Midwest Throwdown 2015: Tournament Preview (Women’s)

Midwest Throwdown

From regular snow storms, to gale winds, to apocalyptic blizzards…Midwest Throwdown is a hard tournament to love. Elite talent typically attends once, struggles in the weather, and flees to the coasts the following season.

Last year, after canceling the tournament on Saturday in the face of a pending blizzard, I asked Michelle Ng why she even bothered anymore. She said frankly that every year she considered canceling…yet every year when she tried to gauge interest, a massive waiting list of eager teams emerged.

Teams want to play Midwest Throwdown. Young developing programs want to cut their teeth against unfamiliar competitors and brutal wind. Top regional talent wants to eye each other and stretch their limbs, rusty from months spent in stuffy indoor complexes (looking at you, North Central). This tournament persists because we want it to — even as the temperature drops.

For many teams, Midwest Throwdown marks their first game outdoors in months. The games won’t (usually) make or break a team’s season. Nevertheless, MWTD will feature a few story lines that could have season-long implications.

Tournament Profile

  • Date: March 7-8
  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Ranked Teams: 2
  • Score Reporter

Unbreakable Betty

Last year going into MWTD, University of Kansas Betty (#5 USAU, #11 UW) just wanted to get noticed. This year they come into the tournament as the one of the highest ranked D-I teams in the country (behind Clemson, which is another story). They won Missouri Loves Company this fall, beating Colorado 12-7, and they won Florida Winter Classic over UCF, 15-12. They don’t get to be the underdogs ever again.

Most teams hit a sophomore slump when they graduate players as influential as Christina Baker and Kat Songer: combined, these handlers contributed 24/50 of Betty’s assists at nationals. Instead of a slump, Betty adapted. They graduated handlers but still had veteran cutters. So this season, look for some of Betty’s cutters to be their biggest weapons, particularly on deep continuations.

Depth and flexibility are Betty’s trademarks, and both will be tested this weekend: Clare Frantz is still out for Betty with a knee injury she sustained at Florida Winter Classic. Kelsey Akin, who scored a third of Betty’s goals in the FWC final, isn’t playing due to injury, and handler Kate Eshelman won’t be at MWTD.

Who’s Afraid of Notre Dame?

The answer should be everyone.

“Our goal for MWTD, in typical Womb-style, is to surprise top teams, giving them much more difficult games than they are expecting,” says captain Kelsey Fink. Indeed Womb has a knack for blitzing teams and stealing their candy.

Notre Dame will face Kansas at 8:00 am Saturday for the first round, and that should worry Kansas, if only because it pleases Notre Dame. Notre Dame dominated Colorado Kali at Missouri Loves Company 7-4, a score much kinder to Kali than the game was. Womb can bring energy early, and they turn the energy into hefty point margins before the other team has had their coffee.

This will be the A team’s first official tournament together, and their practice time has been limited so far this season. But nobody at MWTD can afford to underestimate Notre Dame.

Melee’s Chance

Texas Melee (USAU #23, UW #23) has every reason to have a chip on their shoulder. They lost their ticket to Nationals last year. They graduated a solid class of performers, including Diana Charrier, Brady Stoll, and Kayla Ramirez. Kansas may be the first regional competition Texas faces this season after they chose to travel to both coasts to face top talent.

Florida Winter Classic was taxing on their 15-player squad, but they played well and fared better at the President’s Day Invitational in mid-February, going 5-3 on the weekend. Melee enters MWTD with more outdoor experience than most of their pool for 2015, and their tough losses to elite teams will likely serve them better than other teams’ copious local wins.

Expect junior Shiru Liu to take over behind the disc, and look for Lauren McKenna’s downfield.

Alabama Extends Their Reach

Alabama Ramma Jamma (#12 USAU) is currently ranked among the top 20 women’s teams, an algorithmic product of their T-Town Throwdown victory, copious in-region wins, and a lack of overall connectivity to the other top teams. But they shouldn’t be underestimated. So far in 2015, their local wins look more impressive than some of their opponents’ elite losses, and they have only lost to one team, Clemson.

Their out of region experience is limited, but they have likely had more practices outside already than Illinois and Iowa combined. An upset or two could be huge for this Southwest team, throwing a grenade into the rankings. Captain Caroline Marsh (2014 SE Women’s Ultiworld 1st Team) will likely have a lot of touches, particularly if the wind picks up.

The Hopefuls Warm Up…

– Iowa State Woman Scorned has had a frustrating beginning to their season. With only 4 tournament wins so far this season and a bevy of new players, this former powerhouse is in a tough pool position to break seed. They’re still finding chemistry, but Cami Nelson and Sam Sauerbrei are guaranteed to put some nice plays together.

– Iowa Saucy Nancy showed a lot of promise at Missouri Loves Company where they made it to the semifinals against Colorado. The veteran combination of Emily Fujii, Liz Gronnert, and Anna Pritchard could take them far in the bracket.

– Illinois Menace always has big regional dreams, but they have had little tournament experience since early November. The Great Lakes region is more vulnerable than ever before, but Illinois has to prove they can actually take it.

Tier II Teams to Watch

In true Without Limits style, the Tier II teams have a chance on Sunday morning to face Tier I opponents in the Championship bracket. Here are a few teams who could topple Tier I:

– Truman State is an undeniable contender. They upset Purdue and Washington University at Missouri Loves Company, and they lost to Notre Dame on double game point, 8-9. They made it to the finals at Big D Little D, where again they barely lost to defending DIII national champion Rice University 10-11. If they hold seed, Truman State could outlast and defeat the third seed of Pool B (currently Iowa).

– St. Benedict features the recently-publicized Erynn Schroeder, who will join the Women’s U23 National Team in London next summer. Schroeder is a talented athlete, and her experience will likely strengthen the team’s game knowledge.

– Northwestern is competing in Tier II this year for the first time after several years in the Tier I bracket (cue alumna sigh). Most of the team’s Club talent has graduated, but they may still have the discipline to hold seed and grab another rung in the bracket.

 

 

  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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