2015 Atlantic Coast D-I Regionals: Tournament Preview (Women’s)

Another one bid year for the Atlantic Coast means it's a scramble to survive only to face a finely tuned Virginia team looking for a 4th straight regional title.

Virginia at the 2015 Northwest Challenge
Photo: Nathan Kolakovic — UltiPhotos.com

The pattern of the Atlantic Coast region is becoming fairly well established: one bid region, Virginia wins. Usually, they face a fair share of challenges, but the past two years have had the same beginning and same ending. That streak is covered by Hydra’s streak of regional wins (3) and nationals appearances (4). The rest of the field is just out to change their fates and stop the nearly-inevitable.

Tournament Profile

  • Date: April 25-26
  • Location: Axton, VA
  • Bids Available: 1
  • Score Reporter

Eyes on the Prize

As discussed, Virginia is no stranger to this setup. That should prove very helpful for a team that has bigger aspirations than another regional title won over unproven competition, but that is not prone to overlooking opponents. In fact, outside of the three straight finals they’ve won, they’ve given up just 38 points at Regionals since 2012 – that’s about 2.5 points per game. Teams hoping to catch UVA napping best look elsewhere for their entryway to the big time.

In part, that’s because Coach David Allison and Hydra don’t see weakness when they look at their regional foes, but potential threats. Allison spoke of ending the college careers of Atlantic Coast legends Claire Chastain and Shellie Cohen over the past two seasons. “Shaking their hands for the last time during those two years made a real impression on me:  There are no guarantees,” he said, illuminating why Virginia takes nothing for granted. “Fight today for the right to play tomorrow.  Represent your school, your team, and yourself with pride.  It may be the last time, but it doesn’t have to be…”

Aside from their confidence, Virginia’s biggest advantage will be their depth. They showed at the Northwest Challenge that Alika Johnston and Sarah Hansen are not the only threats. Michelle Deriuex, Janie Mockrish, and Rebecca Meeker are apt to battle with the best. Explosive role players like Nada Tramonte and Keila Strick upfield and Emily Leivy and Tess Warner in the backfield are just as apt to take over a point when the team turns to their second unit. Expect a fresh Hydra team to take the field late in each day.

There’s no way around it. This is the most complete team in the Atlantic Coast. It would take a momentous – perhaps even miraculous – game for them to be capsized prior to nationals.

Wilmington Heating Up At The Right Time

UNCW Seaweed won just two of their first 11 games of the season, but have since won 11 of their final 12. That has a lot to do with the level of competition they faced – their first two tournaments were QCTU and Commonwealth Cup vs. Easterns and Carolina Conferences – but there’s no mistake that the team is peaking into Regionals. There’s a lot of forward momentum.

“We started playing as a team. We stopped blaming each other or one silly call and instead changed our attitude,” says sophomore captain Klara Calderon-Guthe. “We had the bad problem of fighting each other on the field. Now we have gotten over that and push each other up. Everything we do now, we do as a team.”

The lone outlier in their recent place is a notably odd 15-3 loss to Clemson in the Easterns final. UNCW had played few hard games up to that point and had no trouble with Clemson on Saturday, and there was little incentive for them to win, so perhaps they just took a break, or there was more sinister intent with a possible AC bid on the line. Regardless, they may be even stronger than their recent games indicate. Calderon-Guthe is an everpresent backfield threat with her length and aggressiveness, and along with Emily Judd, controls the backfield. Zoe Dorian is one of the region’s top defensive playmakers and cutters Lyla Standland and CJ Bunch will have chances to make an impact in the lanes.

But can Calderon-Guthe, Dorian, and their teammates conquer Virginia? Their first game of the season was against the reigning regional champ and they were brushed aside, 13-4. They’ve played one tight game all year with a top team (a 9-7 loss to Northeastern) and most of their victories came against weaker opponents. But the team has gameplanned for the multiheaded Cerberus guarding the gate to Milwaukee.

“Virginia is the kind of team that has a play set for every spot on the field. If the disc lands here they do X,” says Calderon-Guthe. “I think for a team to upset Virginia they need to upset Virginia’s flow.”

The bright side is that, after Virginia, they’ve had a lot of success against the region. They’re 8-2 against the rest of the field, with those losses composed of the aforementioned Clemson oddity and a loss at Commonwealth Cup to Georgetown. Their chances of landing a date with Virginia look high, but there’s plenty of reason to doubt they’ll gracefully handle that meeting.

Clemson So Close, But So far

Few teams can claim to have experienced a regular season weekend as dramatic as Clemson’s trip to Easterns. Their margins for error were wire thin and every goal mattered in their quest to retain the Atlantic Coast’s second strength bid. Despite playing all in-region opponents essentially incentivized to roll over, most of the opposition came to play and Clemson’s grip on the bid loosened until it was gone.

Meanwhile, an undefeated and dominant Tigerlillies team finally displayed vulnerability. They struggled out of the gate at Easterns, playing close with Delaware and losing to Penn State and Wilmington. They followed that up by falling behind NC State, 12-11 at their Conference Championships. They’d avenge that loss in placement, 14-4.

Clemson will have the chance to intimidate their opponents with their combination of size and speed. Ingrid Petterson creates serious matchup problems and the Tigerlillies play a tenacious style that they are happy to shove down your throat. Letting them pick up steam is akin to forfeiting and when they dictate the pace, they find a lot of success. They haven’t always brought a complete team, but if they have the full roster at Regionals, they should be considered one of the top contenders to earn the right to challenge UVA.

Maryland On the Border

Virginia aside, no team heading to AC Regionals has more top level experience than Maryland Helpful Corn. Centex and Queen City Tune Up gave Maryland a healthy dose of elite experience against the likes of Tufts and Georgia. That should prove to be a unique advantage over some of their opponents who’ve seen little of that type of competition. We know they attended the school of hard knocks, but it is yet to be seen if they graduated.

The returns against the region are promising. Maryland’s a squeaky clean 14-0 against the region – excluding UVA and UNCW – and 6-0 against the field. On the other hand, they are 0-2 against the three teams seeded above them. They might be the dividing line between the elite and the also-rans; they also could be the bottom of the top or best of the rest.

Whatever Maryland’s fate may be, it is likely Sarah Lord will be guiding it. The talented handler is the central piece of the Helpful Corn attack. Along with Paige Cannon and a solid defense, Maryland can can compete. Their offense will need to be firing on all cylinders to break seed.

Conference Confusion Wreaks Seeding Havoc

Predicting the seedings going into the weekend was very challenging, due to the stark contrast between regular season rankings and Series performances. James Madison went into Virginia Conferences looking like one of the region’s best teams, but went 5-3 with losses to Liberty and VCU, barely making Regionals. NC State and Georgetown also both scored upsets that shifted the seedings.

The end result is dangerous four seeds. North Carolina and James Madison have had poor regular seasons, but are clearly talented and dangerous teams. UNC is still young and they play that way, but these are two of the region’s legacy programs. Nobody will want to have to face them in key situations. Expect some wild results throughout the weekend and the seeds – and expectations – to get kicked to the curb.

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