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Wake Forest Sports Under Ron Wellman: Part VI - Field Hockey

Welcome to the sixth installment of my series looking at the Wake sports programs under Ron Wellman. My apologies for the delay in getting this out; as punishment, I plan on doing double duty this week and getting the next installment out Thursday or so.

As a quick refresher, I'm looking at the 21 seasons under Wellman (since the 1993-94 academic year) compared to the final 10 years of the Gene Hooks era (the 1982-83 through 1992-93 academic years) to determine how the programs have fared.

This post looks at the field hockey program, which - as you'll see - has been the most successful program in the Wellman era.

***** Index *****

Part I - Football

Part II - Volleyball

Part III - Men's Soccer

Part IV - Women's Soccer

Part V - Men's and Women's Cross Country

***** Program Overview *****

When I wrote about the women's soccer program, I wrote about the historic dominance of the ACC as a conference, comparing it to the Big East in men's basketball.

In the past 15 years (dating back to 1999-2000), the current ACC members have won eight national titles, have had 27 of the 60 College Cup participants (45%) - college soccer's equivalent to the Final Four, claimed all four top regional seeds in a single season (2013 - Virginia, Florida State, UNC, Virginia Tech), and has placed as many as 10 of its current 14 teams (71.4%) or 9 of its then 12 teams (75%) into the field. The current ACC membership accounts for 24 national titles (21 from UNC, 3 from Notre Dame); every other team combined accounts for 8. In the past two seasons alone, 9 different ACC teams have been ranked in the top 5 nationally at one point or another. Over half the conference has played in the College Cup since 2010 (BC, Duke, Florida State, UNC, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake).

The ACC in field hockey has a similar record of dominance. In the 33 seasons that the NCAA has held a field hockey tournament, the ACC has won 17 national titles, accounted for 40% (53 of 132) of the Final Four participants. The ACC has accounted for at least one Final Four team every year since 1988 (25 years in a row) and at least two Final Four teams ever year since 2002. Overall, the ACC has had 16 years with multiple Final Four teams, and 7 years with three Final Four teams. ACC also won 10 straight national titles from 2002-2011.

On the face of it, these numbers don't quite measure up to the gaudy soccer numbers, though they are still impressive. However, consider that only 7 ACC schools have field hockey teams (as opposed to most schools fielding women's soccer teams). One of those 7 schools is Syracuse, which is in its first year in the conference; another is Boston College, which joined in 2005. The other five are the "traditional" ACC field hockey teams:

Maryland: 17 Final Fours, 8 national titles

North Carolina: 18 Final Fours, 6 national titles

Wake Forest: 9 Final Fours, 3 national titles

Virginia: 5 Final Fours

Duke: 4 Final Fours

All those statistics that I cited above? These five schools are responsible for all of them.

Now, this creates some interesting conference statistics. For starters, Wake only joined the ACC in field hockey in 1992; prior to that, it played regional opponents as part of the Deep South Association, with an annual game (read: loss) against Duke and the occasional game (read: loss) against other ACC schools. In fact, in the 10 years before Wellman took over, Wake won exactly zero games against ACC schools (0-15).

In 1983, Hooks began the process of revamping the program, hiring Barbara Bradley to be the first ever coach. Bradley coached 9 years, overseeing a gradual transition as Wake joined the ACC. Bradley experienced some success, including a 16-2 record in 1986. However, the Deacs did not truly hit the big time until Hooks brought in Jen Averill in 1992.

Under Averill, the Deacs went from the ACC bottom-feeder to national champions (in 2002, 2003, and 2004). The Deacs also had a string of 9 straight Final Four appearances (2000-2008). As a result, Averill was named to the College Field Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. And despite all the (well-deserved) accolades for Averill, Wake has won about 45% of its conference games under her (58-70 conference record, or .453).

It's that hard of a conference.

***** Notes on Methodology *****

As noted above, Wake didn't officially join the ACC in field hockey until 1992. As a result, the number of games against the ACC powerhouses prior to that season was minimal (0-12 from 1983-1991, 0-3 in 1992). In my volleyball review, I stated that I felt that .300 is the minimal acceptable level for conference performance. As a result, I'm assigning a conference standard of a .300 winning percentage in terms of expectations.

The overall winning percentage from 1983-1992 (.564) is kept for the overall standard.

Also, it doesn't really come up since collegiate field hockey no longer uses ties, but ties (prior to 1993) count as .5 of a win.

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Just a reminder, the vertical silver line represents the demarcation between the Hooks and Wellman eras.

Here are the year-by-year results. As expected, the high period represents the period in which the Deacs went to 9 straight Final Fours. Averill's first season is the low point just to the left of the silver line. Of some concern, the Deacs haven't been able to sustain its long success in recent years.

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And here we see the hilarity that is Wake's historic conference performance. That line is at .000. Wake's first win against an ACC opponent was in 1994. The Deacs have had two perfect ACC regular seasons: 2002 and 2005.

Here are the 4 year rolling average graphs:

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These graphs have similar shapes, with the exception that Bradley had excellent overall winning percentages without winning a game against an ACC team. The Averill graphs are similar in shape, with the conference graph a slightly more extreme version.

Now let's take a look at the Wellman-era numbers. First, cumulative winning percentage:

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For simplicity's sake, I'm not going to include a second graph for Averill's personal cumulative percentage (it's slightly lower on account of her 1992 season being poor; same for conference play).

The high point you see is in 2008, when the program had a cumulative .741 winning percentage. Since then, the Deacs have regressed; the mark currently stands at a robust .696.

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Similar shape with the conference only graph. The Deacs briefly topped the .500 mark; the 6-0 regular season in 2005 upped the record to exactly .500, the record peaked at .526 in 2008, and then dipped below .500 after 2011, where it has stayed. The current mark cumulative winning percentage is .464 (58-67), with Averill's personal mark again being a little lower (58-70, .453).

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I got away with not adjusting the women's soccer graph despite its cumulative net wins eclipsing 50, but no such luck with field hockey, which during the Wellman years has accumulated a whopping 58.1 wins above expectation in the 21 seasons (women's soccer peaked at 51.3). The field hockey program has actually peaked above the +60 threshold, but the past few years have pulled the number down slightly.

It's also interesting to note that - like Vidovich - Averill took a few years to get rolling. She basically broke even over her first 6 seasons under Wellman (cumulative -0.3 wins), then rode the next decade into the Wake sports pantheon:

1999: +5.6 wins above expected

2000: +5.6

2001: +4.2

2002: +7.6

2003: +9.0

2004: +7.0

2005: +8.0

2006: +8.5

2007: +3.6

2008: +7.3

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you become a legend.

Just for the record, Averill's personal graph looks identical except moved down, as her first season saw her register a -5.7 wins against expected mark. So basically, just subtract that number from each yearly total to get her personal graph.

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Similar graph, but with lower numbers. Averill finished a comfortable +20.5 wins ahead of expected in conference play, with a range of -5.1 in 1998 and +22.1 in 2011. The same decade of dominance is equally ridiculous, with every year but 2007 registering at at least +2.2 wins (2007 was only +1.2 above expected, which... pfffffffft).

***** An Observation *****

I want to draw your attention to something, if I may. Field hockey is the last of the fall sports in this series, and I'm almost halfway finished (this will be 7 of 16 sports). Look at the overall shapes of the 4-year average graphs by sport:

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Of these 7 sports, 4 (football, men's soccer, women's cross country, field hockey) have seen rather dramatic downturns in the past 5 or so seasons (and men's cross country - and to a lesser extent volleyball - were already bottoming out before that period). In each case, the general shape of the program is a peak in the mid-2000's, followed by an inability to sustain that peak.

This is something that I plan on keeping an eye on moving forward - even though the overall numbers may remain healthy within a program (such as field hockey), the program's current trajectory may leave a bit to be desired.

***** Summation *****

Jen Averill

Proj. Record: 260.6-201.4 (38.4-89.6)

Actual Record: 313.5-148.5 (58-70)

Net: +52.9 (+19.6)

Proj. Record Under Wellman: 250.4-193.6 (37.5-87.5)

Actual Record Under Wellman: 309-135 (58-67)

Net: +58.6 (+20.5)

***** Analysis *****

While not technically a Wellman hire, Averill has been the best coach of the Wellman era. Vidovich has accumulated +48.1 wins above expected in his 20 seasons, while women's soccer as a program has accumulated +51.3 wins above expected in 20 seasons split between Chris Turner (+23.4) and Tony da Luz (+27.9).

And again, it's worth reiterating: Wake has won 8 national titles in team sports in its athletic history, three of which were won from 2002-2004 by field hockey.

Even if there's been a dropoff in play lately, those national championship trophies last forever.

Also, I will never grow tired of this:

1999: +5.6 wins above expected

2000: +5.6

2001: +4.2

2002: +7.6

2003: +9.0

2004: +7.0

2005: +8.0

2006: +8.5

2007: +3.6

2008: +7.3

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***** Running Total *****

Football: -6.4 (+2.9) --> -25.8 (+17.3)

Volleyball: +20.9 (+40.8) --> +36.9 (+124.4)

Men's Soccer: +46.5 (+34.6) --> +109.7 (+233.8)

Women's Soccer: +51.3 (+28.9) --> +119.6 (+169.0)

Men's Cross Country: -9.5 (-9.5) --> -48.4 (-48.4)

Women's Cross Country: +17.3 (+17.3) --> +86.6 (+86.6)

Field Hockey: +58.1 (+20.5) --> +131.0 (+164.0)

Unweighted

Total: +409.6 (+746.7)

Weighted

Total: +666.7 (+1382.7)

You the people have spoken, and we're adopting the field hockey version of the original weighting system:

x5: football, men's basketball

x2: men's soccer, women's soccer, field hockey, women's basketball, men's golf, baseball

x1: volleyball, men's cross country, women's cross country, men's tennis, women's tennis, men's track and field, women's track and field, women's golf

*****

Next week: I examine whether saying Jeff Bzdelik's name three times summons him from the coaching netherworld to run your program into the ground. That's right, it's men's basketball time! (Hold on to your butts.)

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... Jeff Bzdelik Jeff Bzdelik WHAT OH GOD NOOOOOO-

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photo by Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

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