Notre Dame) are part of an 8-1-1 conference record this season.

Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech

It's been a grueling road back to the field for Shannon Mayrose, who missed the first two seasons of her college career because of injuries.

Wake Forest scored first Thursday, but fifth-year junior Shannon Mayrose brought the Hokies level midway through the first half with her first goal of the season. A little more than a minute from the end of the first overtime, Murielle Tiernan scored the winner, a fair result in a game in which Virginia Tech outshot its opponent 18-7.

The Hokies have been the better team most days. Among ACC teams, only Virginia has a better goal differential than Virginia Tech, which has scored 39 and conceded just 10 in 16 games.

"I think we always walk around like we are the underdogs -- because we are," Mayrose said. "Because we do have teams like UNC and Wake Forest [in the league], it's very hard for us, coming from where we came from, to get the attention we deserve.

"But I think that's part of the fun of being here is kind of proving ourselves and proving what this program has to offer. It's just exciting. It's exciting getting the recognition we deserve, but it's also exciting to prove ourselves to other people who may not think we have what it takes to be a top team in the country."

Virginia Tech welcomes Florida State on Thursday night (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in what may be the biggest regular-season game in program history. Biggest because it's a meeting of teams ranked in the top five but also because it's between teams vying for one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament and the right to potentially host the first four rounds at home.

Thursday will also be "Super Hero Night" at Thompson Field, with fans, be they grade-schoolers or undergraduates, encouraged to show up costumed as their favorite super hero.

But if you're looking for the origin story on the Hokies, it isn't one of superheroes or even really superstars. It's more about the commitment, and the decidedly nonbionic limbs, of people like Mayrose.

Playing pickup soccer over the summer, Mayrose felt her foot move in an unsettling way. X-rays revealed a broken bone, and she missed the first 11 games of the season.

It would have been a setback for any athlete. It was that much more of a metaphorical blow to the solar plexus for someone who had already missed the first two seasons of her college career because of injuries. Diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, a condition affecting the cartilage in her knees, Mayrose sustained a season-ending knee injury shortly before her freshman year. She made it back onto the field the following summer only to injure her other knee in her first club game. Her sophomore year was also spent on the sideline.

"I think when it happened the second time, it was definitely harder, in the rehab sense, because I was tired of rehab and everything that went along with it," Mayrose said. "But I think my eye was on the prize of playing college soccer.

"I don't think I ever let it cross my mind that that was going to be it for me."

She finally made it into a uniform in her third year and finished second on the team with nine goals, making all 23 of her appearances as a substitute. Last year, she started 20 games and again finished second with seven goals.

Despite missing essentially two and a half seasons, her goal against Wake Forest tied her for 10th in program history. In fact, Virginia Tech reached the top five this season despite playing much of it without Mayrose and all of it without Kelly Conheeney, a redshirt senior who is third in career goals but hasn't played since early last season because of concussion-related symptoms.

Someone who by her own admission put academics second to athletics in high school, Mayrose graduated in the spring with a degree in human development and is pursuing a master's degree with aspirations to become a counselor. It takes a fair bit of effort to get on the field, with the athletic training staff and coach Chugger Adair doing their part to manage her body and minutes, but she enjoys it too much to stop.

They're making history in Blacksburg, after all.

"Part of me being here so long is I've been through changes where the program has come so far since I've been here, and that's half the fun of this," Mayrose said. "Coming in not knowing if we were going to make the NCAA to hosting our first-ever home bid last year, just seeing the progression of this program has been one of the funnest things about being at Virginia Tech."

On to this week's rankings and another team from Virginia that just keeps winning.

1. Virginia (16-0-0, last week's ranking: 1)

The Cavaliers completed a season sweep of the state to the south by adding a win against North Carolina to earlier road wins against Duke, Wake Forest and NC State. Sunday's game against the Tar Heels may have lacked a little luster without stars Morgan Brian and Crystal Dunn, away with the national team, but it's in some ways even more impressive the Cavaliers came away with a 2-0 win without their star midfielder. Since falling behind Duke by two goals in the first half Sept. 26, Virginia has outscored its ACC competition 17-2. Florida State, Sunday's opponent, is 0-8-1 all-time in Charlottesville.

2. UCLA (13-1-1, last week's ranking: 2)

Will this weekend be the last time UCLA goes on the road until a possible trip to Cary, N.C., for the College Cup? That seems entirely in the hands of the Bruins, who control their fate for the Pac-12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as they visit Utah and Colorado this week before closing the regular season with three games at home. Two-sport athlete Ally Courtnall, who also runs track for the Bruins, had a memorable game in last week's 3-0 win against Arizona State, totaling a goal and an assist in addition to contributing as a defender to another clean sheet.

3. Florida State (13-0-3, last week's ranking: 3)

You have to love Florida State, whose goals in a 2-1 win against Maryland came courtesy of Iceland (goal scorers Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Berglind Thorvaldsdottir), Ireland, Germany, California and Florida (assists, respectively, from Megan Campbell, Isabella Schmid, Jamia Fields and Michaela Hahn). No team in this country faces a more difficult closing stretch. In addition to the swing through Virginia, Florida State hosts Notre Dame on Halloween. Of note, Iceland plays in Serbia on Oct. 31, and Ireland plays in Slovenia a day earlier in World Cup qualifying.

4. North Carolina (13-3-0, last week's ranking: 4)

Even after the setback against Virginia, just the program's second multiple-goal defeat since 1986, the Tar Heels hold at No. 4. That's partly because Virginia is really good, partly because Dunn was absent and partly because no challenger made a strong move. But finishing is a concern. It's not quite the drought Stanford is enduring on the opposite coast, but North Carolina has scored just two goals in its past three games, including 1-0 wins against Boston College and Syracuse, teams that allow better than a goal per game this season.

5. Virginia Tech (13-1-2, last week's ranking: 7)

Work remains. The Hokies have an all-time record of 8-26-6 against their three remaining opponents (Florida State, Miami and Virginia).

6. Portland (12-1-1, last week's ranking: 5)

There was no upside for Portland in playing conference foe Gonzaga, the lone game on its schedule this past week. Gonzaga entered in the bottom half of the WCC standings and with an RPI ranking north of 200, the fifth such team the Pilots played this season. But at least they avoided making matters worse with dropped points when Noelle La Prevotte scored the winner early in the first overtime period. Now come visits from San Diego on Thursday and BYU on Saturday, teams with a combined 18-10-1 record.

7. Santa Clara (10-3-1, last week's ranking: 6)

The Broncos have entered the lull in their conference schedule, rolling though road games at Saint Mary's (4-0) and Pacific (2-0) last weekend with only a home game against struggling San Francisco on the docket this week. With their schedule to this point, they earned the chance to stretch their legs a bit. Julie Johnston scored twice in the win against Saint Mary's, and Sofia Huerta scored in both games. In both cases, that pushed them past their goal production from last season and close to double digits. Santa Clara last had two double-digit goal scorers in 2005.

8. Stanford (10-3-1, last week's ranking: 8)

Courtney Verloo's free kick goal in the second half provided the final margin in a 1-0 win against Utah, the team's only game of the week, but the Cardinal continue to struggle to find the back of the net. Verloo's goal was the only one of 22 shots that got past Utah keeper Lindsey Luke, and the result is a five-game homestand in which Stanford scored just four goals. The Pacific Northwest will be the destination the next two weekends, with Oregon and Oregon State up first. Ranked No. 15 in last week's RPI, it increasingly looks like Stanford can count on just one home postseason game.

9. Denver (14-1-1, last week's ranking: 9)

No losses, no goals allowed, not much more they can do. Denver rolled to two more Summit League wins, 3-0 at Omaha and 4-0 at South Dakota, to improve to 5-0-0 in the league. Dating back to a 1-0 win at BYU on Sept. 26, the Pioneers have allowed just one goal in the past 630 minutes. This week's homestand against South Dakota State (also unbeaten in the Summit) and North Dakota State wraps up the regular season. Senior Nicholette DiGiacomo, who had a hat trick against Maryland in last year's NCAA tournament, scored twice over the weekend to set a new career best with nine goals this season.

10. Penn State (12-3-1, last week's ranking: NR)

The Nittany Lions are still looking up at Nebraska and Michigan in the Big Ten standings, the consequence of rare back-to-back conference losses earlier this month, but they appear to be back on track after 4-2 and 5-0 wins against Ohio State and Illinois, respectively, last weekend. The big game this week is the trip to league leader Nebraska on Sunday, but every trip has some degree of intrigue for this team. Penn State has outscored opponents by a modest 16-11 margin on the road (including a 6-0 win at Bucknell), compared to 32-11 in State College.

Next five: West Virginia, Florida, Marquette, Texas A&M, Notre Dame

Ten games to watch this week (rankings from NSCAA Top 25)

• No. 3 Florida State at No. 1 Virginia
• No. 2 UCLA at Colorado
• No. 3 Florida State at No. 4 Virginia Tech
• No. 5 North Carolina at No. 22 Wake Forest
• No. 24 BYU at No. 6 Portland
• San Diego at No. 6 Portland
• Texas A&M at No. 7 Florida
• No. 16 Penn State at No. 21 Nebraska
• No. 9 West Virginia at No. 18 Texas Tech
• South Dakota State at No. 14 Denver

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