Missouri Loves Company 2015: Tournament Recap (Men’s)

The weather was beautiful at MLC for a change and the ultimate was better than ever.

mlc logoThis article was written by Colin O’Brien and David Sachs. Disclosure: Both attend the University of Missouri and play for the Mizzou ultimate team.

Missouri Loves Company’s reputation as the Midwest’s premier fall tournament means that the tournament consistently draws many of the country’s top teams to Columbia. Although it is still fall ultimate and using the word ‘upset’ might be too strong, MLC 2015 saw some unexpected results across both tiers of pools.

Unsurprising Finish For Wisconsin

One thing was abundantly clear this past weekend: The Hodags were the best team at MLC. They faced good competition all weekend and, aside from a close game with Colorado, had no trouble in pool play. Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), Notre Dame and Luther were all teams that exceeded expectations at their respective Regionals events last year, and, though none of them made Nationals, Pool A still looked like it would be a tough fight.

Wisconsin — the No. 7 team in the Ultiworld preseason power rankings — put that idea to rest immediately, knocking off Notre Dame 13-3 and never looking back. They beat WashU 13-4 and wiped the floor with regional rival Luther, 13-1. Colorado gave Wisconsin the closest fight of the tournament but the Hodags prevailed 12-11.

“I think the pools were a little bit unbalanced because more of last year’s Nationals qualifiers were in the B pool than the A pool,” Wisconsin coach Hector Valdivia said. “But we’re playing open lines and we’re trying to see where everyone is at this point in the year just before we go into hibernation.”

The Hodags will sleep for the winter satiated after a great showing at MLC, beating Colorado State, Minnesota and Missouri to reach the championship game. The team had to wait nearly 15 minutes before two long points between Colorado and Carleton were settled, getting a good look at both potential opponents. Having already beaten Colorado, Wisconsin got a chance to play an impressive CUT squad — their biggest rival — in the finals and won 13-9.

Wisconsin didn’t surprise anyone with new zone looks or wildly experimental offensive sets. Nick Vogt, Sterling Knoche, and Ross Barker stood out when necessary but did not dominate on a very deep Hodag sideline. They were the most fundamentally sound team at MLC on both sides of the disc and kept their composure all weekend.

Colorado Looks Strong, Still Developing

Colorado (No. 6 preseason) has been a lock for the MLC championship game of late. This year Mamabird fell to a strong Carleton team (No. 11 preseason) in the semis on double game point and finished the weekend tied for third. The team breezed through their first three games on Saturday, easily handling the bottom half of Pool A.

“I felt like we didn’t get a lot of defensive pressure, and the offense was not really tested, so it worked well,” assistant coach Gabe Stump said. “It went pretty smooth, and we tried to get the rookies playing time.”

Colorado’s momentum was halted in their last game, however, when they faced Wisconsin. Mamabird started strong, getting ahead two breaks early in the half. Wisconsin was able to rally, though, and rattled off four in a row to take half. Colorado made up a break and kept it close in the second half, but the Hodags’ defense was able hold them off on double game point, giving Colorado their first loss of the day.

Despite the close loss, Colorado came into Sunday ready to play, making easy work of an Oklahoma team coming off of two close upset victories in pool play to take the one-seed in Pool F. “We got the break train going early,” said Stump, “[then] we got the young guys a lot of playing time.”

A strong Northwestern team was able to once again take Colorado to double game point, but this time Mamabird was able to eke out a 13-12 victory. “Northwestern gave us a hell of a game which cost us some of our legs probably,” Stump said. “They had two really good receivers who had a lot of plays deep and that drew the game out.”

Following the game, Colorado had to immediately take the field against a streaking Carleton team in the semifinals and, though the teams traded scores, Mamabird looked to have the upper hand.

“We were in control of that game for 90% of it. I thought the guys were going to take it,” Stump said. But the lack of a rest period showed as the game dragged on to another double game point. Colorado’s defense was unable to make up for some key offensive miscues, and CUT handed Colorado its second loss of the weekend.

Colorado finished the weekend T-3rd with Missouri. Stump was happy with the way Pawel Janus and Josh Crane worked well together on the O-line, and Jeremy Harker and Alex Tatum stepped up as well. Notably absent this weekend was perennial threat Mark Rauls.

“The team is still figuring out who they want to be, but our system has been working fine,” Stump said. “We like to win, and we like to finish but mostly the guys like to go out there and play their hardest, and they got to do that this weekend.”

A New Fall Carleton?

Carleton has long been considered a laboratory in the fall, concerned with developing team chemistry and system and putting results to the back burner.

“We understand that if we were concerned about results, we’d only be disappointed,” Carleton coach Phil Bowen said. “With a young team, and we’re always a young team, every year if you worried about results, you won’t get the most out if it. So it’s not that we want to put results aside, it’s that we have to. We don’t have a choice but to concentrate on the process and to concentrate on developing people because the season starts so early now.”

That was not the case this weekend. CUT was able to focus on developing its strong sophomore and freshman classes while winning close games all weekend.

“Of course it’s nice to get both,” Bowen said with a laugh. “It’s fantastic to get both. It’s a great indication of what our potential is.”

CUT took Pool B after beating Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas by one point each. Illinois’ isolation side stack gave teams trouble all weekend and was responsible for Carleton’s only pool play loss, a close affair at 9-7.

Carleton had a short roster of 16 guys at MLC; their physical and mental stamina showed. The team broke Colorado twice in the final two points of their semifinal matchup, once to force DGP and once to win and reach the championship game. They took the field shortly after to face Wisconsin in the finals and immediately broke the Hodags but couldn’t keep up as the game wore on.

Carleton has a bright outlook for the upcoming season, especially after coming off of a disappointing 2015 in which they did not reach the National Championships.

Missouri Turns In Best Ever MLC Result

The decision to place yourself in a power pool at your home tournament is a tricky endeavor for any team that hosts tournaments and considers itself competitive. At the previous year’s MLC, Mizzou did not put itself in a power pool and failed to make the championship bracket.

This year, though, a power pool seemed appropriate. The MUtants defied all expectations in Columbia, finishing tied for third. Missouri broke Texas on the first point of the tournament, broke three more times that half, and won 10-7 to start the tournament strong. After a close loss to Carleton, Mizzou bounced back against Grey Duck (13-9) and Illinois (12-9) to finish second in Pool B.

Missouri started Sunday with two close 11-9 wins: Iowa State in pre-quarters and Kansas in the quarterfinals. But Mizzou’s run was ended by a superior Wisconsin team in the semifinals, 13-6.

“I’m ecstatic with our results,” captain Jay Froude said. “It was a little emotional to lose to Wisconsin as we did, but I can’t be mad at our weekend. The development from day one has showed, and we made ourselves noticeable in a power pool.”

In his final year of college eligibility, the scouting report has gotten out on Froude, who has built upon his reputation playing with Kansas City Prairie Fire and the AUDL’s Madison Radicals: Stop Froude, stop Missouri.

In the past, Missouri has been rightfully critiqued as lacking the playmakers to step up when Froude is injured or shut down. That may be changing.

Jesse White, Froude’s Prairie Fire teammate, is making a name for himself too. He had five goals and two assists on Saturday, and handler Mitch Kulczak (2G, 11A) and Cody Curran (6G, 4A) also helped take the weight off the team’s star.

“Jesse played the best out of anybody this weekend for us, and you can see playing club has helped,” Froude said. “He’s an athlete, and the way he picks things up is incredible. Mitch played a large role in filling the main handler position. We still need work there, but those two pulled their weight this weekend.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Wisconsin’s offense had little trouble with Mizzou’s defense, and the Hodag defense, which exposed opponents’ offenses all weekend, did the same to Missouri.

Despite its fall success, Missouri — which has never even won a Conference title — will still have to prove itself come spring.

Disappointing Results For Texas and Minnesota

Again, it’s worth noting that this is the fall. Teams are still figuring out their identities and lines and results should be taken with some context. Grey Duck (No. 16 preseason) finished sixth and TUFF (No. 15) finished eighth.  Both teams have the throwers and playmakers to improve come spring. Don’t forget that Texas struggled at this tournament a year ago, before going on to an impressive performance at Nationals.

Still, it’s unlikely the two teams seeded at the top of Pool B were happy with their Saturday results. Texas’ lone win was as close as they come, 13-12 against Illinois, while Minnesota beat Texas 9-7 to close out Saturday.

Grey Duck beat WashU in pre-quarters 9-8 before running up against Wisconsin and putting up a strong fight before losing 13-9.
Texas began its Sunday with an 11-9 win over Luther, but like Minnesota, encountered a championship team in CUT in the quarterfinals. They were completely outmatched in a 13-3 loss.

Again, it’s the fall, and it’s unlikely these teams are particularly worried about results at this stage in the season. Both Minnesota and Texas have shown us that they can play with the best when it matters in April.

Injuries Hamper Illinois’ Performance

Illinois went 2-2 on Saturday with wins against Minnesota and Carleton and losses to Missouri and Texas. Unfortunately the team had two players go down with shoulder injuries, including Nick Prozorovsky, against Carleton. Illinois has the handlers and the cutters to effectively run its isolation side stack, but Prozorovsky is a great player and his loss was surely felt. The team finished 10th, falling to Northwestern in pre-quarters, but the Illini earned good wins against Oklahoma and Purdue in the 9th place bracket.

Other Pool Results

— Northwestern went 4-0 to claim Pool C and a spot in the championship bracket. Its two closest games, both 13-6, came against Illinois State and Indiana. NUT knocked off Illinois in pre-quarters, lost on DGP to Colorado in quarters, then beat Texas 13-8 in consolation. Strong weekend for the team and an opening salvo in the battle for the Great Lakes.

— Kansas claimed Pool D with a 13-12 win over Iowa and looked like a very solid team all weekend, both defensively and offensively. Much of the team played club together in Lawrence or Kansas City and the chemistry is apparent. The Zontals finished 7th after a Texas forfeit.

— Iowa State absolutely dominated Pool E, conceding just nine points across four games. ISUC beat the pool’s two-seed UNI 13-2 and its closest game was a pair of 13-3 victories against Southern Indiana and Rockhurst. The team lead Missouri for much of their pre-quarters matchup but gave up a few late breaks and tied for 11th after a 13-12 loss to Colorado State.

— Pool F was the first to feature a notable upset, with Oklahoma beating Carleton GOP 13-11 and Baylor 10-8 to make the championship bracket. The Apes of Wrath didn’t blow anybody out but went undefeated on Saturday. They faced Colorado in the first round and lost 13-4 but finished 13th after beating Luther and taking a forfeit win over WashU.

— Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Purdue both cruised through Pool G, with no team coming closer than 13-4 to Black Cat and 13-6 to Undue before the teams met in the last round on Saturday. Purdue rolled Wisconsin-Milwaukee, coming away with a 13-6 win and the pool. After a 12-11 loss to CUT in pre-quarters, Purdue finished 11th and has shown promise.

— Colorado State had trouble with Pool H’s bottom teams, beating Air Force 11-10 and Indiana Wesleyan but made easy work of the two-seed, Minnesota-Duluth, 13-4. Hibida drew a tough matchup in pre-quarters, facing eventual champs Wisconsin, but kept the game close in a 14-10 loss, their only defeat of the weekend. After beating WashU and Iowa State, Colorado State finished 9th after an Illinois forfeit.

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