[ACC PREVIEW] How competitive was the ACC in 2011? It had three teams reach the Women's College Cup -- and four make the final eight -- and none of them was
named North Carolina. Eight ACC teams made the final 16 and nine of its 11 members made the 2011 NCAA Tournament. All we know is the ACC will be just as competitive in 2012. Duke and Wake Forest,
ranked 1-2 in the ACC coaches' poll both return all 11 starters, and the ACC's top 10 scorers are all back.
Duke was the overwhelming favorite of ACC coaches, taking 10 of 11 first-place votes. It marks the first time a team other than North Carolina was selected first in the ACC preseason poll since the coaches' vote began in 1992.
The Blue Devils' list of returnees from last season's 22-4-1 team includes ACC Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Anasi, midfielder Kaitlyn Kerr and forwards Kelly Cobb, Laura Weinberg and Mollie Pathman, who combined for 25 goals and 24 assists.
Wake Forest is strong in the back with goalie Aubrey Bledsoe, a member of the 2011 Soccer America MVPs second team, and up front with 2011 ACC Offensive Player of the Year Katie Stengel (19 goals and 8 assists).
Florida State, one of the three semifinalists, won the ACC Tournament after going 5-5-0 in the regular season. Tiffany McCarty (18 goals, 6 assists) will lead the Seminoles' attack that has added Icelandic international Berglind Thorvaldsdottir.
While Duke, Wake and Florida State all went to the College Cup, Virginia lost in the quarterfinals at FSU.
The Cavaliers return five of their front six, including Soccer America Freshman of the Year Morgan Brian, top goal scorer Caroline Miller (15 goals) and Erica Hollenberg, who led the team with 10 assists.
The 2011 season was, to say the least, a down year for North Carolina, which finished the regular season with three straight defeats, including its first ever loss in the ACC Tournament.
But even without Lindsey Horan, who signed over the summer with Paris St. Germain, North Carolina welcomes one of the nation's best freshman classes led by U.S. U-20 goalie Bryane Heaberlin and U-17 star Summer Green.
(UPDATE: Indi Cowie, dubbed the best freestyle soccer player in the world, will red-short after injuring her knee this spring.)
Heaberlin is one of three Tar Heels along with Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai representing the USA at the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Japan.
Six other ACC players are on the U.S. U-20 team: Kassey Kallman (Florida State), Dayle Colpitts (Virginia Tech), Cobb and Pathman (Duke), Brian (Virginia) and Stengel (Wake Forest). (Virginia's Steve Swanson is the U-20s' head coach.)
The one coaching change in the ACC took place at Maryland, where Brian Pensky left for Tennessee and was replaced by his assistant, Jonathan Morgan.
ACC IN BRIEF:
2011 REGULAR SEASON. 1. Duke (8-1-1), 2. Virginia (7-2-1), 3. Wake Forest (5-2-3), 3. North Carolina (6-3-1). 5. Boston College (6-4-0).
2011 TOURNAMENT. Florida State beat Wake Forest 1-1 (3-1 on penalty kicks).
2011 NCAA TOURNAMENT. Duke lost in final, Florida State and Wake Forest lost in the semifinals, Virginia lost in the third round, Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia Tech lost in the third round, Miami (Fla.) lost in first round.
2012 FAVORITE. Duke
2012 CONTENDERS. Wake Forest, Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina.
2012 CREAM OF THE CROP. D Natasha Anasi, Duke, jr.; F Tiffany McCarty, Florida State, sr.; F Katie Stengel, Wake Forest, jr.; G Aubrey Bledsoe, Wake Forest, jr.; M Morgan Brian, Virginia, soph.; M Kristen Mewis, Boston College, jr.; M Crystal Dunn, North Carolina, jr.; M Kaitlyn Kerr, Duke, jr.; M Kelly Cobb, Duke, soph.; D Ines Jaurena, Florida State, sr.; M Amber Brooks, North Carolina, sr.; F Caroline Miller, Virginia, sr.
2012 TOP NEWCOMERS. G Bryane Heaberlin, North Carolina; M/F Summer Green, North Carolina; F Berglind Thorvaldsdottir, Florida State; M Ashley Spivey, Maryland; M Cassie Pecht, Duke; F Lauren Bernard, Boston College; M Makenzy Doniak, Virginia; M Dria Hampton, Florida State (transfer); G Alexa Gaul, Boston College (transfer).
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