March 11, 2013 by Geri McInerney in News, Recap with 10 comments
While this epigram is normally saved for an exaggeration of a bad situation, no other phrase could describe this weekend more accurately. A field relocation and pouring rain plagued Huck Finn XVII on both days, an all too common experience for Midwest teams this season. Surprise showers on Saturday morning left the Chesterfield Valley fields unusable, resulting in a four-hour game delay while different accommodations were made.
Tournament directors Peter Jablonski and Scott Schwartz, along with Washington University Contra captains Jacob Zax and Josh Levin, kept surprisingly calm and were able to find another field location on short notice. With the cancellations of Free State Classic in Kansas and Old Capitol in Iowa due to snow, Midwest teams were desperate to play as many sanctioned games as possible before the Series, regardless of field conditions. A unanimous decision made by the team captains to play shortened games resulted in a hectic race against the sun to fit five games into six hours. The sun miraculously appeared soon after, becoming a welcome sight for all teams worried about the sloppy field conditions.
The delay of games seemed to help some teams while hurting others in pool play on Saturday. The two ranked teams at the tournament were among the second group. Illinois (#16) felt the changes the most, placing fourth in their pool and missing a spot in the championship bracket. Iowa (#23) also struggled in pool play, and was unable to advance in the championship.
Other teams used the shortened games to their advantage. The University of Northern Iowa ended up winning their pool and placing third during Sunday play. University of Missouri’s Aaron Swaney felt that their defense was the primary area to focus on, as “it became very hard to defend a cutter going both in and deep because of the slippery footing.” Winning the tournament proved that they must have made those key adjustments. Washington University, despite having to frantically set up a brand new tournament the day of pool play, finished first in their pool and had a huge win against Luther College, the only team at this tournament who qualified for Nationals last year.
Sunday brought a whole new set of problems. A steady onslaught of rain relentlessly pounded the players throughout the day, creating a swamp where grass was previously seen. An eerie fog also rolled in off of the hills during the first game, impairing vision slightly. Even though conditions were less than ideal, most teams kept their spirits up. When asked about the weather, Iowa State’s Niko Beauchamp said, “[I had] the best bids of my life. It’s hard not to bid when there’s no ground to hit.”
The Championship: Another Border War
The University of Kansas and the University of Missouri persevered in the tough conditions to reach the finals, setting up another Border War to add to the schools’ intense rivalry in all things athletic. Both teams had previously used the dismal weather to their advantage, but with the rain intermittently stopping and a field on grass that was previously unused, this was anyone’s game. But Mizzou rolled Kansas 11-2 in the finals. “It puts the target on our back,” said Swaney
During pool play, Kansas was thankful for the delay of games after one of their players had a seizure before Saturday play. “The weather delay actually helped us. It gave us more time to focus. The weather definitely slowed the games down, but overall I’m happy with how we’ve done,” said Nick Jackson. Unfortunately, that focus seemed to have abandoned them during the finals. Whether it was fatigue from the weather or the absence of key players, Mizzou out-ran and out-played them.
Mizzou’s Jay Froude, who recently made the Open U-23 team, had a huge game on both offense and defense. He dominated both the field and the air, coming down with several big skies and adding quite a few layout Ds and hand-blocks. Steve Stallis, a U23 invite, traded off with Froude for D’s and skies. Freshman Jesse White was a monster in the air and had an excellent weekend, making Swaney “confident taking risks with him cutting deep.”
Although this win was huge for Mizzou, Swaney recognized that “KU had several key injuries/absences and [they] don’t feel that the final score is at all indicative of where they are.” KU’s only loss this weekend was to Mizzou. They will definitely be a team to contend with later on in the season when they play at full strength.
Mizzou looks to the Chicago Invite next. The Mutants are happy with their win, but understand that they need to focus on fixing the mistakes they made this weekend. The Ozark Conference should be one to look out for in the Series. Mizzou, KU, and Washington University are all contenders for the one bid to Nationals this year. With more tournament wins in the South Central Region, that bid number may even grow.
St. John’s University Takes 21st
St. John’s (#6 – DIII) had a poor showing this weekend. Finishing last in their pool play on Saturday with a record of 0-5, they missed both the championship and 13th place brackets. Their first game was against Washington University Contra, and, despite the loss, the game was not uneven in terms of level of play. Contra was able to stay calm and score against St. John’s with quick transitions and short in-cuts that St. John’s was unable to defend. Against Luther, St. John’s looked fatigued and made small mistakes that Luther was able to capitalize on. The final score of that game was 9-3, a disappointing ending for a team that was looking to finish at the top this weekend.
Whatever afflicted the team on Saturday seemed to have vanished on Sunday. St. John’s easily took both games against Illinois-B and Missouri-B to finish 21st overall. This result was very far from where they wanted to finish, and the team knows that they have to improve their game tremendously before the Series if they want to move on to subsequent rounds.
Washington University in St. Louis Contra: Staying Chilly When Nothing Else Will
The hosts of this tournament, Washington University, had their hands full throughout the course of this weekend. Driving from Chesterfield to the new field site and setting up 12 new fields resulted in some of the Contra players showing up to the game with only 20 minutes remaining before the opening pull. It is a great testament to their team discipline that their players were able to not only get warm in a short period of time, but also win their pool and pull a great upset against Luther College.
After Free State Classic was cancelled, Contra was able to find a replacement tournament within an hour and ended up winning Cowbell Classic in Mississippi. They also placed third at Midwest Throwdown in St. Louis. Coming in to Huck Finn, Contra had a distinct advantage over other teams – they had actually played together in tournaments. They placed fourth overall, losing only to Missouri and Northern Iowa.
After going 5-0 on Saturday, the team only won one game on Sunday (15-13 against Colorado State). The team still had an admirable attitude despite the disappointing day. When asked about how the rain affected their play, Senior Kyle Campbell commented on how “the whole time I was playing, all I could think about was if the World War I soldiers could, I could, too.”
Spirits were high even after their loss against Mizzou. Their team attitude is what kept them calm all weekend, resulting in an overall successful tournament.
This tournament proved that those who could come together as a team and keep their spirits high would ultimately be successful, no matter what the weather threw at them. Hopefully the teams affected by Free State and Old Capitol can have more luck finding sanctioned tournaments before the Series, but the one lesson to be taken from this weekend is this: what can go wrong, will go wrong. The teams that rolled with the punches and made adjustments for the weather had the greatest success this weekend. That same discipline will come up big in the Series.