Missouri Loves Company 2015: Tournament Preview (Women’s)

Missouri Loves Company is still a fall tournament, but it can be a harbinger of spring success.

mlc logoLet’s just say it. Most fall tournaments don’t matter. The fall belongs to the rookie: the eager, nervous freshman who sends shaky forehands into the wind and then stands in the cutting lane, confused and terrified. These are their games, and the rest of us wait patiently until January comes to open our scorecards. How much weight can you give a game where half the players don’t know what “fast count” means yet?

That said, last year a scrappy team from Indiana blew up what should have been a straightforward Missouri Loves Company weekend. While they lost to Kansas Betty in the finals, both teams’ performances would foreshadow how their seasons would unfold.

The region’s stronger contenders will face off in two power pools, with Pools C and D playing up on Sunday in the bracket. Both power pools feature dangerous 2 seeds: Notre Dame because of their penchant for upsets, and Colorado College for their already-hyped roster. Expect both teams to make pool play exciting on Saturday afternoon.

The Power Couples

Colorado Kali (#10) and Notre Dame Womb (#24)

#10 Colorado Kali will likely open some lines this weekend, and they will be playing without two of their mainstays, Jean Russell and Megan Ives, both of whom are abroad for the fall. Nevertheless, Colorado is the heavy favorite, mixing veteran experience with the team’s trademark defensive intensity. Kirstin Johnson returns after a breakout season with Molly Brown, Amy Leder spent the summer with LA Viva, and Nhi Nguyen is finally up to full power after the brutal PCL injury that hobbled her last season. They’re also adding a notable rookie in Maddie Green from Memorial.

Despite graduating eight seniors last Spring, the Kali team you’ll see at MLC shares the same DNA as the team who tied for 5th at Nationals last year.

“We’re focusing pretty heavily on creating a culture of hard work this fall,” Kali coach Claire Chastain told Ultiworld.

Kali’s biggest challenge on Saturday will be Notre Dame, another team known for their distinctive culture and their intensity. Last year Kali was surprised by Womb, who won the windy battle 7-4. This year they don’t plan to repeat their mistakes.

Speaking of Notre Dame…

Last year, #24 Notre Dame Womb came into MLC as a blip on the national radar. This year, after a Nationals appearance, they’re a target.

Notre Dame is a young team, which means they can afford to graduate players like Kelsey Fink and Molly Carmona and still have some of their biggest weapons, such as Julia Butterfield, Heather Fredrickson, and Sarah Lipscomb. They’ve also brought on a coach, a Notre Dame alum Eric Bens, for their 2016 season.

Like Kali they’ll be missing big portions of their roster to studying abroad, but expect Womb to show up ready to play again at MLC. And their notorious sidelines, complete with bubbles and toys? Captain Heather Fredrickson confirms, “You can expect to see those things again this year.”

Kansas Betty (#14) and Colorado College Strata (#17)

Last year #14 Kansas Betty built a season around two or three stars, a strategy that got them to Nationals but not much further. This year, coach Loren Schieber plans to reverse the trend: he has a deep bench of players who have the potential to become centerpieces for Betty’s strategy. Kansas also gets Clare Frantz (2015 U23 Mixed) and Caitlin Fitzgerald (All-Star Tour) back for another season; Frantz had to sit for most of last season with an ACL injury, and Fitzgerald had her All-Star tour cut short by a broken arm.

Don’t count on Kansas to play rookie-filled lines this weekend. As a team they tend to focus on developing the middle of their bench. Betty wants chemistry and depth in their 2016 season… and it starts now.

While they had a lower profile showing last season, count on #17 Colorado College Strata to bounce back with a stacked roster, lots of energy, and even more potential. Strata has acquired major hype this fall, particularly around the addition of Frances Gellert (USAU U19, Seattlesaurus) and Marlee Akerson (Colorado Cutthroat). These freshmen join stars like senior Chloe Rowse (USAU U23) and junior Corey Baron, both handlers who have come into their own with Colorado College.

The Strata playing at MLC won’t look like the team we’ll see at President’s Day in February; Rowse says they’ve seen nearly 20 new girls at every practice so far this fall, so this weekend will be used to get a better sense of their team.

The Builders

Pool A

Iowa State Woman Scorned has rebuilt several times over the past five or six years, but this year they’re facing substantially more construction as they recover from the exit of Callahan nominee Cami Nelson alongside role players Sam Sauerbrei and Janani Rahothaman. Woman Scorned has tended over the past few seasons to fully dedicate their fall tournaments to development, and MLC should be no different. But look out for rookie Megan Halverson (Neuqua Valley), who is already making an impact for Woman Scorned as a handler. They’ll rely on her for big hucks this weekend.

Most teams have some rust to crack during the fall, and MLC will be University of Illinois Menace’s first tournament this season. They have developed a distinct offensive pace, but their graduated talent – i.e. Jean Huang, Ariel Choi, Kaytee Meagher – were big fixtures in this rhythm. Replacing that chemistry will take Illinois some time.

As the sole D-III team and a 5 seed in the power pools, the Grinnell Sticky Tongue Frogs have pretty much everything to gain and little to lose. They’ve already played many of the power pool teams in early tournaments, and they even beat a Kansas X/Y team at Ames to Please. Extremely early season results? Sure. But the Grinnell “Stickies” deserve their spot in the big leagues, and they’ll keep up this weekend.

Pool B

It’s no secret that the inevitable graduation of Anne Hemmelgarn and Kristin Dudley hurts Purdue AMOC. They’re getting Emily Beasley back from her injury this Spring, and Monica Lasley will still be a popular target for AMOC downfield. While they have a solid core of handlers and downfield options, they’ll have to develop new playmakers who can make the big-game decisions.

There are a lot of reasons why University of Iowa Saucy Nancy is a threatening four seed behind Purdue. To start, Purdue likely remembers what happened when they met Iowa last year (hint: a 7-8 quarterfinals loss). Iowa has already been to three tournaments this year, and for the first time in years, they’re adding a coach, Patrick Lansdon. Iowa has long thrived on exploiting the midfield, particularly through players like Nicole Havel, who returns for her 3rd year, while Liz Gronert (Heist) will command the ship from the backfield. While competition at the top is steeper than last year, Iowa has a good shot at some upsets.

Despite losing big weapons in handler Jenny Li and cutter Christina Sur, Northwestern Gungho still has many of the pieces that define their program: a set-driven offense, handler-oriented defense, and hands-on coaching. Phoebe Evans returns for a 5th year, and she’ll add consistency (and height) downfield while Gungho orients their rookies.

  1. Katie Raynolds

    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 ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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