Huck Finn: A Short Recap

I was pretty fired up to see Huck Finn this year. Some of the national contenders from previous years were not going to be there, but Harding and a handful of other Ozark teams looked like they would put on an interesting show. Add in the wet fields from the week of rain and games were going to be downright exciting.

Unfortunately, after arriving in St. Louis, this reporter got very ill and received a gift of feverish misery. What a shame that was, as there were upsets, head-scratchers, and crazy results all weekend long.

Despite my illness the cameraman was still able to go tape the first few rounds to give a little insight into the events at Huck Finn.

1. Harding: Apocalypse is hitting its stride at just the right time.  In their last three tournaments Harding has just three losses, and two of those are to Texas A&M. Returning all the big names has definitely helped them, but the bench is playing a bigger role than they did last year, and that has made a big difference.

2. Washington (St.L): Contra is out to prove that even without Winograd or MacDonald, though they may not be the undisputed best in the conference, they are still a force to be reckoned with. They’re already showing some of that; if they can bear down on teams, go for the kill, and not make so many mental mistakes, Contra could be walking away with another Ozark Conference Championship.

3. St. Louis: Sleeping in their own beds surely gave the Arch Angels a boost. Still, losing by two to Harding and beating Kansas on Sunday to make the semifinals is a solid showing that has more to do with skill than a good sleep. St. Louis has improved their turnover ratio from Free State and that has made a big difference. If they keep this up the Arch Angels may be showing some teams an unexpected exit at the conference tournament.

4. Kansas: The HorrorZontals are in a weird place right now. They have a talented team and solid coaching. Unlike last year they appear to have made strides in working together . However, Kansas still seems to have problems getting it going sometimes — especially on Sundays. That ugly fact reared its head once again as Kansas fell to St. Louis. The HorrorZontals are going to have to fix that if they want to return to their former glory.

5. Oklahoma State: You never know which Ultimato team is going to show up, literally or physically. Oklahoma State took rival Oklahoma to the brink, 14-16, at Big D, but they laid an egg at Huck Finn, finishing in the 19th place bracket. Ultimato did bring a small squad to Huck Finn and that did not help, but they need to turn things around next week at the Heart of Texas Huckfest if they do not want to be seeded in the basement at the Ozark Conference Tournament.

Oklahoma State T-Town Throwdown Write-Up

Coming into the tournament seeded 4th in their pool and 15th overall out of the 24 teams, Oklahoma State Ultimato came out slow against the 2nd seed Tulane in their first game of the day, but were able to settle down with quick transition scores off of Tulane’s turnovers.

In the second game against the 1st seed, Georgia Southern, Ultimato came out firing and never looked back. Oklahoma State’s zone did not allow Georgia Southern to find a comfort zone as they were turning the disc over trying to beat Ultimato’s D and the stiff wind. OSU rolled to a 13-5 win.

The next game, against Tennessee-Chattanooga, was much of the same, a stifling zone getting turnovers and quick, easy scores for OSU. This victory wrapped up the pool for Ultimato. Bringing only 13 healthy bodies, OSU chose to give limited playing time to their key players against Mississippi State to save their legs and to keep them from getting  injured. Oklahoma State ended up losing, 13-11.

In the first game Sunday, the host team, Alabama Yellow Hammer was matched up against Harding Apocalypse. Bama got out to a fast 7-3 lead at half. However, Harding came out in the second half with tons of energy and a solid game plan. Harding dressed almost 25 guys for this tournament and all of them were active on the sidelines when they weren’t in the game. Harding quickly got back in the game and ended up trading points with Alabama, but never seemed to break through until 13-12 when they went on a 3-0 run to finish off Yellow Hammer.

In the Quarterfinals, Harding matched up with Oklahoma State. Harding jumped out to a quick three point lead, easily marching down the field against Ultimato’s flat defense. OSU was able to bring it close at 6-5 with a few quick stuff and scores. Harding responded to take it to 8-6 at half. Harding took the first point out of half to put it to 9-6 and from that point on both teams were trading points. Ultimato was never able to get a break back against Apocalypse. Falling in the quarters, 15-11.

Oklahoma State dropped down to the 5th place bracket where they had a rematch from pool play Saturday against UT-Chattanooga.

Harding went on to play Ohio State in the semis, losing a very tight one, 15-13.

The wind was a major factor through out the tournament and especially on Saturday, with steady 15 mph cross-winds and gusts up to 25 mph.

MLC Saturday

The parity and upsets at Missouri Loves Company is what makes college ultimate so exciting and so hard to predict.

1. Missouri shows they belong in the power pools by beating everyone but Michigan. And that loss to MagnUM is by one point.

2. St. Louis wins their pool and beats conference foe Oklahoma, 11-5.

3. Oklahoma has a so-so day and needs to find a way to win with different starters from last year.

4. Oklahoma State goes 2-2, but takes second in Pool D.

5. Arkansas drops one game all day to Iowa State and ends up third in their pool. This is unfortunate for Arkansas but it does create an in conference match-up tomorrow, as Arkansas faces Oklahoma State first thing in the morning.

6. Kansas takes a step in the right direction by going undefeated and winning Pool G. Tomorrow tells us if the HorroZontals are ready to join the top tier in the conference again..

7. Kansas State eeks out the win against Washington, but loses to Kenyon to take second in Pool H.

8. Washington is still trying to find an identity and goes winless on Saturday.

Sunday Harvest Moon Summary

Day two of Harvest Moon began with overcast skys and 10 mph winds. The rain that was predicted by meteorologists did not come, and spectators turned out to watch the action unfold. As the games played out the teams relative abilities became more and more apparent.

1. Arkansas Plays with Feeling

Matt Jackson is a good player and everyone knows it, but Arkansas will have to rely on more than just one player to succeed; that’s where the supporting cast comes in. While the team returns everyone from last year, those players are still inexperienced and run on excitement and adrenaline.  This weekend they were able to keep themselves going, but that won’t work every game. Eventually, all teams have to find a way to finish games against good teams that they have a large lead on. Arkansas might have problems letting teams back into games if they can’t figure that out.

2. Missouri Likes to Rally

Missouri is kind of in the same boat as Arkansas, but with an entirely different problem. Missouri returns a large portion of the team and having three 5th year seniors return gives the MUtants a ton of experience. However, Missouri likes to get behind before they play at their most inspired. On Saturday, Missouri spotted St. Louis two points, and on Sunday spotted Arkansas five.

“We like to [start games] slow,” said captain Matt Francis. “It is a bad habit we have and are trying to overcome.

That game-plan may have worked against St. Louis, but it came up just short against Arkansas.

3. Washington is Missing Key Players and Identity

Losing two All-Region players would hurt any team. But losing Evan Winograd and Joe MacDonald has really hurt the Contrabears. They still have the talent to win games, but the team identity and roles seem to be a little fuzzy right now.

“Things are different. We no longer have stars who can dominate match-ups, but we do have a team full of guys who can run and throw and make plays with the best of them. We just have to step up,” said Wash U captain Jacob Zax.

The Contrabears will definitely have to step up, especially since they appear to be rebuilding after such a strong showing last year. However, I expect that WashU’s coach and captains will rally the team around a common identity and make Washington a tough team by the time the regular season rolls around.

4. Harding Still Gets Tired

Last year Harding made Div. III Nationals by consistently using just eight players, but fatigue became a real problem late in tournaments. This year Harding has made a conscious effort to have an offensive line, defensive line, and several bench lines. That adjustment seemed to make a big difference as Harding strolled into the finals against Arkansas and took a 2-0 lead. The ensuing point was a long one. Harding had several chances to score but ultimately conceded and the defensive line was ineffective for the rest of the game.

Figuring out how to get to the next level might be tricky for Apocalypse, but if they can, they will likely be making noise at Div. III Nationals again.

Harvest Moon Saturday Review

The first day of Harvest Moon gave little insight into the relative strength of Ozark Conference teams. The lack of head-to-head matches today certainly limited what we could learn, but an absence of data points should be remedied tomorrow. Even so, we still did see a glimpse of what the regular season might look like.

1. Washington University is better than Missouri State.

The Contrabears may have lost a lot of talent from last year, including standouts Joe MacDonald and Evan Winograd, but they are still stronger than a Missouri State team that has been stuck in a constant rebuilding phase since 2006. The relative strength of both teams was evident as Wash U defeated Missouri State, 13-5.

2. Missouri is better than St. Louis. Maybe.

Missouri and St. Louis both return most of their starters. Last year at the Conference Tournament Loki beat the MUtants 11-9. But that was last year and this is now — even though both teams look similar. Two weeks ago Missouri beat St. Louis by six breaks at Glory Days and today they beat them by five. And yet, today was a struggle as Loki took an early lead and stayed with the MUtants until the final quarter of the game when Missouri went on a four point run to close out the game.

3. Arkansas Looks Good. So far.

Last year Arkansas fell short of expectations and did not even get to play in the post-season because they missed the USAU’s roster deadline. However, everyone from last year returns. And by everyone that includes All-Region standout Matt Jackson who had limited playing time today with a jammed thumb. Even so, Arkansas outscored all opponents by 26 and beat Hendrix who finished second in the A Pool today, 13-7.

Centex Summary Part B – Non Ozark Teams

Non Conference Teams

British Columbia – The Thunderbirds waltzed through their pool on Saturday, except for a little struggle from the Kansas teams. On Sunday, they took care of California Long Beach, but had to come from behind against Texas.

They then faced Colorado College and held with them during the first half but got outscored in the second half 6-3. The Thunderbirds would not admit it, but it looks like their short bench finally took a toll. Despite the loss, UBC is a solid team and is blessed with very good players. John Norris is an excellent handle and Matt Berezan was a defensive beast getting many d’s on many teams.

Colorado College – Wasabi is a well-oiled machine. It is fun to watch their sound fundamentals. Not only are they good at getting open on cuts, but almost all of their players are able to trade places easily.

Beyond the fundamentals, Colorado College is not much fun to watch. They do not make many layouts or skys or anything else exciting. But what seems like a big shortcoming is actually one of Wasabi’s biggest strengths. Wasabi does not need to make amazing plays because they are that sound. A layout or sky means a throw was off, or there was another execution error somewhere in the play. These guys do not make many errors on offense or on defense, and expertly use other teams’ mistakes.

Leading Colorado College is captain Nicky Spiva. Spiva is an all-around player who has hucks, causes the other team to make errors, and slips deep from time to time to score. He is a legitimate Callahan contender, who might not get the votes to win, but is a large factor in Colorado College’s success.

Texas – Coach Calvin Lin is one of the best strategists in the game. He is indirectly responsible for a couple of TUFF’s points every game. But even he can’t play the game for his players. Texas may have lost only to UBC, but both Dartmouth and Kansas State gave them games. At times the feeling was that the Texas players relaxed when they had the lead, and as a result made some interesting decisions. TUFF was able to recover from most of their errors via their tenacity, but will they have that option against top teams in the series?

A tip of the hat to Will Driscoll who played superbly at Centex.

Texas A&M – Dozen did a lot better at Centex than at President’s Day. They used a mix of zone and man to great effectiveness. Dozen did well against out of region teams but fell to Texas and Colorado College. A remedy has to be in store if Texas A&M wants to make a splash at South Central Regionals.

Washington – The Sundodgers brought seventeen players, but by the end of the tournament they were down to just a dozen due to injury. All of those players should be back by the series, but it definitely hurt their chances at Centex.

Besides the injuries, Washington hobbled their own cause by not putting teams away on Saturday. Oklahoma, Northwestern and California Sate – Long Beach all lost by two points. Those extra repetitions did not help Washington on Sunday against Kansas State and Texas A&M, who are both athletically-minded teams.

Washington will probably not lose their strength bid from their showing at Centex, but it certainly did not help.

Centex Summary Part A – Ozark Conference Teams

This weekend, while many across the nation were watching NCAA basketball, several USAU college ultimate tournaments were in full swing. Down in Austin, Texas there was Centex.

Centex took a perceived hit in quality of teams even before it started. That is largely due to Easterns. But while Easterns had some solid teams, the top teams at Centex were still very strong, including some Ozark Conference teams.

Ozark Conference Teams

Arkansas – Ludicrous Speed looked good early in the season. A second place finish in the preseason at Harvest Moon and a second place finish at Big D in Little D gave the impression that Arkansas was going to be a good team, even with the loss of their senior talent. However, losses to Missouri and Missouri S&T at Free State Classic showed that Arkansas might not be as strong as they initially looked. The overtime win against Kansas partially redeemed them, but since then Arkansas has been struggling greatly.

At a shortened Mardi Gras Arkansas lost both of their games and freshmen speedster Joe Bell. At Centex, Arkansas got behind early to Illinios but did much better in the second half. In their second game, against Florida State, they dominated the first half and looked like they had turned a corner. However, they ended up squandering the lead and losing by one. Ludicrous Speed would have to wait until Sunday to win their first game, versus Texas State, but they eventually lost to Oklahoma, and Florida State again.

Arkansas has a lot of work to do. They have talented freshmen and Matt Jackson and Eric Kearney. But that might not be enough. Bell should be back in time for the Conference Tournament, but will Arkansas?

Kansas – The HorrorZontals have been the most consistent team in the Ozarks. They have made Nationals five of the last seven years, missing only 2005 and 2008.

At Centex, Kansas got sucker punched by Kansas State to lose their first game of the day. They ended up recovering by defeating the other lower seeds in their pool, but lost to top-seeded UBC, 8-11. On Sunday, the Zontals moved into the Chumpionship bracket and beat Northwestern, but lost to Illinois and Wisconsin Steven’s Point, both teams they had beat previously.

The Zontals have the talent to beat many teams in the nation. However, they seem to be a collection of ultimate players who go to the same school and not necessarily a team. Sniping, arguing, taunting, and one-upsmanship are not generally good for team chemistry and may be holding the boys in red and black back. They still have Fool’s Fest to work out the kinks before the series, but if they do not get them ironed out there is a good chance this just might be the third Zontal team since 2004 to miss Nationals.

Kansas State – The Huckstables are the surprise of the 2011 season. They were not expected to challenge for a top spot in the Ozark Conference. But now Kansas State is, according to the USAU rankings, the fourth best team in the South Central Region. The Huckstables seem to have conjured a full compliment of players from thin air, from solid handler Cameron Hunter, to all-around star Pat Shriwise, and big time deep Chris Youderian. That does not even begin to touch on the other players on the team, from starter to bench, that give other teams fits.

Kansas State came out fired up on the first day of Centex, beat Kansas and gave UBC a game that ended with a d that popped into UBC’s hands, making the final score 11-9. On Sunday, the Huckstables continued their upward climb by beating Washington and losing on ultimate point to Texas. It is true Colorado College easily handled Kansas State, but Colorado College could be one of the best teams in the nation. Even so, the guys from the Little Apple finished fourth at Centex.

Missouri – Missouri brought a small squad of nine to start Centex. They were bolstered by two more near the end of the Colorado College game and promptly scored six in a row against Wasabi. Other than that remarkable run and a win against UCLA, their showing at Centex was disappointing to say the least. Then again, it is hard to win with a small team.

The MUtants have some good players, including captain Matt Francis, but it is not translating into quality wins. Besides an early season win on Arkansas at Free State Classic and two on Harding at Midwest Throwdown, the MUtants have had trouble beating strong teams. Missouri is sure to be a better team once they show up with a full complement of players, but their lack of game time experience might hurt them.

Oklahoma – The Apes of Wrath got stuck in the pool of death at Centex. They also did not do themselves any favors by making every pool game a close game. After beating California Long Beach on ultimate point and losing by two to Washington, the Apes had to fight back to beat Northeastern, lost by two to Northwestern, and by three to Wisconsin Eau-Claire.

Oklahoma did better on Sunday by beating California San Diego, Air Force, and got revenge on Arkansas for Big D in Little D to take 17th place. It is not a surprise that in both games Oklahoma won on Saturday both Mike Rice and Matt Carney came up with big plays. That is why they are on the field. However, if the Apes want to continue to win the big games someone else is going to have to help these guys out and shoulder the load — and not just for a few points.

Mardi Gras Summary

I learned a lot of things at Mardi Gras. Some about life, some about weather, and some about ultimate. Since this is about the Ozark Conference I will not be boring you with what I learned about life or the weather — save the fact that lightening will postpone a tournament even when the city says it is alright to play on fields soaked with rain.

Arkansas — It ended up being a long weekend for Arkansas. They, much like most of the teams, did not get to play on Saturday. On Sunday they got the luck of the draw and had the pleasure of playing Iowa first. Just like last week Arkansas started out slow and fell behind. Even though they began to put things together at the end of the Iowa game they let that funk affect their game against Chicago.

Chicago is a good team, but I do not think the Arkansas that beat Kansas loses to Chicago. In fact, the team that beat Kansas can probably beat most teams in the South Central Region.

Right now Ludicrous Speed is in a mental free fall. They have the players, who while young, know how to win. I am not sure what it will take for Arkansas to get out of their lack of focus, but they need to figure it out with Centex two weeks away.

Missouri State — The Bears have definitely improved from last year. But they are still a young group who needs to learn how to put teams away. However, unlike at Hendrix Ultimate Experience — where they lost to Harding 14-16 — this team won the close games. Beating Chicago 13-10 and Mississippi State 13-12 is a step in the right direction. They still have a way to go if they want to contend for the Conference crown, but they are closer now than they were last month.

Props to Missouri State captain Dave Woods who almost had a Callahan in the Chicago game and threw three assists plus one sliding d in the final three points of the Mississippi State game.

Oklahoma — Mike Rice is a beast. An Ape of Wrath if you will. Besides being pretty good at morphing into the main character of one of the best cheers in the country, the guy can play. It was well-known the Rice could play before this weekend, but Oklahoma needed something extra coming into the weekend and he provided it.

It will be interesting to see if Rice will be the catalyst going into Centex or if someone else will step up into that roll. Regardless, Oklahoma will need to keep up the intensity late in games, since they tend to let teams come back when they get a comfortable lead.

Additional Notes:

The semi-finals of Mardi Gras had Indiana vs. Minnesota on one side and Luther vs. Iowa in the other. These four teams are all very good but have different ways of achieving their high level. Minnesota makes very few errors as a team; while Indiana is more of a power oriented team. Luther makes a few mistakes, but is able to force other teams into errors of their own. And Iowa is an all-around balanced team who has a dynamic offense, allowing them to attack in many different ways.

All are solid ways to win games and I am glad to see the different solutions to ultimate. The USAU series this year should be very interesting.

Free State Classic Summary

Overland Park, KS — The pea soup fog stayed around all weekend as Iowa beat all comers to win the first edition of the Free State Classic. The strange weather began with two inches of snow on the field and freezing fog on Saturday and ended with thunderstorms and hail right after the final on Sunday.

The one thing the strange weather could not compete with was the peculiar outcomes of games. The first round started it off with Missouri beating Arkansas 13-8. It was almost like Arkansas did not know how to play in the snow, which is strange considering that the Fayetteville, Arkansas area got somewhere around 24 inches of snow two weeks ago.

The peculiarities continued into the second round as Arkansas got behind against Missouri S&T, fought back to take the lead, and then squandered it at the end to lose to the Miners 13-11. In the other pool, Kansas State’s star player Pat Shriwise separated his shoulder in the third point against Illinois. The Huckstables were able to keep the game close, even leading 11-10, only to lose 13-11.

The strangeness was seemly abated in the third round as every game easily went to seed. But the fourth round brought it back as Missouri fought Missouri S&T for the A Pool #2 spot. Missouri ended up with a nail biting 14-12 victory that was full of calls and layouts.

Round five was not as weird, but Kansas and Illinois had a back and forth game that Kansas ultimately won 13-11.

The thick fog still hung in the air on Sunday, but the snow was gone. The lack of snow changed how teams played because cutters were now able to get separation from their defenders. Teams used that advantage to huck the disc for scores, something that had been difficult the day before. As a result, Arkansas had great success with long throws to beat Kansas, while Kansas State dismantled Missouri’s cup, which had been their go-to defense the day before.

The semifinals ended up being very different games. On one field Kansas State outran Arkansas in route to a 15-7 win. On the other, Illinois and Iowa played a game of momentum. At one point Illinois had a 9-5 lead but was unable to keep the advantage. Iowa made some defensive adjustments and slowly chipped away at the illinois’ lead to win 15-13.

The weird weather came back in the finals as a cold north wind began to blow. That wind allowed Iowa to use a four man cup to get three breaks at the very beginning of the game. Kansas State was never able to recover and IHUC wrapped up the game 15-9 just before the thunder and hail began to come down.

So what did this tournament teach us? We don’t know. It’s unlikely that there will be snow on the fields come Sectionals, and that traditional offenses will prevail. But Free State does raise questions about the consistency and flexibility of some of the top-tier teams in the Ozark Conference, and even the nation.