Monday, May 01, 2006

Obligatory AC Regional Write-Up

Wow. I can’t believe this is my first post of 2006 – it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since I’ve blogged. My absence is mostly attributable to two factors: 1) I haven’t had much to say 2) I’ve been insanely busy. I do have a few ideas for some new posts though, and Wood is probably getting pumped about some sort of silly coed nonsense, so hopefully it won’t be another five months before the next post. Alright, onto the obligatory regionals write-up…

Coming into regionals I thought that Florida and Georgia were clearly a step ahead of the rest of the region. The format definitely favored the Ho-Dawgs because Florida’s long bench becomes less of an advantage when the finals are the first game of the day. I expected that we (Emory) would be battling with UNC on Sunday for the third bid to nationals. I thought that NC State, Wake Forest and UVA would all be fighting to be alive on Sunday, but probably weren’t strong enough to finish in the top 3. As it turned out, I had definitely underestimated both Wake and State – both teams are very gritty – playing tough D and embracing the power of the long ball.

On Saturday we came out and took care of Davidson pretty quickly setting up a quarterfinals match-up with UVA. UVA is the one strong team in the AC region I have no career wins over and I was a little nervous when we only took half 8-7. We made a couple of defensive adjustments in the second half and were able to finish them off 15-9. Andrea Duran is huge for them and would definitely be on my all region ballot (if I got to vote).

That meant we were matched up with Florida in the Semis. Both teams were relatively clean offensively and the game only lasted 85 minutes – Florida 15 Emory 10. I actually thought we played pretty well in the game, but they were just too good. Florida doesn’t have the superstars that UGA does, but they are a lot more consistent. I could see UGA finding a way to lose in pre-quarters at natties or getting hot and making a run to finals. On the other hand, I think Florida is a very solid quarters team that could make semis with the right quarters match-up.

The biggest news from Saturday was definitely the earlier UNC elimination. Troy posted on RSD about the surprising UNC losses here. I was able to watch a decent chunk of both games, and I don’t really have much to add. I can’t say that I agree that UNC has the regions strongest starting 7, but I do agree that Hack is the scariest all around player in the region. UNC definitely didn’t look to be playing as well as I had seen them play earlier in the season, but you’ve got to give a lot of credit to both Wake and NC State. Both teams did a great job of gumming up UNC’s throwing lanes and then coming down with big huck after big huck. In any event, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pulling for NC State to take down UNC in the last game of the day on Saturday.

The format on Sunday basically requires you to go 3-1 to claim the third bid to the show. There’s not much advantage to losing in one round over another because you’re going to have 4 games regardless. So, our plan for Sunday was to go with a really open rotation until we lost a game and then tighten things up. NC State jumped out on us early in the first round and put us away fairly easily. We did have a small late game run that helped our confidence for the rest of the day. As it turned out, losing that game ended up being a big advantage. We basically, didn’t have to run much in the first game against NC State, and our penalty for that was playing zone loving UVA rather than hard running (and still fresh) Wake. We were able to get up quickly on UVA and open up the rotation for the whole game again saving our legs. After we finished off UVA, I jogged over to find Wake and NCST embroiled in a classic Carolina style bloodbath, 11-10 game to 13. I found myself pumping my fist with every punt that sailed too long.

Wake ended up pulling it out and so we had a tired NC State next. They went up 2-0, but after a time-out we went on an 8-2 run to take half and never looked back. That meant we had to play Wake in the game to go. We came out playing well and started off 5-1 and I was thinking we were going to run away with it. Next thing I know we’re down 10-8 and we’re kind of scratching our heads trying to figure out what went wrong. I think the hardest time to be a coach is when you’re losing because you’re making unforced errors. It’s just so difficult to know what to say to your team. When you’re losing because the other team is doing something strategically, at least you can tell your team how to adjust to stop what they’re doing. But you can’t really come into the huddle and say, “stop dropping the disc.” Anyway, I’d love to say that I made some brilliant strategic adjustment that gave us the win, but basically we just cleaned it up and pulled it out 15-13. I really can’t say enough about how impressed I was with how much heart Wake showed. I honestly believe we have better athletes and better throwers than they do, but they were able to hang with us the whole time based on just a complete refusal to give up. It was pretty inspiring to watch.

Anyway, so we’re off to natties and I’m pretty pumped. Realistically, we can’t win nationals, so I’m just going to approach it like a two day practice – it will be a great learning experience for my young team.

Random notes/thoughts from the weekend

1) The triple elimination format creates some interesting decisions for coaches.
2) If there’s anything more annoying than unobservant observers, I can’t think of what it is at the moment.
3) I’m not usually one to hype my players, but Celine Sledge has got to be the AC Rookie of the Year.
4) You don’t get 25 out of 26 rosters in on time by accident – so nice work Lindsey Hack and her sectional coordinators (Julia Echterhoff et. al.)
5) AC South strongest (mixed) section in the country this year? All 5 AC bids to natties go to AC South