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League eyes NCAA postseason success in multiple sports
Special to theACC.com by Steve Phillips
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Falling leaves, falling temperatures and NCAA brackets with multiple ACC team representation.Some things about autumn just don’t change.
With 2014 NCAA Fall Olympic Sports Championships beginning this weekend, the Atlantic Coast Conference again looms as a prominent player in field hockey, women’s soccer and cross country.
Postseason prospects for the league in men’s soccer and volleyball in the weeks ahead look bright as well.
The ACC’s recurring NCAA Field Hockey Championship dominance resurfaced last Sunday night, when six of the league’s seven teams – twice as many as any other league – were selected for the NCAA field.
North Carolina earned the top overall seed and will host first and second round games. Syracuse was also selected as a host site and enters the field as the No. 4 seed. Wake Forest clinched the league’s automatic berth by winning the ACC Championship, while Boston College, Duke and Louisville claimed at-large bids and will begin tournament play on the road.The announcement marked the second-straight year that at least six ACC teams have earned a postseason bid, while at least half of the league has claimed a tournament spot for 20 straight years.
“We’re thrilled to be part of the NCAA Tournament field and honored to be the No. 1 seed,” said UNC coach Karen Shelton. “I think this was the most competitive year ever, with the most parity. It was very hard to get an NCAA bid, and there are really good teams that didn’t get in. We’re excited to still be playing, and we're looking forward to our next challenge.”
Each of the six ACC teams chosen for the NCAAs is ranked among the NFHCA Top 20, and each has been ranked during the entire season. The league combined to go 70-11 against nonconference competition, the best record of any conference, and was 19-4 against teams selected for the 2014 NCAA tournament field during the regular season.
Louisville reached the NCAA Field Hockey Championship following its first year of competition as an ACC member. It marked the first bid for the Cardinals since 2008, and there is ample evidence that their new league affiliation played a part. Louisville just completed the toughest regular season schedule in program history and went 7-4 against ranked opponents with wins over (then) No. 1 North Carolina, No. 4 Duke, No. 14 Northwestern, No. 15 Michigan, No. 16 Wake Forest, No. 19 Indiana and No. 19 Michigan State.
“I am so excited and proud of our young women right now,” said Louisville head coach Justine Sowry. “This is a well-deserved honor … I was hoping our resume would speak for itself. This is the result of the last four years of work and all of the student-athletes that were part of our program.”
Highlighted by four Top-4 national seeds, the ACC placed six teams in the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship field announced Monday afternoon.
ACC Champion Florida State was awarded a No. 1 national seed to mark the fourth straight year the Seminoles have earned a No. 1 seed (fifth overall).
“We are excited as can be to move on to the next phase of the season,” Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian said. “Our players worked extremely hard this year to get the results that we did and we were rewarded for that effort with a No. 1 seed.”
ACC regular season co-champion North Carolina and the 2014 ACC Championship runner-up Virginia were awarded No. 2 national seeds, and Notre Dame (12-5-2) was tabbed a No. 4 seed. All four national seeded teams will host first round games this weekend.
“It is always an honor to be selected for the NCAA Tournament,” said Virginia head coach Steve Swanson. “A lot of traditional powers are not in this year's tournament, so we feel fortunate to still be playing this time of year. We are excited to be able to open the tournament at home, where we have had a great record in recent years.”
Clemson and Virginia Tech join those four in the field of 64 to mark the 16th-straight year that at least six ACC teams have been selected to the tournament field.
The ACC also has an eye on cross country success, as all 15 league schools open regional competition.
Five ACC men’s teams are ranked among the USTFCCCA Top 30, led by two-time league champion Syracuse at No. 3. NC State is at No. 18, followed by No. 21 Florida State, No. 22 North Carolina and No. 28 Virginia.
On the women’s side, ACC champion North Carolina leads the ACC contingent with a No. 11 ranking, followed by No. 13 Florida State, No. 14 Virginia, No. 18 NC State, No. 22 Syracuse and No. 29 Notre Dame. The conference is also hopeful of strong individual showings, with both men’s champion Martin Hehir of Syracuse and women’s champion Liv Westphal of Boston College having set course records at the recent ACC Championships at Virginia’s Panorama Farms.
This weekend could be only the start of good things when it comes to ACC and NCAA Fall Olympic sports.
The ACC Men’s Soccer Championship concludes with semifinals on Friday night and the title game Sunday in Cary, North Carolina with NCAA selections to follow on Monday.
ACC men’s soccer, which rivals field hockey and women’s soccer historically in terms of national success, boasts six teams ranked among the nation’s top 20 – including the nation’s top two teams in Syracuse and defending NCAA champion Notre Dame. Both the Orange and Fighting Irish are among the four remaining teams contending for the ACC title in Cary, along with No. 14 Clemson and No. 18 Louisville.
The volleyball regular season does not end until Nov. 29, but the ACC has made a loud statement there as well.
Florida State is ranked No. 3 in the most recent AVCA Poll, the highest ranking ever for an ACC member school. The Seminoles were one of only three remaining unbeaten teams in the country until their loss at Duke on Thursday night. With North Carolina at No. 8, this season marks the first in league history that the conference has two teams ranked in the Top-10 of the AVCA Coaches Poll.