Only 12 teams will make the trek to Kansas City this weekend for the Central Missouri Invitational -- also known as the Ozark Invitational. Still, of those dozen teams, seven sit in the top 10 in the latest NTCA Coaches' Poll.
"Every tournament has a good field and this is certainly no exception, said John Williamson, coach of No. 8 Vanderbilt. "This is an important weekend for Vanderbilt as we are making a final push to earn our way among the eight teams that get invitations to the NCAA championship in April. We know we have some work to do."
And therein lies the big motivator for many of those six top-10 squads. Eight will make the trip to Wickliffe, Ohio next month for the NCAA championship. After this week's event, many of those teams have one tournament remaining before the field will be named on March 26.
While Vanderbilt sits in that all-important eighth spot, life is no more secure for second-ranked Nebraska.
“This tournament is not make-or-break, but it is close," Nebraska interim head coach Paul Klempa said. "If you do well you stay on pace for making the NCAA’s, if something goes really bad you can seriously hurt your chances of going,”
“We cannot afford to lay an egg, but we don’t necessarily have to win this tournament either, if we do well, we will be in good shape. It is an important event, there is no way around that.”
The Huskers last finished third at the Kat Klash two weeks ago. Despite not grabbing the win, Klempa said his team made big progress on their season goals since that tournament.
“Practice has been good this past week, we have been working on our skills on and off the lanes,” Klempa said. “I think it has been a pretty good 10 last days, the team is certainly healthier than it has been in the last two tournaments.”
As far as the host team, Central Missouri is concerned, they got a big boost on Thursday night. Heather Wiehe captured the title at the Mid-America Individual Championships. bowled games of 257, 233, and 248 during the doubles competition and 225, 225 and 234 during singles play for a 1422 total and 237 average.
Top-ranked Arkansas State appears, at least for the moment, to be the class of the field. Four different ASU players have gotten all-tournament honors in the past month, led by Ashley Rucker’s three (Prairie View A&M Invitational, Wildcat Invitational, and Kat Klash Invitational). Sarah Lokker took home MVP honors at the Wildcat Invitational and Kat Klash Invitational. Stephanie Mims earned the first all-tournament selections of her career in back-to-back tournaments at the Mid-Winter Invitational and Prairie View A&M Invitational, while Amanda Labossiere earned all-tournament honors at the Prairie View A&M Invitational.
“I’m very proud of the team and I’m excited about the direction we’re heading in,” ASU head coach Justin Kostick said.
Action begins Friday with six Quad- Baker matches. Saturday has six team games beginning at 10 a.m. and Sunday's championship bracket is three rounds of best-of-seven.