I went down to Atlantic Coast Regionals to watch Virginia Night Train and Hydra, both teams packed with fourth year players that were first years during my final college season. It really hit me last week that this tournament would be those guys’ last or second-to-last with Virginia, a milestone that I feel marks the end of a part of my Night Train career that has continued since I graduated.
Night Train brought more focus than they had all year, and it led to a pool play win and a spot in quarterfinals against North Carolina State. State went up a couple breaks and I believe at one point led 12-9. Train got it to 14-13 moments before the hard cap went on, but in the end couldn’t pull it out and lost 15-13. It was good to see them go down fighting. Hydra continued this 2012’s exciting campaign, cruising through Saturday and taking down traditional powers UNC-Wilmington and North Carolina en route to the regional title. Watching members of both teams celebrate the reward that came from pouring themselves into the weekend provided the ever-welcome reminder that in this game, the effort that you exert with your teammates and the things you learn about yourself as an individual are incredibly special.
To start, check out North Carolina Pleiades’ Twitter account of the final. It’s got a nice score-by-score progression of the game. UNC broke twice to start the game and went on to take half 8-6 on the strength of Lindsay Lang’s flick and backhand hucks, Shelly Cohen’s steady handling and tight defense, strong dump defense that worked well with an active mark, and a slew of tall, lanky downfield athletes. Pleiades held out of half to make it 9-6, but from there Hydra started chipping away, breaking to 9-8, 10-9, 10-10, and rattling off three in row to go up 12-10. A UNC timeout somewhere in there failed to stop the bleeding and the game finished 15-11, Hydra.
Hydra’s handlers moves the disc well, their cutters space the field, and they’ve got a couple of strong defensive looks. Kaley Bender, a cutter that recently returned from injury, stood out yesterday by catching a bunch of goals and racking up a number of Ds, but really, the team was strong across the board and didn’t depend on any individuals. I’m really impressed by their first years: Alika Johnston, a Junior Worlds alternate, consistently got open as the dump, hit difficult break looks, and played tight defense while Nada Tramonte and Sarah Hansen also logged big minutes in the final. Given how big a role she played on the region’s dominant team, I don’t see how Alika isn’t the Freshman of the Year.
Good coaching has helped this team a lot. James Burke and Dave Allison did a great job of bringing the team’s talent together to make Nationals last year, and this year’s addition of Manu Argilli, a top player in the Women’s club game, has clearly ushered in the next step.
Needless to say, I’m very excited for my friends on Hydra. I’m hoping to get a podcast interview done with captains Shannon McVey and Devon Ericksen as part of Skyd’s 20 Days of Nationals.
As for the rest of the Women’s bracket, I had half an eye on the second half of each of the back door semifinals, which were UNC-Wilmington v. James Madison and Delaware v. Maryland. You can’t watch UNC-Wilmington without noticing how dominant Claire Chastain is. From my perspective, she had the support of 3-4 others, but beyond that Seaweed didn’t look as deep as in years past. I honestly don’t have a good feel for James Madison, but getting as far as they did is a step for their team. I did notice that they had freshman Claudia Dimick, a member of last year’s Virginia All-State Team, guarding Chastain. In the Delaware-Maryland game, I noticed that Delaware had great pulls, a junk defense that looked like it focused on switching to guard moving handlers, and a team that generally looked like veterans. One of Maryland’s captains told me that the other one was out for Sunday after re-injuring a sprained knee, which hurt Helpful Corn since they don’t have a big roster to start with. Delaware played Wilmington in the game-to-go, and since I didn’t see a single point I can only speculate that Delaware had more depth and legs. It was pretty hot all day yesterday.
I truly felt that this was anybody’s tournament when I woke up yesterday. While South Carolina came in as the one seed, they were unproven and word had it that their Carolina Conference win over North Carolina was one of those games where they played uncharacteristically well. North Carolina was the true frontrunner, but they were without cornerstone Thomas Sayre-McCord, who was in tennis shoes and had his knee wrapped up all weekend. And UNC-Wilmington, the last of the teams that people talked about as having a realistic chance to make Nationals, looked sort of like they were just going through the motions.
While the smart money on North Carolina turned out to be the right choice, their road to the win was wacky. After Darkside, the semifinal teams were Georgetown, the nine seed who went 1-2 in pool play, NC State, the ten seed who went 1-2 in pool play, and Maryland, the eleven seed overall who went, you guessed it, 1-2 in pool play. North Carolina is a good team. Thomas can dominate both behind the disc and downfield, and when Christian Johnson has time to get a good read on the disc, he brings down just about everything that is thrown to him. Beyond those two, they are extremely veteran-heavy (I believe they brought back 23 guys from last year) and have handlers that, when they don’t clog each other’s cuts, are good with the disc. But it definitely didn’t hurt that they went virtually unchallenged in beating Georgetown 15-4 (they took half 8-0) and that they played NC State, a team that they knew well and had already beaten on Saturday, in the final.
On Saturday, I stopped by to watch some of Virginia Tech v. NC State, but when I asked the score it was 8-6, Virginia Tech. I watched a couple of points until the score was something like 11-7 and then left to watch another game. I later heard that NC State won 14-13. I really don’t know what fueled the Wolfpack comeback, but this was something of a habit for them this year. At Fall Easterns, I watched them come back from down four or five late to Penn State, and in yesterday’s semifinal Maryland led 13-9 before NC State came back to win 15-14. Also of note on Saturday was Towson’s 14-13 win over James Madison. When I got there it was 13-12, Towson, and the sidelines were packed with fans from both teams. JMU struggled to gain yards against Towson’s zone, drifting back to the brick mark before finally breaking through the cup and zipping the disc up the field and into the endzone. On the next point, Towson worked it down the flick side and won it on a cross-field backhand that the result of either a bad mark or a changed force (I heard both from frustrated JMU players).
I’ll end by commenting on Open All-Region. My loose definition of an All-Region player is someone who serves as the key playmaker on a top team or someone with so much talent that even if they’re on a mediocre team, it’d be a joke to omit them (in the Atlantic Coast’s case, think Alan Kolick in 2009). With the caveat that I didn’t watch Georgetown or UNC-Wilmington at all and only saw Towson play two points, and didn’t see any of the bottom four except for Charleston, I would vote for the following guys for All-Region:
- Thomas Sayre-McCord, North Carolina: He didn’t play at Regionals, but he was the best player in the region all year long. He sets UNC’s pace. He’s usually the first cutter and he hurts teams with long, accurate throws, but if you force him out he’s a hell of a receiver.
- Christian Johnson, North Carolina: UNC’s second heavy hitter that catches just about everything thrown deep to him. I didn’t see anyone guard him all that well this year.
- Brandon Jones, North Carolina State: Only a handler, but his quick first step for the throw and go, dump cutting ability, and break throws killed teams. One of those guys that has the college game completely figured out. He shouldered NC State’s run to finals.
- Aaron Mullins, Virginia: Aaron cuts, cuts again, and then cuts some more. And he does it with some serious speed. He got open underneath and for scores all weekend, and was making plays in the air late into the quarters game against NC State. He also stepped up big on defense throughout the weekend.
- Kyle Fredericks, James Madison: An All-Region guy last year, Kyle’s field sense and timing are on another level. Kyle was JMU’s playmaker all season.
- Freddy Tsai, Maryland: Maryland has a couple of individuals that stand out, but none more than Freddy. He’s really quick, has a tough mark that lives up to its reputation of getting lots of footblocks, and he goes out and takes the disc away with layouts.
That does it. I love the Atlantic Coast. Good luck to Virginia, North Carolina, and Delaware in Boulder!