Monday, February 9, 2015

80 in 80: UVA

As part of our efforts to preview all 80 teams competing in USQ World Cup 8, the Quidditch Post is chatting with representatives from each team. Today we spoke with Kyle Stolcenberg, coach of Virginia Quidditch Club (UVA).

Photo by Pete Hanner

Quidditch Post: Last year, the team's near upset of Bowling Green State University (BGSU) was one of the early stories of World Cup. What did the team take away from that game and from its whole World Cup experience that will better prepare it for this year?
Kyle: The obvious line would be that we learned we can play with the best teams, but I don't think that was ever really an issue for us. The BGSU game stands out to me as a triumph not of our ability but of preparation; we had lots of film, and we were just ready for everything BGSU tried to do. Contrast it with the University of Florida Quidditch game, for example, where we got blown out (90*-10) largely because the South was such a mystery to us. We went into World Cup essentially conceding the Florida game for a shot at Bowling Green, and we counted on our ability to beat inferior teams to put us into Day Two whether the risk worked or not. In that sense, the new World Cup format is somewhat of a disadvantage for us, since we generally benefit more from strategy than from raw talent. However, there's also a lot more film of us this time around, so we'll be glad to still be able to surprise some teams after the first games.

We were pretty unknown even regionally last season, so it's tempting for others to look at our relative World Cup success as signalling some competitive emergence, but I think it was in line with results we'd been posting for a while up to that point. We had won both our tournaments leading up to World Cup, notably beating the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and the University of Richmond Spiders—teams that are pretty highly regarded in the region—so World Cup was a step up for us less with regard to quality and more with regard to exposure. I think something similar is likely to happen this season; we'll get increasingly better throughout the semester and end up doing moderately well at World Cup, surprising anyone who hasn't played us. And then the next season we again won't really be talked about, which I think is good for pretty much every aspect of our program except getting major tournament invitations. 

QP: Does the team have any goals for World Cup?
Kyle: The goal every year is to be better than the year before. Last year, our big goal was to play on Day Two, and we accomplished that. Now the focus is on bracket play. We'll be happy to take a game or two, but obviously we don't want to put a ceiling on it.

QP: What will it take to get there? 
Kyle: Clearly we need to fix our offense. This fall we just didn't score points. I think our defense is among the best, but when we're defending 80 percent of the game and not converting on the other end, it makes it tough to get wins. It's on the way there, though; we've made some strategy adjustments and some roster changes, and I'm confident that it will improve. 

QP: How do you plan on going about putting points on the board? Is it as simple as individual players further developing, or is there some sort of strategic flaw you need to overcome? 
Kyle: It's a combination. We had quite a bit of turnover in our chasers this year, but those new players have improved tremendously. In addition, we've regained a couple of players who have been important to the team in the past.

More important is changing the way we approach offense: recognizing opportunities to get out on fast breaks and getting everybody a little less stagnant in half-field sets. Part of our offensive problem is that our defense is a bit unorthodox, being a modified zone. We play against that in practice all the time and the defense improves a lot, but we don't get the reps we need against traditional defenses. So when we get against somebody running a strict man-to-man scheme, we don't always find the spaces quickly enough. That's something we're working on fixing as well.

We're doing some new stuff with our beaters, too, but I don't want to get into any specifics there. Overall, we're just looking to move into a scheme that’s a bit less conservative. The tricky part is doing it without sacrificing the defense that's gotten us this far.

QP: Are there any players you think will be key to the team's success?
Kyle: The key to our success has always been depth. We've built a system that succeeds when everybody does their job, and we've been lucky enough to have 21 players we can trust to go out and do exactly that. We don't have typical star players, and I think it would be irresponsible for me as a captain to put a target on someone's back unnecessarily. If a team scouts us a bit and decides to focus down on one or two players, though, I think that's a net win for us because we have three more to put in and do that same work at a similar level with their own slightly different skill set. 

It's all about matchups for us. We have different players excel against different opponents because of what the other team gives us.  

QP: Speaking of matchups, is there a team that you hope to play?
Kyle: As a player and a captain, there are no particular teams that stand out as great matchups. I'd like to play Bowling Green again because I was frustrated with the whole appeal process at the last World Cup, and I'd like just a normal game. I'm excited to play Richmond again in a few weeks because we've traditionally been rivals but somehow we haven't played the team in a full year. It’s the same for UNC; we had a good, fairly even rivalry going last year but didn't play it officially this fall. UNC’s increased success this season makes me curious to see how we fare against its style, which is very unusual for our region. Another one might be Blue Mountain Quidditch Club because I'd like to see if we've improved since former Central Michigan Quidditch beater Ashley Calhoun single-handedly shut us down last season.

As a fan, or just as someone who wants to see good quidditch, I think it would be interesting to see us play New York University Nundu (NYU). We're both doing similar things, though NYU has been more successful recently.

QP: Is there anything else you think our readers should know about UVA?
Kyle: Our program is focused on improving throughout the year and performing by the end. We want opportunities to play the best teams, and we're not extremely concerned about dropping a few games. Two years ago, we barely missed a World Cup spot in the fall, and then beat a bunch of qualified teams in the spring. Last year, we ended up with a deferred bid that a lot of people didn't think we deserved and yet we made Day Two. Don't look at our record—particularly from the fall—and count us out of big games as we get closer to World Cup. 

Also, our wins are never going to be flashy. A lot of people look at our scores and say that we can't put away bad teams. We see a lot of teams coming through with blowout wins by 200-plus points in pool play and then get shut down by good teams. That's not our mentality. We just want to win games and be consistent. I think that the Swiss system this year will punish us less for this. 

QP: Thanks, Kyle; we appreciate it.

Kyle: Sure. Thanks to you as well.

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