Friday, January 29, 2016

Bat City Showcase Preview

By Bruce Donnelly and Andy Marmer

On Jan. 30, some of the best community teams in the country will meet in Austin, Texas for the first ever all-community-team tournament, Bat City Showcase. Bat City is not a traditional tournament, as there aren’t brackets and, therefore, there won’t be a “champion,” per se. While a few major community teams won’t be in attendance, the Showcase should still give a good idea of where each of these teams and their regions rank in US Quidditch heading into the spring Regional Championship and US Quidditch Cup 9.

Hosted by Lone Star Quidditch Club (LSQC), Bat City Showcase includes three more Southwest teams: Texas Cavalry (TXC), Gulf Coast Gumbeaux (GCG), and Tribe Quidditch. By design, teams based near each other won’t be facing each other, so we won’t get the LSQC vs TXC match-up we always want to see. Instead, the Southwest welcomes three teams from the West: Los Angeles Gambits, the Lost Boys, and Crimson Elite (CE), as well as Quidditch Club Boston (QCB) and the Warriors from the Northeast. 

With many of the country’s top teams attending the all community team showdown, this will be the first chance we have to see how three of the top regions matchup against one another, and how the community teams atop each of those regions stack up.

Lone Star Quidditch Club: Projected Record: 6-0
Lone Star has a few questions that this tournament is going to be answering. All of those questions, though, boil down directly to one important topic: US Quidditch Cup. A year ago, LSQC entered the national championship as the overwhelming favorite and failed to secure the championship that has thus far eluded them  The team is unquestionably still at the top of American quidditch, even if it hasn’t looked as invincible as it did last year. Coach Mollie Lensing explained the team’s mindset: “[Our goals are] to learn as much as we can from the other teams coming and ultimately come out of the tournament better prepared for Nationals.”

Lone Star’s success comes largely from its dominant quaffle play, and with keeper Stephen Bell slated to make his season debut, this will only improve. Bell joins standouts Kody Marshall, Becca DuPont, Sam Haimowitz, Kedzie Teller, Drew Wasikowski, Joe Wright, Chelsea Lorenz, and Chris Scholz in what very well might be the most talented chasing lineup ever to play the sport.

It’s hard to tell what to expect from Stephen Bell’s first season appearance, but LSQC will be a force to be reckoned with either way. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
Since every team is going to be trying to measure itself against Lone Star, all of the team’s games will be interesting to watch. However, the tournament’s marquee game will be when LSQC battles Quidditch Club Boston, which is widely heralded as the best team outside of the Southwest. Lone Star will have to contend with QCB’s talented and overwhelming keepers, led by veterans Tyler Trudeau and Jayke Archibald, and aggressive offensive beating, keyed by Max Havlin and Kyle Jeon,  as well as counter with quaffle control and utilization of their exceptional chasers. Expect both teams to try to focus on drives to the middle of the opposing defenses, and the team that best forces quaffle carriers out of rhythm and into wide play will take the edge in quaffle play. The game will likely have a sentimental feeling for at least one player, as LSQC’s Teller takes on the team he helped to found for the first time and, in the process, faces off against many former teammates. “I'm going to step onto the field the same way I do every other game: to play well and win,” said Teller. “Obviously, emotions may be more at play than in a typical scenario, but it shouldn't be any different than playing in a tournament final or some other high stakes situation. I'm going to do what I always do, which is keep everyone on the other team a genderless, faceless opponent, and we'll see what happens. When it's all over, I'm really looking forward to spending time with the QCB – I really miss them; they've been my friends through a lot, and obviously I founded that team. But when it's game time, it's game time. I've got to focus on me and what I'm doing, not who's in my path.”

Quidditch Club Boston: Projected Record: 6-1
Quidditch Club Boston is making the longest trip of any team at this tournament to face the best of the West and Southwest.  Boston needs to prove that it has earned its undefeated record against presumably weaker competition.

Boston’s success this year has been the result of its aggressive beater performance and stingy quaffle defense, and while beating and defense aren’t necessarily foreign in the Southwest, a seeker of Harry Greenhouse’s caliber is.  As possibly the best seeker in the country, Greenhouse makes any in-range game instantly easier to win for QCB.  While the team has played just one game in range all season, Bat City’s tough competition may be the perfect place for QCB to release its not so secret weapon.

While many players took the summer off from competitive playing, Harry Greenhouse continued to hone his already excellent seeking skills during the MLQ season. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
To prove itself deserving of the best non-Southwest team title, QCB will have to go through the Los Angeles Gambits. While the teams, on paper, play a very similar game, relying on beaters as a crucial part of a fast-paced, high-scoring offense, the way these styles manifest themselves are very different. While QCB pushes beaters up on defense to pressure and create chaos, the Gambits' play is more calculated, opening the field and playing back. Offensively, they’re also opposites, with QCB centering its offense around driving keepers, while the Gambits tend to open the field wide and creates goals with multiple passes. The stylistic clash could lead to the two squads struggling offensively, something neither is familiar with.

Los Angeles Gambits: Projected Record: 4-2
While QCB is looking to prove that it’s the best team outside of the Southwest, the Los Angeles Gambits have their sights set higher. They want not only to claim the same title, but also to avenge a heartbreaking loss to LSQC at USQ World Cup 8. “Our goal is of course to win all of our games,” said Gambits Coach Steve DiCarlo. “We've been up 70-0 on the top-ranked attending team; there's no reason to aim any lower than that. However, we do have a drastically different look this season, so we're going as a learning opportunity to see what we still have to work on and to amp up our drive to train harder.” 

The Gambits crisp, fast-paced offense has put up over 100 points every game this season, and it’ll fall to its opponents to stop the team’s high-octane attack. Tony Rodriguez, fresh off a star status-affirming performance at Snow Cup, keys the attack, but he’s far from the team’s only star. Andrew Murray has continued to grow, and Justine Taylor, a relative newcomer to quidditch, will likely relish the chance to show her ability against the sport’s best.

With all of the new additions to the Gambits’ roster, Andrew Murray will be a welcome presence on the pitch against experienced rivals. | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography
The team has two marquee games, discussed above, as it faces Lone Star, seeking revenge, and QCB in a stylistic clash. “They have a far different play style than teams out here, it'll be interesting to see how we match up,” said DiCarlo. The differing styles and how these teams are able to respond at US Quidditch Cup 9 will be key in judging the success of Bat City.

Texas Cavalry: Projected Record: 4-2
One of two first year teams in attendance, Cavalry already has a win against the host to its name. This tournament will prove an excellent chance for the new team to show just how good it is against top opposition. 

At times this season, Cavalry has struggled for depth, and while that may still pose a problem with such a formidable schedule, the team boasts players like Richard McEvoy-Kemp, Ryan Peavler, and Tylor McLaren, who have played just once this year, in addition to Beth Clementi, who will make her debut for the Cavalry at this tournament.

Cavalry employs an innovative and daring offense that is among the most brilliant in the sport, but the team’s key has been its beating led by positional newcomer Augustine Monroe. Cavalry’s ability to change its beating from aggressive on offense to pulled back on defense is going to give a lot of opponents trouble adjusting and create match-up problems to exploit. Cavalry’s opponents are going to have to figure out a way to counter this without letting the Cavalry offense run away with the game. The matchup between Monroe and beaters such as Max Havlin, Kyle Jeon, and Chris Seto, who have shown themselves to be consistently atop the position, should make for some compelling games, and on a more macro level, it’ll be interesting to see how the team fares against Tony Rodriguez and the high power Gambits attack.

Augie Monroe’s switch to beating has had frighteningly good results. |  Photo Credit: Sana Sadiq Photography
The Lost Boys: Projected Record: 3-3
Throughout this season, the Lost Boys have only found themselves bested by one opponent, the Los Angeles Gambits. While the games have been good, each result has been the overall same: LAG wins and ends the tournament for the Lost Boys. Bat City is a great chance for the Lost Boys to one-up their crosstown rivals without having to play them head-to-head.

The Lost Boys and QCB will face off in a matchup that should be very entertaining based on both the teams’ styles and history. Los Angeles oldest community team faces Boston’s oldest community team in a game that will be a bit like playing against a mirror. Both offenses center around dynamic keepers, Trudeau and Archibald for QCB and Alex Browne for the Lost Boys; hyper aggressive beaters, Havlin and Jeon for QCB and Chris Seto for the Lost Boys; and two of the best seekers in the sport, Greenhouse for QCB, and Margo Aleman, who makes his triumphant return to Austin after grabbing a World Cup VII title with the University of Texas. While the Lost Boys have a lot of talented players, the team will likely make it only as far as Browne, Seto, and Aleman can carry them.

A lot rides on Alex Browne’s performance at Bat City if the Lost Boys hope to have a strong showing. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
Crimson Elite: Projected Record: 3-3
Crimson Elite has pretty much laid claim to third place in the West region. Although it has a head-to-head result against each of the top two teams, there’s no answer for how close it really is. Just like the other teams in its region, Crimson Elite will have to use comparative results to see where they rank. 

It only takes a few seconds alone alone for some seekers to end games. The CE beating is very good at getting Dan Howland that time, and Howland more often than not makes the most of it. While having control is obviously key, expect a lot of pressure on opposing beaters to force mistakes and bludger turnovers, which will be key in creating those few seconds to end a game.

Dan Howland’s impressive reach will give him a huge advantage over many of the seekers at this tournament. | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography
Texas Cavalry is probably the team closest in skill set and playing style to the Los Angeles teams. Crimson Elite with have to figure out a way to counter the Austin squad’s beating to get its offense a chance to put up the points they struggled to score against the regional rivals. To do so, it’ll have to use the aggression of TXC’s beating against itself and then turn its beating around to create trouble for the TXC offense. Fast breaks and set defenses will be key in the quaffle game if CE is to measure up.

Gulf Coast Gumbeaux: Projected Record: 1-5
There is a large gap between the the Austin community teams and Gulf Coast Gumbeaux. There are still a lot of places that GCG will need to improve to even challenge the top college teams in their region, and one of those places is their ability to score points. When they face stronger competition, they have failed to score over 70 quaffle points. With the competition at this tournament being some of the best in the country, they’ll have to show that they can put points up when they need it if they want a chance and getting wins.

While their offense might be a question, the opposite side of the ball for GCG is not. They might not score over 100 points all of the time, but they allow over 100 even less often, including only once in a loss this season. Since they don’t allow teams to run away with games, this closes the margin they need to cover offensively. With strong defense, a lot of their games will fall to a snitch grab to get them the victory.

Gumbeaux’s game against the Lost Boys should be particularly intriguing, especially to quidditch historians. At World Cup VII, Louisiana State University (LSU) pulled one of the sport’s most famous upsets knocking off the Lost Boys, a championship contender, in the Round of 32. Gumbeaux, in its first season of competition, is made up of many players who led that effort including Brad Armentor, Sarah Kneiling, Jason Winn, and Melissa White. That LSU team was able to control the bludgers while relying on Armentor’s driving ability to knock off the Lost Boys, and they’ll look to a similar recipe here under a new uniform.

The chemistry between the former LSU players on Gumbeaux may lead to a breakthrough against the Lost Boys but Jason Winn may need to step up his seeking game to help his team pull through. | Photo Credit: Sana Sadiq Photography
The Warriors: Projected Record: 1-6
This season has been far from ideal for the Warriors. With the emergence of Rochester United and the utter dominance of Quidditch Club Boston, the New York club has found itself playing third fiddle in the community team discussion of their own region. That, coupled with surprising losses to college teams, means that the Warriors have to improve a lot to save their season at US Quidditch Cup 9. To do this, they’ll have to figure out what they want to get out of this tournament, even if it’s experience in the form of defeats, to help them improve for the rest of the season.

Much of the Warriors’ roster this season was also the New York Titans roster in the MLQ season over the summer, as well as last year’s Warriors’ roster and the NYDC Capitalists’ roster the year before. Now, after basically four years of playing together, the core of the Warriors has become tight-knit and familiar with each other. Their experience together allows for more seamless passing and the ability to vary their offense more safely and efficiently, as a result of built up trust amongst the chasers.

Team cohesion will be the Warriors’ strength, with Amanda Dallas and Michael Parada as two of the many players on the team’s roster to have played together on MLQ New York Titans over the summer. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
Both the Warriors and Gulf Coast Gumbeaux will be trying to improve their standing within their own region. The Warriors’ beating will have to prove, yet again, that it’s up to par with the rest of the country, and GCG is a good team to prove it against. Quaffle passing will be crucial for the Warriors to spread out GCG’s defense and help them regain and maintain bludger control. It’ll then fall to their seeking to gain the much needed win.

Tribe Quidditch: Projected Record: 0-6
Tribe Quidditch comes into this tournament as the team with the lowest chance to earn a bid to US Quidditch Cup 9. As the team with the most to prove, and with the hopes of not leaving winless, Tribe Quidditch is going to have to bring physicality to the table and show that if it doesn’t qualify, it’s less about it than it is about its region. If it can steal that win, however, is another matter.

Captain Ian Strickland will have to push his team hard to emerge as the ultimate underdog at Bat City. | Photo Credit: Hannah Huddle
The only losses outside of the Southwest that Tribe has had have been against two of the Midwest’s qualifying teams. While out-of-region experience is vital, it’ll be Tribe’s in-region experience that it’ll have to rely on most heavily. The Southwest is known for playing physical and fast games, and Tribe will have to be prepared to do the same against the visiting teams, who are expected to have less preparation for that type of game.

If Tribe Quidditch is going to get a win, it’s going to have to happen quickly. The Warriors come in with the most questions, and the craziest things happen in the first time slot. Waking up and being ready will be the key for Tribe Quidditch, as well as hitting early and often and forcing bad passes.

Editors Note: A previous version of this article noted that Quidditch Club Boston had not played any snitch range games this season. The team has in fact played one snitch range game this season. Kody LaBauve was listed as among the LSU players who defeated the Lost Boys, although LaBauve played for LSU he did not defeat the Lost Boys in that contest. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.

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