The best of the Atlantic Coast's D-III crop put on quite a show at AC Regionals, including a dramatic and controversial final.
April 15, 2015 by Lindsay Soo in Recap with 10 comments
**Disclosure: The author of this piece is a captain for the Wake Forest team.
The D-III women’s Atlantic Coast Regionals brought great competition and high level of play. However, the tournament winner received not only pride, but also the lone trip to Illinois for D-III nationals in May. This marked the first time in four years that the region has fought over a single bid. Naturally, this created an even more intense atmosphere with a high prize on the line. The favorites, #7 Wake Forest, met with #13 Elon in a back and forth final for the grand prize. A controversial call concluded the game and Wake Forest claimed the bid, 12-10.
The First Shots
Day one of the tournament brought mostly expected results, along with one impressive underdog showing. Pool A consisted of #7 Wake Forest (1), Mary Washington (4), Catholic (5), Richmond (8) and Goucher (9). Although Goucher started off slow with a 13-4 loss to Wake Forest, they continued the day defeating all other competitors to finish second in Pool A, including a shutout win over Richmond. Wake Forest Ruckus played strong throughout the day, implementing a mix of person-to-person and zone defenses. Wake’s defense held strong for the last three games, not letting any team score above 5, finishing first in Pool A.
Pool B featured #13 Elon (2), #16 Davidson (3), UNC Asheville (6), and St. Mary’s (7). The pool finished nearly to seed, except for a tough game between St. Mary’s and UNC Asheville, which ended with St. Mary’s scoring on universe, 15-14. Elon Wild Rumpus finished first in pool B as expected, despite a hard fought game against Davidson. Elon dominated the first half 8-2, with a mix of strong defense and great grabs. However, Davidson fought back in the second half outscoring Elon 10 to 7, but Elon held them off for a 15-12 final score.
Day 2 brought the start of bracket play for the top spot. Goucher came out strong with a 15-3 defeat over St. Mary’s, advancing to meet Elon in the semifinals, who had beaten Catholic 15-5. Despite Goucher’s cinderella run, Elon earned their place in the final with a 14-7 win. On the other side of the bracket, Wake Forest and Davidson both handily defeated their opponents, UNC Asheville and Mary Washington, 15-3 and 15-4 respectively. In the semifinals, Wake Forest had a strong showing against Davidson in the first half 8-2. However, Davidson implemented an effective zone to instigate a comeback. In the end, Wake Forest’s depth allowed them to outrun the small squad of Davidson, winning 14-10.
With the finalists decided, the championship game pitted top seeded Wake Forest against second seeded Elon. Despite coming in the underdog, Elon made it clear that they were ready to fight for their shot at the championships. Ruckus opened on D and the game proceeded on serve until they managed to break twice to make the score 6-4. Elon returned the favor a point later to tie it up, and the teams traded to set up an intense 7-7 point for half. Elon worked the disc to the red zone before Wake’s Bella Hunt managed an end zone D. After the turnover, a huck and continuation powered Ruckus to the opposite end zone to take half 8-7.
At the start of the second half, Elon threw a smothering zone that Wake struggled with, allowing Wild Rumpus to recover a break. The ensuing points were long and hotly contested, but Wake made a run to open up an 11-8 lead as soft cap approached. However, Elon rebutted with two lengthy breaks, bringing them to within one, 11-10. The hard cap horn sounded soon thereafter, putting Elon’s backs up against the wall. The ensuing point was capped off when Ruckus’s Hana Choi got an impressive D and wasted little time in launching a huck to her captain, Lindsay Soo, streaking deep for the bid-winning score. The play, however, was contested for several minutes; a pick call went unacknowledged by the thrower and cutter, and the defense argued they had stopped in response to the call and the disc should be sent back. The call could not be resolved on the field so the tournament director intervened and ruled the play a score, ending the game 12-10 Wake Forest, sending them to Nationals.
“Overall, the finals game was a battle. Both teams played amazing ultimate, and were evenly matched,” Elon captain Kerianne Durkin told Ultiworld. “I honestly don’t feel like one team outplayed the other.”
Wake Forest agreed, as explained by veteran Amanda Murphy: “The atmosphere was very intense, even the sidelines were heated during some of the stoppages. There were definitely controversial calls from both sides, but it’s all part of the game of Ultimate. Despite the tension, it was the most fun game of the tournament. It will be interesting to see how both of our programs develop in the future.”
Both teams featured some standout performances. Elon’s Aelish Aoki was a vital handler who led both the offence and zone defense. Sydney Harris was also an effective cutter for Wild Rumpus, serving as both an under and deep threat. Wake Forest was led by their strong handler duo of Soo and Choi, as well as two great cutters, Amanda Murphy and Mary Helen Simpson. Props must also be given to the two coaches, Shelley Sizemore for Wake Forest and Brian Dobyns for Elon, who managed to keep their respective teams calm and strong throughout the tough game and a pressure-packed weekend.
The Smoke Clears
The tenor of the game will still color some memories of the weekend.
“It was an intense, competitive game and this is the first time many of my teammates said they wish we had played with an observer,” said Durkin, citing the games numerous contested calls. “I personally believe that the spirit of the game would have been better preserved, and that the outcome of calls and points would have been different had there been an observer.”
It was an incredible weekend in North Carolina. The controversial conclusion will be remembered for years to come. Regardless of the results, this tournament reminds us of the strength of the AC region, despite on receiving one bid to nationals.
“We were the underdogs, and we proved that the Atlantic Coast should have been a two bid region,” added Durkin, whose team exchanged spirited and positive tweets with Wake after the final. “We wish the best of luck to Wake Forest at Nationals, and we have full confidence in their abilities to represent the AC region in Rockford.”