CCC Victory Has North Carolina Pleiades Looking Like A Contender

UNC Pleiades at the 2013 Queen City Tune Up.ATLANTA – One way to put a surprising and disappointing season in the rear view mirror is to start a new one off on the right foot. North Carolina Pleiades put their best foot forward this weekend, winning Classic City Classic LXXI in a dominant fashion in Conyers, GA. Last year — the first time in six seasons they did not qualify for Nationals — they stumbled at CCC, failing to make it into the championship bracket and settling for 9th place.

The way Pleaides ended this fall is a definite indicator that their Spring story won’t be the same this year.

UNC looked dominant at points during the weekend, including in the final, where they ran roughshod over Ohio State, 15-6. Behind the play of one of the nation’s premier duos, Shellie Cohen and Lisa Couper, the Carolina women made a run into half that put them up 8-5. They began the half with another pair of scores, creating a five point gap that was too much for OSU to cross.

“I felt like we came out pretty strong,” said Cohen, “and never relented.”

Cohen was huge for North Carolina over the course of the weekend, using her over the top throws and leading a patient offense through a variety of zones. As is common in the fall, teams were experimenting; Cohen credits getting some work against various zones throughout the weekend with preparing them for Ohio State’s. The team also got major contributions from Diana Lam.

Another weapon they revealed was a transitioning poachy defense. By sagging off the handlers and into the lanes, they slowed down a number of opponents; the approach was popular in the club women’s game this season as well. However, they would suddenly ratchet up the pressure in a transition to man and the tempo change destroyed offensive rhythm. It was far from polished, but has the potential to be effective all year long.

Perhaps even more notable for Pleaides was their road to the final. They took the line against two of the Atlantic Coast’s more prominent programs — rival UNC-Wilmington in the quarterfinals and Virginia in the semifinals — and come out on top. UNC walloped Wilmington 15-5 and held off Virginia 15-12. Aside from a tightly contested loss to Central Florida in pool play, Pleaides was tested the most this weekend by Virginia and fellow AC squad, James Madison; they beat JMU by just a point in their Saturday crossover.

“We made the plays [against Virginia that] we needed to make to take it,” said Cohen. “I think that matchup will continue to be a down-to-the-wire game regardless of the tournament.”

North Carolina began the fall with the #11 preseason ranking, but will move into a much higher slot after the win. It also bodes well for their Nationals chances: every team to make the final of CCC since 2010 has qualified for the championships. Cohen and company know not to read too much into fall results, but also appreciate the value of big wins.

“Everyone knows that this early in the season there’s no way to tell much,” Cohen said. However, she added, “[winning CCC] definitely gave us a little bit of early season confidence.”

A little bit of early season confidence can go a long way as it gestates in a team in the early spring. How that confidence develops in this strong North Carolina team will decide how far they can go.

Tournament Notes

The only team to beat UNC was Central Florida, who made an impressive comeback to win 11-10; UCF finished 3rd…Texas and Georgia both were not fully armed, contributing to fairly disappointing weekends for both…James Madison was the weekend’s biggest surprise, going 3-0 in pool play, and their 3 losses on the weekend coming by just a total of six points (Michigan, UNC, and Virginia)…Meeri Chang and Hannah Hankin both handled very well for Michigan, and have them looking poised for a big year, following a 5th place CCC finish…Florida State: 4/4 simultaneous air cupcake catches, on the first try…

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