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‘This was not for her political views’: Former Hokies player defends coach over handling of teammate who declined to kneel before games
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‘This was not for her political views’: Former Hokies player defends coach over handling of teammate who declined to kneel before games

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During her four seasons as a reserve goalie on the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team, Alice Hamel came to understand that coach Chugger Adair didn’t care much for teammates sniping at each other during matches or practices.

“I definitely got my words handed to me a couple of times,” said Hamel. “He appreciates the passion, but if it’s unproductive, and he sees it as such, he’s going to let you know.”

Hamel said that’s exactly what Adair was doing at halftime of the Hokies’ season-opening game at rival Virginia on Sept. 12, when he chided junior defensive back Kiersten Hening — blasting the Midlothian native for her on-field demeanor and performance, not attacking her for her political views, as Hening alleges in a federal lawsuit she filed against the coach last month.

In fact, Hamel said she never heard Adair reference Hening’s political views at any point during the fall season.

“That’s a display of passion coming through and you want to try to let it slide, but there’s only so much before it’s not helpful anymore,” said Hamel. “You’re chirping just to chirp. I can tell you Chugger does not take kindly to that at all, ever.”

In a federal suit filed on March 3, Hening, a 21-year-old Midlothian native and former star player at James River, alleges that, after Hening refused to join her teammates in kneeling during the ACC’s pre-game unity statement, Adair engaged in a “campaign of abuse and retaliation” that led her to leave the program in September, 2020, just three matches into the season.

Hening’s attorneys have not responded to multiple requests for interviews. Virginia Tech, whose lawyers are representing Adair, declined to comment, as did Adair.

Hamel spent three-and-a-half years at Virginia Tech, graduating after the fall semester in 2020 and moving on. And while she described Adair as demanding and intense, she strongly refuted claims made by Hening in her lawsuit that he played politics with his lineup decisions and treatment of Hening.

During a nearly one-hour interview last week, Hamel confirmed many of the specific details found in Hening’s lawsuit, with one major difference. Hamel said none of Adair‘s comments to or treatment of Hening was politically motivated. They all centered around her play on the field, Hamel said.

“Chugger has a way of definitely getting to you,” said Hamel. “I think, with any Division I coach, sometimes it feels like you’re trying your best and he’s just not seeing what you’re seeing. I think it was common for people to feel like they were being singled out and it’s hard not to. You’re trying your best and he’s seeing something different. It got to me more than one time. So I definitely understand where she’s coming from. But I can tell you with very little doubt that this was not for her political views.”

Hening, a two-year starter after walking on a Tech, was benched after the UVA game. That decision, Hamel said, had everything to do with Hening’s struggles as a player, not her refusal to join her teammates kneeling during the unity pledge to show support for social justice.

While the entire team stood for the national anthem during matches this past season, all but two of the Hokies knelt during the reading of the ACC’s unity pledge.

Hamel said in Hening’s first two seasons she benefited from being surrounded by veteran and talented backline players who could cover up for breakdowns. This past season, Hening played with less experienced teammates and her errors were more glaring.

Hamel confirmed Adair accused Hening of “bitching and moaning” at halftime of the Virginia game, as the lawsuit alleges, but said that was in reference to Hening’s sniping at teammates over missed assignments and defensive breakdowns. His comment that she was “doing her own thing,” according to the lawsuit, Hamel said also referred to her playing outside of the scheme in that match.

Hamel said she never heard Adair mention or reference anything about Hening’s political views during either incident, or at any other game, practice or meeting.

In fact, Hamel said Adair went out of his way to make sure any such personal differences didn’t affect the team on the field. When the team held their meeting about how to appropriately recognize the social justice movement in the country in a way that all the players would be comfortable with, he instructed them to talk amongst themselves and come to a decision on what they wanted to do. He offered examples of what other programs were planning to do, and then he left them.

“Kiersten at all times was never very outspoken when it came to a meeting setting,” said Hamel. “I was never aware that she dissented, as they put it, until later.”

Hamel said she was surprised to learn Hening had quit the team three matches into the 2020 season.

“At the time, I was definitely shocked. I honestly didn’t see it coming,” said Hamel. “My initial reaction was, this girl doesn’t start for two games and she’s walking off the team? I haven’t started in three years, girl.”

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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