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  • Writer's pictureDavid Cunningham

Despite Losing a NWSL Draft Pick, Hokies & Skinner Haven't Missed a Beat

BLACKSBURG - As the final whistle sounded to end Virginia Tech’s 2019 season on November 15 against Xavier, seven Hokies walked off the field for the last time. 

While the seven seniors all contributed throughout their time in Blacksburg, no one had more of an impact on the program than Mandy McGlynn. The goalkeeper from Jacksonville, Florida was named a Second Team All-American in 2019 and was selected by Sky Blue FC with the 20th pick in the NWSL Draft in January.

The four-year starter left Blacksburg as the record holder for career shutouts at Virginia Tech (32), along with being second in save percentage (.794) and wins (41), and third in saves (297).

Naturally, one of the main questions entering the shortened 2020 season was how the Hokies would replace McGlynn’s production in goal.

Enter Alia Skinner.

A Florida native herself, the Fleming Island product jumped right into the Hokies’ system and has yet to miss a beat. Head coach Chugger Adair started her in goal against No. 11 Virginia in Tech’s season opener on Sept. 12 and she collected six saves.

“That moment [first collegiate start] was overall excitement,” Skinner said. “The moment we got on the bus, on campus, the moment we had to drive there, I was just overjoyed. There were a few nerves, but it was mostly excitement.”

Though the Hokies surrendered three goals, Skinner played well, saving six shots. She’s started the three games since then – at No. 3 Clemson, at No. 1 North Carolina and Tech’s second matchup against the Cavaliers on Friday, Sept. 25.

Skinner has saved 31 shots through the four games, including 22 through the first three – a number that ties her with Katie Hancock for the most saves by a freshman goalkeeper through three games in Tech history.

“Alia stepped right into her own shoes,” Virginia Tech junior midfielder Emily Gray said. “She's not necessarily replacing Mandy - she's becoming her own self, and I think that she's done a great job so far.”

She’s been busy so far this season, as has Tech’s defense. The Hokies started four new faces on the backline against UVa at Thompson Field – Makenzie Graham, Victoria Haugen, Averi Visage and Emma Steigerwald. The chemistry among the back four is still growing, but it helps to have a safety net like Skinner in goal.

“She’s getting more confident in the back,” Adair said after Tech’s loss to Virginia on Friday. “She's definitely gaining confidence and getting experience. She was busy tonight and did her job and made a lot of really good saves. We're trying to just continue to grow her and grow the continuity of the backline.”

Adair and his staff went back to some of the same Florida connections they used to recruit McGlynn to target Skinner. The two played for the same club at one point, which is one of the ways Adair and his staff initially connected with Skinner, and they made sure to keep in touch throughout her recruitment process.

As for Skinner, she wanted to play at the highest level. Virginia Tech fit that bill.

“I just wanted to compete in the ACC at that level,” Skinner said. “I think Virginia Tech really stood out because of the atmosphere. The camp, everything about it overall, just stood out to me and I just wanted to play soccer here.”

Though a freshman, Skinner has vast experience on different levels, including with the United States National Team. She’s seen time with the U-14, U-16 and U-18 national teams and was on the U-16 squad that brought home the Torneo Delle Nazioni championship, a tournament between 28 youth national teams across the globe, in April of 2018.

For now, she’s focusing on anchoring a young back line in Blacksburg in the middle of a global pandemic. It isn’t the most conventional way to start her college career, but Skinner is just glad to have the chance to compete on the pitch with her teammates.

"I think we're all very grateful to be able to still play our sport and do what we love,” Skinner said. “A lot of people aren't allowed to play their sports or do their job, or a lot of people aren't able to do the things that they want to do right now. So, I think everybody's very grateful to be able to play, especially at this level.”

Four games into their shortened twelve-game schedule, the Hokies are young, yet improving with each game. With a shortened but tough slate of games ahead, Tech and Skinner are only going to gain more experience. And just like McGlynn when she got her first start in a Hokie uniform, Skinner has four years to make her mark. 

“As the games have gone on, she [Skinner] has been more vocal,” Gray said. “Her being vocal is making us more confident in defending as a group. … I'm really proud of her because I think it's a tough thing to replace a goalkeeper like Mandy [McGlynn]. She was a draft pick. But I think Alia could do the same if she stays on this path.”

Photo Credit: Virginia Tech athletics

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