In the days of chivalric combat, the phrase “to throw down the gauntlet” meant to issue a challenge. A knight would throw down his gauntlet—a type of armored glove—at the feet of his opponent to challenge him to a duel. Today, the adverbial phrase “to throw down” retains much of its medieval meaning. It is typically defined as “to fight,” though it can also mean “to consume a large amount of food,” “to party hard,” or—as Urban Dictionary puts it—“to kick some rear like there’s no tomorrow.” You can be sure that all these meanings will be manifested on March 2-3 in St. Louis, Missouri, when teams square off in the sixth annual Midwest Throwdown (MWTD).
MWTD began in 2008 under the leadership of Michelle Ng and Texas Melee, who created the tournament with the express purpose of “promoting the growth of women’s ultimate by providing women’s teams in the South and Midwest with more opportunities to play against quality competition.” Since 2008, Washington University WUWU has taken over partnership with Michelle Ng, but the goal of the tournament has remained the same. In its sixth year, MWTD boasts 8 Division I teams and 24 Division II teams, as well as a full skills clinic following rounds on Saturday.
But be warned… teams may be “throwing down” with the weather as well as with their opponents. Historically, Midwest Throwdown has been plagued by wieldy weather—be it tornadic winds, freezing temperatures, monsoon-like rains, or knee-deep mud—that have had players feeling like they were at a marine boot camp rather than a St. Louis ultimate field. Those who don’t believe me need only ask WUWU alum Theresa Chan, whose Midwest Throwdown memories were forever altered when the aforementioned winds tipped over the port-a-potty she was occupying. As luck would have it, the port-a-potty fell—door first—onto a parked car, leaving poor Theresa trapped hopelessly inside.
But, no matter how stiff the winds may be this year, fans can be sure that the competition will be even stiffer.
POOL A: Iowa State, Northwestern, WashU, Emory
Iowa State Woman Scorned (#1)
The women of Iowa State are the defending champs of MWTD, and with a tournament victory already under their belt and a #1 seed in the tournament, Scorned is poised to win MWTD for the second year in a row. They started the spring season strong by not dropping a game at Queen City Tune-Up (QCTU), defeating Carleton College in the finals. Moreover, they are armed with four of the nation’s best players in Magon Liu, Becca Miller, Cami Nelson, and Sara Pesch, who together combine finesse, speed, height, and throws respectively.
Yet what makes Scorned so deadly is not their star power; it’s their depth. They use everyone…and it works. In fact, at QCTU, many of Scorned’s points were scored by rookies. They are a team in the truest sense of the word, and after a tough loss to Ohio State Fever in the Quarterfinals of last year’s Nationals, you can be sure that Woman Scorned will be a team to watch this season—at MWTD and beyond.
Players To Watch: Magon Liu, Becca Miller, Cami Nelson, Sara Pesch
What To Watch For: contributions from an array of players; quick transitions; a sense of close-knit, competitive fun; Magon Liu’s high release backhand.
Northwestern Gung Ho (#4)
Speaking of depth, Northwestern Gung Ho is probably the deepest they’ve ever been. They were able to break into the championship bracket of QCTU—no small feat—and that was largely without superstar Lien Hoffmann, who is just coming back from ACL surgery. When healthy, Lien is the best player I have ever guarded. Subtle but unstoppable, she combines smooth throws with superior cutting. Integrate Lien’s impact with the experienced handling of captains Carol Li and Angel Li, and the aggressive cutting of players like Sam Thompson and Brooke Stanislawski, and you’ll start quaking in your cleats. Add to all that a renewed defensive focus brought by coach Laura Moore, and you’d better start running. Northwestern is a special combination of youthful scrappiness and calm, patient experience. Don’t underestimate them.
Players To Watch: Lien Hoffmann, Carol Li, Angel Li, Sam Thompson
What To Watch For: Handlers controlling the game by moving the disc and frequently cutting up line; defensive pressure—especially on handles; a lot of Lien Hoffman (if healthy).
Washington University WUWU (#5)
WUWU is looking to bounce back after a rough weekend at QCTU, where they finished 19th. They are a young team still trying to put all the pieces together. Nevertheless, WUWU has always used their talent well, making the most of what they have and improving with each spring season tournament. When they do put the pieces together, they can give top teams a battle for every point. Under the on-field leadership of captain Danielle Blatt and fifth-year Megan Epperson, WUWU will come ready to play at their home tournament.
Players To Watch: Danielle Blatt, Megan Epperson
What To Watch For: A handler-led offense; Eileen Duffner’s flick hucks; the speed and defensive intensity of cutter Alli Kahn; pretty zone O.
Emory Luna (#8)
Emory is in a tough region this year with Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, and Georgia. In their first tournament of the season, Florida Classic, Emory dropped every game. They will be looking to redeem themselves against some fresh competition at MWTD. With Abbey Hewitt returning from injury, Emory’s deep game should open up, and you can expect many connections between Hewitt and sophomore Zina Stavitsky. Also expect Emory to apply tough defensive pressure throughout each of their games.
Players To Watch: Zina Stavitsky, Abbey Hewitt
What To Watch For: constant hustle; the defense of Ariella Faitelson and Phebe Kemmer; a lot of Luna love.
Predictions: This pool should go to seed with Iowa State winning with only a little trouble from Northwestern. Although Northwestern and WUWU have traditionally had tight games, the matchup between Iowa State and Northwestern in the last round of Saturday pool play (1:00pm) should be the game to watch.
POOL B: Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Minnesota
Iowa Saucy Nancy (#2)
Iowa is a team of experience and chemistry. Saucy Nancy is returning much of their roster from a season ago, when they missed the semifinals of Nationals by one point, losing to Oregon in quarters. Not only is much of the roster intact, but many Iowa women played club together this past season. Thus, they know their teammates well and will prove a tough match-up because of it. A strong third place finish at QCTU bodes well for Saucy Nancy, a team that will only get better as the season progresses.
On offense, Coach Mikey Lun always equips his team with a spread out offense that plays to their strengths. Standout handle Chelsea Twohig will control the disc and the pace of the game, while captain Liza Minor will anchor the cutting core, catching many discs and throwing many continues. On defense, Saucy Nancy makes effective use of a junk zone and a ferocious four-man cup. If that weren’t enough, Iowa has one thing that all sports team envy… athleticism and lots of it. They’ll contend this season; you can count on that.
Players To Watch: Chelsea Twohig, Liza Minor, Andrea Uhl
What To Watch For: Defensive looks to which teams will have trouble adjusting; a healthy dose of athleticism; a fluid offense.
Wisconsin Bella Donna (#3)
Bella Donna will be looking to spoil a rematch of last year’s MWTD final between Iowa and Iowa State. And, they have a very good chance of doing so. They already had a tight game with Iowa State this season at QCTU, losing 11-13, and they can put an absolutely terrifying line on the field, complete with speed, height, and raw athleticism. With solid cutters like Biz Cook, Sara Scott, and Amelia Cuarenta, alongside smart handlers like Rebecca Enders, Anna Shanedling, and Alison Ellis, Wisconsin’s offense is a force that I’d prefer not to reckon with. And, with massive layouts (see Scott) and impossible marks (see Cook and Enders), Wisconsin’s defense could induce the following side effects: difficulty sleeping, involuntary twitching, screams. Their pool play game with Iowa should be a great matchup because both teams possess many of the same strengths: club experience (with and against each other), athleticism, and active sidelines. Like Iowa, Wisconsin will only improve with time, and you can expect to see them close to the finals—if not in it.
Players To Watch: Many—but especially Anna Shanedling, Biz Cook, Amelia Cuarenta
What To Watch For: Multiple receiving options; handler breaks; lots of communication—on the field and from the sidelines.
Texas A&M Stacked (#6)
Last year, Texas A&M surprised the South Central region by upsetting second ranked Colorado College in pool play and making an appearance in the semi-finals, where they lost to (eventual champs) Texas Melee. Their unexpected performance was achieved with only ten players. Texas A&M could surprise more teams this season with more numbers and a greater diversity of skills among their players. It will be tough to unseat either Iowa or Wisconsin in pool play, but with their competitive edge, scrappy athleticism, and defensive focus, Texas A&M can put up a fight.
Players To Watch: Kelly Harris, Hilary Lumpkins, Paige Grandjean
What To Watch For: hard-nosed defense; scrappy cutting.
Minnesota Ninjas (#7)
Minnesota only graduated a handful of players from last year, leaving the core of their team intact. With the addition of a strong freshman group—many of which have high school league experience—Minnesota could prove a bigger obstacle than most teams expect. Offensively, they are returning strong handles and confident cutters who will create adaptable offensive flow. Defensively, the Ninjas have some speed and height that will generate D’s and present opportunities for quick transitions.
Players To Watch: Natalie DePalma, Emily DePalma, Emily Regan, Greta Regan
What To Watch For: quick transitions; strong handling; possession-oriented offense.
Prediction: This pool belongs to either Iowa or Wisconsin, but which one? It just depends on who has the better day. Don’t miss these two teams face-off at 1:00pm on Saturday!
In all likelihood, Midwest Throwdown will be dominated by teams of the North Central Region: Iowa, Iowa State, and Wisconsin. I fully expect these three teams to occupy the top three spots, with Northwestern finishing securely in fourth place. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rematch of last year’s MWTD championship between Iowa and Iowa State, but Wisconsin could very well upset either of those teams, and in doing so, find their way into the final. Still, if they actually paid teachers, my money would be on Iowa State to repeat as MWTD champs.
Outside of the top four spots, it’s really anyone’s game. I have concentrated on Division I, but there are a number of Division II teams that could upset the bottom four Division I teams in Saturday’s crossover and make their way into Sunday’s championship bracket—teams such as Notre Dame, Kansas, Valparaiso, and Colorado State.
Finally, I would like to make the public aware that a weather machine is currently being engineered by nerdy WashU Alums, but if for some reason such a technology doesn’t pan out, fear not, to borrow the unofficial slogan of the U.S. postal service: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor [wind], nor gloom of night will stay these [players] from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”