Thursday, April 14, 2016

Soaring to South Carolina Preview: Pools 1-3

This weekend, April 16-17, 60 teams will fight for a chance to hold up the championship trophy of US Quidditch Cup 9. The University of Texas is the three-time defending champion, but 59 teams will look to unseat it. In the week leading up to the tournament, the Quidditch Post will run through the pools and highlight some of the players, teams, and stories to watch this weekend.

Pool 1:
By Alex Scheer 

Ball State Cardinals
The Fighting Farmers of America (FFA)
Mizzou Quidditch
Rutgers University Quidditch  
Emerson College Quidditch 

At a quick glance, this pool looks to contain many things: the tournament’s weakest Pod 1 team in terms of ranking, one of the tournament’s strongest Pod 3 teams, and a Pod 5 who is among the tournament’s weakest teams. Let’s take a closer look: 

Ball State is one of the most consistent teams in the Great Lakes, with some star athletes who work together to elevate the team and bring them all to the next level. Blake Fitzgerald is a fantastic ball carrier and distributor who works with Tyler Walker, a 2016 Team USA beater, and Erin Moreno, one of the top beaters in the Great Lakes region, to keep the defense strong and to push hard toward the hoops. On top of those three, star seeker Jason Bowling drew considerable attention for Team USA, and was ultimately chosen as an alternate.

Although Ball State is the favorite in the pool, it will have to earn the top spot, most notably against the Fighting Farmers of America. The Farmers do not have a long list of superstars in their roster, but are instead hoisted up to their fullest potential by a deep roster of talented and determined players. That said, it would be a crime to not mention Vanessa Goh or Tye Rush. Goh, known for her spectacular catches and Spider-Man-like grip, is one of the nation’s elite quaffle carriers. Rush, often regarded as the “best player to never play at US Quidditch Cup” finally gets his chance. He is quick, hard to tackle, and not afraid to drive on a defense. The Fighting Farmers two stars are supported by a talented cast including beaters Cy Torrey, Sean Pretti, and Ruthie Stahl, veteran keeper Chris Lock, and former University of Michigan star Evan Batzer, among others.

Vanessa Goh will be vital to the success of the Farmers at USQ Cup 9. | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography
Mizzou Quidditch is a team from the Midwest that has constantly been on the rise. It made its first national appearance at World Cup VII, where it went 1-3, losing three games on snitch catches. Last year, it made the round of 24 at USQ World Cup 8, falling to Blue Mountain Quidditch Club. Will Mizzou be able to make it out of pool play this year? Anchored by beating power David Becker and ball carrier Jacob Parker, this team is loaded with young, raw talent. The return of Daniel Shapiro has helped this team gain some experience, and the blow of losing Josh Ebbesmeyer was softened by Jacob and Levi Parker taking new roles on the team. The team will look to build on last year’s finish, but will have to overcome challengers to lockdown its bracket spot. 

Rutgers has been a surprise team all season, but you can look to captain Lindsay Marella (2016 Team USA Selection) for that. She is not only one of the strongest chasers in the game, but is a resilient beater who can help give her team the final push toward the win. Although Marella is unquestionably the team’s biggest threat, Phill Cain, Jaws Yu, and Chisa Egbelu, who is working his way back from a knee injury, are all key contributors that could help Rutgers pull an upset. 

Emerson has fallen hard since its Final Four run at World Cup VII, but now it has its chance to redeem itself. Coached by Griffin Conlogue, this team has had some interesting results leading up to US Quidditch Cup 9. The huge losses of David Fox and Tyler Trudeau hurt this team far worse than it expected, but the return of Leeanne Dillmannn and Kieran Collier give it some much needed life. Unfortunately, the outlook for this team isn’t good, but if it can catch you sleeping, then who knows?

With the strong beating game present in Pool 1, Emerson will need Dillmann (pictured here beating for MLQ’s New York Titans) if it hopes to make it to bracket play. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
Pool 2:
By Tyler Walker 

Lone Star Quidditch Club (LSQC)
Maryland Quidditch (UMD)
University of British Columbia (UBC)
Cal Quidditch
Central Michigan Quidditch Club (CMU)

Pool 2 is headlined by a semifinal rematch from USQ World Cup 8 with Lone Star Quidditch Club taking on UMD. Last year Maryland struggled to put up points as it tried to outrun and outmaneuver a deep Lone Star team and ultimately fell 120-50*. This year, despite the loss of numerous key quaffle player and team leaders, including Harry Greenhouse, Erin Mallory, and Brian Barrows, UMD will look to show that it belongs among the sport’s best.

Lone Star arrives this weekend after it dominated its regional championship, even without Team USA chaser Simon Arends. The team won on quaffle point differential in every single game, and only the final against Texas Quidditch was in range. Boasting a similar roster to last year’s national finalist team, minus some damage to its beating corps including the loss of beater Mollie Lensing to injury LSQC looks as dangerous as any in the field.

UMD, however, also comes in with a great record this semester (7-1), with wins against the Mid-Atlantic’s best, like University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch (150*- 110) and District of Columbia Quidditch Club (190-180*), but it has also played some close games, such as those against Pod 5 teams University of Richmond Quidditch (100*-30) and George Mason Quidditch Club (90-80* and 90*-70).

No one is doubting the skill of Lone Star, and it will be up to Maryland to prove it can hang. Jeremy Dehn and Mike Madonna have stepped successfully into the Maryland beating lineup. Dehn, the more conservative of the two, has the footwork and positioning to keep driving forces from penetrating the heart of the defense, and the awareness and toughness to keep opposing beaters from throwing him off position or off his bludger. Madonna has improved game by game throughout the season, using his speed and aggression to throw opposing defenses into chaos, and his risk taking becomes ever more calculated as he uses his arm speed and his size to make game-changing plays. For Maryland to have any hope of pulling an upset, it will fall on its beaters to control the pace of the game, something it failed at last year, and ensure dominance over the bludgers.

UMD and Lone Star last faced off during USQ World Cup 8’s semifinals match, resulting in UMD’s losing grab and Lone Star’s finals match against Texas Quidditch. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
LSQC and UMD will be the premiere match up (1:40 p.m. on Pitch 2), and each sit safely at the top of the pool, but the fight for the final spot will be dramatic.

UBC, Cal, and CMU all have legitimate cases to earn the third seed as well as cases why they won’t. UBC has played well on a national level, but has underwhelmed in its region this season, especially with a 0-7 record against other teams who qualified for USQ Cup 9. Cal started the season on fire and has the biggest win of the three, against the Fighting Farmers of America (100*-80). Since then, Cal has cooled off, and it should be interesting to see which team will show up in South Carolina. CMU has struggled catching snitches and keeping teams in range, but it still has a realistic chance to advance to bracket play, especially if rookie keeper Taylor Felton is at the top of his game. Expect all three games to end in range, which bodes well for Cal, which has the best record in snitch range games.  

Pool 3:
By Talitha Brys

Bowling Green State University (BGSU)
Boston University Quidditch (BU)
Silicon Valley Skrewts (SVS)
Lock Haven University Quidditch (LHU)

All the teams competing in Pool 3 have attended previous USQ World Cups, with one exception: inTENNsity. The South region’s newest community team achieved the accomplishment of grabbing a bid to US Quidditch Cup 9 during its first season. 

With one accomplishment already in the bag, Tennessee’s newest community team will look to its pool-mates for inspiration as it seeks to pull off a Cinderella run. BGSU surprised many in reaching the semifinals at World Cup VI, and BU and the Skrewts both had impressively deep runs, reaching the quarterfinals and the Round of 16 respectively at World Cup VII.

Chaser Kellie Smith and keeper Landon Smith, founders of the Tennessee Tech quidditch team, originally thought of the idea for inTENNsity two years ago, but waited one more year for more players to graduate before they set the ball in motion. 

One of inTENNsity’s biggest challenges is working with players from all across Tennessee. For anyone who has seen it play, it may be shocking to learn that it still has not had a team practice this season. This speaks volumes to the amount of chemistry between its players. Many on inTENNsity have been playing quidditch together for four years and this cohesiveness has become its main strength on the road to US Quidditch Cup 9.

inTENNsity keeper and co-founder Landon Smith at last October’s Super Ball Brothers Brawl. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
Despite the team’s more relaxed approach, inTENNsity boasts strong and quick chasers who pass the quaffle with ease, which allows it to keep going until it finds an opening to score. This team is also blessed with amazing female athletes who can successfully run a two non-male beater set.

inTENNsity will need to overcome its inexperience against some of the stalwarts of the sport. 

Bowling Green will likely take first in this pool, even with the major injuries the team has sustained since the Great Lakes Regional Championship. Pari Yost should be returning from an injury, but the permanent loss of Kendall Kuhn is a big hit for the Falcons. The addition of David Hoops, however, gives the team four quality keepers to fill the hole. A full Bowling Green team is flexible in most situations, especially with beaters Max McAdoo and Max Portillo, and Dan Daugherty’s switch to a black headband. This will allow the team to use various different beating styles, and with Samuel Roitblat on pitch as seeker, Bowling Green could advance deep into bracket play.

Bowling Green’s Pari Yost is crucial to her team’s performance. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
Boston University is still in the rebuilding process, so it will be entering this weekend with a young and raw team, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks star players. BU often uses a two male beater set with veteran beaters Max Beneke and Peter Cho. The team also has one of the most underrated chasers, Amanda Varnauskas, who complements scoring threat, keeper Dyllon Carlson. BU’s high level of athleticism enables the team to stick in almost any game, but its inexperience leaves it vulnerable to losing games it should win. 

The Silicon Valley Skrewts play style resembles that of the 2014-15 campaign. Now, though, the burden of chasing can primarily be seen in the capable trio of Andrew Covel, Chewy Shaw, and the perennially underrated Sam Harris. All three players are confident drivers and intelligent players, and their drives generally mean a high scoring opportunity is available. However, to no one’s surprise, the offense is still virtually run through Willis Miles, the aggressive veteran beater who strongly resembles the Greek deity Atlas with a bludger in hand, as he relentlessly creates gaping holes in teams’ defenses and driving opportunities for his teammates. The Skrewts scraped their way into qualification, but the last time this franchise took the 11th spot in the West was two years ago when the team advanced to the Round of 16

Lock Haven has an impressive number of players on its team, but it doesn’t always use its depth to its fullest advantage. This team tries to play a fast game, but it only has a few players who can keep up. Despite these setbacks, Lock Haven was the only team to give District of Columbia Quidditch Club a challenge at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. Keeper Austin Hartman is quick with his hands, which makes it difficult to hit mid and long range shots, and beater Caitie Probst is an extremely effective beater on the back line. Even with a full roster, Lock Haven has an uphill battle in order to claim one of the three spots to Day Two. 

Chris Lock, Andy Marmer, Steve Minnich, and Keller Stevens contributed to reporting.

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