Elite-Select Challenge 2017: Tournament Preview (Mixed)

Delving into some of the biggest storylines heading into this weekend in Appleton.

Ian Engler leads Boston Wild Card. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s reporting on the Mixed Division of the 2017 Elite-Select Challenge is presented by Universe Point cleats. All opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Universe Point!

With the Elite-Select Challenge now falling later in the season than in years past, teams on the bid bubble have a better sense of what they need to do to set up their postseason success.

With the top-ranked teams sitting on the sidelines this weekend, a tournament title — and plenty of rankings points — are up for grabs in Appleton, Wisconsin.

We take a look at some of the biggest storylines heading into this weekend.

Tournament Profile

  • Date: August 19-20
  • Location: Appleton, WI
  • Weather: Mostly sunny in the low 80s all weekend, with winds between 5-15 MPH
  • Top 25 Teams: 12
  • Score Reporter

Would A Win At ESC Be Enough To Move BFG To The Top Of The Power Rankings?

Currently, #3 Seattle BFG sits third in both USAU’s rankings and Ultiworld’s Power Rankings, the highest seeded team at ESC. Seattle had giant bracket wins over dynasty programs Drag’n Thrust, Amp, and Slow White at the PEC to claim a shocking tournament title at the first TCT event of the season. Behind only Philadelphia and Mixtape in the rankings — both teams they own 2017 wins over — the question that must be posed is what would it take for BFG to surpass those squads and reclaim the top spot?

The answer? A whole lot. Even if BFG were to win this tournament, the best they can do is meet expectations — without the opportunity to square off against either team currently ahead of them to prove their mettle. On top of that, the next highest ranked teams in Appleton, Boston Wild Card and San Francisco Polar Bears, while posting impressive records, have also not played many top teams and mainly have earned their wins against lower-ranked squads; wins against these two won’t earn much respect if the score is too close. The same can be said for Fort Collins shame.

BFG’s best chance to make it to the top is with convincing wins over all of these teams — wins that prove that they are clearly a league above the others. Unfortunately, their track record doesn’t really support this outcome as likely. While BFG won the PEC, they accomplished that feat with three games that finished within two points. That’s not exactly the ‘convincing’ wins that one would hope for from the top-ranked team in the country. Their competition is also stiff; Wild Card has not lost a game yet in 2017 and the only sanctioned loss the Polar Bears suffered was on double game point.

There’s no doubt that BFG had an impressive PEC, but it was not monstrous; they are clearly fallible and their two losses in pool play are more than both Wild Card and Polar Bears have suffered combined. BFG still stands a strong chance to win it all in Appleton, but their ability to rise above AMP and Mixtape is unlikely.

Can Wild Card Maintain Their Perfect Season?

The Mixed division has always been prone to a lot of variance, so it’s rare to see a team with a commanding 13-0 record. #5 Boston Wild Card’s road to this impressive tally hasn’t just been walkover games either; while they have not had a chance to face many opponents from out West, they have notable victories over Metro North and Slow White already this summer. It helps that this is not their first run at elite competition — Wild Card has very real experience in big game scenarios and were one of the teams that represented the US at WUCC in Lecco, Italy. They have retained a strong core of veterans from their era of dominance; leaders like Lauren Nelson and Ian Engler anchor the team with their experience and the squad’s athletic young additions have proven up to the task. This team has never had a major dropoff in talent — they missed out on Nationals in 2016 by only two points.

But, there’s a large difference between being a powerful team and one that will be able to sweep the field at ESC. They face a greater range of talent and playing styles in Wisconsin than they have to this point in the season and for Wild Card to maintain their perfect record, they must go through some serious competition. The good news for them is that their pool play games probably won’t provide that challenge. #15 Denver Love Tractor has looked good at times and downright bad at others — Wild Card could face two very different teams. Neither West Chester Bang! nor Orlando Swing State have ever really shown the potential to beat a Top 10 team and Boston should have no difficulty putting them away if they maintain focus.

Their challenge may only emerge in the championship bracket. There’s no getting around that Wild Card will very likely have to play Ambiguously Grey or No Touching! in the quarterfinals; both are competent teams that could give Boston a tough game. If they advance, their most likely semis matchup would be the Polar Bears or CLX, both of whom are teams with just as much experience winning and playing in tough games. Polar Bears have a similarly successful 2017 record and CLX is the sleeper pick of the ESC. Surviving those two will probably lead to a final against BFG or shame. While these two teams have very different games styles, they could both wear Wild Card out in their own way.

It’s safe to say Wild Card will have a hard road to maintain a perfect record — not impossible, but very difficult.

Which One Seed Is Most Likely To Fall?

Of the four one seeds heading into ESC, each have made a convincing case for their position and it would be a noticeable upset if any of them fell. Shame. has faced two of the teams in their pool before and beaten them handily; BFG won the PEC and this season has only ever lost to the top two teams in the country; Wild Card has not dropped a game all season despite playing in three USAU-sanctioned tournaments. This leaves the #10 San Francisco Polar Bears as the most likely one-seed to drop a game on Saturday.

It’s not as if the Polar Bears have even been playing poorly. In fact, they have bested Blackbird twice and taken Mischief to double game point at Revolution. Their most glaring problem is that Revolution is the only sanctioned tournament that they have attended and it was attended almost exclusively by teams from the West Coast.

The Polar Bears have an incredibly large roster and a lot of players that are new to the team. At Revolution, this played to their advantage as it was a windy tournament with lots of turnovers by all the teams; their depth helped keep them from exhaustion. It was also essentially a home tournament for them. In Wisconsin, they will not enjoy the same benefits. CLX is starting to consolidate their strength and really seemed to figure out their defense by the end of the PEC; of their three losses, two were on double game point and could have gone either way. CLX went through a transition period in 2016 but is clearly on a path to get back to Nationals. A strong win against the Polar Bears may be the statement that they need. The Polar Bear’s game against Public Enemy could also be interesting. The highly touted Dallas squad lost in spectacular fashion at the PEC, but had more than three games where it could have gone either way. Those tight losses could spur them into being a tough matchup for the Polar Bears — there’s nothing more difficult than putting away a team with a chip on their shoulder.

What Should We Expect From CLX?

Remember the dominant season that #18 Iowa CLX had in 2015? Heading into Nationals seeded second and only dropping one game all tournament against the eventual champions Drag’n Thrust? CLX remembers.

While the team from Ames Iowa may have experienced a large turnover and much uncertainty in 2016, the dust has settled and the program remains. The CLX core has a lot of experience; it truly makes a difference on any squad to have players that have attended Nationals and know the effort that is required to make it there. The team is obviously missing the talent of Ryan Tucker and Blake Larson, but Camille Nelson and Kevin Seiler remain as dependable as ever and Elizabeth Gronert has proven herself to be a welcome addition downfield.

The only look we’ve had at the CLX team this year has come from their PEC run, in which they lost all their pool play games before cleaning up the 13th-16th place round robin. But they did take both Blackbird and No Touching! to double game point in Aurora; in each of those games, the CLX offense looked good and showed the potential for a high ceiling. On day two of PEC, the CLX D-line played a much tighter defensive game and drove the team to some convincing wins. If their D-line has coalesced and figured out how to work together to generate more turns, this team may have the most potential of any team at the ESC outside of the top four.

Don’t be surprised if CLX makes a run deep into this tournament — they remember what it takes.

What Game Has The Biggest Upset Potential?

Interesting matchups are easy to find in the Mixed division at the Elite-Select Challenge, but if you want upset potential, #22 Pittsburgh Alloy over #14 Madison NOISE might fit the bill.

Both teams have had inconsistent results over the course of the season, with some close losses balanced by big wins. NOISE posted strong wins over international competition at the US Open but couldn’t hang on to leads against either Seattle Mixtape or Boston Slow White. There hasn’t been much time to fully recover from that three-day tournament, either. Meanwhile, Alloy hasn’t played since the Pro-Elite Challenge in early July, and rust could be a concern, but they should be well-rested and ready to go.

The teams met in pool play in Colorado (along with ESC poolmate Fort Collins shame.), with NOISE breaking for a double game point win. Alloy’s long break and motivation against a team they have already met, coupled with potential NOISE fatigue coming off a tough US Open schedule two weeks ago, could be enough to push Alloy into the No. 2 seed in the pool, and a favorable prequarter matchup.

Which Pool 4-Seed Has The Best Chance Of Making The Bracket?

Several pool fourth seeds have an argument to make their way into the bracket, but Orlando Swing State is in the best position to do so. Swing State have been to three tournaments so far and posted strong results across the board, including a fourth place finish at the Select Flight Invite. Having chemistry within the team gives them a great shot at pushing past West Chester Bang!, who only have a single tournament under their belt this season. A streaky Denver Love Tractor squad which may struggle to find its rhythm in their first tournament since the Pro-Elite Challenge could provide another opportunity for Orlando to break seed and jump into bracket play.

Filming Schedule

Ultiworld will be filming one mixed game this weekend, to be released after the tournament. Access to the games will be available to Full and Plus subscribers. Here are the games:

  • Semifinal (TBD)
  1. Colin Clauset

    Colin Clauset is a mixed division reporter for Ultiworld, and Master's player based out of Seattle. He balances thinking way too much about Ultiworld power rankings with a possibly unhealthy amount of skiing and climbing. Call him out on Twitter at @colinclauset

  2. Graham Gerhart
    Graham Gerhart

    Graham Gerhart is a Senior Staff Writer at Ultiworld, focusing primarily on the Women's and Mixed divisions. Graham graduated from the University of Cape Town in South Africa after playing 4 years with the UCT Flying Tigers. He now lives and works full time in San Diego. Follow him on twitter @JustGrahamG

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