Friday, August 21, 2015

MLQ Championship Preview: East Division

Editor’s Note: All statistics referenced are accurate as of those released by Major League Quidditch by Aug. 20.

Boston Night Riders
By Kyle Carey

Any doubts about MLQ’s Boston Night Riders were silenced by the Night Riders’ season-closing victories over the New York Titans. The Night Riders’ undefeated record speaks volumes about the amount of talent this team possesses. Over the course of the summer, the Night Riders have managed to become more than their individual parts. They are not just Emerson College Quidditch Club or Q.C. Boston: The Massacre (QCB) or Tufts University Quidditch, but a new team capable of more than any regular-season squad. Their development of a unique style of play produces the appearance of a team that has been around for more than just one season. With a pass-heavy attack that revolves around precise offensive beating, it is difficult to find another team whose beating and chasing are so in-sync.

The central component of this team is beater Max Havlin. His aggressive beating style has overwhelmed every team in the East Division. Havlin is comfortable making beats well into his opponent's half of the pitch, with or without his partner. Against the Washington Admirals and the Titans, there were occasions where he was able to force turnovers before the opposing team even entered the Night Riders’ side of the field. He is able to dictate the pace of the game in a way that no other beater in the league can. Havlin is joined by Lulu Xu and Andrew Miller, who both complement his athletic and chaotic style of play with their strategic and more reserved beating.

Beater Max Havlin | Photo Courtesy of Hannah Huddle

However, the Night Riders are as gifted with the quaffle as they are with the bludgers. Tyler Trudeau leads this offense with newfound confidence and possesses a deadly combination of size and mobility at keeper. Trudeau, David Fox, and Harry Greenhouse are the Night Riders’ best driving threats; they are able to force their way through defences for the dunk or last-second assist. Additionally, Jayke Archibald carries the ball well and is an efficient shooter with a good eye for open players. He often hooks up with Teddy Costa, a chaser who has proven to be an athletic and flashy addition to this team, for goals. His speed and agility allow him to get around point defenders with ease. Carli Haggerty, Hannah DeBaets, Emily Hickmott, and Julia Baer are all capable of putting up big points for their team. Baer and Haggerty often serve as wing options, while Hickmott and DeBaets are more defensively inclined.

The Night Riders’ chasing game is about passing and patience. If there are no immediate scoring opportunities, they will take long possessions and are as comfortable working the ball slowly as they are going for the quick drive. This versatility makes Boston extremely dangerous. The Night Riders’ beating strength allows their chasers to mix things up creatively and take comfort in knowing that Havlin and Miller will open up the lanes they need. Trudeau and Archibald don’t have to worry about forcing plays. The cohesion that exists between their beaters and chasers gives the Night Riders an edge against every other team.

If the Night Riders are in range, they will inevitably catch the snitch. Greenhouse can make lightning-quick catches against defensive seekers, and Havlin’s beating ensures that Greenhouse gets as much time as he needs to win the game. Strong seeker beating is key to any team that wants to beat the Night Riders. Teams that do not compensate for Greenhouse’s skill will lose quickly. Thus, the key to winning against this team is to implement lineups matched to their stars. Opponents need to play a technically inclined beater to oppose Havlin, one who can force him to choose his beats carefully and prevent the fast catch. Archibald should always have a shot-blocking keeper played against him to minimize his options. Trudeau and Fox need to be covered by strong man-markers as opposed to physical players to inhibit their passing game. The Night Riders have been allowed to play their way all season; to beat them, a team needs to focus on disrupting their stars. If a team can force Archibald, Havlin, or Trudeau out of their comfort zones, that team has a decent shot at beating them.

Seeker Harry Greenhouse | Photo Courtesy of Hannah Huddle

The MLQ Championship is a far different beast from all the series the Night Riders have played so far. All it takes is one game to snap their streak and lose the championship. The biggest question for Boston is its composure under pressure. How will it handle itself in close games? The Night Riders have yet to play a single match in range this season. They will likely face the Admirals and Titans again during the finals. These games are bound to be more competitive than those during the regular season, as both teams have taken time to analyze and fix their mistakes. A perfect season has put targets on the Night Riders’ backs and Boston's taunts and celebrations after beating the Titans are fresh in New York’s mind. Boston represents the best of MLQ, but it is not infallible. If they keep improving and working before the finals, the championship is the Night Riders’ for the taking. However, if Boston takes its success for granted, it could find itself coming away without the cup.  

New York Titans
By Bruce Donnelly

Early favorites for the season’s championship, the New York Titans failed to win the MLQ East Division, or even to finish one game within range against the division-winning Boston Night Riders. The Titans now head into the championship weekend with a first round matchup against the North Division third place finishers, the Rochester Whiteout. While a first round win is important, the Titans will be expected to reach the finals for a rematch against the Night Riders.

The Titans are led by former University of Texas at Austin keeper Augustine “Augie” Monroe and the Warriors’ Amanda Dallas and Michael Parada. With Dallas’ and Parada’s Sweet 16 appearance and Monroe’s three World Cup championships, the team will have winning leadership for the tournament. Behind them they boast some of the best players not just in the country but in the world.

The depth at chaser for the Titans is so great that their second or third lines could likely start for some teams in MLQ. With Parada leading the first line, and players like Kyle Carey and Missy Hanley coming on as substitutions, the Titans offense, when it clicks, is nearly impossible to stop. The team’s combination of drivers, passers, and receivers almost always leaves it with a viable scoring option.

Chaser Spotlight: Lindsay Marella
The first woman on the field chasing for the Titans will be Lindsay Marella. After a season of beating with Rutgers University, Marella’s speed, strength, and intensity gave her a natural transition to chasing, and she has since excelled. Seemingly always in the perfect spot for a catch-and-shoot, yet graced with the ability to drive, she has rapidly become a premier chaser and has the confidence to know it. With all of these intangibles, it’s no wonder that she has become Monroe’s favorite passing target.

Chaser Lindsay Marella | Photo Courtesy of Tom Powers

If the Titans were to have a weakness, all indicators would point to beating as that issue, but don’t let that perception fool you. The team’s beaters are solid from top to bottom and won’t make many game-altering mistakes. Careful with gaining and keeping control, the Titans’ defense can hold opponents in check while their offense opens the game wide.

Beater Spotlight: Dylan Meehan
Dylan Meehan of New York University Thunder has been the star of the Titans’ beating. Lining up at the point of the defense, it will be Meehan’s shoulders that each game weighs on, and there aren’t many more capable. With a high quidditch IQ and great field awareness, he rarely makes a bad play and never carelessly loses control of a bludger. In a time when aggression has become such a positively viewed attribute, Meehan is a prime example that the smart play will always be the best play.

Keeper Spotlight: Brandon McKenzie
While chasing can have an off day for the Titans, keeping never will. After Monroe, the Warriors’ Alex Linde and Brandon McKenzie split their own time as starters. Added to this depth is the fact that, if ever needed, Parada remains one of the sport’s best passers. With all of these options to direct the offense, the Titans’ keeping will run into very few problems.

If you want the perfect combination of height, speed, power, and reflexes, you’ll only have to look as far as McKenzie. His attributes make him a prime ball carrier, but McKenzie is the rare breed of keeper who can roll behind the opposing hoops and catch any alley-oop thrown his way. His top-line end-to-end speed means that there will never be a defensive sacrifice when he goes up as an option rather than a carrier. With great depth around him to keep him fresh, expect McKenzie to put on a show.

Seeker Spotlight: Andrew Zagelbaum
It’s misleading to judge the Titans’ seekers on the fact that they haven’t caught a snitch in any game that has been in range. The team has only played one in-range game, which it lost to the Washington Admirals. Since there have been so few SWIM situations, one must consider the team’s abilities outside of it. In wins that were out of range, Edgar Pavlovsky (Pavlovsky is not listed on the championship roster) and Mo Haggag have shown that they are capable of making most grabs despite a defensive seeker.

After having missed the last two series with a hamstring injury, Zagelbaum’s health will be critical to New York’s long-term success in the tournament. Zagelbaum, who plays for the Warriors during the regular season, is a strong, smart seeker who uses his knowledge of each snitch to find the best move to make the catch. When he subs out, he does an efficient job of informing whoever replaces him on how to seal the victory.

Much like the regular season for the Titans, the championship tournament should come down to the end of the day. This team will almost certainly be in the finals and will likely be matched up against the Boston Night Riders again. Despite the season series having been entirely out of range, the Night Riders won’t have an easy time with the Titans if they meet each other on the pitch once more. The Titans’ successful leaders will force the issue, and the talented roster will find a way to snag a close win and take home the Benepe Cup.

Washington Admirals
By Taylor Veracka

On Aug. 22 at 11 a.m., the Washington Admirals will play the Cleveland Riff for their first and potentially only qualifying game in this year’s MLQ Championship tournament. The Admirals not only had a rocky start to their inaugural season, but a tumultuous middle as well. It wasn’t until after a shift in their roster and a leadership change that the Admirals were able to come together in their final matchup, albeit against the low-ranking Ottawa Black Bears, to finish the season with a 3-6 record and a third place finish in the East Division. Throughout the season, Washington struggled with chemistry and offense; however, it turned in its most impressive performance of the season in its final series, and it remains to be seen whether that was the product of an easier schedule or a sign that the Admirals have turned the corner.

Season Recap
The Admirals began with a tough matchup against the New York Titans. The Admirals failed to work cohesively together, and despite their individually talented roster, they were unable to capitalize on the chemistry that the familiarity among some players supposedly would bring to the team. It was only because of seeker Darren Creary that the Admirals were able to steal the first win from the Titans and prevent a sweep. The Admirals’ defensive play, though solid, was unable to make up for their weak offense and resulted in losses in the two remaining games.

The second matchup against the dominant Boston Night Riders served to further illuminate the inconsistency of the Admirals’ teamwork. The Night Riders moved to 6-0 in that matchup, sweeping the Admirals and beating them soundly. The Admirals again were unable to use the chemistry that many had suspected would afford them an edge and played as if a team already defeated, with poor communication between their chaser and beater lines, which resulted in unnecessary turnovers. Internal conflict, which may have had an influence on the team’s 1-5 start to the season, led to Max Miceli, Emma Troxler, Andrew McGregor, and Raul Natera all being let go. Natera, who had also served as the coach of the Admirals, was replaced in that position by general manager and keeper James Hicks.

The Admirals’ final series against the Ottawa Black Bears showed some improvement in their ranks; under Hicks, the Admirals switched from a direct offensive style to a more structured, pass-heavy style of play. The change proved to be a smart one, as the team played better overall and with more of the chemistry that had been discussed so much but was previously missing from their play. The Black Bears have ended up with the worst record in the league, and it’s unclear whether the Admirals’ new style of play would have had much of a difference against the more dominant Titans and Night Riders. However, in the very first game against the Black Bears, the Admirals were able to come back to win after being placed out of snitch range in the first 11 minutes. They played with a drive not previously seen, especially in their series with the Night Riders, which is something that should help them as they enter the tournament next weekend.

Tournament Matchup
The progress that the Admirals made against the Black Bears, even considering the fact that the Black Bears’ skill level was the lowest in the division (the Black Bears finished fourth in the East), bodes well for them as they enter the MLQ Championship Tournament. Even so, the Riff has a two-game edge on the Admirals, and though it finished in second place in the division, its 5-4 record is the same as the third-place Rochester Whiteout. Even if the Admirals beat the Riff in their first game, they will still face a challenge against whichever team they encounter next.

The Admirals will have to build on their momentum from their matchup against the Black Bears if they want to match the Riff’s play, but it certainly seems possible now that they’ve had a chance to play without the distractions that resulted in such a drastic change in their lineup. They’ve made improvements with their communication and chemistry on the field, strengthening their offense to prevent their defense from struggling to carry the team (as was seen in the first two matchups). If they can capitalize on their core chasing team, led by Kyle Stolcenberg , John Bridstrup, Cory Apple” Apps, and keeper Hicks, the Admirals could keep themselves within snitch range throughout the game, helping Creary, a strong chaser himself, pull off great grabs like the ones he made against the Titans and Black Bears to nab the Admirals a win.

Keeper James Michael Hicks | Photo Courtesy of Hannah Huddle

Ottawa Black Bears
By David Fox

Despite talented players at every position, the Ottawa Black Bears ended the season with a disappointing 1-8 record, largely due to lacking the necessary aggressive offense and defense. During the regular season, the Black Bears scored fewer and gave up more goals than any other team in the league, giving them an unfortunate point-differential of -68.9, although it’s possible that the team’s stats have not been updated from the team’s first series with the Boston Night Riders. In addition, the Black Bears continually struggled with turnovers, often not working quickly enough to take full advantage of possible opportunities. With their last place record in the East Division, the Black Bears will have to play against the Indianapolis Intensity, the North Division’s top team, in the opening round of the MLQ Championships. With the data and the odds stacked against them, is it time to write the Black Bears off? Surprisingly, I don’t think so; like their namesake—in the dead of winter—I think the Black Bears could be the sleeper team in this tournament.

The Black Bears’ chasers are so close to being a potent unit. They are a deceptively athletic bunch who are pretty much all willing and capable tacklers. They’ve got Jamie Lafrance, whose size makes him a constant scoring threat when he can get the ball either near the hoops or past the opposition’s beaters. Adam Robillard (Robillard is not on the team’s championship roster), Jonathan Parent , and Brian Wong (Wong is not on the team’s championship roster) all provide speed. But most importantly, most of the quaffle players on the Black Bears seem very willing to share the ball; if you watch the film of their games against the Titans, they clearly seem to be trying to hit open chasers.

The key word here is trying, though. Tyler Trudeau and Dom Bailey were pretty spot-on in their Quidcast Northeast podcast, where they mentioned that the Black Bears have more “almost-goals” than any other team. The Black Bears consistently make the right passing decisions, but either the receiving chaser will bobble it, or the pass will fly just a little too high. Hopefully they’ve been spending these last few weeks ironing out their chemistry and mechanics; if they can turn those almost-goals into actual ones, then they are bound to boost their offensive game by several notches.

Ottawa Black Bears | Photo Courtesy of Ben Holland Photography

The Black Bears are going to need a similar boost to their beating game as well, if they hope to compete. They don’t really have the personnel to use their beaters offensively against the Intensity, and instead need to replicate their strategy against the Titans; they need to gain control and then use bludgers conservatively in hopes of keeping it. It won’t be an easy task, especially against the Intensity’s skilled beating corps, but if they can keep control for the majority of the game, the Black Bears just might be able to pull out a win.

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