“It really sucks that this season has been…defined…by close losses.”
Those were the words of captain Tom Licitra to a huddled, disappointed Night Train squad that had just blown a late lead against Colorado Mamabird in the pre-quarters of the 2011 College Easterns. If you track Virginia’s results all the way back to the fall, there is a certain degree of truth in Licitra’s words. Yes, Virginia triumphed over Conference rival VT Burn at UOA ACC’s twice in October, but they went on to lose to Burn at UOA Nationals with an injury-plagued roster. Yes, Virginia beat regional foe UNCW in the semifinals of the Classic City Classic. But at that same tournament, they also sustained a double- game-point pool play loss and championship game defeat at the hands of former regional rival Florida.
In the spring season, the close losses Licitra was referring to began at Warm Up in early February. After a surging second half comeback, Virginia lost 12-11 to Wisconsin in a hard-capped game. After beating Harvard 13-2 on Saturday, Virginia left Tampa on a losing note with a 13-9 loss to Redline in a placement game.
At a little-known Round Robin tournament in Charlotte in late February, Virginia felt confident heading into a last-round game against UNCW, whom Train had beaten at Warm Up by a score of 13-9. Train’s defense helped it storm to a 9-8 lead after the Seamen took half 8-6, but again, Train’s offense faltered and UNCW prevailed by a score of 10-9.
At Easterns, Virginia found itself in a do or die situation in their Saturday afternoon pre-quarter match up against Colorado—a team that few expected to take third in its pool. Night Train was reeling from a sound defeat at CUT’s hands, and Mamabird was eager to avenge Virginia’s upset in Tampa. Virginia took half on Mamabird in an incredibly windy game, 8-7, but Colorado mounted a charge in the second half. Colorado junior handler Matt Zemel generated an incredible layout D on an isolated Neil Place in Colorado’s end zone—a D that sparked Mambird’s run through the rest of the game and ended up sending Virginia to the 9th place bracket.
These were the ups and downs of Virginia’s fall and spring seasons through Easterns. Though much of the team’s defensive corps remained in tact from the 2009-2010 season, the offense struggled to cement a new identity in the wake of Tyler Conger’s graduation. Graduate student Matthew King took on the added responsibility of driving the offense while turning to other team members to help run the defensive offense. Key cutters Alex Dagley, Brian Kiernan, Carter Fettig, and Alex Cohn struggled with various leg and upper body injuries that prevented them from contributing to the team at every tournament. Adam Pelleg did his best to answer the defensive void call by making remarkable improvements to his defense and handling.
“I promise you that when we come back here for Regionals in a month, we will be the best runners, throwers, and catchers in Wilmington—I guarantee it,” proclaimed captain Andrew Wilkes in Night Train’s last huddle at Easterns. Back at practice in Charlottesville, Night Train took to the field with renewed focus and intensity: drills were added, routines were changed, fundamentals were revisited, and players practiced with a sense of desperation as the series approached. At the Wahoo Challenge, Night Train’s home and last pre-Series tournament, Virginia rolled through its Conference and Regional competition, beating William & Mary, Virginia Tech (twice), and Georgetown soundly. Virginia captured the Conference title in Williamsburg two weeks later, with victories over W&M and VT along the way. The stiffer challenges in windy conditions presented by W&M and VT in Williamsburg, though, reminded Night Train’s leadership that there was still room for improvement in living up to Wilkes’ promise.
To put it simply, Night Train clicked on all cylinders in Wilmington. The team easily bested pool play opponents Towson and George Washington and even bagel’d W&M in the second half of their pool play game. Georgetown put up a strong second half against Train in quarterfinals, and Delaware put up a strong first half in the semifinals, but neither team was able to score more than nine points against Train.During the final Night Train capitalized on every UNCW turnover in the final on the way to its 15-7 victory and Boulder berth.
At this point, Train’s hope is that it hasn’t peaked too early, like it did before its only other Nationals appearance in Columbus in 2009. With individual workouts and two-a-days still to come in Train’s Boulder preparation, Virginia is doing all it can to put itself in position to chalk up some more green on Score Reporter.
Thanks to John Legend for the writeup