Friday, October 2, 2015

The Second Coming of Troy

By Steve DiCarlo

With Gulf Coast Gumbeaux recruiting several elite retired players from the old powerhouse team from Louisiana State University, and Amanda Nagy effectively disbanding Arizona Quidditch Club to rejoin the Lost Boys, analysts were quick to dub this a “throwback” season. However, no reunion of past elite players may be as game-changing as this year’s University of Southern California (USC) team, which returns 2012 Team USA’s August Luhrs with prospective Olympian Remington Conatser and a variety of other players who together dominated the West region in the first half of the 2012-13 season.

Remy Conatser hasn't played quidditch since the Hollywood Bowl in 2012. | Photo Credit: Kat Ignatova Photography
The Return of the Old Guard

The USC Trojans haven’t been on anyone’s radar in nearly three years, and for good reason. The team has struggled to compete against the West’s best for the past three years, and although it qualified for World Cup VII, it was unable to send a team to that tournament and did not even qualify for USQ World Cup 8.

After graduating, players like Nicté Sobrino and Ryan Parsons stuck around to play with or help mentor their old team in hopes of keeping the program from dying out entirely. While their efforts were enough to help USC retain just enough life to attend a few tournaments each year, the Trojans just didn’t have it in them to look like they did in 2012, when they’d regularly annihilate local rivals like University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Lost Boys. This year, that has the potential to change.

Team USA chaser and keeper August Luhrs is back to give his alma mater the offensive strength it’s been lacking, and along with him will be the West’s eternally-underrated point defender David Demarest and the legendary half-season goliath of a chaser, Remington Conatser. Each of these quaffle players are exceptionally proficient tacklers, and while they have occasionally struggled with bludger awareness, they are all great at driving through no-bludger defenses. As if the return of their program’s three most physically dominant players isn’t enough, beaters Julia Thomas and Spencer Gold are also coming out of retirement to make sure USC’s defense has the size and smarts to compete with anything the West has to offer. Although his return has not been previously announced, Harrison James will also be playing for USC. 

When USC won the UCLA-hosted Hollywood Bowl in 2012, they looked as close to the 2012-13 season’s World Cup champion University of Texas at Austin as the West has ever and likely will ever see. Conatser, Luhrs, and Demarest acted as a near-impenetrable wall on defense, and on offense Thomas held onto bludger control while Nicky Guangorena created openings the team’s goliaths could easily power through. They have all the pieces to replicate their success, and athleticism the primary factor that brought them so much success that season doesn’t go away with time.

Despite claims of retirement, Julia Thomas will be returning for another season with USC | Photo Credit: Kat Ignatova Photography
Athletically Superior Yet Strategically Untrained

If you compare USC player-for-player against nearly any team in the country, there is no reason the Trojans can’t be legitimate contenders for US Quidditch Cup 9. The depth on this nostalgic squad is amazing, with players like Parsons, Gold, and Thomas Schoettle now acting as second or third string despite being deserving of first if they were on most other USQ teams. There is something to be desired when it comes to the depth of USC’s female players, but the team has enough talent there to compete with the majority of the top programs for the first several minutes of any game. 

However, any fan of quidditch knows that talent and athleticism aren’t enough to guarantee a team success. The sport has gotten to a place where weaker teams can still compete with powerhouses by out-strategizing them, and USC is mostly filled with players who have been out of touch with changes in quidditch strategy for the past two seasons. Guangorena will be able to give his old teammates some priceless updates on how beating strategy has evolved since the team’s heyday, but it takes time for knowledge like that to truly soak in. This became immediately evident when the Trojans started off their season with a series of unofficial games against the Lost Boys, as Conatser and Luhrs demonstrated difficulty figuring out how to get around beaters intelligently and legally. 

There is an easy fix for USC’s expected strategic shortcomings, but it comes with a slight touch of awkwardness: to rehire Mitch Cavender as coach to properly acquaint players with the game. Cavender infamously abandoned his old team right in the middle of Western Cup IV – the 2013 regional championship when they likely needed him most, in favor of coaching the UCLA team that went on to compete in the finals of IQA World Cup VI. Many attribute the fall of USC to Cavender’s departure, but the team might have to swallow its pride and give him back the reins if they want a shot at the West and perhaps even the national title.
USC after its first-place finish at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012 | Photo Credit: Kat Ignatova Photography
If Cavender chooses to back a different front-runner this season or abandons the world of quidditch coaching, USC has to figure out a way to work on its endurance, speed, and field awareness. Getting formerly-retired players motivated enough to put in that hard work isn’t easy, but it seems the team is off to a solid start already, scrimmaging against the Lost Boys and signing up for the Los Angeles Gambits’ unofficial tournament later this month. It’s entirely justifiable to keep USC low in early-season rankings, but be sure to keep an eye on the Trojans they have an exceptionally high ceiling and there is the potential for them to be as dominant as they once were if they figure out how to maximize that tremendous potential.

No comments:

Post a Comment