Soccer not the only thing that bonds this Tech team

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech men’s soccer team has enjoyed its finest season in nearly a decade, and while the Hokies feature some quality players, their roster tends to be one more flush with work ethic and chemistry than overall superior talent.

That togetherness was on full display for much of the regular season, as the Hokies won 10 games for the first time since the program’s College Cup appearance in 2007. They also won three ACC games, tying for the program’s most conference victories since the school joined the league for the 2004-05 academic year. Now, after a wrenching loss to Boston College in the first round of the ACC Championship, they await word on a possible NCAA Championships berth. The NCAA announces the field during a selection show Monday afternoon.

If they receive a bid, the Hokies will certainly play with the chemistry that they’ve displayed all season, but they also carry that same camaraderie off the pitch. That was no more evident during the regular season than when they decided a midseason change in hairstyle was in order.

In early October, the players gathered at the house of Gino Rossi and a few of his teammates and shaved their heads in honor of 14-year-old Davia Rossi, the younger sister of Gino. Doctors diagnosed Davia with cancer in mid-August.

“All the boys decided to shave their heads – for my sister and for me,” Rossi said. “Who actually in their right mind would do that for someone? We had guys on the team with some serious flow – a couple ‘man-buns’ even. And without even second-guessing, they shaved it all off.

“They might not love how they look, but I will tell you that each and every one of these guys knows that they did what they did for something so much bigger than appearances. They brought the biggest smile to a little girl’s face, and for that, I will be forever grateful for these guys. They are my family.”

Davia’s diagnosis came about because of back pain that started last May and gradually got worse. She played soccer on the high school team and on her club team, and both doctors and the family felt she simply needed to take a break from the sport. But the pain persisted, and a trip to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of mild scoliosis – the curvature of the spine.

Yet the pain worsened, and that led to a visit to a specialist. He ran several tests on Davia before deciding to order a biopsy on Aug. 16. He told the family that she had anaplastic large cell lymphoma – a rare blood cancer. This cancer occurs when cells of the immune system grow uncontrollably, travel to many parts of the body and ultimately form a tumor.

At that time, Gino – a redshirt sophomore – was in the middle of preseason workouts, preparing for the Hokies’ season opener against Ohio State on Aug. 26. He flew home in Rotterdam, New York, near the state capital of Albany, the next day.

“I was beyond speechless, but at the same time, I was shaking and couldn't wrap my head around it,” he said. “It was one of those things that doesn't hit you as soon as it happens, but simultaneously, my stomach dropped and my heart sank. I caught the first flight home the next morning.”

Fortunately, the doctors caught the cancer early and remain optimistic about her chances for a full recovery. But the road has not – and will not – be easy.

She doesn’t have to undergo radiation treatments, but she does undergo chemotherapy treatments at Albany Medical Center and spends 5-7 days in the hospital each time she gets a treatment. Then she returns home to rest for a couple of weeks before starting the process again. The treatment period is expected to run through mid-February of next year.

“There will be days when she goes in for the treatment, and she feels fine,” Rossi said. “She’ll feel a little tired, but she’ll feel fine. But there was a day this last week when she really didn’t want to talk to anyone. There is a new app out called ‘House Party,’ so you can get five or six people in a video chat, and we were all on that. She didn’t want to talk to anyone and kept hanging up the phone. You can definitely see the ups and downs, but she’s been able to limited the downs for the most part.”

In between and during treatments, she tries to stay on top of her schoolwork. Teachers and tutors visit her at both the hospital and at the Rossi family home. But keeping up remains a struggle.

The situation hasn’t been easy for Rossi either, as he balances the classwork of two majors (finance and real estate), soccer and concern for his sister’s well being. He played in 12 games during the regular season and also played in the BC game, starting eight times overall. He scored the game-winning goal on Senior Day. He, like many others, accepted his role and thus played an integral part of Tech’s success.

“It’s been tough at times,” Rossi admitted of the situation. “When I first got back, it was very rough. If I didn’t have the team and the coaches, it’d be a lot more difficult for sure. There are times when I really want to go home and see here. I got to go home and see her when we went to Syracuse, so that was a relief for me.

“But I think the one thing that gets me through is … my family is really big. I’ve got a lot of cousins, a lot of aunts and uncles, and they’re always with her. I’m missed, but I know she is taken care of, so that’s a relief to me.”

His sister’s illness has robbed him of some of the joy of the Hokies’ season, but his teammates keep him upbeat. The opportunity to play with them in an NCAA game would certainly put a smile on his face and be a nice conclusion to a bittersweet fall.

“With everything we’ve gone through, it [an NCAA bid] just seems like it would be right,” Rossi said. “With the way that we’ve worked all year and through all the ups and downs that we’ve gone through … it just seems like it would be right.”

The NCAA announces the Division I field at 1 p.m. on Monday and can be watched on

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