Friday, March 6, 2015

80 in 80: UCLA

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 Michael Binger, coach and captain of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
Photo courtesy of UCLA Quidditch

Quidditch Post: UCLA is one of the most storied programs in quidditch, with a West Regional Championship under its belt, a World Cup finals appearance, and a movie based on the team. What are your goals for World Cup 8?
Michael: The biggest goal in our program for World Cup 8 has already been met: both UCLA and Wizards of Westwood (our second team) qualified for World Cup.

QP: So everything is icing on the cake from here on out?
Michael: Yes, exactly.  First off, we recognize that we are not the team we were two years ago. We are not trying to fool anyone in that respect. As glorious as that season was, our focus at UCLA prioritized the community within the program.

Being completely honest, I look at our team this year and see a top contender in the West. Obviously, it didn't play out that way at the regional championship, as Arizona State University outplayed us in the first round of bracket play after we beat it soundly in pool play. We are not, however, a serious World Cup contender. We will go and play great games with good teams, but we do not match up well against the powerhouses of the Southwest.

QP: Who would you say are some of the key players for UCLA this year?
Michael: I think the key players are the ones outside of the spotlight. It's easy to point to Zach Luce and Adam Richardson or our beaters Ryan Donahue and Sarah Simko and say these guys need to step up, but when we play our best games, it's when our other players are supporting them effectively. I think Devin Pearson, one of our male beaters, is one of the sneakiest threats we have to offer. Sometimes, it seems like he is everywhere on the pitch at once. Our other two female beaters, Nicole Remsburg and Danielle Bonucchi, have more fight in them than even I can believe sometimes.

On the quaffle, I think Grant Rose is a huge player for us. Being behind Luce in the keeper line, there is quite a bit of pressure on him, but he has shown to be a very capable defender and is on his way to taking the primary role after Luce graduates this year.  Outside of that, we have three young chasers: Justin Raya, Brett Ambrose, and Sam Beck.  All of them are fantastic athletes and hustle harder than most people on the pitch, but I think they need a bit more finetuning and experience in the game. Once they understand the game better, they can be some of the best.

I also can't emphasize enough the importance of our female chasers. A team with female chasers who play smart and are athletic has an extreme advantage over teams that don't.  At the top level, that extra capable chaser can be the difference between a championship team and one that falls short.

QP: And yourself? What do you bring to the team?
Michael: I have quite a bit of experience in this game. I am the great communicator, both on pitch and from the sideline, calling out positioning and other important factors in order to set up ideal offenses and defenses. I am also one of the more physical players on our team, which adds a nice dynamic to our squad.

QP: Are there any teams you hope to face at World Cup?
Michael: Yeah. This is of course my own desire, not necessarily my teams, but I really would like to play top teams from regions outside of the West and Southwest. I feel like it is really rare for us to play teams outside of our region, and our downfall at the past two World Cups has been to Southwest teams. I want to play the top teams from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and South, etc.

QP: Would you say that UCLA has a particular style of play?
Michael: I think we are a very standard and fundamental team. We do things by the book in that we aren't very experimental. We capitalize on other teams mistakes well and rely mostly on passing around structured defenses.

QP: Thanks so much for your time, Michael; we really appreciate it.

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