Destination Blacksburg

Photo by The Players' Tribune, edits by The Stride Report

Virginia Tech has become a powerhouse program.

Unless you're an ACC rival, most of you are probably in agreement with that statement, although I recognize my own bias (since that's where I attend school). Regardless of your personal feelings, it's hard to dismiss a team that has won the national title in the DMR and had three All-American milers with PR's under 1:48 and 3:58 (after conversions). Even in the most elite programs, success like that is hard to come by.

Neil Gourley and Patrick Joseph have now finished their eligibility while Vincent Ciattei is set to graduate this spring. With all three out of the door, Virginia Tech will be challenged with the task of finding new top-tier talent to enhance their roster. That reloading stage, however, is already a work in progress.

On March 26th, Matthew Harding announced via Instagram that he would be leaving UNC-Asheville and joining the Virginia Tech Hokies. For those unfamiliar with Harding, the UNCA half-miler ran 1:47.92 as a freshman and qualified for the Outdoor National Championships in the same season. As a current sophomore, Harding ran 1:49.68 this past winter. He has yet to perform so far this season.

Despite the huge addition, it appears that Harding won't be competing until next year as neither team has him listed on their roster for the 2018 spring track season. Then again, it may be a very simple case of Virginia Tech not updating their roster.

For some, this may seem like just another notable transfer. For me, I couldn't help but make comparisons to the 2016 Drew Piazza transfer when he left New Hampshire. When you begin to review their resumes and performance, the similarities are actually pretty interesting. Prior to their VT transfer, both Harding and Piazza ran 49-mid, both ran 1:47, and both qualified for Nationals (although, both failed to become All-Americans). Even the schools they were transferring from were relatively similar. Both New Hampshire and UNC-Asheville are smaller D1 programs outside of the power five.

In the one year/two seasons that Piazza was with Virginia Tech, he went on to become one of the best in the nation with monster personal bests of 1:45.69 (USA Outdoor Championships) and 3:43. He would finish his collegiate career as a two-time All-American, school record holder, ACC champion, and Penn Relays champion. Within a year, Piazza had elevated in his fitness to an entirely new level.

Piazza's transfer made Virginia Tech a force to be reckoned with, especially in the 800. With Piazza and Joseph leading the way, the Hokies had five men under 1:50. They dominated the ACC mid-distance events and began attracting some of the top talent in the nation. They even hosted the highly-sought after Hoey brothers on an official visit when they were making their college decision (although they ultimately ended up choosing Oregon).

Now, Matt Harding has opted to train with some of the best mid-distance runners in the nation and it's hard to blame him. His move to Blacksburg could further solidify the idea that the university of maroon and orange is becoming the next dream destination for many top-tier athletes, specifically in the mid-distances. We saw Ole Miss go through a similar period of recognition in 2015 when they added five different transfers in roughly two years. Could the Hokies follow suit in the near future?

What's even crazier about this whole reloading process is the Hokies might just be getting started. Keep in mind that at the end of this season, Jaskowak, Piazza, Ciattei, Joseph, and Gourley will have all left the program. That's five free roster spots and even a few scholarships that could go to other prospective transfers looking for a new home. With an entire summer of off-season planning to do, don't be surprised if the Hokies are able to recruit another big-time talent to their program.

Don't think I'm being realistic? Look at what happened with Alabama after Robbie Farnham-Rose and Antibahs Kosgei graduated. The Crimson Tide had enough money and roster spots to add three of the best transfers in the country to their roster within a year. Syracuse is another good example. They lost Martin Hehir to graduation and MJ Erb to a transfer, but found a replacement in Iliass Aouani, a stud distance runner from Lamar. Maybe the most obvious example of freed cap space was the departure of Edward Cheserek from Oregon which gave the Ducks an opportunity to bring in James West from England. All of those transfers have greatly helped their respective programs.

In fact, the time at which Thomas Curtin graduated from VT corresponds to the same time that Drew Piazza entered the program. Maybe it's a coincidence, but I feel like you would be lying if you said you didn't notice a pattern.

The monumental success of developing Virginia Tech recruits combined with the recent intake of new talent has VT distance coach Ben Thomas in high-demand. Based on the race results from the past few years, it's easy to see why.