This preview and the 2012 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate
“Getting over the quarters hump is the $1 million question in ultimate,” said North Carolina Pleiades coach Raj Prasad. I was curious what, given Pleiades’ impressive regular season record and a few years of being integral to the rebuilding of the North Carolina women’s club scene, his team was doing to up its performance at Nationals.
“Now more than ever, it comes down to match ups. There are some teams that we play really well and succeed against, and there are others that we struggle against. The crazy thing is that it really is not seed dependent at all. Any team next weekend has an opportunity for an upset.”*
Pleiades 2012 travelled far and wide to seek out those match ups, amassing a 39-6 record that includes tournament wins at the Queen City Tune-Up, the QCTU Qualifier, and Conferences, finals appearances at Easterns and Regionals, and a semis birth at Stanford Invite. They have wins over top-seeded Oregon, four seed Cal, and a 2-2 record with five seed Virginia. “We are familiar with almost every team at the Championships this year,” Raj said.
He also noted that in-region rivals Virginia and UNC-Wilmington have served as a nice measuring stick for his team’s progress. “Playing 4 games a piece against UVA and UNC-W helped us identify our weaknesses as a team and coaching staff [in a way] that we would otherwise not have gotten. For example, we have been type-casted as a hucking team, so at practices the last few weeks, we have done drills/scimmages to reinforce underneath, grinding offense to be a more complete team.”
Here’s some more quick info on Pleiades:
- In 2011, Pleiades was 36-8 going into Nationals. In 2010, they were 30-10.
- Pleiades has qualified for the Nationals every year since 2008, a five-year streak matched only by Oregon, Washington, and Michigan. Before that, their 2002 appearance was the program’s only one since the Women’s Division was created in 1987.
- Pleiades finished tied for 13th in 2008 (then a 16-team tournament), tied for 11th in 2009 (the first year that it was 20 teams), tied for 13th in 2010, and tied for 5th in 2011. “UNC has undergone a progression from peaking for Regionals to qualify for Nationals to peaking for a national championship,” said Raj.
- This year’s squad returned only 10 of last year’s 21 roster members. Along with Callahan winner Leila Tunnell, the graduating class featured All-Region Second Teamers Janna Coulter, Kaitlin Baden, and Britta Jones. Raj noted “in replacement of these seniors, we now have some pure/raw athletes and have changed our strategy a bit to fit the change in roster: more fast breaks, more vertical stack sets to gain yardage in greater chunks, more tight man defense, and more.”
- Coach Lindsay Hack said the following about the team’s link to Phoenix, North Carolina’s top women’s team and a quarterfinalist at Club Nationals in 2011 and 2010: “The state came together by building a bridge between the Triangle and the Coast. NC State, Duke, and UNC had always had healthy, competitive relationships. But, the relationship between UNC-W and UNC was always a bit more rigid. Through the efforts of amazing leaders such as Brian Dobyns, Danny Wrenn, Leila Tunnell, Sara Casey, Kelly Tidwell, Janna Coulter, and Claire Chastain, a state became united. We all realized that the better our opponents down the road were, the better we were. In the end, deep down, we knew we were all on the same team, and that became reflected in Phoenix.**
*Interestingly, if Raj is right about it coming down to match ups, North Carolina might be in a bad spot. Their pool is topped by Michigan, who beat them 15-11 in the Easterns final. And even if they did win their pool, if seeds held they would play either Virginia or Sonoma State, both of which they have lost to this season, in quarterfinals.
**This is an excellent take on development. The more accessible a competitive game is for your team, the better you get. I saw it a bunch at High School Southerns, where the teams from Nashville and Atlanta, areas youth leagues are thriving, looked far more used to regular competition than my YHB boys, whose sole state competition is over three hours away.