Missouri Loves Company 2014: Tournament Recap (Women’s)

Katie Raynolds recaps the storylines from the 2014 Missouri Loves Company Women's Division.

MLC

Aah, Fall ultimate in the  Midwest. The biting sting of the first hard throw you have to catch in warm-ups, the unwieldy layers of fleece and spandex you struggle under, the mischievous wind whaling on your hopeless, feeble forehand grip. These tournaments evoke a unique blend of determination, nostalgia, camaraderie, and misery.

Missouri Loves Company has long been the final hurrah for most teams before the long winter: teams shuffle their lines, hunting for glimpses of chemistry. Rookies fling discs into blowing gusts, and we call it “developing their throws.” It’s dangerous to extract real conclusions from any one team’s performance this weekend. There were a lot of new faces on the fields, and some of them won’t be there come postseason in the Spring. But just before the winter weather settles over the Midwest, 20 teams nevertheless submitted opening chapters to their seasons, revealing small hints of the teams they will become.

For a look at the finalists, read the game recap of Kansas’ win over Colorado.

Notre Dame Crashes The Party

If Kansas Betty left the tournament prom queens, Notre Dame Womb left as the kids who crashed the dance and then won the after party.

Notre Dame has long been a fixture in the Great Lakes region, giving teams with big ambitions tougher games than they were prepared for. They placed 4th in the region last year, upsetting Illinois Menace 9-7 in the process.

Notre Dame began their morning with a statement, going up 6-1 on the tournament’s first seed, Colorado Kali. Kali was playing open lines, giving new players minutes on the field, while Notre Dame had a roster of only 16. Their inevitably tighter rotations were absolutely an advantage, but they shouldn’t add an asterisk to the victory: Notre Dame played fierce, gritty ultimate, and their desire to close the game was obvious. Points were long, windy, and cold in the first round: Womb took half 7-3, and the game ended 7-4.

“We went into the game knowing we were the underdog…We’ve been hyping this up ever since the schedule came out,” Captain Kelsey Fink said after the game. “We haven’t gone to many big tournaments in the past few years, so we’re excited to play at this caliber of tournament, to be in a power pool, and to play such a good team.”

Notre Dame didn’t look like the underdogs, however. They went largely unchallenged for the entire weekend, only finding trouble against Truman State, who tied for 5th at D-III College Championships last season, and against Kansas Betty, whose offensive flow was too disciplined to crack.

Notre Dame’s mainstay Kesley Fink returns for a fifth year, supported by imposing play from Julia Butterfield and Nicole Vujosevich. They look for big throws often, but not for the lack of open cuts under. The Notre Dame receivers had better hands than most other teams, bringing tricky discs down regularly. On defense they chose predominantly to stay tight and physical, rarely throwing zone despite their lower numbers.

Notre Dame ended the tournament in 3rd place behind the two Nationals teams at the tournament. In true Notre Dame style, they gave a lot of ambitious teams games they weren’t ready for, and this time Womb came out on top. Come Spring, they could lead the pack of Great Lakes hopefuls knocking at Michigan’s door to take the bid.

Watch Out For Wisconsin

Bella Donna did not look like a Top 25 women’s division team when they stepped on the field Saturday morning. Stagnant cutting, cautious handling…the team’s frustration was evident. They knew they were better.

They lost to Iowa 3-8 and shuffled morosely into their bye, during which I can only assume each player shotgunned a Red Bull and got ready to roll. Bella Donna stormed out of their bye as the loudest team at the fields. You could hear Wisconsin players cheering from two fields away, rushing the field after every point. Their play followed suit: they beat Truman State 11-5 and Purdue 8-3. They battled Kansas in the last round, defeating the eventual tournament champions 9-7.

Their quarterfinal game with Colorado brought the best out of both teams. The point margin was never more than two, and it was 8-8 before Kali inched ahead to win. At their best, Wisconsin veterans and rookies worked together to assemble a beautiful game flow: handlers Anneke Vermaak and Rachel Romaniak (Heist) were smart and level-headed in a fall tournament checkered with bad decisions. Anna Hrovat-Staedter and Lorraine Guerin (both Heist) have stepped up downfield, and rookie Maggie Kennedy (Nemesis) made an impressive number of plays for her first college tournament.

Sara Scott’s star power last year fueled Bella Donna, leading many to question the team’s depth. But the Wisconsin that emerged last weekend was talented, athletic, and smart. You would never guess they’d lost someone at all.

Iowa Saucy Nancy Shows Promise

University of Iowa Saucy Nancy struggled for most of last season to find their beat; they never seemed able to click into a rhythm that could translate into victories. But last weekend Saucy Nancy looked more put together and calm than they had all last year; Emily Fuji (Spicy Tuna), Anna Pritchard, and Liz Gronnert each had moments of greatness that could grow into huge plays in the spring.

Saucy Nancy raged into semifinals off a close 8-7 quarterfinals game during which an injury sent one of their players to the ER. They surged early, going up 3-1, but Kali would eventually take the game 9-6. They placed 4th overall, losing to the indomitable Notre Dame to end their weekend.

Iowa found an incredibly effective pace this weekend, and it made all the difference. Players knew where to find each other on the field, and they weren’t afraid to make plays when necessary, displaying a promising mental toughness. They clicked.

Great Lakes Teams Build

Purdue University AMOC  and University of Illinois Menace were the two most promising Great Lakes teams going into the weekend, having placed 2nd and 3rd at Regionals respectively. If it weren’t for the wrecking ball that was Notre Dame’s performance, Illinois and Purdue’s close quarterfinals games would look like good showings from two solid teams with big goals.

Purdue’s Sunday performance was particularly impressive considering their winless Saturday. Decisions were poor and movement was lethargic across the board for AMOC in pool play, and they ended their day with a 5-11 loss to Truman State. Their Sunday started the same way: they were down 5-7 at half against Iowa State Woman Scorned, the first half littered with drops. Out of half AMOC dialed in and went a 4-point run to take the lead 8-7, an impressive feat in the morning’s gusts, and they won the mental battle inherent in every double game point game, upsetting this reporter’s bracket with a 9-8 win. AMOC would move on to an intense and far cleaner quarterfinal game against Iowa, losing the double game point battle 7-8.

Illinois Menace had much tidier play throughout the weekend, and they had less drama: they went 2-2 in their pool, they blew through their prequarters game against Wisconsin Eau-Claire, and they gave Kansas a well-matched, close quarterfinal game. Returners Ariel Choi, Jean Huang, and Loren Goodrich were steady anchor points for the team. Menace showed a studied depth in their roster and an analytic approach to the game that reflects their coach Angelo Ramos’ style. Illinois was steady, and they were good. But Illinois wants to be great this season, which means there may drama in their future.

This Is What Development Looks Like

In six years of playing fall ultimate in the midwest, I’ve seen my share of bad throws. From the frantic rookie dump pass to the desperate high stall blade punt, the cold and the wind prompt a lot of cringeworthy moments. That makes the throws on display at Missouri Loves Company impressive: I saw plenty of poor decisions and miscues, but throws across the board looked better than I have ever seen from teams in the Fall. Newer programs like Wisconsin Eau-Claire were putting up beautiful hucks and clean unders. There have never been so many high-release backhands thrown at a women’s tournament in the fall, and while they didn’t all land, some of them did.

Women’s development can be a tricky intangible, and our community sometimes risks making it a buzzword, hollowed of real meaning. But after six years of watching the same teams, at the same fields, during the same tournaments, I love being able to say: women are getting better. And it shows.

  1. Katie Raynolds
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    Katie Raynolds took a break from Seattle ultimate to test out the Midwestern scene, but now she's back in the Northwest to investigate this "bubble" she keeps hearing about. She played for Northwestern Gungho, two seasons with Chicago Nemesis, and now plays for Seattle Underground. Katie serves as Ultiworld's Women's D1 College Editor, and is damn proud to cover women's ultimate. You can reach her by email (katie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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