The weekend’s biggest tournament, Midwest Throwdown (MWTD) gave us a bit of everything: nationals contenders battling each other, up and comers making big moves, upsets, and disappointments. Saturday’s cold and windy gave way to a less cold and breezy Sunday, giving teams different looks at one another in the same weekend. Let’s take a look at what went down and what it all means. Note: I was coaching this weekend, meaning I saw too little to really give nuts and bolts analysis.
Improvement was the big goal for Iowa Saucy Nancy this past weekend, as Captain Liza Minor told me coming in that they were looking to “improve in every game” and “be able to adjust quickly to different looks.” The numbers and context indicate they had the opportunity to accomplish these goals and did. They opened with an easy 15-3 win over Texas A&M, were upset by an energetic and locked in Minnesota team to the tune of 10-11, then battled with regional rival Wisconsin for a 13-11 victory, taking second in Pool B. Their crossover game with D-II would be with a Wisconsin Eau Claire team riding a 49-12 aggregate from their first three games and that Minor had noted as a team that had “proved they had the skill and athleticism to be a challenge,” and true to form, it was a close 10-8 game in Iowa’s favor.
For Saucy, Sunday’s change in conditions would give them a different set of factors to react to and new looks, which is what they were hoping to get. They took out Valparaiso 15-9, dominated Colorado St. in the semis 15-3, and got their revenge against Minnesota 15-8. After some close games with the upstart Ninjas at an Indoor Tournament, there were eyes on this matchup, so being able to rebound from their Pool Play loss has to make them feel confident putting a check mark next to “improve on the weekend.” It wasn’t a dominant or perfect weekend by any means, but their only loss was a one point loss to a good team.
The big story from MWTD has to be Minnesota Ninja. A lot of folks I had talked to coming into the weekend had mentioned them as a team to watch. They justified the hype. They beat each of the Big 3 on the weekend (Iowa St., Iowa, and Wisconsin), including a 14-7 blowout over a struggling Bella Donna squad in the opening round. They’d score that critical 11-10 victory of Iowa in the second round before taking care of business against TAMU (15-7) and their crossover against Truman State (13-4) on their way to an undefeated Saturday. They weren’t just sneaking up on teams; Minnesota was controlling games.
Their Sunday opened with a 15-7 win over Notre Dame and a 6-2 opening against Iowa St. Iowa St. would come back in the second half and bring it to universe point, but Minnesota would finish the job. While they were unable to keep up with a comparably fresh Iowa squad, it was a weekend to be proud of. I’m left wondering: if they had had a game against Colorado St. in the semis rather than a double game point grind with Iowa St., would the finals would have broken the same way?
It was a tough weekend for Northwestern Gung Ho, because they played very well, and in other tournament formats, would have finished much higher. The return of Lien Hoffman helped boost the Hos to a very strong Saturday, with 14-6 and 13-3 victories over Emory and Wash U to start the day. They’d take a double game point win over Iowa St. to win the pool and notch a marquee win for their season. However, a 13-7 flop in their D-II crossover game against a battling Colorado State team sent them tumbling into the 9th place bracket. Yep, they won Pool A, beat a nationals level opponent, and flubbed a game to fall out of championship contention – ouch!
Sunday would yield at 13-6 win over Emory, a 15-12 loss to a Wisconsin team out for redemption, and a 13-11 win over Purdue to get 11th place. It is hard when a 5-2 weekend results in you dropping 7 spots, but the ranking algorithm won’t care, so I would call the weekend a success, even if they were aching to get matched up with Iowa and Minnesota.
I hope it wasn’t me that jinxed Wisconsin Bella Donna by pegging them to win this tournament. Coming away from this weekend with a 15-12 win over Northwestern and winning 9th place might make up for their 11-13 loss to Iowa in Pool Play, but the 14-7 loss to Minnesota and 10-6 loss Kansas in their D-II crossover game are brutal. I don’t know if there were personnel issues Saturday, but they rebounded Sunday, at least.
Minnesota vaults from the regionals conversation to the Natties hot list. Expect them to break into the Top 15 in Ultiworld’s Power Rankings. Emily Regan was awesome for them this weekend and they didn’t look like a fluke to me. The windy conditions could lead to some odd results, but Sunday was clear enough that seeing them win in both sets of conditions and over each of the top three seeds is a sign these ladies are for real. Wherever they play next, eyes will be on them to see if they can continue this run of success. I’ll tell you: what they’re selling, I’m buying.
I’m also a believer that Northwestern is flying under the radar. Last time we saw them was QCTU, where their Sunday struggles marred a solid Saturday. Adding Iowa St. to their list of marquee wins (along with Georgia) is important for a team that is on the fence when it comes to the big show. Their performance probably won’t be talked about, but this team is quietly putting together some wins indicative of a team that could play their way into Madison, if they can find consistency…or get hot at Regionals.
The more I think about it, the more Saucy Nancy and Woman Scorned’s weekends look even to me, despite Iowa winning it all and ISU managing only third. Iowa St. was short Becca Miller on Saturday, and I imagine that she’s the one they’d assign to Lien Hoffman in that Northwestern loss. I’m not ready to take either out of the top 10 teams in the country nor separate one from the other.
What does this all mean for Wisconsin? That Kansas loss is really going to hurt in the USAU rankings and failing to even keep the Minnesota game close will also do damage. Those losses combine with their 6-9 loss to UCF at QCTU to drag them down, I’m theorizing. This team is plenty talented enough to rebound and these things are far from settled, but this weekend was a big step back. Their win over Northwestern, however, is a nice consolation prize. That leaves them sitting at #26 in USAU rankings (which just dropped while writing this) and outside of Wild Card bids – the North Central is currently a 2 bid region.
I’m still not sure what the heck happened at 3 PM on Saturday in St. Louis, but it was shocking to say the least. It is not unreal to see TAMU and Emory – who had both struggled in their Division-I games – fall to St. Louis U and Notre Dame, teams who spent a lot of their outdoor time in the wind and cold and had strong Saturdays. An inconsistent Wash U team ran into a zone-favoring Valpo squad when the wind was strongest. Kansas and Colorado State solidly beating Wisconsin and Northwestern, respectively, I do not have an explanation for. Those scores were 10-6 and 13-7; in those windy conditions, CSU was able to hang 13 on Northwestern. I’m not sure what to make of it. Even Iowa and Iowa St. were only able to close out their matchups (vs. Eau Claire and Purdue) by two points a piece. All in all, the 9th place bracket was suddenly populated with more than half of Division-I. Colorado State goes home 5-2, got a win over Northwestern, and finished in 4th, which ain’t too shabby. Valpo finishes 5th with a 6-1 weekend, including a win over Wash U. That makes them the top ranked team in the Great Lakes, according to USAU, and nobody else in that region looks like a favorite, so watch out. Shouts out to those teams and their fellow bracket busters, Kansas, Notre Dame, and St. Louis.
The season continues on, each tournament adding more and more intrigue.