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Steve Phillips, Special to theACC.com
Elite teams and athletes again making mark as stretch run nears
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – The arrival of autumn has become synonymous with Atlantic Coast Conference Olympic sports success.
League teams and individual competitors find themselves in familiar territory as the 2014 calendar year heads into its final quarter. Early returns indicate this fall will play out like so many others, with NCAA postseason fields loaded with ACC teams and multiple conference squads making serious bid for national titles.
It starts with a glance at the latest NSCAA and Soccer America polls, where the ACC is dominating on both the men’s and women’s sides.
The latest NSCAA men’s rankings find Virginia holding the No. 2 spot, defending national champion Notre Dame at No. 3, North Carolina at No. 8 and Louisville at No. 9. Syracuse is ranked 18th to give the ACC five teams among the Top 20. Both Notre Dame and UNC have been ranked No. 1 during the first month of the season.
Syracuse’s strong start has included a string of stone-wall defensive performances by goalkeeper Alex Bono, who leads the nation in both goals against average (0.125 per game) and in save percentage (.968). The ACC also boasts the nation’s No. 4 scorer in Wake Forest’s Michael Gamble, whose 2.43 points per match scoring average was buoyed by his four-goal performance in last Tuesday night’s nonconference win over VMI.
ACC teams own a combined 37-17-7 record in nonconference play, including a 6-4-1 mark against teams ranked in the NCSAA Top 25.
Six ACC women’s soccer teams are ranked in the NSCAA and Soccer America polls, the most of any league, including three teams in the Top 5 (Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State). Virginia Tech’s No. 2 ranking in the NSCAA poll is the program’s highest ever, and the Hokies are currently fourth nationally in scoring at 11.1 points per game. Clemson – ranked No. 16 by the NSCAA and No. 23 by Soccer America – is back in the national polls for the first time since 2007 and also owns a win over a ranked team for the first time in seven years.
No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Virginia Tech lead seven ACC women's soccer teams ranked in the Top 30 of the first NCAA RPI. And Virginia remains unbeaten despite currently missing reigning Hermann Trophy winner Morgan Brian due to her national team obligations for World Cup qualifying and head coach Steve Swanson, who is assisting the U.S. Team with its preparations.
ACC field hockey appears on pace for one of its strongest seasons ever – a high standard for a conference that has produced 17 of the NCAA’s 33 total championships and placed at least one team in the national championship each of the last 15 years. The first edition of the NCAA RPI report featured all seven ACC teams among the top 16 slots, including four among the top 10 (No. 1 North Carolina, No. 5 Virginia, No. 6 Boston College and No. 8 Duke).
Five ACC field hockey teams are ranked among the nation’s top 10, and all seven are among the nation’s Top 20. It marks the 16th straight poll in which every active conference team has been nationally ranked, dating back to October of 2012. Over the last 12 years, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation has been an ACC squad 90 percent of the time.
ACC field hockey teams enter this weekend with a collective 40-5 record against nonconference competition, including a 15-3 mark against fellow ranked teams.
ACC volleyball, meanwhile, has already established a historic first. With Florida State ranked No. 6 and North Carolina No. 12, the two schools own the best combined ranking for an ACC duo in the history of the AVCA Poll.
FSU’s No. 6 ranking is tied for the highest in school history (also reached No. 6 on Sept. 3, 2102) and is the second highest AVCA ranking ever for an ACC member school (Georgia Tech was No. 4 on Oct. 27, 2003). The Seminoles are one of only nine unbeaten teams in the country.
ACC volleyball student-athletes and teams can also be found among the national statistical leaders. North Carolina’s Victoria McPherson ranks third nationally in blocks per set with 1.71, while Pitt ranks third among NCAA Division I teams in assists per set with 14.13 and fourth in kills per set with 14.87.
No. 8 Syracuse heads up five ACC men’s cross country teams ranked in this week’s poll. The ACC is tied nationally for the most ranked men’s teams. Led by No. 6 Florida State, the ACC leads all conferences with seven teams ranked in this week’s women’s poll.
The ACC’s 12 combined teams ranked in both the men’s and women’s polls are three more than any other conference. ACC teams account for 20 percent of all ranked teams in both polls.
The final week of September and the month of October will be highlighted by conference play for all of the ACC’s fall Olympic sports teams before they turn their attention to postseason and what promises to be another strong collective NCAA showing.