Thursday, February 26, 2015

South Regional Championship Preview

With the South Regional Championship happening this weekend, we found a number of writers from across the region to talk about the various teams. The authors are as follows.
Joey Galtelli: Southern Storm, University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, Tennessee Tech University
Tim Derrick: University of Florida Quidditch, Florida State University
Bernie Berges: University of South Florida Quidditch, Florida International University
Amy Sullivan: University of Southern Mississippi, Florida’s Finest
Shannon Moorhead: Florida Gulf Coast Quidditch, RCQC, University of Miami
Kyle Stolcenberg: The Muggle Snugglers

Pool 1
The Southern Storm
Captains Joey Galtelli, Tanner Morris, and Ashley Michels have gathered talent from the Carolina Quidditch Conference to form a community team that is eager to get a World Cup bid in its first year. Only having two tournaments under its belt before the South Regional Championship, Storm hopes that it has found its chemistry early enough to fight off the well-established teams. Storm’s strength is its defense and its underestimated female players. With beaters like Tyler Hemerly and Ginny Ostgaard holding their side of the field down, it might be hard to make a play on Storm’s hoops. This team also has a couple of utility players, such as Galtelli, Morris, and Ray Taylor, who are skilled in many positions. Also, with what might be the most female players on a roster for this tournament, all nine Storm women are essential to the team’s gameplay. Best case scenario for Storm is to keep bludger control and learn to adapt to strategies it has not come across yet by surprising opponents with unfamiliar talent. Worst case scenario is for its beaters to get distracted from defending and get overwhelmed by experienced teams.

University of Florida Quidditch (UF)
UF finds itself in a bind coming into the regional championship this year. The loss of Dre Clements and other key players in the middle of the season has hit the team hard. At the only tournament in Florida this spring before the regional championship, it was unable to field an official team. To bolster its numbers, UF has reached out to the University of Central Florida (UCF) and formed the Gator Knights. While UCF does not bring any well-known names, it adds some much needed depth to a depleted UF roster. It remains to be seen how well UF and UCF will perform together, although practices have been promising. UF will continue to bring to the pitch a pass-heavy offense and tough, physical defense. Don’t be surprised to see a two-male beater set for the majority of UF’s matches.
Despite Clements’ departure, UF still has some names who will cause difficulty for its competitors. Nick Zakoske will be taking over leadership of the offense and bringing the pain on defense. Jimmy Singer and rookie Aidan Kelliher provide a couple of speedy pairs of legs that most opponents will not be able to keep up with. Tori Robbins is one of the best female defenders in the South and will make her presence known to guys twice her size. Jared Gaum, Adam Treichel, and Richard Crumrine form the core of UF’s beater squad. If any combination of them is on the field at the same time, making any headway against them is going to take a lot of skill, and good luck trying to take a bludger from any one of the them.
UF should not have a difficult time qualifying for World Cup, but it isn’t a threat to make a deep run at the regional championship. A semifinal appearance is possible but unlikely.

University of South Carolina (USC)
USC can be described as a wild-card team; one tournament it is in the finals, and the next it won’t make it out of pool play. The curse of USC comes from bad retention but can be evened out by superstar players who can hold their own on the field. Returning beaters Kyle Demo and Joe Goldberg should not be underestimated when USC uses its strategy of two male beaters and a female keeper. This lineup can take most teams off guard and has ensured a lot of USC’s victories in the past. Its bludger dominance helps control the field so newcomers Hampton Harmon and Harrison Smith can run in and score. Best case scenario, Demo and Goldberg will hold bludger control while Harmon leads the chasers to rack up points. Worst case scenario, Demo and Goldberg struggle to assist their chasers and Demo becomes too tired to switch to seeker to grab the snitch.

University of South Florida Quidditch (USF)
At the start of the season, this looked to be the year that USF would work its way back to the top tier of the South region. It hasn’t quite made it back, but it is a team that plays to the level of its opponent. At the Highland Games in January, it forced a strong University of Miami squad to overtime and only needed a snitch pull to defeat FIU. The reason for these results comes down to its beater play. USF’s beating is led by Austin Webster and Devin McCauley, who form part of the strongest beating corps the South region has to offer. However, USF’s chasing game is not at the same level as its beating game; it can hold teams in range but does not have the offensive firepower to pull away against weaker opponents. USF should be able to qualify for World Cup without much difficulty. If it is able to get the offense going on Day Two, I would not be surprised to see it make another surprise run to the semifinals like last year, when it upset Florida’s Finest in the quarterfinals.

University of Southern Mississippi (USM)
Currently winless in official games, USM has also not attended an official event since FSU’s Second Annual Renegade Cup in early November, leaving room for potential drastic improvement. However, USM’s performances in the fall (at both Renegade Cup and at the Third Annual Wolf Pack Classic Quidditch Tournament) does not place it in the top half of the South Region. It has a few talented players whose athletic ability has provided it with some impressive goals, but it generally lacks the cohesion and athleticism needed to compete in a physicality-dominated South. Led by keeper J’Marcus Alfred, USM’s offense is mostly reliant on one person bringing the ball up, looking to pass only if it gets stuck. Its beaters know the game very well mentally but lack aggression when their opponent is advancing the ball. USM may win a few games this weekend, but unless it has strengthened its roster and increased team cohesion over the past few months, don’t look for a run on Day Two.
Pool 2
Florida Gulf Coast Quidditch (FGCU)
FGCU consistently finds itself in the middle of the pack; its players know the game well but lack the athleticism of the region’s top teams. It’s scrappy and fights tooth and nail every play until the snitch is caught. This ferocity, along with the talent of chaser Ebli De La Rosa Jr., lifts it above other mid-level teams and helped it place at tournaments earlier this season. Assuming it brings the same tenacity to the regional championship, FGCU is fully capable of nabbing one of the qualifying spots.

Florida International University (FIU)
FIU comes to the 2015 South Regional Championship looking to qualify for its first ever World Cup. Despite an unimpressive 2-8 record in the regular season, this team will not be a pushover. At the Highland Games in January, the Golden Panthers went 1-4, with two of those losses in snitch range. This team will be relying on Albert Rodriguez to lead the quaffle players and jumpstart the teams offense. FIU’s defensive play tends to run through the play of Steven Paisley, an aggressive beater who forces offenses into difficult passes. However, this team’s fate will ultimately come down to the play of seeker Kevin Barlan. FIU should be able to stay within range of most teams at the tournament, and a hot run by Barlan should be enough for the team to qualify for World Cup 8. The team’s biggest weakness is lack of depth among its females, but if Faby Echeverria and co. can keep a high level of play up for both days, I would not be surprised to see this team fight its way into the quarterfinals.

The Muggle Snugglers
A Tennessee Community team in its first semester of existence – represents an interesting opportunity to gauge the strategic development of the South Region as a whole. Having minimal collective experience in big games and, as of yet, demonstrating no coherent strategy, we as a community should be very concerned about the potential success of this team. It has athleteshuge chasers and keepers, quick and often intelligent beatersbut has had only a handful of official games and lacks the veteran core which founds most new community teams. A few things need to happen for the team to succeed: devoting some serious time to learning the rules to avoid constantly playing man-down as at King of the Hill; sorting out defensive marking and in particular allowing fewer free runners behind the hoops; and minimizing injuries to a small roster with uneven talent distribution. We should hope that the sport has evolved to a point where pure, untrained athletes can no longer be successful at a high level. Few South Region teams can match the Snugglers’ physicality, though, should they learn to use it. The team could snag one of the last World Cup bids; let’s hope they need a bit of finesse to do that.
The dark horse this year, RCQC merged two average programs to become one of the top teams in the South. Giving both Florida’s Finest and the University of Miami a run for their money, RCQC impressed at the two-day Scottish Highland Games, taking third despite an injury plagued roster that was thin to begin with. On offense, its quaffle players, led by keeper Mike Bourgault and chaser Jonathan Nettles, are explosive and take advantage of the no-bludger situations created by RCQC’s aggressive male beaters. RCQC’s defense is hard-hitting, and chasers aren’t afraid to engage the ball carrier early. This club’s primary weakness is its lack of female players; the few it has do all they can but are usually stretched thin, resulting in utility player Amy Sullivan often playing the entire game at multiple positions.  RCQC will come out fast and strong this weekend and should have no problem advancing to the semifinals.

University of Miami
Early in the season, Miami struggled to find its identity after the loss of its captain (chaser Sean Beloff) and other key veterans. However, the young squad hit its stride at the Highland Games in January, beating rival Florida’s Finest 90^-60* in pool play before falling to it by a snitch grab (120*-90) in the finals. Veteran chasers Bernie Berges and Bridgette Foster, along with freshman Colter Lasley, pack a punch on offense with quick passes and quicker feet. But what Miami really prides itself on is its defense; chasers adept at picking passes out of the air are backed up by solid, experienced beaters. Anchored by Shannon Moorhead, this defense is unforgiving and comes in clutch, allowing very few goals when the snitch is on pitch. Widely regarded as the No. 2 team in the South this season, Miami is coming into this tournament with something to prove. If everything clicks for it, Miami could upset Florida’s Finest to win its third (official) regional championship in a row.

Pool 3
College of Charleston (CofC)
After last year’s upset against USC, CofC will be coming for gold at this year’s South Regional Championship. Captains Joe Suthers and Matt Corder are bringing an experienced lineup mixed with some new talent. Although having plenty of subs can be a positive, Charleston can lose synergy depending on who is on the pitch at certain times. Keeper powerhouse Steven Schwark is a tower at the hoops and quick on the turnaround offense. He leads fast quaffle plays with chasers Trevor Faith and (new to the team but definitely not the game) Wyatt “Minty Fresh” Minton. In the black headbands, Griffin Scott and Jack Mckee lead CofC’s beaters with speed and determination. Best case scenario for CofC at the South Regional Championship is Schwark leads the chasers to quick turnarounds and Scott helps maintain bludger control while keeping everyone fresh with the surplus of subs it will bring. Worst case scenario is that CofC loses its footing by subbing into an uncoordinated lineup and lets its emotions get the best of it in the middle of a match.

Florida’s Finest
Seemingly unquestioned in its first place dominance through the first half of the year, Florida’s Finest is most people’s pick to win the South. However, recent close games at the Highland Games, including a loss to the University of Miami, throw this dominance into question. Admittedly, Finest was missing three of its more dominant chasers, including Sean Snipes. However, an 11-man RCQC squad also put up two close games with Finest, which begs the question: how dominant will this team be? Led by Team USA beater-turned-chaser Sean Pagoada, its offense specializes in brute force, relying on advanced athleticism to win one-on-one or one-on-three battles by the hoops with the physicality and strength of its beaters. However, it rarely looks to pass, again relying on strength and speed. When scored upon, it capitalizes upon the transitory confusion so it can score, keeping close games close. If other teams can stand up to the physicality and speed of Finest and force it to pass around, we may see a closer tournament than anticipated. Nonetheless, Finest still remains unquestionably a favorite going into the South Regional Championship.

Florida State University (FSU)
FSU is somewhat of an unknown at this tournament. It has only competed in a couple of tournaments so far this year, and while it hasn’t put up any impressive results, the team that shows up to the regional championship could be drastically different from anything we’ve seen. Only two players from last season returned to the team, so FSU’s subpar performance could be chalked up to growing pains. FSU’s rookies have a good amount of athleticism, and with the months of practice the team has had under longtime veteran Jamin Weeks, those rookies could be a real thorn in the side of veteran teams. Watch out for Ian Munro and Shaun Gabrielli, two chasers who bring versatility and physicality to both offense and defense. FSU also has what could be a new star seeker in Danny Cairo, who currently has a 100 percent catch rate when seeking. FSU has a history of performing well at major tournaments, even pulling off some surprising upsets. Qualification for World Cup could be well within its reach.

Tennessee Tech Quidditch (TTU)
Tennessee Tech is one of the unfortunate teams that is “barely South region.” Other than victories over the University of South Carolina and the Muggle Snugglers, TTU hasn’t seen much of the South Region this year. Its performance at Gold Rush Cup in October was an early reminder that it is still a team that can qualify for World Cup, but its lack of experience with the other teams in its region could be a problem. A strength that TTU brings to the table is the depth in its non-male roster. Ling-ling Phongsa and Hailee Hayes are strong beaters who can assist their team to victory, along with Kellie Davis scoring goals as a chaser. Best case scenario for TTU is that its practice with out-of-region teams brings a new style to the South Regional Championship that can surprise opponents and overwhelm them. Worst case scenario is that its adaptation to playing these teams might catch TTU off-guard.

Predictions of Qualifying Teams
Winner: Florida’s Finest
Runner-Up: University of Miami
Semifinalists: RCQC, University of Florida Quidditch
Additional Qualifiers: University of South Florida Quidditch, Tennessee Tech Quidditch, Florida Gulf Coast Quidditch, Florida International University, Southern Storm 
Winner: University of Miami
Runner-Up: Florida’s Finest
Semifinalists: RCQC, University of South Florida Quidditch
Additional Qualifiers: Tennessee Tech Quidditch, Florida International University, University of Florida, the Southern Storm, and University of South Carolina
Winner: Florida’s Finest
Runner-up: University of Miami
Semifinalists: Tennessee Tech Quidditch, University of Florida Quidditch/RCQC
Additional Qualifiers: The Southern Storm, Florida State University, University of South Florida Quidditch, Florida Gulf Coast Quidditch

Winner: Florida’s Finest
Runner-up: University of Miami
Semifinalists: University of Florida,  TTU
Additional Qualifiers: College of Charleston, University of South Carolina, RCQC, The Southern Storm, University of South Florida Quidditch

Coaches Poll
The South voters were asked to rank their top seven teams in the region following the Scottish Highland Games. Eight voters participated in the poll. Points were allocated in the following manner: Seven points for a first place vote, six points for a second place vote, five points for a third place vote, etc. The votes have been tabulated and listed below in order of total votes. The number in parentheses indicates how many first place votes a team received. A “+” or “-” indicates a change from the last poll, with a plus indicating if a team is more highly ranked and a minus indicating is a team is lower ranked. An “x” indicates a team’s standing from the last poll is unchanged. 

South Coaches Poll Results
1. Florida’s Finest (8) 56 (x)
2. University of Miami – 48 (x)
3. RCQC (X) – 36
4. Tennessee Tech Quidditch (+3) – 26
5. University of Florida Quidditch (-2) – 26
6. University of South Florida Quidditch (-1) – 9 
7. College of Charleston (C of C) – 6

Also receiving votes: University of South Carolina – 5, Florida Gulf Coast Quidditch – 5, the Southern Storm – 4 

Florida’s Finest and the University of Miami each solidified their position at the top of the South heading into the regional championship. The loss of key players by the University of Florida, most notably Dre Clements, sent Florida down. Tennessee Tech received a higher ranking, though it’s not clear what caused voters to push it up on the ballot.

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