ACC Fall Olympic Sports Teams Embrace High Expectations

ACC Fall Olympic Sports Teams Embrace High Expectations

Friday August 30, 2013


Keen competition foreseen within league and on national stage

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – As Commissioner John Swofford addressed media attending the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff  last month at Grandover Resort, he noted that the league’s expansion to 15 members would provide a widespread competitive boost.

“Our Olympic sports have consistently ranked second to none and will only get stronger with the addition of our newest members (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse),” Swofford said.

As ACC member schools launch their fall sports seasons, that assessment is clearly on target.

It was evident during the first weekend of women’s soccer play (Aug. 23-25), which saw ACC teams post a combined 23-3-1 record against nonconference opposition, including four wins over opponents ranked among the nation’s top 25.

It is expected by those who follow men’s soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as preseason national polls rank ACC teams among the nation’s elite and the names of ACC student-athletes abound on preseason All-America teams and “watch lists” for major awards.

A glance at some of the early ACC accolades by sport:

Field Hockey

Two-time defending ACC champion North Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the 2013 Penn Monto/NFHCA Division I preseason poll released Tuesday by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association, and all seven ACC teams were ranked among the top 19. Maryland checked in at No. 2, Syracuse at No. 5, Virginia at No. 7, Duke at No. 10, Wake Forest at No. 18 and Boston College at No. 19. Each of those programs finished the 2012 season ranked nationally, including four among the top 10.

Eight of the 11 student-athletes named to 2013 All-ACC Preseason Team were named Longstreth/NFHCA All-Americans in 2012, including first-team members Laure Hahnefeldt of Syracuse and North Carolina's Charlotte Craddock. Three current league teams – Maryland, North Carolina, and Syracuse – advanced to the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA Championship, with the Tar Heels playing in the title game. ACC squads have won 17 of the 32 NCAA titles, including 10 of the last 11, and at least one ACC team has played in the national championship game for 14 straight years.

"The ACC is an amazing conference," Virginia coach Michele Madison said. "With the addition of Syracuse, three of last year's Final Four teams are in the ACC now. It is a brutal and grueling schedule. We have to keep our focus in the present and just chip away game by game.”

Men’s Soccer

Four ACC student-athletes are among the 34 on the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy Watch List by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, awarded to collegiate soccer’s top player. Representing the ACC are reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins of Maryland, Wake Forest midfielder Jared Watts, ACC Defensive Player of the Year Sebastien Ibeagha of Duke, and North Carolina defender Boyd Okwuonu. ACC student-athletes have received national player of the honors 23 times, including Mullins last season and Duke’s Andrew Wenger in 2011.

Mullins, Ibeagha and Okwuonu were named to the 2013 Soccer America Preseason All-America team announced on Friday, along with NC State’s Alex Martinez and Maryland’s Schillo Tshuma.

Six ACC teams are ranked among the NSCAA preseason Top 25 including three top 10 teams (No. 2 Maryland, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 7 Notre Dame). Wake Forest is ranked 17th, Syracuse 20th and Virginia 25th.

Maryland sits atop Soccer America’s Preseason Top 25, with North Carolina and Notre Dame ranking 6th and 7th, respectively. Wake Forest is at No. 12, Syracuse at No. 17 and Virginia at No. 20.

“We are really looking forward to a great challenge in the ACC with the addition of three quality teams,” said Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski, who is entering his 21st season at the school. “It looks to be one of the most competitive seasons in ACC history.”­­­

ACC teams have made 46 appearances in the NCAA College Cup, including at least one each of the last 12 seasons. Current ACC schools have claimed 15 NCAA titles – including five of the last eight – and have made 191 total appearances in NCAA postseason play.

Women’s Soccer

Reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner Crystal Dunn returns to defending and 21-time NCAA champion North Carolina, and she figures to have some stiff competition from within her own conference. Along with Dunn, ACC representatives on this year’s watch list include 2012 semifinalists forward Kealia Ohai of North Carolina and defender Natasha Anasi of Duke, Florida State goalkeeper Kelsey Wys and midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Notre Dame midfielder Cari Roccaro, Virginia’s Morgan Brian and Wake Forest goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and forward Katie Stengel.

Each of those student-athletes earned spots on Soccer America’s Preseason All-America team, along with Duke’s Lauren Weinberg.

Dunn and Brian shared Co-Player of the Week honors after leading their teams to a pair of victories last weekend, and they will share the field as teammates next Tuesday. The two were named to the United States Women’s National Team roster for a Sept. 3 friendly against Mexico at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Including Dunn and Brian, a total of six current and former ACC players are on the roster (Kristie Mewis, Boston College; Yael Averbuch, North Carolina; Heather O’Reilly, North Carolina; Becky Sauerbrunn, Virginia). There are 11 current and former ACC players in the U.S. National Team Player Pool.

Buoyed by last weekend’s strong showing, seven ACC teams are ranked among the nation’s top 15 by the NSCAA this week: UNC at No. 1, Florida State at No. 3, Virginia at No. 5, Notre Dame at No. 7, Wake Forest at No. 10, Duke at No. 12 and Maryland at No. 15.

Current ACC teams have combined for 147 NCAA appearances, 51 College Cup berths and 24 NCAA titles (21 by UNC and three by Notre Dame).

“From top to bottom, the ACC is without a doubt the strongest conference in women’s soccer,” 15th-year Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. “There were eight conference teams that went to the NCAA tournament last year, including the eventual national champion (North Carolina) and another that reached the College Cup (Florida State). This year, there’s so much talent in the ACC that just about any one of eight or nine teams has the potential to get to the Cup and win it.”

Cross Country

The ACC is well-represented in the USTFCCCA preseason poll released earlier this week as six men’s and five women’s teams earned preseason Top 30 recognition, and conference newcomers Syracuse and Notre Dame seem poised to make an immediate impact.

Syracuse leads the way on the men’s side with a No. 9 ranking, followed by Virginia 17th, Florida State 21st, Notre Dame 22nd, NC State 25th and Duke 30th.

Florida State is the highest-ranked ACC women’s team with a No. 2 ranking while Duke is close behind at No. 4. Notre Dame is 18th, NC State 22nd and Boston College 25th.

Volleyball

Two-time defending ACC champion Florida State earned a preseason No. 19 national ranking from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The 2013 season will see the returns AVCA Third Team All-Americans Ashley Neff of Florida State and Emani Sims of Miami, along with seven others that were named Honorable Mention All-America by the AVCA.

“The ACC has definitely improved over the last four years, and I expect this season to be very competitive,” said Florida State coach Chris Poole. “There is a lot of great talent in this league, and fans have the opportunity to see a lot of great volleyball this season.”

In addition to their on-court skills, FSU’s Neff and Duke’s Ali McCurdy among 30 volleyball student-athletes listed as candidates for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition.