The Virginia Tech softball team received its highest preseason ranking in school history Tuesday afternoon, checking in at the No. 10 spot in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Top 25.
The Hokies moved up three spots from the final rankings of the 2021 season, which had them at No. 13. This is the highest preseason ranking for the Hokies from ESPN.com/USA Softball since 2008 when Tech was ranked No. 15. The highest overall ranking in school history came at the conclusion of the 2008 season when the Hokies earned a No.-8 ranking by the NFCA.
The 2022 schedule pits the Hokies against eight top-25 teams, including three to open the season with No. 12 Missouri, No. 20 Kentucky, and No. 24 Northwestern. Virginia Tech will also take on No. 2 Alabama in non-conference play, as well as No. 6 Florida State, No. 14 Clemson and No. 18 Duke in ACC play.
Tech opens the season on Feb. 11 in Leesburg, Fla., playing in the inaugural Northern Lights/Southern Nights Tournament. The Hokies will play their first games in Blacksburg on March 9, hosting Norfolk State in a doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m.
The Hokies are coming off a memorable and historic 2021 season, culminating in the program’s second-ever appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. The NFCA Mid-Atlantic Staff of the Year returns the majority of its starting lineup, including pitcher Keely Rochard, from the 2021 squad and adds a talented group of newcomers set to make an impact in the 2022 season.
Kelsey Bennett, Kelsey Brown, Cameron Fagan, and Rochard have been named to the Preseason All-ACC team, the conference announced Wednesday afternoon.
The preseason All-ACC team is voted on by the conference’s coaches and consists of a minimum of 14 players. Each ballot was composed of five infielders, four outfielders, three pitchers, a catcher, and either a designated player or a utility player. With four honorees, the Hokies have the most of any conference team this year. Clemson, Duke, Florida State, and Georgia Tech each have two members while Louisville and Notre Dame add one each.
The Hokies were also ranked third in the ACC Preseason Coaches Poll, behind only Florida State and Clemson. Tech received 126 votes, including two first-place votes, while Clemson received 128 votes (two first-place votes) and Florida State tallied 137 votes (eight first-place votes)
A three-time preseason All-ACC honoree, Rochard is coming off a 2021 season in which she was named a First-Team All-American by the NFCA, just the third All-American in program history and second first-team selection. She finished the season in the top three in all of NCAA Division I in strikeouts (348), shutouts (13), and wins (29) for the second straight season.
Along with All-American honors, Rochard was named the ACC Pitcher of the Year, the ACC Pitcher of the Week (three times), and the NFCA Division I Pitcher of the week (twice) during the season. She threw two no-hitters during the 2021 season, the sixth and seventh of her career.
Bennett is also a three-time member of the preseason All-ACC team and was a 2021 All-ACC second-team member. The junior started all 52 games a season ago with 26 at third base and 26 at shortstop. She led the NCAA Tournament with 12 hits through the NCAA Super Regionals round, including a standout performance in the game-one victory at the UCLA Super Regional. Bennett went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, including an RBI triple in the first inning.
At the Tempe Regional, the slugger went 9-for-11 with at least two hits in each game, including a career-high four hits and two home runs at No. 12/8 Arizona State. Along with her All-ACC honors, Bennett was named to the NFCA All-Mid-Atlantic Second Team and 2021 VaSID Second Team All-State. She ended the year leading the Hokies in home runs with 13 while also posting an impressive 1.028 OPS and .654 slugging percentage.
After going a perfect 31-for-31 in stolen bases in 2021, Brown was named to the NFCA All-Mid-Atlantic First Team as well as the All-ACC Second Team. The outfielder started 50 games for the Hokies and appeared in all 52. During the win over UCLA in game one of the Super Regionals, Brown went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored.
She ended the 2021 season with a .384 batting average and a .406 on-base percentage while also scoring 46 runs to lead the team. Recording 66 hits in 2021, she was second in the ACC with an average of 1.27 hits per game. She was also second in total stolen bases and third in runs scored.
Fagan made a splash as a freshman, earning NFCA First Team All-Mid-Atlantic honors, as well as being named to the Schutt/Sports NFCA Division I Freshman of the Year Top 30. During the 2021 season, she recorded a hit in 29 of 34 games, including 14 multi-hit games. Fagan was also another Hokie player who had a standout game in the win over UCLA, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored.
The infielder tied for the team lead with two home runs at the Tempe Regional while also batting .417 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Fagan led the team with a .409 batting average, ending the season with 22 RBIs and five home runs. She was named to the 2021 ACC All-Freshman Team and to the VaSID All-State First Team.