Friday, December 19, 2014

Killing the King: Ohio State

By Ryan Sparks, Midwest Editor

On Nov. 9, 2014, Ohio State University (OSU) captured the Midwest Regional Championship, going relatively untested for most of the tournament. It was the favorite going in, and it proved why with a out-of-snitch-range victory against the University of Missouri in the Final Four and a 60-point victory over defending champions Bowling Green State University in the finals. The Midwest Regional Championship continued the string of dominance that Ohio State has displayed all season; OSU only suffered two losses up to this point (against Ball State University at Tournament of the Stars on Sept. 20 and against Blue Mountain Quidditch Club [BMQC] at Phoenix Cup on Oct. 19). Time and again, teams have come up against Ohio State, and time and again, they have fallen. This leaves one question: how can anyone hope to beat Ohio State? Having played against Ohio State twice personally, I’ve gotten to know the team fairly well. In this article, I am going to break down what a team must do in order to compete with Ohio State. Doing these things will not guarantee victory against Ohio State’s elite team, but they will definitely increase your chances of victory.
Don’t Lose The Beater Battle

I worded the title of this section very carefully. It’s not necessary to win the beater battle so long as you don’t lose it. You don’t have to hold onto bludger control the whole game, as that’s a task nobody has been able to do against the powerful beaters at OSU. However, if you consistently keep one to two bludgers in flux, the game becomes much easier. Ohio State’s chaser defense is good, but beaters are the heart and soul of any defense, and Ohio State has several talented beaters to anchor its defense. It starts with bonafide top beaters Matt Eveland and Team USA alternate Julie Fritz, and it continues with Gavin Kyle, Travis Hammock, Kate Windnagel, and Hannah Berridge

If you can’t keep the bludgers in flux, then you need to open up lanes for your chasers by harassing their beaters and giving them something to worry about outside of your team’s chasers. So far, I’ve seen that OSU’s beaters prefer not to play a physical game; they prefer to take a sneaky, mind-over-muscle approach when it comes to recovering and defending bludgers. However, if there is a loose bludger up for grabs, they will fight tooth and nail to gain possession. This game plan does not require you to regain bludger control, though it will help in the long run. Outscoring the Ohio State offense will be incredibly difficult to do, so doing whatever you can to give your chasers a better opportunity to score is only a good thing.

Keep Jeremy Boettner Locked Down

Anybody who has watched Ohio State knows that Jeremy Boettner is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous chaser the Midwest has to offer. He’s speedy, passes well, has an accurate shot, is selfless with the quaffle, and he thrives at Ohio State. One thing that BMQC did in our first match against OSU was put John Gaffigan in coverage on Boettner every time he was off-ball. Gaffigan, who usually plays keeper, had the range with his body and just enough speed to keep up with and lessen Boettner’s impact on the quaffle game. When Boettner is off-ball, you have to put your best coverage player on him. The moment he is open for a pass, he can and will make you pay for leaving him open. While there are other dangerous passing options for Ohio State, none of them are quite as deadly as Boettner, making him the most important player to shut down off-ball.

When Boettner is controlling the quaffle at the point, you can’t allow him room to breathe. He’s got enough speed to beat almost any point defender to the edge, and from there it’s just a matter of time until the quaffle goes through the hoops. If your team has bludger control, then one beater must press up on Boettner and force him into making a decision: either pass the ball or get beat. If you can meet him 15 feet in front of the hoops, he’s less dangerous than if you allow him to get within five feet of the hoops. And you must send a speedy beater to keep up with him. As I’ve touched on a few times, Boettner is very fast, and if you send a slower beater to pressure him, he’s going to beat that beater to the outside and get around him/her. 

Lastly, when sending the beater to pressure Boettner, you can’t afford to play a cat-and-mouse game. Boettner’s a smart player, and he knows how to bait beaters into faking multiple times while he waits for his passing lanes to open up. In other words, you can’t allow him time to thinkyou have to make him react. Make him think twice about cutting to the outside. You have a bludger, so you have the power to make him react. Push him back and try to make things as difficult for him as you possibly can.

Keep Brien Polivka Away From The Snitch

At Phoenix Cup, Brien “Baby Beluga” Polivka showed that he was a seeker to be wary of. Once the Midwest Regional Championship concluded, one thing was certain: Polivka was here. Only missing one snitch catch on the entire weekend (which was caught by teammate Mitch Boehm), Polivka firmly thrust himself into the conversation for being one of the top seekers in the region and was undeniably the top-performing seeker. Anchored by his team’s top-notch beating, Polivka had plenty of time all weekend to do what he does best: catch snitches. He proved to be clutch, coming up with the catch against BMQC and Bowling Green in the only SWIM scenarios his team faced during the tournament.

I remember watching Polivka go head-to-head against BMQC’s Jack Norgren. It was the first time I had ever seen Polivka seek, so I pretty much wrote him off almost immediately. I was very wrong to do so. His length made him a difficult adversary for Norgren, who has been one of the region’s top seekers for years, as well as a difficult adversary for any snitch he goes up against. He and Norgren battled back-and-forth for several minutes, each one taking several passes at the snitch. Ultimately, it was Polivka who came out on top. 

Granted, keeping a seeker away from a snitch is easier said than done, but if your team can spare a bludger, beat him and give your seeker some alone time with the snitch. Make sure your seeker is getting inside and blocking Polivka's path to the snitch.  After watching him at the Midwest Regional Championship, I can confidently say that the only way to ensure that Polivka doesn’t come away with the catch is to keep him away from the snitch entirely. Any time Polivka gets within an arm’s length of the snitch, he is a threat to come away with the tail.

Ohio State is an elite quidditch team; there’s no debating that. However, at the base of everything, it is not unbeatable, as Ball State University and BMQC have proven that thus far. Keep your mind clear and work these fundamental strategies into your play, and you will find your team playing a much closer match with the reigning Midwest Regional Champions than anyone would have expected.

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