With contributions by Claire Chastain.
A noticeable favorite to win the AC region this year is UVA Hydra. Hydra has been an up and coming team for the past few years, with their first appearance at College Nationals coming in 2011. They are not only hungry to go back, but are also ready to break into quarters this year and have experienced less roster turnover than UNCW and UNC. Hyrda is led by Devon Erickson, Shannon McVey and Gena Kohler, and coached by David Allison and Manu Argilli (Fury). They have a solid line up of fourth and third year players and added a couple of rookies with high school experience. Coming out strong in this fall by winning Wolfpack (13-2 over UNCW) and finishing 5th at CCC, this team knows how to get fired up and uses their energy and sideline to control the tempo of games. They are one of the fastest teams we (UNCW) faced this Fall and are relentless when it comes to finishing games until they’re over, never letting up no matter the score. With McVey returning in the Spring (leg injury in May), Virginia will be a formidable opponent at big tournaments like QCTU and Centex. When the series rolls around, the AC Region will be one of the most unpredictable if the teams start peaking at the right time.
As a perennial contender for the AC Region title, this year UNC returns a bevy of athletes with big game experience including Shellie Cohen, Lindsay Lang and Lisa Couper. These girls were key in the Pleiades run at College Nationals last year, ending in the quarterfinals by eventual National Champions Santa Barbara. Consistent with their previous falls, they used their field time the past few months to get younger players up to speed and develop chemistry with the veterans. They have a dangerous deep game, certainly taking advantage of their height while cutting down field. Shellie Cohen is coming off her first club season, playing for Club Semifinalist Phoenix. Though she was the youngest player on Phoenix, she was instrumental in their success with her deep hucks and defensive blocks. They have a strong offense with precision throwers and are known to have various defensive sets ready to expose teams’ offensive weaknesses. UNC returns coach Lindsey Hack and Raju Prasad who, with their respective Club experience (Phoenix, Cash Crop, Ring of Fire) brought versatility to the team and will only continue to evolve their strategy. The Pleiades are among the top contenders for the region title with UVA and UNCW.
UNCW Seaweed has won the Atlantic Coast three years in a row, with the last two seasons ending in quarterfinals appearances at College Nationals. In 2012, they will return a younger squad after graduating first team all region players Sara Casey and Kelly Tidwell. Typically, they only run about 10-12 deep at most with Casey, Tidwell, and Claire Chastain never leaving the field. A couple of other players that also received a lot of playing time have now graduated. They have lost multiple other players with extensive experience; Logan Shapiro, Mikayla Chiarello, and Jessica Patrick are rumored to be done, with Shapiro now in Boston and Chiarello and Patrick receiving their degrees. Patrick would have been all-region if her hamstring would have let her consistently play in 2011. Despite graduating most of their core, players like Claire Chastain (#7), having spent her summer gaining valuable experience on a semi-finals O line at the Club Championships in Florida (Phoenix), are ready to fill in the holes. UNCW will be young, but they will be scrappy, will know how to play man D, and with someone like Claire leading the offense and getting ridiculous Ds (she did get the most Ds in Boulder last year), Wilimington should not be counted out for a second. Anne Marie Wilson (#47) and Michelle Guadagno (#1) will be assisting the team in whatever way they can with throws, big plays, and experience. Seaweed also returns Danny Wren and Nicki Zeldin for another year of superb coaching.
It is difficult to talk about the past and compare it to the present when the regions have changed. In the last three years, UNCW, UNC, and UVA have ruled the AC region and Maryland has been a top team in the Metro East. Maryland saw a significant amount of turnover last year and it will be interesting to see how they respond this year. During the fall, they beat and lost to UPenn’s and Pittsburgh’s split squads, and lost to their full squads, making the spring that much more interesting. The next group of teams will probably be North Carolina State, led by Phoenix players Jessi Jones (#5), Melissa Gannon(#74), and Ember’s Jordan Schultz (#3), James Madison, led by Hannah Elledge, and College of Charleston. NCSU appears to be the front runner of this group as it seems they have had less turnover than UNCW, UNC, and UVA. They have added the coaching talents of Cate Foster in addition to retaining Sasha Resnick (both of Phoenix), and many of their players were able to play competitive women’s club ultimate on Ember. Despite all of these positives, NCSU appears to struggle with creating depth on their team despite the success the program had during their 2004 and 2005 (where they were Nationals Quarterfinalists) seasons.
In recent years, there appeared to be a considerable gap between the top three and the rest of the pack (UVA beat an exhausted NCSU in the game to go last year 15-3). This year it’s not so crazy to think this gap could shrink considerably, making it very difficult for the notoriously top three teams to finish similarly in 2012.
Feature photo of UNC’s Shellie Cohen with the layout grab by Kevin Leclaire (UltiPhotos.com).