The Great Lakes featured 2011 Regional Champion Illinois in Boulder, Colorado. With the region narrowly missing out on a strength bid last year, the Great Lakes region looks to return to prominence in 2012.
Regardless of what happens in the regular season expect Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois to be battling for the Great Lakes Regional title. The concern that this region could only have one bid should inspire two of these teams to once again do everything in their power to earn extra slots to Boulder. This should prove to be a trying task should the results from the Michigan Indoor tournament hold true throughout the season. Both Michigan and Michigan State were bested by three teams from the Ohio Valley. However, being that it is an unsanctioned and indoor tournament, it is best not to put too much stock in the results. Moving forward, they cannot afford to allow their former Regional rivals to claim bids ahead of them, and will have a chance to take advantage in the upcoming Queen City Tune Up. The pivotal match-ups being Michigan vs. Ohio State and Ohio vs. Michigan State in pool play. Why is it so important for Michigan and Michigan State to come away victorious? The answer is simple, Illinois has won the region three years running.
It would be easy to tell the story of Michigan’s 2011 campaign as a talented team choking, and to a certain extent that is true. They were coming off a 2010 National’s campaign that had them one point away from making the semis, they were the 8th ranked team before the start of the 2011 series, and they had wins against Colorado and Oregon. Despite this they were a combined 1-3 against their regional rivals (1-2 in sanctioned games) with losses in the Conference Championship and in the Regional semifinals. Their loss in Conference should be classified as a choke, but it is hard to label their loss to Illinois the same way. This is due to the fact that Illinois has beaten Michigan three straight times at Regionals, and each one has been a serious upset according to the seeding. The difference between the sting from the most recent loss and the others is that this ended Michigan’s season.
Despite this setback they have a solid program and had strong results at Missouri Loves Company, so it is easy imagine them having a good enough regular season to be the one seed in the region. They bring back a wealth of experience in Jeff Pape and Spencer Jolly, as well as bringing in a strong rookie class headlined by Jesse Buchsbaum a giant cutter who should have a substantial impact. They, like every good program, graduated considerable talent including Ollie Honderd, Patrick Collins, and Seth Buchsbaum, but with a solid system in place they should be able to win early and often. The looming question is can they beat Illinois when it matters most.
Michigan started off the season with a bang, winning Queen City Tune Up, lets see if they can repeat their performance from this video.
Michigan State has managed to come just short of making the trip to Nationals the last two years, and hopes to finally make the leap this year. Last year was especially tragic because of the way they missed out on earning the second bid. They were ranked 20th in the country at the time of the final bid allotment, which unfortunately was just short of what they needed to earn a bid. They hold the dubious distinction of being the best team to not earn a team strength bid. This year they will renew they quest to earn a second bid, and could be right around the bubble again. They had some major personnel losses such as Alex Edinger, Christo Ferguson, and Ryan Heffernan. This may be one of the reasons for their shaky fall season results and the early spring results at Michigan’s indoor tournament. The silver lining for Michigan State was they were competitive against teams like Michigan and the Ohio’s. They still have talent in Dave Hochhalter, Aaron Ziegler, and Jesse Ellwood and could present a serious challenge to Illinois and Michigan.
Illinois is a completely different beast than the other two powers in the region. They had a lackluster spring season and their fall this year was even less impressive. In the spring they lost to some mid-level Regional teams, and fell short against the few elite competitors they faced: Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Historically they have done the region no favors by not playing in some of the higher level tournaments, and they lost some of their top talent from the previous year. Despite this they maintain absolute dominance over their region. They look to play better competition this Fall and such as facing Luther at the Free State Classic as well as making an appearance at Easterns. The big name coming back is Ryan Smith, who is an aggressive defender that is dangerous with the disc in his hand. They might not have the most impressive regular season, but I’ll believe their reign is over when I see it.
The Best of the Rest:
The other teams in the region have remarkable parity, and it will be hard to rank them so early in the year. Here are the ones that seem the most impressive. Eastern Michigan is an athletic up and coming team that relies on its zone and big play ability. The zone is well disciplined and communicates well. The defenders will lay out for anything and have remarkable range. They lack depth, but could be a team to watch. Notre Dame has a solid program, but does not look to be spectacular. They could break into the semis with some luck, and the fact that they played X Y the entire fall could mask their talent. Indiana an acceptable Fall, and looked good last spring. Ball State had a rough showing at T-Town Throwdown, but they are getting playing experience earlier in the year than the other teams. Indiana has made the trip in the past, and Purdue is looking to separate themselves from the middle of the pack.