By this time tomorrow, we’ll know whether NOVA or ORSU is moving onto the women’s DI club semifinals, and most likely facing Chicago North Shore for a berth to the final on Nov. 11 in Ft. Myers, Fla.. Northern Virginia represents the CR3’s second seed and is placed one notch higher than CR1 champ Oregon Sports Union.
“The brackets fell a little odd this year,” NOVA coach Brian Walker said. “I don’t consider this a four-versus-five match-up. They have a very strong, experienced side, and ran the table in CR1 for the second straight year. Regardless of the tournament seed, they are still a number one seed, and deserve that respect. That's the way we are preparing for them. It's going to be tough match.”
Behind the veteran leadership of Beckett Royce, Sharon Blaney and San Juanita Moreno, to name a few, ORSU is a better team than last year, when they bowed out of playoffs in the first round. Their reinforced staff of assistant coaches has been preparing the influx of younger players for D1 play, and dividends have been realized.
ORSU faced little resistance during the league, and what should have been their most difficult game – against CR1 #2 Seattle – turned into a second-half run-away, with ORSU winning 45-7.
But just considering scores isn’t a safe practice when gauging teams’ strength. Otherwise, one might think that NOVA has slipped somewhat, posting closer-than-normal scores against teams they’ve previously dominated.
“With the exception of Atlanta, who really put up some big scoring numbers, scores within CR3 this year have been closer than in the past - not just for us but for a lot of teams,” Walker said. “There are a lot of good, young players who have joined the different teams, and some very good coaches whose impact is being felt by those teams.
“We've come a long way this year,” Walker continued. “We lost a couple of very strong players from last year, but we had some real good, young players join us this summer after college, as well as a couple of nice transfers. A lot of this fall has been about identifying lineup combinations and getting everyone used to each other.”
NOVA’s main criticism is that they’re too back-centric. They have some good, attacking forwards like Rachel Primo and Megan Hanson, but it’s in the open field where notable backs like Lauren Hoeck, Erica Cavanaugh and Mo McQueen can really dazzle the opposition.
“Our forwards may not have the same name recognition nationally that some of our backs do, but they work really hard at practice, and they compete,” Walker said. “Our depth in that area was critical during the regular season. We had a lot of players miss time due to injury and schedule problems, and I was really happy how our young players stepped up, even if they had to play out of position. I think we are getting healthy at just the right time. We ask our forwards to do a lot, both offensively and defensively. I don’t think any team can be successful at this level without a balanced attack.”
Walker contended that NOVA’s forward strength surprised the competition last year, but that element won’t be felt this year, especially against ORSU's experienced pack.
“I like where we are at right now and I'm excited about the challenge ahead of us this weekend,” Walker concluded. “And I think the players are, too.”
NOVA and ORSU face off at 12 p.m. EST tomorrow. Stay tuned.