After taking 9th place at the 2010, with a win over rival Wisconsin, the Iowa Hawkeye Club faced the challenge of back to back Nationals appearances, a feat they have only able to accomplish once in their long history (1998,1999). To meet this task, Iowa elected new captains in Garrett Brander, Tyler Glenn and Nick Moore. Adding to the experience of the leadership were Alex Versakas and Sean Parker, two of the three captains from 2010 along with Coach Ryan Nation. The 2010-11 season seemed to start on the right foot for IHUC, as they did not have to replace a majority of their roster from the previous year. While many of the elite college programs were attending to this issue, Iowa had a plethora of returners, new freshman talent and younger players who wanted to make the jump to the A team. In regard to the difficulty of making cuts, Tyler Glenn said:
“From last year’s team, we only lost 2 players to graduation. So we made the decision not to hold any roster spots for returners. When it came down to making the cut, we had a lot of tough decisions. In the end, we found our roster for this year and we were happy with the potential. That roster depth was how we made noise at Regionals and it’s what’s going to carry us through the big show.”
After a fall of tryouts, the typical North Central winter months began. IHUC would focus inwards, moving indoors for practices and heavy conditioning. The start of their spring season would be at the annual Indoor Bubble Tournament, where IHUC would go undefeated against Kansas B, Notre Dame, Kansas, Iowa State and Luther. After some challenging games against some quality competition, Iowa felt energized and confident, helping them work hard through the remaining month of practice before their first USAU sanctioned tournament.
Despite the availability of warmer tournament options, Iowa decided to officially begin their season at the Free State Classic in Kansas. IHUC would win their first two games easily against Nebraska-Omaha and Missouri. In the third round, Iowa squared off against Missouri S&T in a game that was on serve at 7-6 leading into half. A combination of injuries and two players who were unable to make the trip left IHUC with a shorter squad than usual, especially at the handler position. Add this to the snow covered fields, the cold temperatures and the persistent drizzle, and Iowa was starting to lose their focus. Without actually being there, Coach Ryan Nation was able to whip his team into shape with his mantra “Work Harder to Win” being echoed by the Iowa captains. This would do the trick as IHUC would shut out S&T 6-0 out of half leading to a 13-6.
Sunday would open up with a rematch against Nebraksa-Omaha which Iowa again won easily. Next was the Semi-Finals against Illinois. With Kansas already eliminated from bracket play, the Illini were the only other team outside of Iowa who were in attendance of 2010 Nationals that were still in contention for the Free State title. IHUC came out intense quickly earning themselves a 4-1 lead. However, after a timeout, Illinois was able to refocus and clamp down on defense, forcing Iowa to look for deep shots that were ineffective due to the weather. The Illini would capitalize, come back and eventually take a 9-5 lead. Despite this massive momentum swing, Iowa did not give up. As the handlers began to figure out Illinois’ poaching defense, the offense began to click. Then IHUC’s d-line amped up their intensity and earned consecutive breaks, tying the game at 13s and eventually leading to a 15-13 win. With a strong win under their belt, IHUC’s consistency and intensity proved to be enough as they would take home the Free State Championship in a 15-9 win over Kansas State.
Up next for Iowa was the weather shortened Mardi Gras tournament. Saturday would only provide one game to IHUC, who would win in a grind 13-8 against North Texas. Luckily, sunshine, warm temperatures and gusty winds were characteristic of the second day in Louisiana. Iowa matched up against Arkansas, Alabama and George Washington on the road to a pivotal Semi-Finals game against regional rival, Luther LUFDA. The very first point of this game would take a long period of time, with both teams forcing turnovers on both sides of the disc. Eventually, Luther’s offense was able to hold and take a 1-0 lead. However, the exhaustion from the previous games began to take their effect on each of the shortened squads. IHUC’s determination ended up being the key as their defense would cause multiple breaks leading to a 7-4 halftime lead. After half, the game found a rhythm as both teams traded points until Iowa walked away with a 13-10 win. Waiting for IHUC in the finals was a well rested Minnesota Grey Duck squad, who easily took their game 13-6 over Indiana. Things began well for Iowa, as they were able to grab a 4-3 lead on the heels of the first break of the game. However, both teams were exhausted from already playing four games in the sun. Minnesota would hold to tie the game up and then break twice, giving their team life and a new energy. Grey Duck would continue to roll, extending their lead to 9-4. Though IHUC earned two breaks, Minnesota was able to outscore Iowa 4-1 in the last points of the game, giving Iowa their first loss, 13-8, and walking away with the title.
Two weeks later, IHUC was in Wilmington, North Carolina, participating in the highly anticipated College Easterns tournament. First for Iowa was a Friday night showcase against George Stubbs and the Harvard Red Line. IHUC would come out firing, holding for the first point and then breaking for a 2-0 lead. However, Red Line stuck with what they knew, keeping the disc in the hands of their superstars, whom Iowa was having difficulty slowing down. In the end, IHUC’s turnover rate proved to be too high as they would fall in a disappointing 15-11 loss. “We gave up 5+ breaks to Harvard in the showcase game Friday night, and were still in the game late. We knew we could play with these guys, but we had to stop beating ourselves”, said Glenn. The following morning IHUC faced off against Oregon Ego and Florida. In both games, Iowa would let their opponent earn a lead that was too large to overcome, losing 15-9 and 15-8 respectively. Next, was Ohio, in a must win situation. Though this game directly affected who would advance to the Pre-Quarters, its results would also help determine which region would attain one of the coveted Nationals strength bids. As this was the first elite tournament that Ohio University had attended, inexperience would be their undoing as Iowa would earn a few upwind breaks to win 15-10.
In one of the most exciting games of the weekend (I was present at Easterns), Iowa lined up against Harvard Red Line once again, in a rematch of the showcase from the night before. Both teams would hold on offense for a majority of the game despite chances to earn upwind breaks. Late in the game, Iowa would strike first, ending the game’s perfection by earning an upwind break. With the momentum in their favor, IHUC’s defensive line was jacked up and played some ferocious defense in order to complete the sequence, breaking Harvard again going downwind. Iowa would only need to stay on serve in order to win the game, but a turnover near the end zone would allow Harvard to bring things back with an upwind-downwind break sequence of their own. The game was on serve heading into universe point, with IHUC working upwind. Despite a great goal line stand from Gleason’s Army, Stubbs and Red Line would prove to be just patient enough, winning 16-15.
Despite this frustrating defeat, Iowa was happy with their improved play over the course of a day. They would ride their positive feelings to 15-12 and 15-10 wins over California and UNCW, respectively, leading to another showdown with Minnesota Grey Duck, in the finals of the consolation bracket. After six emotional games over the course of two days and one night, both teams were feeling run down and deflated, thus in both teams not being energized to play. Grey Duck earned themselves an early lead, forcing IHUC to play catch up, eventually bringing the game to universe point. Minnesota sealed the deal with a deep look, handing Iowa their second head-to-head loss of the season.
IHUC would choose to end their USAU regular season at Easterns, but would partake in Fool’s Fest 30, hosted by the Kansas Horrorzontals. Since this tournament did not have any bearing on the rankings or the bid allocation, Iowa was able to make some last minute adjustments to their roster, while getting a few more reps in against some strong teams. The weekend would bring about three wins against Iowa State, Kansas and Iowa State B. Feeling as confident as ever, IHUC was ready to take on the series, in the super-powered North Central. By the end of the regular season, Carleton College, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa had earned their region four bids to Boulder. Glenn said the following in regard to getting out of the North Central and having four chances to do so:
“It was definitely a relief (having four bids). It’s always nice to know that all we have to do is hold seed and we’re going to the big show. But we knew that Luther wanted it and we had no misconceptions about how hard they would work for it. We also had no intention of taking that forth spot though. At the beginning of the year we made the goal to take first place in the Central Region. Going into the series we had no doubt that it would be a hard-fought battle but that we could do it.”
However, before they could even start thinking about North Central Regionals, IHUC would have to go through Luther LUFDA and the rest of the West Plains Conference. By no means would this be an easy task, as the first two games on Saturday would not reach the point cap. Swirling winds helped bring both games to universe point, with Iowa walking away with wins over Iowa State and Luther. After these victories, Iowa had an easy road to finals, outscoring their next three opponents 41-8.
In the finals, IHUC faced off against LUFDA for the third time this year (fourth including the initial indoor tournament). Iowa came out sluggish, giving Luther a 5-2 lead. However, IHUC stayed poised in this familiar situation, bringing the score back to an even 10-10. Though Luther would muster one more break, Iowa would hold to tie and then break twice for the 13-11 win, earning the conference title. Winning the West Plains was very important to IHUC, as it gave them momentum heading into Regionals, along with a four seed. On top of this, the harsh weather in the Conference Championships and the practices leading up to it prepared Iowa for the conditions that the North Central Regional tournament was notorious for.
At long last, the end of April and the long anticipated battle for the bids to Nationals had come. Pool play would mostly go according to plan, with all four of the one seeds advancing to the Semi-Finals. It was here the Iowa met Carleton for the first of two times on the weekend. Unfortunately, IHUC would fall easily in their first chance to qualify for Nationals, losing to CUT 15-8. With this loss, Iowa fell to the second place bracket, where they would have to go through Luther to have another shot at getting to Boulder. Despite stellar play from LUFDA’s Eric Johnson, who was playing every point, Iowa was able to head into half on serve, 8-7. On the very next point, IHUC tipped a deep shot from Luther and capitalized, earning the first break of the game. After converting the downwind break, Iowa would continue pushing, earning two more consecutive breaks. Luther scored once more, but with the damage being done, Iowa held to win 13-8 and advance to the game-to-go against Minnesota Grey Duck.
Not only was the next game important in the sense that winning meant a guaranteed spot to the big show, but no current member of the Iowa squad had ever beat Minnesota. This fact provided the team some extra motivation to get the job done here, rather than have to play for fourth. IHUC would win the flip and start going downwind on offense. However, Grey Duck came out hot earning a quick upwind break on the first point of the game. Instead of falling apart due to this demoralizing start of the game, Iowa became furious and retaliated in full. Intense defense with calm and confident offense earned IHUC an 8-2 halftime lead. Gleason’s Army would not let up, as they only let up one point in the second half as Grey Duck would get pummeled in a 15-3 loss.
With at least a third place finish and a bid to Nationals assured for Iowa, only a placement game against Carleton was left. IHUC had broke seed and realized their goal of reaching Nationals. At this point, the masses were already impressed and no one was expecting anything more from this squad. However, Glenn and the rest of the Gleason’s Army had other ideas. After taking Minnesota apart, the IHUC players were feeling confident about their throws in the wind and they were ready to go to war. Iowa would jump out to an early 3-1 lead and did not let off the gas. Carleton elected to play man defense, but IHUC had no issue getting open. Despite the physical play of CUT, Iowa’s depth was playing well and nothing seemed to faze them. Earning breaks left and right, Iowa went into half with an 8-3. Despite a late run from Carleton, which brought the score to 11-6, Iowa would answer in force, earning the last three points of the game to win 14-6. Glenn, while ecstatic about IHUC’s finish said, “Honestly, taking second in the hardest region in the country is awesome but we all wanted first.” This determination from the leadership of IHUC certainly made the difference down the stretch, helping Iowa stun the nation and silence their doubters.
With Nationals only a week and a half away, IHUC is definitely looking to improve on their 9th place finish in 2010. Though they were able to take 2nd place out of the North Central, Iowa still feels that they have something to prove.
“IHUC played brilliantly on Sunday at Regionals, and it was because of the immense focus we possessed as a team. If we can stay at that level and even amp it up a notch or two for nationals, we expect to make a splash. Also, after Regionals, a lot of people see us as a good wind team. While we do expect to well when conditions are not ideal, we are out to prove that we can still play when conditions are calm, hot, and humid. IHUC will be focused and ready when the time comes.”
If you find yourself walking the sidelines of IHUC on Memorial Day weekend, be sure to stick around as this explosive team, fueled by great depth and game changers, looks to make it deep into Sunday. Consider yourself lucky if you find Iowa donning their green alternate jerseys, which have their numbers printed on Zelda shields. Be sure to watch some of these players, as Iowa is ready to showcase its full arsenal of weapons:
- Tyler Glenn, #17
- Jake Short, #29
- Garrett Brander, #10
- Sean Parker, #88
- Nick Sanchez, #22
- Sergei McNulty, #8
- FOTY Candidate Jake Oakley, #21
Iowa certainly finds themselves in a tough position with Pittsburgh, Colorado College, Tufts and Illinois in their pool. However, no matter what the score is, be sure to never count out Gleason’s Army, as they never give up.
All photos courtesy of Gordon Sedgwick.