Friday, November 7, 2014

Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship Recap

Photo by Isabella Gong
By Kyle Stolcenberg

Earlier in the week, Andy Marmer’s Sunday Snitch recapped the late stages of bracket play, as well as the biggest storylines coming out of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship (MARC). The tournament featured the four highest seeds as semifinalists, the University Maryland beating the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the finals, and only one minor surprise in World Cup bid allocations. However the tournament was far from boring. Maryland played two snitch-range games in pool play and needed a snitch catch to force overtime in the finals, the University of Richmond lost to a rebuilding Johns Hopkins University in the first slot of the weekend, George Mason University turned a blowout loss to University of Virginia (UVA) on Day One to a snitch-range victory on Day Two via a strategy overhaul, and much of the middle tier showed tremendous improvement since their last official outings. It’s important to discuss the lessons of the tournament before the excitement gets buried by brief blurbs in the national quidditch media citing the maintenance of the status quo, the unimportance of regional championships in general, and the weakness of the Mid-Atlantic in particular. I’ll organize the discussion of teams by pool but will not solely focus on the pool-play games.

I’ll organize the discussion of teams by pool but will not solely focus on the pool-play games.

Photo by Isabella Gong
Pool A
University of Richmond Spiders
Appalachian Apparators Quidditch
Johns Hopkins Hallows
Lock Haven University Quidditch
Grove City College

Though predicted by manyperhaps rightlyto be the weakest overall, this pool offered the greatest excitement on Day One. The biggest surprise was not Richmond’s loss to an until-then-unimpressive Hopkins team but rather the Spiders’ ability to put up 90 quaffle points without pulling away. Though it’s long had a reputation in the region as a defensive-minded team, Richmond this year lacks the physicality at chaser as well as the depth at male beater and seeker needed to play its favored slow pace. There is no player on its roster with both the tackling ability and the lateral quickness required in a natural point defender; hopefully this will be somewhat remedied by the return of the injured Brennen Lutz and the continued development of first year players. In the meantime, the beaters are forced to be more active than they might like, opening up space inside for more athletic teams like Hopkins and the Appalachian Apparators. In response, Richmond has to run on counterattacks in an attempt to match scores. Looking forward to USQ World Cup 8, though, Richmond’s primary concern needs to be its offense. With the exception of fast breaks, the offense runs exclusively through keepers Jeremy Day and Brendan “Bo” O’Connor. These are the most talented offensive players on the squad; Day almost single-handedly put his team out of range in the bracket play rematch against Johns Hopkins with a handful of smart mid-ranged shots. However, production is at the mercy of the team’s decision making. In the later matchup with UNC, the Spiders threatened to pull out of range with the snitch on pitch and shock everyone watching. Then, the keepers switched and Day took a couple of poor long shots. Rather than recognizing this and settling down, he took a couple more mixed in with some ill-advised balls over the top of the hoops and UNC pulled ahead. If it wants to win at World Cup, Richmond needs to develop trust in some of its other offensive weapons so there’s a bit of insurance in tough games. Even then, expect Richmond to play a lot of games in snitch range. For this to be a winning strategy, it needs to do a better job avoiding physical mismatches in the seeking game. Primary seeker Kevin Alloway impressed with quickness against smaller snitches like Lock Haven’s Jonyull Kosinski but got completely shut down against behemoth Nathan Love in the first Hopkins match. With the lanky Austin Nuckols in reserve and the more powerful Lutz returning soon, this shouldn’t be a continuing issue.

Hopkins came into this tournament severely overlooked, having played only three official games on the season, including two losses to Capital Madness. A slew of injuries on Day One combined with the lack of depth that accompanies rebuilding prevented Hopkins from maintaining the level of play displayed in the opening match against Richmond and ultimately led to a forfeit in the opening round of the consolation bracket. This kept Hopkins out of World Cup 8, but the team displayed a lot of potential. A defense anchored surprisingly by holdover beater Audrey Zeldin was stingier than expected, and a handful of quick but undersized chasers kept Hopkins in games by making good decisions and simply out-hustling the opposition. The team came away with nearly every 50/50 ball and kept plays offensive plays alive longer than could reasonably be expected. Most impressive, though, is the way Hopkins has managed to change the culture of its team. Now without the fiery and unpredictable former captain Mike Matesich, it has managed in a single weekend to begin combating a bad reputation that previously seemed irreversible. If it can keep its players interested and get to some big tournaments this spring, which has historically been a problem for the program, Hopkins will continue to surprise good teams all semester even without a World Cup bid.

Though Appalachian performed well and secured a World Cup bid with relative ease, it was probably the least interesting team in this pool. It performed exactly how we expected and exactly how it has been all season. The team boasts impossible depth of athleticism in the quaffle lineup, but, it hasn’t managed to develop its beaters or its team strategy enough to compete with the top teams in the region. Though the only truly guaranteed points in each match come from keeper Trey Pressley, the chasers are physically dominant enough that Appalachian gets out of range quickly against most lower-mid tier teams and easily avoids the sort of upsets that could haunt more competitive but strategic teams like Richmond and UVA. The Apparators also have one of the better seekers in the region in Ancrum Ballenger, but he cannot be dominant unless his beaters get him more time alone with snitches. This is the mid-level team with the most potential to challenge Maryland and UNC, but it won’t come close without a big increase in sophistication on both sides of the ball.

Lock Haven was discounted by most after it utterly failed to show up to Turtle Cup IV in late September, but it has improved more than almost any other team in the region since then. It is another team full of athletes lacking sophistication, with a bit of a disconnect between the beaters and the quaffle game. During MARC, players marked up well defensively and were tough to get around individually, but beaters who should have been plugging passing lanes were often drawn out of position or distracted by beater battles. Offensively, there were moments of brilliant passing with quick cuts inside that were almost unstoppable, but too often the play devolved into hero-ball. Discipline was also an issue for the team, as it got into card trouble in more than one game and sometimes seemed on the edge of control physically. Particularly worrying is the male beater situation: Tyler Potoski is the only one in which the team has any confidence. Due to cards and fatigue, the team was sometimes forced into a two-female beater set in which it seemed competent but lacked the athleticism to make much impact with the bludgers. Lock Haven is at the top of the non-qualifying teams but needs to find the balance between the reckless play of this and last year’s regional championships and the timid beater play of Turtle Cup IV.

Grove City was simply overmatched in this pool and in the tournament in general. It showed a few bright spotsnotably the shooting of keeper Christian Talbotbut it will take another year or two of recruitment before this team is ready to compete.

Photo by Isabella Gong
Villanova Community Quidditch
Virginia Quidditch Club
George Mason University (GMU)
Carnegie Mellon Quidditch Club
Duke University Quidditch

Villanova was easily the best team in this pool and the third best in the tournament. Its offense was the best of Day One, putting on a clinic against UVA with its passing game somehow not suffering at all in the rain. With Khalil Taylor absent and Dan Takaki primarily seeking, the offense spread out and involved all four quaffle players on most plays, becoming especially dangerous with players crossing behind the hoops. The key was often Julia Fillman, whose speed, size, and sure hands created mismatches throughout the tournament. In a notable departure from previous games, Villanova’s ball handlers were eager to drive from the point and force defenses to react, opening up deep spaces near the hoops for easy catch-and-dunks.

The beating game, however, continues to be an issue. While it plays well against teams which beat conservativelyUVA and Richmond, most notablyit struggles against teams like UNC and Maryland who use their bludgers more fluidly. Villanova’s front beatersnotably captain Anthony Ceronestill tend to be distracted from quaffle play, focusing too much on beater battles and often having to make unnecessarily long throws as a result. The second line of beaters tended to make better decisions but it will take a combination of this mental focus and the physical talent of the starters to shore up the defense and make it competitive even in fast-paced games.

Hopefully Villanova’s beaters find this composure because its offense often relies on bludger support as well. As an easy example, note that the score was tied with George Mason in the first slot of pool play when the snitch came onto this pitch. While this would have been a great result for GMU, Villanova ran quickly out of range as soon as both teams’ beaters focused on the snitch rather than quaffle play.

Virginia struggled offensively in the rain early on Day One, scoring only 40 quaffle points against Villanova and 70 against Duke, as it could not reliably complete the quick passes and mid-range shots on which it often relies. More aggressive beater play later in the day led to piles of fast-break goals against lesser teams, but the ability to execute in the half-court against organized defenses will need to improve for Virginia to compete with the best teams in the region and beyond. In particular, the team will need to operate more effectively against bludger control. It took switching to a two-male-beater set in all three bracket-play games in order to get the offense going.

Most worrying for UVA is its vulnerability to the manipulation of pace by opposing teams. Twice in its last two tournaments it has lost on snitch catches to overmatched teams which simply stood at midfield offensively and limited possessions. Notably, it beat George Mason well out of range in pool play on Day One but lost 60*-40 to the same team in the opening round of bracket play after GMU spent the majority of the game time passing back and forth at midfield. UVA needs some change in strategy, possibly involving more aggression from its beaters, or it will risk facing this strategy every time it is the favorite in a match.

Virginia also needs to improve its seeking if it wants to avoid more embarrassing upsets. After losing on a snitch pull to GMU, it needed a snitch catch to beat the Honey Badgers. It then took UVA over 32 minutes to catch snitch Chris Champitto and secure a World Cup bid against Lock Haven despite going out of range around the 10 minute mark and holding bludger control in a two-male-beater set for almost the entirety of the game after that point.

George Mason was fairly predictable in pool play, losing out-of-range to UVA and Villanova while beating the two lower seeds in dominant fashion. Its first quaffle lineincluding the point defense and fast breaks of Jonathan Milan, the shot-blocking and shooting of Ryan Martin, and the general offensive production and physicality of Adrian Moranis fairly solid, but the drop-off after this is quite steep, particularly defensively. This line was able to match up fairly well against both Villanova and UVA in pool play but the fast pace quickly necessitated substitutes and the team was overwhelmed. In bracket play against UVA, George Mason was able to keep its first line on the field for nearly the whole game and thus was able to take advantage of the few power play opportunities and keep the game in range.

Beating is a big problem for this team all the way down the roster. It tends to play its beaters aggressively, bringing a bludger on offense without control and using the 1.5 bludger strategy with control. This wasn’t extremely effective against the better teams it faced and most often simply resulted in conceding fast break opportunities, particularly as there are no players outside of Milan and Moran who tackle well. This is the place to look if GMU wants to compete with top-level teams without resorting to stalling.

Duke rostered only 14 players for the tournament and didn’t have any standout individuals but played surprisingly compact defense and were able to stay in games longer than expected. It has taken a bit of a step back since last year but has a reasonable base on which to build for the future.

Carnegie Mellon was somewhat the opposite, playing a disorganized, fast-paced game that didn’t really suit its underwhelming talent. This is a team that has been around for a few years but hasn’t seemed to have the competitive drive to make big improvements.

Photo by Hannah Huddle
Pool C
Maryland Quidditch
Capital Madness Quidditch Club
Penn State University Nittany Lions
Quidditch Club of West Virginia University
Horn Tailed Horcruxes

To most peopleparticularly those outside the Mid-Atlanticthis tournament will be remembered most significantly for the vulnerability showed by a Maryland team which, before, looked untouchable. As discussed in our MARC preview article and elsewhere, the weakness is largely at beater; in games in which Maryland’s beaters are largely unpressured, they step forward to the point defensively and shut down offenses near midfield. When opposing beaters get aggressive, Maryland’s bludger possession becomes fleeting and its defense less sound. It is the ability of the beaters to play the point defensively against most teams which allows the chasers to man-mark off-ball and become essentially impenetrable. Against Capital Madness and, more notably, in the finals against UNC, this comfort was disrupted and the chasers didn’t slide quickly enough to help against drives. The most concerning aspect of Maryland’s play in the finals was its reluctance to even attempt its usual defensive structure. Kyle Bullins would trot up the pitch, with a bludger or without, and Maryland’s front beater would slink back towards his hoops, giving Max Miceli or Justin Cole the lane they need to become dangerous. Maryland’s defense is terrifying only when its beaters are not timid. Despite giving Maryland a big scare in pool play and putting up solid results overall, Capital Madness has some serious issues to address going into the spring. Offensively, it really only has two modes: Steve Minnich driving in bludgerless situations and, alternatively, a glacial advancement capped by a mid-range shot from Robby May or Sam Rosenberg. This is effective against teams like Maryland that aren’t careful with their bludgers or against teams like UVA that don’t want to press upfield and run on breaks, but if it wants to be more generally successful at World Cup, Madness will need to develop its off-ball passing options. At the moment, these auxiliary players get token touches around mid-field but never seem threats to receive the ball in dangerous areas.

Defense presents some more pressing issues for Capital Madness. Minnich provided excellent point defending and transition defense throughout the weekend, notably shutting down Miceli almost entirely in the bracket-play matchup with UNC, but far too often the off-ball marking was sloppy and opposing teams scored easy clean-up goals. A player would often be tackled by Minnich (or in a half-court situation by Pierson Geyer) only for the ball to squirt out near the hoops and be put away uncontested by lurking offensive chasers. This ought to be an easy problem to fix, even if the team can’t get more of its players to start tackling well.

The beating from Madness in this tournamentparticularly from Frank Gao and Michael Musatowwas significantly better than earlier in the season, but the beaters need to provide a bigger presence around their defensive hoops, at least until the quaffle players can sort out their marking.

These issues notwithstanding, Capital Madness has improved tremendously since its winless performance at Turtle Cup IV and is remarkably competitive for a new team.

Penn State also showed big improvement from its debut at the Nittany Invitational in early October. It was able to edge Capital Madness in a low-scoring game to take second in the pool and qualify easily over VCU on Day Two. The addition of former stars Scott Axel and Jeremy Ross this spring should help speed up the team’s trajectory back to the top of the region.

West Virginia University beat the Horn Tailed Horcruxes out-of-range at the bottom of Pool C, but neither team played another game within 100 points all weekend. West Virginia is a new team and should improve greatly with the experience of this first major tournament, particularly with its geographic isolation and usual difficulty in getting official games. The Horcruxes have always seemed to play for the fun rather than to compete but could challenge teams like Duke or Grove City with some focused practice.

Photo by Hannah Huddle
Pool D
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch (UNC)
Rutgers Nearly Headless Knights
Wizengamot Quidditch of VCU (VCU)
Philadelphia Honey Badgers
Q.C. Pittsburgh (Pitt)

As expected, UNC cruised to first place in this pool without playing any games in snitch range (including a match against Q.C. Pittsburgh which was out of range before Pitt forfeited due to a serious injury). As discussed with regard to the match against Maryland, UNC’s step this year into the region’s elite has been fueled almost exclusively by the massive improvement in beaters Kyle Bullins and Courtney Reynolds. The chaos created by Bullins’ aggressive play allows UNC to execute its fast-break-dependent offense while Reynolds plays intelligently and tends to maintain control in the back despite being repeatedly targeted. However, there is no depth to the lines behind these two. Rather than a drop-off in ability with substitution, we generally just don’t see substitutes come in to beat during important games. Bullins and Reynolds have proven to be capable of playing through long tournaments but an injury could be disastrous.

In contrast, I think UNC couldand shouldbe taking better advantage of its available depth in the quaffle game. Justin Cole and David Culhane have repeatedly impressed on offense while Lee Hodge remains not only the team’s best defender but a consistent finisher around the hoops. Too often UNC becomes the Fighting Max Micelis and, while he’s unquestionably dangerous making players miss as he drives to the hoops, Miceli tends to make poor passes over the hoops to give up possession and is notorious for seemingly not realizing that he’s also supposed to play defense. The lack of faith in its quaffle depth from UNC’s leadership is most apparent in the seeker game: the team has Chris Champitto, one of the best seekers in the region, but repeatedly starts an as-of-yet-unimpressive Alex Crawford at seeker. Even in overtime of the finals against UMD, Miceli could be heard telling Champitto to chase when he plainly would have been more valuable going after the snitch. UNC’s growth as a team is dependent more than anything on its ability to create a more balanced quaffle game which can still go to its traditional looks as needed throughout games.

VCU is the only other team from this pool to secure a bid to USQ World Cup 8, though it lost to Q.C. Pittsburgh in pool play and needed a snitch to win a low-scoring game against Rutgers. The return from injury of Darren Creary has given a huge boost to VCU this season not simply because of his shot-blocking and unstoppable dunks, but because it has allowed behemoth Lee Reid to move off-ball offensively, therefore constantly creating matchups which are simply unfair and which have translated to vital points for the Wizengamot. Also interesting is the unconventional play of VCU’s beaters, who often pass bludgers between them rather than making long throws. This has allowed the beater corps, which aside from anchor Natasha Conerly is largely unimpressive, to minimize mistakes and fill holes effectively. It was intelligent play like this combined with the impact of its big stars which allowed VCU to qualify despite a lack of great talent depth.

Q.C. Pittsburgh impressed as much as possible after an 0-7 official record in the lead-up to the regional championship, managing to fix both its offensive impotence and its disregard for contact rules. Before MARC, Pitt had scored no more than 60 total points in any match; it managed to break 100 points in 6 of 7 non-forfeit games on the weekend with a full stable of speedy quaffle players led by keeper Alek Keller and chaser Tyler Norton. The increased offensive production was enough to secure second place in Pool D but unorganized defense and a willingness to trade goals eventually cost Pitt. It lost a heartbreaker in the first round of bracket play to regulation and overtime snitch catches by Capital Madness and then lost again in the first round of the consolation bracket after allowing 140 points to a rallying VCU team.

Pitt managed to secure the region’s first alternate World Cup position with a win over Lock Haven, a result which will likely prove relevant as the Mid-Atlantic has the first overall deferred bid this year. Pitt is a storied program and, despite its early season woes, it is quickly rising again. Hopefully the possibility of a deferred bid will keep the team motivated and we will continue to see it in high-level matches throughout the spring.

Rutgers dropped a snitch-range game to VCU to take fourth in this pool and set up poorly for Day Two, having to play-in against Carnegie Mellon before being sent quickly by Maryland to the consolation bracket. In the consolation bracket Rutgers again came up against VCU. The scoreline was a bit more lopsided and Rutgers was eliminated.

The Philadelphia Honey Badgers have been hanging around the bottom of the region for a few years and, despite losing star players Alex Amodol and Sarah McGowan to the Warriors this year, seem to have finally taken the step into relevance. The team plays a slow, physical style which tends to give it a chance when outmatched, but also lets it outmuscle unorganized teams. The style seems a particularly good match for UVA, against whom the Honey Badgers forced a snitch-range game in the consolation bracket in similar style to the two teams’ overtime game at Turtle Cup IV. Though the Honey Badgers only managed one winout of range over WVUtheir play was more impressive than it has been in the past and should allow them to schedule some more competitive matches this spring.

This article has been updated to list Lock Haven as the 12th place finisher, not Duke, we apologize for the error.

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