Of all the teams that will be in Charlotte this weekend for the UPA Atlantic Coast Open Regionals, UVA Night Train (32-8) may have had the most inauspicious beginning to the season of them all and the fast food chain Wendy’s was at the bottom of Night Train’s difficulties.
On the way to Chapel Hill for the ACC Ultimate Championships in late January the team stopped at a Wendy’s for dinner. Senior captain Robert Runner ordered his go-to sandwich, the spicy chicken sandwich, a perfect combination of fried chicken, spices, the freshly cooked Wendy’s taste and, this time, a little sprinkle of food poisoning.
By 7:30 Saturday morning, within 12 hours of consuming his sandwich, Runner found himself in the Chapel Hill emergency room strapped to a bag of IV Fluids. 3.5 bags of fluid later, Runner was feeling much better and ready to hit the fields and join his team in time for its last game of the day. Unfortunately, as Runner was arriving to the fields, senior D-Line handler Tyler Healy was being rushed to the ER suffering the same symptoms that Runner had struggled with earlier in the day.
“With all the distractions, we went into our last game on Saturday unfocused,” Runner wrote us in an e-mail.
Night Train certainly did not look like itself, going 2-2 on the day and barely squeaking into the championship bracket for Sunday, and Runner knew it. However, the team got together on Saturday night to talk about what issues it was having on the field and how to correct them. That discussion, along with some separation from food poisoning issues, put UVA in top form for Sunday’s bracket play.
“After a solid night’s rest I was able to come back and play on Sunday and UVA went into bracket play with a different attitude,” Runner wrote. “We knew we had the skills to play with every other team; it just came down to execution. Once we realized that other teams weren’t beating us and that we had been making mistakes to give them easy scores, the game became much easier.”
Virginia rolled through the competition on Sunday, handily beating Florida State before avenging its loss to NC State 13-9. Finally, UVA met UNC in the finals and pulled out a 13-9 victory that gave Night Train its first tournament win of the season. Runner was pleased with the results and attributes a lot of Virginia’s success this season to its Sunday turnaround at the ACC Championships.
“Winning ACC’s was a great boost of confidence to our program,” Runner wrote. “That victory set the tone and expectations for the rest of the season. If we had faltered and left the ACC’s with a .500 record, I don’t think we would have had as successful of a year. By starting the season with a victory against solid Regional competition, we showed ourselves we would be making noise in the AC this year.”
Virginia has spent almost its entire season at tournaments, like the ACC Championships, that are within the Regional bounds. In fact, aside from one trip to Las Vegas for Trouble in Vegas, Night Train has yet to travel outside the southeast for a tournament this season. Many would say that a team that has its eyes set on Nationals like UVA does, should have gotten more national experience but Runner believes that his team’s experience against Regional competition (Night Train has already played half the field at least once this season) in tournaments such as Southerns and Easterns, both of which saw Night Train make it to the finals, was just as good if not better than more national experience.
“By playing more Regional competition we have been able to see firsthand the teams we will need to beat to get to Ohio,” Runner wrote. “Hopefully, we will be able to use this experience to gain an advantage in important games this weekend. We hope that by playing more Regional competition we will be better mentally prepared than some of the other teams because we know what to expect.”
On top of its experience against Regional competition UVA will look to several individual players to help it move on to Nationals. Junior Tyler Conger has made a name for himself in the Region with smart, quick offense, including, but not limited to, a great athletic ability downfield and precise throws from a handling position. Runner is a great handler for the d-line and rarely makes poor decisions. However, Night Train will be counting on its ability to force turns on defense and keep posession while on offense.
“One of our greatest strengths is our defensive intensity,” Runner wrote. “We want to force teams to use their second, third and fourth options rather than relying on their strengths. An offensive aspect of the game we have tried to instill in our players is to read the defense and take what is given to you. We shouldn’t have to force anything on the field.”
On top of all that, Virginia is peaking at just the right time. Night Train made it all the way to the finals at Southerns and Easterns, only to lose twice. However, UVA pulled out its first tournament victory since the food-poison-laden ACC Championships at the Blue Ridge Sectionals on April 11-12. Runner believes that his team is now ready to do what they’ve been planning on doing all season, move on to Nationals.
“Winning Sectionals was extremely important for our team,” Runner wrote. “We had worked too hard all year and didn’t want to lose focus just before Regionals. We needed to win last weekend and secure the No. 2 seed at Regionals … Going in as the No. 2 seed there is somewhat of a target on our back, as Georgia and the North Carolina teams will want revenge. I expect us to come out intense at the beginning of every game as one false step could leave us on the outside looking in. Our goal from the start of the season was to make Nationals and we look forward to that chance next weekend.”