The Great Lakes is a Region in a bit of turmoil. The Region had long been the ruling territory of Michigan’s Flywheel, a powerhouse program that regularly performed well on the national stage, making Semis in 2012 and playing in the Final in 2011. It has been five years since Michigan has failed to qualify for Nationals. Besides Flywheel, the last team to do it was Northwestern Gung Ho. They’ve steadily been the Region’s second strongest performer. Indiana Calamity Jane has often been the third strongest team.
The history lesson is in stark contrast to this season’s initial seedings. Notre Dame Womb enters the weekend in Rockford, IL as the #1 seed. Michigan and Northwestern will begin the tournament in unfamiliar #2 and #3 seed spots, respectively, which means they will see other Saturday. Here’s how the seedings (by my estimation) and pools look:
- Notre Dame (A1)
- Michigan (B1)
- Northwestern (B2)
- Michigan State (A2)
- Illinois State (A3)
- Purdue (B3)
- Illinois (B4)
- Indiana (A4)
- Chicago (A5)
- Loyola-Chicago (B5)
- Michigan-B (B6)
- Northwestern-B (A6)
Pool A: Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois State, Indiana, Chicago, Northwestern-B
Pool B: Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Loyola-Chicago, Michigan-B
Teams will need to finish in the top four in their pool in order to make the bracket and keep their Madison dreams alive.
The reward Notre Dame gets for a strong season will be avoiding both Michigan and Northwestern on Saturday. Instead, they will see Michigan State, Illinois State, and a not-to-be-underestimated Indiana squad. This is ideal for Womb, who lacks marquee wins over high powered teams (they’ve only played two top teams all year in Minnesota and Florida State, both losses), but have been a consistent squad, polishing off a lengthy tournament schedule with just four losses. At Eastern GL Conferences, they beat Indiana 9-5 and Michigan State twice, although they were 8-7 and 8-6 scores. This team is anchored by some strong handling that isn’t afraid to go break side and their game comes equipped with both effective trapping zone defense and sticky hands.
Michigan State Infamous has to feel good coming into Rockford. Not only have they been very close to knocking off Notre Dame on more than one occasion, but they notched a huge win over Michigan at Conference Champies. Infamous has a win over Florida and a blowout over Kansas to their resume, and has already beaten fellow Pool A teams Illinois State (6-5) and Indiana (9-6). With momentum in their favor, they could make a dangerous push.
Illinois State Lady Gnomes are coming in off a surprising second place showing at Illinois Conference Championships. A double game point win over Chicago precluded a 14-11 win over the top seed, Illinois. This year, they have one point losses to Infamous, Valpo, and a three point loss to Womb. They’ve shown themselves what they can do, so can they score an upset this weekend? Definite possibility.
Indiana Calamity Janes have not had the kind of season they’re used to, with some puzzling losses along the way. However, this is a team and program with a lot of good experience, and that’s an irreplaceable weapon. Regionals is their time to shine.
Chicago and Northwestern-B have uphill battles ahead of them. Chicago has some solid wins over Regionals teams from other regions this season, and was only a point off beating Illinois State at Conferences. Northwestern-B struggled to put up points on stronger squads at Conferences, so I imagine the whole weekend will be about improvement.
An up and down season may not matter to Michigan come Regionals. QCTU, Easterns, and Music City all had their low points, but this is still a team with wins over North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Florida, and Texas. Strong leadership will be the key to a big weekend for them, as they’ll need to rally around one another to take the Nationals bid they covet. Meeri Chang has established herself as one of the Region’s premier talents, a speedy handler with tricky breaks and playmaking instincts. They’ll be without downfield threat Bailey Torvinen, but Theresa Zettner, Annie Fisher, and Jacqueline Jarik hope to end conversations about the players Flywheel has lost recently and make them about assets they have onfield right now. FFH dreamgirl Marissa Mead’s still backing Captain-turned-coach Pauala Seville’s indomitable leadership on the sidelines, too.
Northwestern Gung Ho seemed like a team on the rise earlier this year. Their 2-6 QCTU record was written off as they got stud Lien Hoffman back from injury. A strong showing at Midwest Throwdown was marred only by their poorly-timed upset loss to Colorado State. Angel Li and Carol Li were both hitting stride as high impact handlers able to navigate the tricky weather and zones of the Great Lakes. However, the team struggled at Centex, leaving some doubts and robbing them of their final chance to earn the Great Lakes a second bid. They dominated their way to an Illinois Conference Championship win. Gung Ho didn’t accidentally beat Iowa State and Georgia this year; when the pistons are firing, this team is a threat, able to quickly strike using their dynamic handler/cutter combos and smart upline cutting. If they’re rolling, watch out.
Purdue AMOC is not a team to be overlooked. Their wins over Notre Dame combined with close losses to Iowa State, Michigan, and Northwestern paint a picture of a scrappy team able to force even skilled opponents into mistakes. A 7-4 win over Illinois has to have them confident going into that matchup. Look out for Tiffany Bucher’s backhand hucks, which are hard to stop if she’s getting the disc every other.
Illinois could be a scary fourth seed. They’ve put together their own solid resume, a strong Music City performance keeping them close with Natties-level competition while scoring them a win over Texas and one of their three season wins over Michigan State. They will probably be pretty fired up after ending their Conference Championship weekend with a surprise loss to Illinois State.
Both Loyola-Chicago and Michigan-B will be looking for their first notable in-region wins this weekend. They would need to take their games to new levels to make a big impact.
Pool A: Michigan State, Notre Dame, Indiana, Illinois St., Chicago, Northwestern-B
Pool B: Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Loyola-Chicago, Michigan-B
Michigan State over Illinois
Michigan over Indiana
Notre Dame over Purdue
Northwestern over Illinois State
Michigan over Michigan State
Northwestern over Notre Dame
Northwestern over Michigan
It is tough to imagine the streak of Flywheel Nationals appearances ending, and I imagine many will be picking the Ann Arbor crew to take this bid. This one feels near a toss up to me, but I am not sure Michigan can really guard Hoffman & the Li’s effectively. The collective talent on these rosters should allow the cream to rise to the top in the Region, but I expect some long games that will test teams’ endurance. Keep an eye on this one.