Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yellow Journalism: The Tennis Ball Talks

Photo by Isabella Gong
By Jack Harver

Editor’s Note: After his snitching performance at Mid-Atlantic Regionals, we asked Jack Harver to discuss his experience in the championship game, the tournament as a whole, and snitching in general.
Me, adapted from Kevin Hart’s Laugh at My Pain (2011) and repeated ad nauseam this past weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship (MARC), especially (and loudly) before the 18-minute charge.
Having earnedor been given by default, maybethe privilege of toting the tennis ball for the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s (UNC) finals match, I had a front row seat for an instant quidditch classic.
That same tennis ball, of course, caused me to miss most of the best bits. Freaking seekers.
Nevertheless, this season’s MARCparticularly the finalsinvolved some seeker-snitch snapshots worth mentioning, both on their own merits and as segues into broader talk about this sport and its endgame.
From seeker styles to snitch ethics, let’s revisit the Mid-Atlantic’s turn in the sun…and wind…and cold…and rain from Nov. 1-2 (Bleh. And people ask why I travel to Florida…).

I. “Don’t no seeker wanna put the work in.”

I wish Billy Quach’s highlight reel was HD-enough to capture the look in Harry Greenhouse’s eyes as he shot toward me for the snatch that forced overtime.
Greenhouse has acquired a (deserved) reputation for hair-on-fire reckless abandon in pursuit of the snitch. Following in his footstepsor, rather, in his press clippingsthere was a style of seeker far too prevalent at MARC that seemed to believe that throwing his/her body at me as fast, as violently, and as breathlessly as possible would eventually cause the tail to fall off my butt and into those flailing arms.
Seeker Protip (SPT) #1: The more you “work,” the less I have to.
Points for effort, but none of those try-hard types had that look. Greenhouse barreled upfield toward me with a detached focus, like his eyes were on an idea more than anything around him. It was the same meditative look that seemed stuck on the face of Team USA’s Sam Roitblat during our Global Games confrontations this past summer, for what it’s worth.

I braced myself, trying to get hands ready and butt back…and was just too damn slow.

Immediately afterwards, I asked if he’d planned the dive (the answer was “yep.”) The work of seeking isn’t busting a lung trying to shrug my hands off your shoulders; it’s busting a lung to get back to the hoops after eating dirt, and then remounting for a new approach. It’s setting me up through two runs for what you’ll pull on the third.
The University of Richmond’s Brennen Lutz might accomplish this by bulldozing you on one run, then faking high and laying out low the nextand he has the concussions, broken bones, and successful snatches to show for it. UNC’s Chris Champitto, a gold-level snitch in his own right, usually shows more creativity in his seeking than you’ll see on the finals film. Working double duty as a chaser for his depth-starved squad (and snitching multiple matches on Saturday) might’ve left him too gassed to work well in rotation with Alex Crawford….That, or Maryland’s constant beater presence, or some combination of the two, lowered UNC’s  effectiveness.
In looking back at my three Maryland matches from the weekend (“Oh, I think they like me...”), I’m struck by how well UMD’s beaters coordinated to keep its seekers clear for full-steam approaches. Whereas some teams in the tournament treated seeker rotation like regular season baseball bullpens, deploying one reliever at a time for extended shifts, Maryland threw its three out in bursts like a World Series manager might.
SPT #2: Figure out a few runs in if this is a snitch you can grind. If you can’t, don’t bother.
Playing bodyguard for seeker-snitch tête-à-tête might be how blowout contests inevitably end, but close matches always seem to devolve into an endgame mess of bodies, bludgers, and (unfortunately) a turned-around snitch.
Whether a given snitch is playing heads-up or not, a seeker’s best bet is usually to make a run and retreat instead of commanding the snitch’s full attention for too long. Even the solo artists (ex. Roitblat, Texas A&M’s Dirk Hryekewicz, Bobby Padan’s random beast Navy friend from South Fantasy) run the risk of handing 30 undeserved points to the weaker seeker if they’re unable to catch soon after they’re locked in, because…

II. Good snitching mostly involves knowing where both seekers are.

III. Yeah, teams shouldn’t go in expecting good snitching.

Again, the endgame is a clustersomething. You have as many as six directly involved players, plus a referee or two and intermittent quaffle-play transitions, all swirling around one poor sucker with a tethered tennis ball bumping his or her buttcheeks. I’d point a thinly-veiled finger at any other MARC snitch here as a case-in-point, but that would require ignoring my own 30-second outingyep, second, not a typofor a pool play match between Johns Hopkins University and Lock Haven University.
I tried to split the seekers. Ran into a crowd of beaters. Got pulled from behind. It happens.
SPT #3: Sometimes, the snitch sucks. So go in expecting the snitch to suck.
“You could go help out on offense,” I goaded Maryland beater Ricky Nelson during a break with around a minute left in the finals’ overtime. “I feel good. How much do you trust me?”
“Not enough to leave you alone,” he said.
Good man. Sometimes that yellow sock gets twisted, and there’s no accounting for where it flops on its Velcro tether. Sometimes it’s the runner who gets twisted, and there’s no accounting for that, either. One lane left open for one good run…one surprise, or one too-quick move made just out of arm’s reach, and then “That’s all, folks!” And this is all because...

IV. Snitches suck. That’s the point.

In the aftermath of World Cup VII in April, much discussion took place about the quality (read: the lack thereof) of snitch runners available for the biggest matches in the sport.
In response, something resembling a Snitch Pride Movement seems to have gained traction, with game times as currencythe longer, the better. “I don’t suck,” the argument goes, “because I didn’t get caught until I had both hands behind my back, fighting the seekers off with my teeth sunk into their jerseys in the middle of the pitch.”
Kicking and screaming, with two $80 handfuls of shirt and feet extended for trip throws, snitches now fight to stay alive at all costs, handicaps worn like badges of honor…
Which is just as much junk as a 30-second catch game.
The point of a quidditch match is not for whoever’s wearing the garish yellow shorts to come out riding a wave of yellow-headbanded bodies as tokens of snitch glory. The point of a quidditch match, where the seeker-snitch component is concerned, is to work hard enough to make Harry Greenhouse pull some cool shit out of his imagination to force overtime. The point of a snitch is to give Maryland and North Carolina five minutes to settle the Mid-Atlantic championship between the hoops.
Get beaters scrambling to cover you. Get seekers fighting one another for position. Get teams rallying for quaffle points to enhance or diminish the importance of the 30 points dangling off your backside. Give each team an equal chance at you. That’s the point.
I didn’t run a match to handicaps all weekend. I technically “won” the finals.
Those “achievements” matter the sameby which I mean, emphatically, that they don’t. Johns Hopkins still has every right to tell you I suck after that Lock Haven game, and maybe that’s an indictment of the Mid-Atlantic. Maybe the mythical Southwest is replete with seven-footer snitches whose Swiss-made moral compasses don’t permit them to lose sight of seekers. Maybe the only thing Swiss about this gap-toothed East Coast region is its resemblance to the cheese.
Or maybe, like a too-inflated quaffle on a windy day, or like any player, any snitch is just a game mechanic equally capable of half-minute pool play stinkers and overtime finals magic. Maybe the magic is what happens when that snitch commits to making each seeker work.
I mean, everybody wanna be famous…


  1. 30 seconds in while turned around was pretty bad, and Jack being the only snitch I didn't catch on the weekend didn't help, but worry not, Jack doesn't suck, he just had a bad outing and crushed my dreams. In actuality he is a good snitch and a good guy.
    Sincerely, JHU's seeker

  2. How do I get creative with my catches?
    -Chris Champitto
    UNC Seeker

  3. This is an amazing article. As a team, you're guaranteed no more than 18 minutes of game time. Even if a snitch sucks, or a good snitch has a bad game, it's the team's responsibility to catch that snitch. It's not the snitch's responsibility to ensure a long game ending with a beautiful snitch grab every time. I've seen you at your best before, Jack, and even those 30 seconds in that game was a gift and an opportunity to both teams.

  4. Chris, try to work on trickery during practice. Make multi-run plans.
    I'm UBC's seeker, and caught 4/5 snitches in a recent tournament (make of it what you will). Jack has excellent advice. Go in assuming they suck. One of my catches was a 15 second dive-catch on my second engagement. If that doesn't work, go for the multi-run approach. One of my catches came when I jogged slowly up to the snitch and did some hand fighting. I did that the first two engagement. Then I came up the third time jogging slowly, and at about 6-7 feet away I started sprinting and drove through his waist, catching the snitch, before he could get his surprised hands on my shoulders.

    You have the element of surprise, at least until film gets out. Use it!