In the end, the top ranked team faced little resistance on their way to winning Easterns, including a remarkable run in the final.
April 4, 2018 by Daniel Prentice in Recap with 0 comments
Coverage of the women’s division at Easterns is presented by VC Ultimate as part of their season-long support of our women’s coverage. All opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at VC Ultimate!
MYRTLE BEACH, SC—#18 NC State Jaga Monsta blitzed through the women’s field at Easterns. They took the title while posting a combined score of 104-37 over seven games. NC State’s level of competition wasn’t spectacular, but they did have the added pressure of needing to blow everyone out in order to secure a strength bid for the Atlantic Coast. They did that and then some with their performance over the weekend.
The biggest scare of the weekend for NC State came in the final. They played UNC Wilmington for the second time in the tournament, having played them in crossover play on Saturday. While NC State beat Georgia in semis by a healthy 15-6 count to get to the final, Wilmington ran away from Duke in their matchup to set up the rematch.
Wilmington had given Jaga their tightest game of the weekend to that point in crossover play, but that was still a 15-7 drubbing. It didn’t seem like NC State would have any trouble winning the Easterns crown. But the final started disastrously for the tournament favorites. They came out making poor decisions and execution errors and lacked the defensive intensity they’d had all weekend long. In a flash, Wilmington took a 5-0 lead.
NC State finally got on the board for 5-1, but Wilmington answered with a hold to make it 6-1. Jaga had put together big enough runs earlier in the tournament to overcome the deficit, but they hadn’t faced a real challenge like that all weekend.
But Jaga didn’t crumble. Instead, they went on a 14-0 run, blanking Wilmington the rest of the way to win the game 15-6.
After NC State got their first couple of breaks, the snowball started rolling against Wilmington. Where Seaweed completed some spectacular throws and catches in their opening salvo, it seemed like every play was difficult for them as NC State mounted their counter attack. Jaga did ramp up their defensive pressure to where it had been earlier in the tournament. But missed resets and drops from Wilmington gave NC State the opportunities to turn a handful of breaks into a decimating run to win the game.
Jaga were also the beneficiaries of an astounding performance from senior handler Ashley Powell in the final. She was stellar in the first half, the driving force to her team’s comeback. But in the second half she was absolutely lights out, as her team ruthlessly put the game away. Powell assisted on all five of NC State’s first five goals of the second half. She didn’t assist on their sixth because she took the point off. On the seventh and final point, she recorded a secondary “hockey” assist.
She was on fire. Backhands, forehands, huge hucks, crafty high releases: Powell made it all look easy in the second half. “You know it’s the finals, so I figured I might as well just take over, do what I can,” said Powell of her blazing performance in the final.
In fact, Powell was so in the zone, that she wasn’t even aware her team had just rattled off 14 straight goals. “I knew we got a lot of breaks in a row, but I’m not great at keeping score,” she laughed. “My mindset is just ‘let’s get this point.’ I could feel [that we were on a run.] We were clicking, the sideline was hype which was awesome, but I didn’t realize it was that much.”
What was perhaps even more surprising than Jaga’s dominant stretch to finish the game was how poorly they played in the game’s early stages. “It was a little bit of letting Wilmington do what we know they want to do. A little bit playing into their game and not really playing our game,” said Powell. “We also came out pretty flat footed. Our game before that ended pretty early. I think maybe people just weren’t fresh.”
But when they flipped the switch, did they ever flip it. The 6-1 deficit, turned huge blowout, capped a dominant weekend from beginning to end for Jaga. They shored up a Nationals bid for the Atlantic Coast, and Powell was happy with that accomplishment as well as their overall performance. “Overall we came in really focused for for this weekend, which I was really proud of,” she explained. “We understood that we had to play well. It wasn’t just about winning; it was about winning by a large margin. When we stepped it up on defense…we really shut teams down and flustered them. Once we just focused in and played our game I think we were really clicking this weekend.”