The Eighth Man

Midwest Regional Preview

 

Ball State University and Michigan State University are two teams that are going to be vying for the Midwestern Regional championship this weekend. Credit: Meghan Kautman

The Midwest has never really been known as one of the powerhouses of the IQA. But they are one of the biggest, and with 10 World Cup VI spots up for grabs and a field that’s deeper and more balanced than Midwest tournaments of the past, there is plenty to be excited about this weekend in Warren County, Ohio. While many regions have one or two favorites for the crown, the Midwest has an entire handful. With the start of the regional less than a day away, The Eighth Man delves into the teams and players that will define the weekend, and bring it home with some staff picks.

 

The Favorites

No. 17 University of Kansas– The reigning champions and the favorites going into regional championships, boasting a flawless 11-0 record so far this season, Kansas is one team that will be on everyone’s radar going into the weekend. The team is led by captain Hai Nguyen, president Aaron Pop, and Nicole Denney. The team is posting a prominent start, but the overall play is still in question due to the strength of schedule that Kansas has played in their region at this point.

Kansas has won two tournaments so far this year with a style of play that very much resembles last season, minus the arm of former chaser Tyler Amble. The new additions to the team look strong and capable of playing the Kansas way, though they haven’t been tested as much as some of their regional rivals, the result of a weak schedule – they have the second worst strength of schedule in the IQA’s top 15.

On Saturday, if they can get by Bowling Green State University in pool play, they should have an easy road to the quarterfinals as one of the three top seeds. Kansas could easily ride this confidence to the finals, but that is where a stronger team could take them down. But this squad is experienced, and it’d be silly not to put some serious consideration into them repeating as champions.

 

No. 10 Ball State University – Ball State is that team that everyone continues to brush over, even though they continue to put up strong results. This team has not disappointed at all this year in tournaments, winning two and posting a near perfect record overall.

They are an extremely physical team that plays to their chaser line strengths with aggressive beater play. Their defense is something that could be considered a weakness, as games are usually a run-and-gun style affair with the only goal being to outscore the other team. And with seeker Tyler Macy in their back pocket, as Ball State can keep things close, they can usually  lock up a game.

There are some flaws to be exploited, though. They were unable to beat a quick and explosive Michigan team in pool play at the Dumbledore Memorial Tournament, and they struggled with a Marquette team that came at them with the same type of light-up-the-scoreboard mentality.

Ball State should run their group, but how they perform against their group two seed, Central Michigan, may decide whether they come out as the overall No. 1 in bracket play. They should be favorites to make the semifinals, or even the finals.

This team is yet to lose a tournament that they have attended, and it will take a strong performance from someone to change that.

 

The Contenders

No. 9 Marquette University –Marquette has done everything but win a tournament title. It’s hard to count them amongst the favorites when Ball State and Kansas are picking up wins around every corner; Marquette still needs to prove they deserve the hype.

The chasing and keeping core of this team is scary good. Their abilities to counterattack and manufacture points might be the best in the region. The offense is lead by a trio of sophomores, Joe Simonelli, Caroline Villa and Bobby Roth. A second year team, like Kansas was last year, they seem to have grown into themselves, and with a fast-paced offense and improved defense, look to be a nationally-competitive team.

Look for Marquette to breeze through what is probably viewed as the easiest pool play schedule and ride to the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. They will probably get their first true test in the semifinals, which could be seen as a blessing or a curse. Regardless, if they get through it, a well-rested Marquette in the finals will be a scary prospect for any top opponent.

No. 14 University of Michigan – Michigan is very similar to Marquette in their abilities to play a quick and physically aggressive game. These two teams match up very well, which was apparent in their short semifinal match at the Dumbledore Memorial.

Overall, this team is smaller than some of the other top teams, but they are a contender thanks to the strong play the get from captain Andrew Axtell, who both seeks and chases, as well as the rest of their chasing corps. They make up for their size with agility, and are one of the best teams in the region at beating defenders with quick cuts. They like to drive the ball in and score with accurate passes, but are sometimes held back by underwhelming beater play.

Michigan is also stuck with the tournament’s toughest pool, including No. 18 University of Minnesota and the Crimson Warhawks. There is no guarantee that they will come out unscathed.

Even if they do squeak by Minnesota and run the group, expect them to end up with the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in bracket play. They’ll still be safely into the World Cup, but they’d have to run off three straight wins against strong teams to take the title, which is undoubtedly a tough prospect.

 

The Underdogs

No. 18 University of Minnesota – Minnesota is right where it was before World Cup V, coming off matches with Marquette. If they can turn that experience into results like they did last year, it could be a promising weekend for them.

Marquette took two of three this past weekend, proving in the process that Minnesota hasn’t been able to completely revamp from major losses to graduation in the spring. A lot of the team still has experience, but not on the national and regional level in the way that many of the other top teams do.

Minnesota plays a slow-paced, methodical style. Their ability to slow the game down can frustrate teams, and their tightly compact defense can wreak havoc on those that aren’t patient enough. One offense, they are led by Team USA’s Jared Sipe, who is surrounded by a mix of veterans and newcomers.

For a team with a lot to prove, Minnesota has the talent to do so. They aren’t in the dire straits some people had predicted in recent months, and their play is very much that of a World Cup VI contending team. Look for Minnesota to take a World Cup spot, but their bracket prospects are as much in the air as their lack of games so far this season.

No. 20 Michigan State University – The perennial contender, it could be the last hurrah for one of the Midwest’s most storied programs. The squad posted a decent performance at the Dumbledore Invitational, with their only loses coming to Ball State. The team this year is comprised of a collection of familiar faces, as well as a few new ones.

Overall, they aren’t a bad team, and they will definitely pull a spot in WC VI, but to the extent of which that takes them is unknown. They will most likely take their pool if they can make it past Ohio State, and could potentially make a run, but it will largely depend on whether their abilities can hold up though the grind of the tournament.

 

Players to Watch

Andrew Axtell – Chaser – University of Michigan– Until he is nationally recognized, he deserves mention time and again. Andrew is one of the best players in the region so far this year. His style of play and internal drive makes him a threat on every single possession. And as a captain, his spark spreads through his team, giving his whole side a boost anytime he’s on the pitch.

Bobby Roth – Chaser, Seeker – Marquette University – One of the best players in last year’s Midwest Cup as a rookie, Roth deadly near the hoops and a top-notch defender. His movement and ability to block with the quaffle is what separates him from most players, while his height and core strength define him as a top athlete in the sport.

As a chaser, Roth is able to score almost every time he takes it down, and his passing off the ball has improved so much that he’s now something to handle in every aspect of quaffle play. Look for Roth to be a game changer in the later rounds of the tournament.

Hai Nguyen – Chaser – University of Kansas – The true definition of a captain, Nguyen is someone to look up to motivationally and on the field. He runs plays a lot like a quarterback. The pieces around him are made better by his speed, passing and movement. Hai provides the outlets that his team needs to be successful, and his play is extraordinary.

Overall his speed, positioning, passing, and strength make Hai one of the most complete players at the tournament. If you can catch a game that he is in, it’s well worth your time.

 

The Eighth Man Staff Picks
Writer Pool 1 Pool 2 Pool 3 Pool 4 Pool 5 Qualifiers Championship
Alan Black Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Michigan State Minnesota;Ohio State;Crimson Warhawks;Bowling Green;Purdue Kansas over Marquette
Andrew Canto Ball State Kansas Minnesota Marquette Michigan State Bowling Green;Michigan;Ohio State;Crimson Warhawks;Central Michigan Marquette over Kansas
Benny Nadeau Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Michigan State Bowling Green;Minnesota;Crimson Warhawks;Central Michigan;Purdue Marquette over Kansas
Devin Sandon Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Michigan State Bowling Green;Minnesota;Central Michigan;Ohio State;Crimson Warhawks Michigan over Marquette
Ethan Sturm Ball State Kansas Minnesota Marquette Michigan State Central Michigan;Bowling Green;Ohio State;Purdue;Michigan Ball State over Marquette
Hernan Martinez Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Ohio State Michigan State;Minnesota;Bowling Green;Central Michigan;Miami Michigan over Ball State
Kevin Oelze Ball State Kansas Minnesota Marquette Michigan State Central Michigan;Bowling Green;Ohio State;Michigan;Purdue Marquette over Ball State
Sarah Kneiling Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Ohio State Minnesota;Central Michigan;Crimson Warhawks;Purdue;Bowling Green Marquette over Kansas
Sarah Woolsey Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Michigan State Minnesota;Ohio State;Bowling Green;Purdue;Central Michigan Kansas over Marquette
Steve DiCarlo Ball State Kansas Minnesota Marquette Michigan State Michigan;Purdue;Loyola;Bowling Green;Ohio State Ball State over Kansas
Zach D'Amico Ball State Kansas Michigan Marquette Michigan State Minnesota;Central Michigan;Bowling Green;Purdue;Crimson Warhawks Marquette over Michigan

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