Contributed by Tulsa’s Austin Weaver
The D-III South Central region is incredibly strong this year, having placed 5 teams in the top 20 and 7 in the top 30 D-III teams. This is impressive, given that Missouri University of Science and Technology and Air Force Academy, both strong teams, did not have enough games to qualify for the final rankings. Because the South Central only has one conference, this tournament sends three bids straight to D-III Championships, making it one of the most exciting D-III conference championship this season. Looking at the teams in attendance, there appears to be a pretty clear hierarchy.
The “Taren Tier:”
1. Harding University
Coming into D-III conference championships this weekend, the obvious number one seed is, once again, Harding University. This is called the “Taren tier” because their best player, Taren Goins, is by far the best player in the conference. If there were a conference MVP award, you could bet on Taren being the unanimous choice. His pinpoint hucks have been the driving force behind Harding’s offense in their last three years as a perennial national-level competitor. On the receiving end, expect to see Tucker Bankston, the second-best scorer at 2011 D-III Championships, make his presence known. With an extremely strong top end, Harding is the favorite going in. With 3 bids in the South Central region this year, you can bet they’ll be making some noise at nationals.
The Elite Tier:
3. Truman State University
Last year, Rice’s upset over Harding in the game-to-go to nationals was the biggest surprise of the year in D-III. They continued their streak of upsets at 2012 D-III Championships, beating St. John’s in pool play and Bentley in quarterfinals to tie for third place. Now, with the D-III spotlight shined squarely on them, we’ll see if they still have what it takes to take down this conference. The only large tournament they attended was D-III Warm Up, where they only lost to North Central powerhouse, St. John’s, and the eventual winner, Puget Sound. Due to awkward scheduling and the last minute cancellation of Centex Open, Rice has been unable to play in a major tournament for the rest of the season. Thus, their current level of play is a bit of a mystery. Even so, I would expect a repeat of last year’s finals between Rice and Harding. While I would consider Harding the favorite in this game, if Rice can shake off some rust early and maintain their intensity late, they could take down another conference title.
Truman State has been another dependable team, consistently ranked in the top five of the region. For a school as small as Truman State, the team has a large roster. But despite its many players, Truman State undoubtedly owes its strength to its quick-footed star handler, Tim Fergus. Truman State has gone to Midwest Throwdown and Chicago Invite this year and managed impressive point differentials against tough opposition. Next to Harding and Rice, this is the team that seems most primed for another D-III nationals bid.
The Up and Coming:
4. Trinity University
5. John Brown University
Neither team has been particularly competitive or well-known until this season, but both have come out strong, earning names for themselves in 2013. Trinity won Heart of Texas Huckfest in Waco, Texas after initially not being placed in the power pool. Trinity has a deep, athletic roster, and the team has finally developed enough strong throwers to capitalize on this athleticism. This team may be new, but they’re dangerous, and they maintain their intensity throughout the entire game. If they make nationals, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them finish in the top 8 or top 4. Yes, they are that good. Despite past struggles in the wind, there is no telling what this team could achieve with a confident mindset.
John Brown University (JBU) was on the verge of breaking out last year, but they were unable to stand against the strength of the South Central region during the series. This year, however, they have had a magnificent season. They first showcased their talents at Big D Little D, defeating Arkansas, a perennial South Central regional powerhouse. JBU consistently played well all season, despite low turnout at tournaments. They haven’t played many out-of-region games, so they are still relatively untested. John Brown University is a dangerous and athletic team. However, because this conference will offer no easy games on Sunday, their biggest concern will be depth.
6. Air Force Academy
7. Missouri University of Science and Technology
8. Hendrix College
9. University of Tulsa
Although they are not the favorites to qualify for the D-III National Championships, all of these teams do have a chance to sneak a bid from one of the stronger teams. Air Force is an extremely underrated team, simply due to the fact that they played so few games. The team’s greatest strength is its athleticism and a few talented throwers, particularly Wes Clark. Out of all of the teams at this tier, Air Force has the best chance of winning a bid to nationals.
Missouri S&T, two years removed from its D-III Championships run, spent last year rebuilding. This year it seems they have continued to build their increasingly strong program to once again be a potential threat to any team in the region. Missouri has the size and the defense to compete with any team, including a strong offense that will be key to its success. They have shown they can play with any team in the region, only narrowly losing to Harding.
Hendrix has a lot of talent, but huck-happy throwers and endurance issues have prevented them from breaking into the top tier. Hendrix has talented players, most notably their main handler, and one of the best throwsers in the region, Sam “Cornbread” Bondurant. In addition, the linchpin of Hendrix, Willian “Chompo” Chomphosy is crucial. If they can win the 50-50 discs that they are known for and maintain smart offense, they could do as well as any other team.
(Editor’s Note: The author is the captain of Tulsa’s team.) Tulsa has always had depth issues, sending a savage roster to Heart of Texas Huckfest and, in general, having 11 or less players on Saturdays, with as few as 9 on Sundays. Despite this, Party Fowl has performed admirably. Tulsa is an experienced team, featuring 6 or 7 players who have played for as many as 4-6 years. Even with experience, inconsistency remains, which shows in losses to teams such as Hendrix, and getting blown out by JBU. Despite playing savage at Waco, Tulsa dominated, going 4-0 on Saturday, and beating Texas State in the quarterfinals (a top 10-15 team in the region and the number one seed in the tournament before losing to Trinity in the semis). This was easily the biggest win in the school’s history, and Tulsa hopes to carry this momentum into conference championships. With a homefield advantage, giving Tulsa good tournament numbers for the first time this season, don’t write off Party Fowl. It’s not likely that this team will make nationals, but they could certainly break seed and show they have the potential to be a dominant force in future years.
10. Drury University
In the past, Drury has been an extremely strong team in the region. Last year, however, they ended up not sending a team to conference championships and has since fallen off of the ultimate radar. They played at Hendrix Ultimate Experience this year and produced lackluster results. It seems that the strength of this team has declined over the last few years and it will be interesting to see if they can bring it back at conference championships.
The Young Guns:
11. University of Dallas
12. Midwestern State University
These are the new teams, still young and in development. Neither of these teams will be relevant on Sunday, and are likely to struggle the entire weekend. They lack both star talent and depth. While they may be dangerous in a few years, do not look for these teams to compete at a high level.