High School Southerns 2015: Tournament Recap (Girls), Presented By CUT Camp

Paideia was the no-doubt winner of the High School Southerns crown.

Paideia v. Carrboro in the 2015 Southerns Final
Paideia v. Carrboro in the 2015 Southerns Final. Photo: Christina Schmidt — UltiPhotos.com

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Coming into the tournament, 2015 Southerns looked like it would be an open contest between the post-SAGA North Carolina teams and the state champions from Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee.  When the dust cleared, though, Paideia stood alone as the undisputed top girls team in the South.

Saturday

The tournament opened to wind and overcast skies, broken only by a minute of sunshine perfectly timed for the national anthem.  Later in the day the clouds would burn off, but the wind continued, making it a good day for zone defense.

In Pool A Paideia announced their presence with authority, winning their two games by a combined total of 25-3. The other two teams in the pool–Blackman and NC School of Math and Science–looked evenly matched, battling to an 8-7 finish, with Blackman coming out on top. 

As expected, the seeding in Pool B immediately went awry. The Carrboro Koi–seeded 7th overall–turned the tables on HB Woodlawn with a stunning 11-1 victory.  HB Woodlawn regained its footing with a solid win over Brookwood, but the Koi had established themselves as the top team in the pool.

Pool C was the highest scoring of the four; spectators enjoyed plenty of successful hucks and flowing offense. When pool play ended, Chapel Hill East held seed, but with the three games decided by a total of eight points, no team was ever out of the game until the very end. In the final game, Yorktown-Lee pulled out a win over a surprisingly competitive Paideia JV team.

The scores in Pool D were even closer, but that is where the similarity ended. While Pool C featured offense, Pool D was all about tough defense that forced grinding field position games though multiple turnovers and long points. It was such a low-scoring affair that two of the three games actually ended with the score to take halftime. USN confirmed its seed atop the pool with a win over both opponents, but Grady stole the next spot from Green Hope. After coming back from a two-point deficit in the final minutes to tie the game, Gauntlet managed an upwind score at hard-cap in an exciting finish to the day’s second upset.

While the top four teams (Paideia, Carrboro, Chapel Hill East, and USN) rested, the other eight teams played pre-quarters to see who would face the pool winners for a shot at the semi-finals. All four games were competitive, though in the end they were decided by comfortable margins. HB Woodlawn beat NCSSM to earn a shot at Paideia, and Blackman beat Brookwood for one at Carrboro.

The teams from Pools C and D faced off in the other two games.  Paideia JV went up early on Grady, but in the end, Grady showed the same resilience they had against Green Hope and rallied for the win. The final pre-quarter followed the same story line, with Yorktown-Lee going up 2-0 on Green Hope before the Titans of Mischief found their flow and stormed back to a big win.

Play ended Saturday with the quarterfinals. In a tale of feast or famine, three of the teams (Paideia, East, and USN) had rested with back-to-back byes in the final round of pool play and the pre-quarters, while Grady was coming off three straight games. Of the others, all but Carrboro had played two straight. 

In the first quarterfinal, Paideia cruised to a win over HB Woodlawn. This year’s results weren’t what the HB Woodlawn squad had hoped for, but they deserve credit for playing hard against both the top two teams in the region in the same day. Carrboro continued to make its case as the team to beat with a solid win against Blackman. 

The other two quarterfinals were more evenly matched. The first saw Chapel Hill East down Grady 11-8. The second was a rematch of the morning game between USN and Green Hope, another grinding game of field position. USN took an early break, then Green Hope came back to keep it at serve, but the stiff wind and low score (meaning no half-time switch) meant they had to get another break. After a series of unsuccessful hucks from both sides after hard-cap, a Green Hope player managed to rise above a scrum to catch a high-stall desperation throw, then flip it to a teammate in the end zone for the winning score, taking the team from last place in its pool to the semis.    

That set the stage for Sunday’s semifinals.  One game would be a match-up of two teams that hadn’t met this year as Paideia would play Green Hope; the other game was between two teams that had met several times during the season, Carrboro and Chapel Hill East.

Throughout the day, it was interesting to watch the variety of defenses used.  Teams from outside North Carolina tended to play a zone defense with a 4-person cup that circled the thrower, rather then a 3-person cup or playing a mark and a 3-person wall. In practice, this worked out as a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Against the weaker teams, it produced a steady stream of turnovers near the end zone for easy scores.  Against more skilled teams, though, it proved highly vulnerable once they had gotten it through (or over) the cup. 

The North Carolina teams, on the other hand, tended to play either person-to-person defense or a standard 3-person cup.  The exception was Green Hope, which played a junky help defense, with junior Tiffany Wei running hard as a one-woman cup almost every point the entire tournament.  As with the 4-person cups, the junk worked against weaker teams, but experienced teams like USN or Chapel Hill East were able to find openings up the middle to move the disc and score.  As a result, the championship bracket on Sunday saw primarily person-to-person defense, while zone predominated in the placement games.  The ability to reliably break a scheme defense looked like the line that divided the top teams from the rest.

Sunday

In one semifinal, Chapel Hill East faced off with Carrboro.  The last two times these teams met Carrboro had won, but for the past month East had been secretly practicing a zone defense for just this occasion.  Unfortunately for East, the Koi had other ideas.  Veteran handlers Amanda Maxon and Danielle Sawyer worked with freshman Kate Lanier in the backfield, keeping the disc moving while the Winkler sisters worked relentlessly to get open downfield, and Carrboro scored 10 straight points before East got a chance to pull and set up their zone. East could take some satisfaction in knowing that their surprise worked, producing two straight turnovers for points, and helping them win the next few points 5-3, but, the initial deficit was too big to overcome and Carrboro won 13-5.

In the other semifinal, Paideia was just too much for Green Hope: too athletic, too many big plays. Green Hope’s three points tied the most any team scored on Paideia all tournament, showing just how dominant the Groove were.

Across the way, the 5th place semifinals featured an exciting pair of games. One was a battle of state champions, as HB Woodlawn took on USN.  It was close the whole way, with HB Woodlawn taking half 7-6, then USN pulling even.  Finally, an HB Woodlawn player managed to pull down a score at double-game point for the win.  On an adjacent field, the game between Grady and Blackman had probably the largest and loudest crowd of supporters in the entire girls division, and the players responded.  The game stayed close to 9-9, then 10-10, with both teams excitedly rushing the field after scores.  Hard cap went on, setting up double-game point that see-sawed back and forth, until a Grady receiver found a hole in zone coverage at the back corner of the end zone, capping a great game for both teams.

The Grady-Blackman one was a highlight, but every game saw good spirited play. The relatively few calls that occurred were resolved amicably by the players on the field, the sidelines stayed cheerful and excited, and post-game spirit circles and dance-offs abounded. 

Back on Field #1, Green Hope and Chapel Hill East played for 3rd place in their fifth meeting of the season. The Titans of Mischief had won the previous three match-ups, but this time would be different.  In her final game with East Eclipse, Katie Cubrilovic put on probably the best performance by a single player all tournament, assisting or scoring East’s first eight goals, getting open seemingly at will, and making more than her share of D’s as well.  The girls from Green Hope played hard, but in the end East won 13-3.

In the last game of the girls division–played as the leading edge of Tropical Storm Ana brought rain and increasing wind–Carrboro finally had their shot against Paideia. Their chances looked good early, with Kate Lanier taking first blood with an assist to Marina Winkler. But then Paideia sophomore Isabel Arevalo decided to show that Kate wasn’t the only #17 on the field, nabbing two blocks before throwing the assist to senior Helen Samuel. Throughout the tournament, Helen’s hard running and tough defense made her presence on the field feel much bigger than the stats sheet would suggest. 

That score got the unstoppable Paideia train moving, and after a 5-0 run, the game was never close again.  Carrboro couldn’t prevent seniors Syd Taylor-Klaus and Ellery Koelker-Wolfe from moving the disc, and Paideia’s large roster of athletic defenders were too much to overcome.  In the end, the Groove won the championship by a more than convincing 12-3.

While there was some pre-tournament discussion about the seedings not reflecting recent results, they turned out reasonably accurately. Carrboro did much better than expected, of course, but even if the Koi had been originally seeded between Paideia and HB Woodlawn, the only likely difference in final standings would have been HB Woodlawn moving up one or two places from 5th because they wouldn’t have had to face Paideia in quarters, and Green Hope likely dropping one or two.

Looking Ahead To Next Year

For many of the top playmakers at Southerns, this was their last tournament with a high school team.  How will their absence play out next year?  Clearly Paideia will be the preseason favorite. While their stars at Southerns are graduating, the depth of skill and athleticism, combined with players moving up from a JV team that is competitive with other schools’ varsity teams, make it hard to imagine any significant drop-off next year. In-state rival Grady may spend the season in Paideia’s shadow, but with plenty of young players on the roster, they have to come away from beating seed at Southerns with a good feeling about next year.

In Virginia, HB Woodlawn should be strong next year as well, bringing back leading scorer Ella Juengst and assist leader Maddie Boyle. Still, expect to see YLee Coyote and their space cacti jerseys higher up the ladder next year. Playmaker Rachel Hess will be a junior, and they’ll have a large crop of seniors as well.  The situation is less clear in Tennessee, with USN’s Metta Devine-Qin graduating.  Blackman will feature a senior-heavy roster next year, and should challenge USN for the state championship.

In some ways, all four North Carolina teams still carried the SAGA legacy this year, being led by girls who had played for the club team at its peak. With only a few exceptions, though, they were seniors and are moving on (which is good news for UNC and NC State). Next year a post-SAGA generation of girls will have to take the reins, and it’s too early to tell how that will shake out. This, combined with the growth of teams elsewhere, makes it hard to imagine that 3 of the 4 semi-finalists will be from NC like they were in 2015.

Finally, best of luck to all the girls at YCC in August!

  1. George Ehrhardt
    George Ehrhardt

    George Ehrhardt coaches a girls high school team in the mountains of Boone, NC.

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