For the past four years the Capital One Cup has rewarded the best Division I programs for their cumulative athletic performances across 39 men's and women's sports. At the end of the spring season, the winning men's and women's programs receive a trophy and $400,000 in scholarships for student-athletes. Every sport counts toward the Capital One Cup, and this year Virginia Tech's women's soccer team is in a position to get Virginia Tech some major points. Capital One has given me the great pleasure of talking to Brandi Chastain, who was a member of the United States women's soccer team. While with the team, Chastain won Olympic gold medals and multiple World Cups.
Q: There are eight ACC teams in the field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament, including all four number-one seeds. Could this be one of the strongest conference showings top-to-bottom of all time?
A: There's no doubt. I think the ACC has always shown it's strength. North Carolina has won more championships than anyone combined. So I think that right there shows how strong a conference it is. And there's been more winners of the ACC Tournament than before, so that also speaks to your point. As for the four number-one seeds - it's very unusual, but deserved. I know firsthand how good Virginia is, so Virginia Tech must have come out - I didn't get to see the semi-final game - but they must have come out on fire, because I know how good that UVA team is. So for them to get that victory was pretty amazing.
Q: In that same vein, given how strong the ACC has proven to be this year, have we kind of already seen a preview of the national Final Four with the ACC Tournament semi-finals?
A: It's possible, of course. I have to divulge that my husband coaches at Santa Clara University and I'm an assistant coach there. And we are in Virginia Tech's bracket. So if we both win, we might get together on the weekend.
Q: Virginia was undefeated in the regular season, but was finally cracked by Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament. How big of a statement win was that for Virginia Tech?
A: That's a program-changing game. It's also for UVA one of those situations where you may have lit a fire under someone you didn't want to stoke. It can be a blessing in disguise for them, but scary for everybody else. For Virginia Tech, when you win a game like that you remind yourself that no matter what anybody's record is - and this goes for everybody in the tournament - this is a one-and-done season. Everybody is playing for their lives, so to speak. Things change in soccer. The refs are a factor, the weather is a factor, the field is a factor. So many variables that over a season you can kind of overcome, but in one game can be a major impact. That's why I love this time of year so much.
Q: Sticking with Virginia Tech, senior forward Jazmine Reeves has become the center of Virginia Tech's attack. What makes her so effective on the field?
A: Number one that stands out is athleticism and strength. To be a forward and a goal-scorer you have to pound it out sometimes. You have to put your body in some really precarious situations. You have to have a willingness to be assertive and aggressive when other players won't. I think likewise, you have to have good touch and footwork. And I think she has all of those things. You have to be two-footed; you can't just be good on one side of the ball. I think what makes her so dangerous is that she's got a lot of qualities, and it's easy to maybe focus on one or two. But when a player is multi-dimensional it makes it difficult.
Q: Virginia Tech's athletic programs have a fair share of individual national champions, but a team national championship still eludes the school. How optimistic should Virginia Tech fans be about finally capturing a national title?
A: The great thing about the Capital One Cup is that it gives women's soccer a chance to earn a lot of points. North Carolina won the Capital One Cup last year because women's soccer and lacrosse won a national championship. So every little point matters. So I think Virginia Tech, like all the other 64 teams in the bracket, have a really incredible chance to make a dent in their university winning the Capital One Cup this year. It's realistic and I love it because it allows the non-highlight reel sports to make a huge difference. The cross countries, and the water polos, and the soccers and lacrosses to make a dent in winning a championship.
Q: I'm going to ask you to play Bracketologist for me - who does Brandi Chastain think will win the NCAA Tournament?
A: This is really hard for me. I will divulge I'm really terrible at predictions. In saying that, I would not look past UCLA or Florida State. Those two teams could meet in the national championship. Virginia Tech, Santa Clara, Portland, UVA - these are teams that have good chances to reach championship weekend. I don't think you can turn a blind eye to them. These are teams that could do damage if you don't take them seriously.
Q: What needs to happen for soccer to really peak in popularity in the United States? What would be the catalyst for a major soccer revolution in America?
A: Revolution is a strong word. I think when people think revolution it goes from zero to 100. Soccer has been steadily growing over the past 20 years and I think for those of us in soccer we want immediate change, but change is occurring every day. The amount of kids that play soccer in this country is heads and shoulders above every other sport. The numbers don't lie. I think there is a revolution going on, but it's a progressive one that's happening over time. And I think with what's happening in sports - the discussions about concussions and how professional leagues are handling that - I feel terrible for those players that are having to deal with this, but it could benefit soccer in the long run. That's unfortunate to say, but I think that could be part of our reality.
Q: Which meant more to you during your playing career - the World Cup wins of the Olympic gold medals?
A: I've been asked this question before and as a sports person the Olympics are the ultimate. Every sport, every country goes back hundreds of years. That right there is - of course you want to win an Olympic gold medal. For soccer, women's soccer specifically because it's relatively new, I was a part of the first Olympic gold medal team in 1996. Being the first is very special. If you're a soccer person, winning the World Cup is soccer. That's what you want to achieve, you want to win a World Cup. They both have a very special place in my heart, but for different reasons.
Q: What is your opinion on the upcoming World Cup in Rio with all the political talk down there, the protests and whatnot? What is your opinion of the situation?
A: Politics exist everywhere in every facet of life, so I don't think sports is unique to this. But because the World Cup is such a monstrosity of an event - a billion people watch the World Cup - eyes are now there. There's always going to be a message that someone wants to put out. Having just been in Brazil not too long ago on an envoy with Julie Foudy for the State Department trying to encourage local governments to encourage young girls to participate in soccer and the benefits of girls playing soccer, I saw first hand the passion that exists there. I also saw the need for government assistance for the everyday person. The traffic, the poverty, the education - things that really need serious consideration. What I hope is that an event like the World Cup can provide growth and positive outcomes in the future. I think the tournament will go on and I hope because the tournament goes on, people will have positive results and the communities will benefit from its presence at the time and in years later.
Q: Which would you rather fight - one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?
A: I would have to say I would rather fight (long laughter) one horse-sized duck. I can keep one in front of me. One hundred isn't so easy.