Written by Zack Smith
It’s Sunday, April 26th 2009 and Luther LUFDA laces up for Day 2 of Central Regionals. Having lost in the Semi-Finals to the defending champs, the Wisconsin Hodags, Luther faced the prospect of beating Iowa and Minnesota in order to advance. Their highest regional finish had been 5th in 2006, when the Central Region had one bid to nationals. LUFDA would consecutively best both teams on universe point before losing to the Hodags again, earning the 3rd out of the 4 possible bids to Nationals. On their team’s first trip to the show, LUFDA broke seed by mustering up two wins in Columbus against Kansas and California-San Diego, claiming 11th place.
Fast forward one year, as Luther is forced to watch as Iowa earns the 4th and final bid to 2010 Nationals. The boys from Decorah, Iowa are now graduating a majority of their players, including two time 1st Team All-Region handler Greg Shirbourn. Veterans John Anderson and Ben Kofoed are given the reins of the once National contender, a team with an uncertain future. The new captains know that if anything great is going to happen for LUFDA in 2011, heavy recruiting will have to be a major priority. After the dust would settle from tryouts, 9 freshman stood proud as their enthusiasm and talent landed them spots on the coveted A team. With such a young team to train, Luther focused inward in the attempt to teach fundamentals in a short period of time. While the captains focused on teaching how to make and defend against high level college cuts, leaders Paul Meyer, Aaron Burk and Collin Meyer would take on the incredible task of training 5 freshman handlers.
The fall 2010 season would bring poor tournament results and only one victory over a Nationals contender. Unsatisfied with their play, LUFDA would recruit a coach in Reid Wilson, an alumnus from the 2009 Nationals run. Wilson would bring about mandatory and intense off-season workouts which would build the team’s confidence leading up to their first tournament in early March. However, hard workouts would eventually take their toll, as LUFDA would lose team President and handler Paul Meyer and freshman cutter Brett Steelman due to season ending injuries, along with other players who would drop the sport in order to focus on their school work.
Luther started their 2011 spring season at Mardi Gras, one of the premier mid level tournaments, but would only get to play five games due to inclement weather. LUFDA would not waste their opportunities, winning four of five, with a 10-13 loss to regional rival Iowa. Two weeks later, Luther would sink their teeth into Statesboro, Georgia, with a 5th
place finish at College Southerns.
With only two regular season losses to their name, LUFDA headed into the West Plains Conference Championships with confidence and high energy. Looking to revenge their Semi-Finals loss at Mardi Gras to Iowa, Luther was fired up and built a 7-4 lead in an upwind/downwind battle. However, LUFDA squandered their lead as IHUC came back and won 9-8, on double game point. Despite this loss, Luther racked up four wins and earned themselves the right to play Iowa again in the championship game. Despite their exuberance, LUFDA’s youth would show, as their mistakes would allow IHUC to again come from behind and win 12-10. Though an emotional loss like that would put most teams on their back, Luther was able to hold on and win on universe against Iowa State to take second in the West Plains.
Despite three heart-breaking losses to Iowa, Luther was still fired up to play at Regionals. When asked about theirmotivation, Captain John Anderson said, “We had a ‘never let up’ mindset heading into the weekend. Our young team knew it could compete with some of the best players in the nation”. Hard work during the regular season from Wisconsin, Carleton, Minnesota and Iowa had earned the North Central four bids to Boulder. Luther started the weekend well, winning their first two games of pool play, despite a tough game from Wisconsin-Steven’s Point. A match-up with Minnesota followed next, and the chance to play in the Semi-Finals of the championship bracket. Unfortunately, Luther couldn’t break, as Minnesota defended the upwind endzone with intense man defense. LUFDA finished Saturday by getting revenge on Iowa State, the team who had knocked them out of contention the year before. As if it was destiny, Luther lined up to play against Iowa for the 4th time this season. Despite the fact that the Game-to-Go was fifteen points away, Luther could not best the all too consistent IHUC offense, and would fall to the fourth place bracket.
With their backs against the wall, Luther knew it was win or go home from this point. They would go on to win convincingly over Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Wisconsin-Whitewater to have a chance to represent the North Central Region at Nationals. “With a chance for revenge, the team knew that we had the emotional edge of Minnesota. With us coming off two solids wins and Grey Duck suffering a devastating 15-3 loss to Iowa, we had a winning mentality going into the game.”, said Anderson. Led by offensive studs Eric Johnson, Peter Graffy and Benjamin Kofoed, Luther held its own against a tough Minnesota defense. Anderson and Senior Grayson Pangburn piloted a defensive onslaught that proved that raw determination can overcome poor weather conditions. Ultimately, Luther’s intensity and Minnesota’s injuries were the defining factors, as LUFDA would win 12-9 and walk away with the 4th bid to Nationals.
When asked about their mentality heading into Nationals this year, Anderson said “A top ten finish would be ideal for the seniors as we make our last stand in LUFDA jerseys. For those of us that were there in 2009, we are hungry for a higher finish”. Though Luther will most likely receive a low seed, a word to the wise before counting them out: In the past two years (since the switch to 20 teams at Nationals), the lowest ranking team out of the North Central went into Nationals as the 18th seed and finished either 9th or 11th.
Fear the North Central.
Photos by © James McKenzie www.massiveimageworks.com