Thursday, March 5, 2015

80 in 80: Arkansas

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 Alex Wilson and Jordan Key, coach and captain, respectively, of University of Arkansas Quidditch.

Photo by Justin Peters
Quidditch Post: Arkansas seemingly doesn't get a lot of love in its own little corner of the Southwest, but your team has been one of the most consistent programs for a few years now. Last year, you advanced to the Sweet 16 at World Cup. What are your goals for this year?
Alex: Well, we've actually been to the Sweet 16 for the last two years, so that's a benchmark that we would obviously like to make, but it's really about playing our best game rather than where we end up. We are less concerned with winning or public perception than with playing like we should. Results will follow as they should.
Jordan: I really can't say it any better than Alex just did. I've personally been working all season on that last part. We have to just go out and give it everything we've got and not worry about the results, which has helped us develop a much better team atmosphere this season. It's all about building each other up and growing as a team.

QP: As a result of your relative isolation, you have a lot of players who have seemingly gone under the radar for years. Players like Eric Dreggors and Joey Reynebeau have started to get their proper due of late, but can you talk about some other players who maybe fly under the radar?
Alex: The best thing about our team is that we feel comfortable putting anyone on the field at any given time. Jordan is engaged to her and biased, but I'd be out of my mind to not mention Kat Stewart as one of our standout players. She played 90 percent of our games at the regional championship, switching between beater and chaser due to injuries to other players.
Jordan: I would definitely say Eli Priest, who is one of our chasers. He has stepped up in a huge way this season, and next year when I'm gone I'm confident that he will continue to make an impact for our team. He is one of our best offensive ball-handlers. He has a huge driving threat and blocks bludgers like a madman. He's also really selfless with the quaffle. There's video of me giving him a terrible low pass, and he scoops it, blocks a bludger, drives until he has three people trying to tackle him, and dishes it back to me for a jump dunk. He makes results out of bad situations.

QP: Can you also talk about players like Eric and Joey?
Alex: Like I said, everyone is a contributor, but it is nice to have our consistent and experienced players to lean on. Eric got his share of the spotlight and for good reason, as he is nearing 50 career catches with an impressive number of in-range saves this season. Joey of course is one of the two Reynebeaus and has taken over as chaser captain after his brother left. He brings a great amount of leadership on the field and has adjusted very well in becoming the ball handling Reynebeau instead of the receiver. He's really helped me develop our system and is able to make great one-on-one plays but has the composure to know when to pass it away.
Jordan: Eric struggled a little bit this weekend, but that didn't stop him from getting a clutch pull against the University of Texas at San Antonio Club Quidditch. This season, he has consistently closed out games for us when we needed him to. I think his average catch time at Cowboy Cup IV was under a minute across four or five games. Joey is hands down our biggest offensive threat. He has the speed you expect from a guy of his size, but he has the strength and driving potential of a larger player. There is a reason why people recognize the Reynebeau name. It's been a struggle for him to come into a leadership position after his brother did such a great job, but I'm really proud of him for how well he has done with it.

QP: How would you describe Arkansas' style of play?
Alex: We used to be a team that either ran a screen behind the hoops for a jump dunk or just took a shot. This year, we've moved away from that a bit. My goal coming in was to make sure that every player on the field knows where to be in a variety of sets that we run. We like to play off of the opponent and take what is given to us and not force anything. We spent all year developing a system where every player on the field is always of use and always running up and down, letting us work through our roster depth and utilizing our strengths.
Jordan: I feel we have moved away from having plays or these rigid ideas of what we have to do. If the play would break down, all but one or two people would be lost. Now we have more of a scenario awareness. Depending on the opposing teams defensive setup, we have different concepts that we utilize, but we are loose enough that if something breaks down, adjustments can be made. Everyone on the field is a threat. Our smallest female chaserwho is tiny and hasn't played chaser for very longscored two goals at the regional championship. It used to be only first stringers would score much. The point distribution has been fantastic this year.

QP: How are you preparing for World Cup?
Alex: The biggest thing we need to do is to make sure our concepts become habit so that we can't get them wrong in game. Since our concepts take away a lot of the solo-play options, it'll be about getting all 21 team members to a place where they can run the concepts without thinking. With that comes the fitness and cardio aspect: getting all of our players to be able to move at the pace we need as long as they are on the field so we can tire our opponents. Scouting is practically impossible this year, and we need to be able to adjust to play anyone we may come up against.
Jordan: Basically what Alex said. Lots of cardio. The Swiss Style takes away any specific planning, so we have to be able to think on our feet and match against any style.

QP: Other than the inability to plan, what impact do you think the Swiss Style will have?
Alex: The biggest thing is that teams that roll one to two lines deep are going to suffer. Once you get a hard matchup, if you win, you're playing yourself into a harder one. The deepest teams are going to have the most success, and it is going to lead to some interesting 4-0 and 3-1 matchups in the morning of Day Two.
Jordan: It will be interesting for sure.

QP: Any teams you hope to face in particular?
Alex: I mean, I'd love to face the Los Angeles Gambits or the Lost Boys! Both are friends and great competitors, and I'm sure Joey wouldn't mind tackling his brother. Other than that, I'd like a rematch with Minnesota Quidditch or the University of Texas at Austin!
Jordan: Mostly anyone we haven't played before. Meeting new teams is the best part of World Cup. I know a lot of people on the Gambits, so that would be fun. We've also never played the Silicon Valley Skrewts! I really enjoy the West teams; they're usually pretty chill people.

QP: What do you hope the team takes away from the experience?
Alex: Of World Cup in general? Our number one goal has always been to have fun and be inclusive. We obviously have to compete as well, but we've been using #teamfamily as our phrase for the year. At the end of the day...we are running around on brooms, but we take it as an opportunity to grow together and be the best we can personally be at something, even if it's ridiculous. World Cup is the cultivation of the mindset we have been building all year, and we get to do it with teams from all over the country.
Jordan: A lot of our newer kids are excited to play on such a grand stage and to take a kind of family vacation. I really hope the experience validates all their hard work and makes them glad they joined the team. I hope it inspires them for next year.

QP: Thank you both for your time; we really appreciate it.
Jordan: No problem; it was fun.
Alex: Any time!

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