Friday, March 13, 2015

80 in 80: Santa Barbara Blacktips

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 Ben Harding, coach and captain of the Santa Barbara Blacktips.

Photo by Ally Heraper

Quidditch Post: Santa Barbara has surprised many teams this year, seamlessly carrying on despite the loss of two-thirds of the OT3 in Chris Lock and Ren Bettendorf. How has the team managed to reach new heights in the West, especially with a strong Next Best West 2 earlier in the year to qualify for World Cup?
Ben: I would say the first factor is strong recruiting. We were fortunate enough to find several extremely talented new players, a few of whom filled major roles on the team. The other major factor is the vast improvement of our returning players. With a couple exceptions, all of our returning players are only in their second year of quidditch, and their growth this year has been key to our success.

QP: One player who has especially turned heads has been Jeremy McIntyre. Can you talk a bit about what he brings to the pitch?
Ben: He brings a very physical presence on both sides of the pitch. Of defense, he is an incredible point defender who's not shy about hitting people. He also doubles as a strong defensive keeper whose hoop coverage is always on point. Offensively, he's a nightmare to cover off the ball and manages to always be open around the hoops. On top of that, he's a capable ball carrier who can drive it in himself or pass it to an open player with equal ease.

QP: As one of the few holdover stars from last year's team, what do you contribute to the squad's success?
Ben: The teams collective athleticism and IQ is very high. The players know where to go and what to do and have the athletic ability to execute it. Then you add in our great seeker, which is a recipe that has served us well this year.

QP: Does the team have any particular goals for World Cup?
Ben: Getting to the Sweet 16. Last year, we lost in the first game of bracket play, and we'd like to surpass that.

QP: What will it take to make it that far?
Ben: We just have to bring it every game. Our intensity has been noticeably not there in a few games this season, and you can't afford to do so against good teams.

QP: Do you think the Swiss Style will have any impact?
Ben: It probably will for most teams, but our pool was so evenly matched last year that I don't think there will be a discernible difference for us specifically.

QP: Are there players who you think don't get the credit they deserve?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. We have a trio of very underrated chasers in Austin Goodheart, Sara Weman, and Nick Church. Austin is a force on both sides of the ball, leveraging his athleticism to play tight defense and beat defenders one-on-one. Sara is one of the best female chasers in the West. She's not afraid to make hits, and her soft hands make her a major threat around the hoops. Finally, Nick's scrappy play is huge for us. He's everywhere on defense and is constantly in motion on offense.

QP: What about the beaters?
Ben: Our beaters are great because they all bring something different to the table. Ruthie Stahl brings a very steady presence on the pitch. She is always in position and helps balance the aggression of our other beaters. Brian Vampola is the most physical of our beaters. He is able to avoid being napalmed and then is able to go down the pitch and hit opposing beaters. Cy Torrey is the fastest beater. He covers a crazy amount of ground on defense and always gets control at brooms up. Tommy Brown is a spark plug off the bench. His energy and aggression can really change the game when he comes in.

QP: How would you describe the team's style of play?
Ben: On offense, we play a quick, finesse-based style that relies on the athleticism and field vision of our chasers to make smart passes and beat defenders one-on-one. On defense, we focus on tight marks off the ball and pesky, physical point defense to keep the other team away from our hoops.

QP: Any particular teams you hope to face?
Ben: Not really. I'd prefer to not play teams in our region because I enjoy playing new teams with varying styles.

QP: Anything else you think our readers should know about the Blacktips?
Ben: I think people underestimate our depth. Most people talk about Jeremy McIntyre and Justin Fernandez, and deservedly so, as they have been really good, but neglect to mention how many good players we can put on the pitch.

QP: I completely forgot to ask about Justin earlier. Can you talk a bit about the season he's having?
Ben: He's been ridiculous this season. He's made so many clutch catches, and it's really nice to feel confident about games in snitch range because I know we will have an advantage at seeker over almost anyone.

QP: I feel like that's proven to be one of the go-to-recipes for World Cup success. A hot seeker can make the difference in the battle between close teams. Anyway, thank you for your time, Ben. We appreciate it.

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