Thursday, April 14, 2016

Soaring to South Carolina Preview: Pools 7-9

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 7:
By Bruce Donnelly

Texas Cavalry
District of Columbia Quidditch Club (DCQC)
University of Miami (UM)
Utah State Quidditch Club
Syracuse University Quidditch Club

Pool 7 might be the most decorated pool of teams at US Quidditch Cup 9. Although the Pod 5 team, Syracuse, received one of the last two bids from the Northeast, the pool includes two of this year’s regional champions University of Miami and District of Columbia Quidditch Club as well as the Southwest semifinalist Texas Cavalry. The pool is rounded out by West quarterfinalist Utah State.

This pool is impressive, not just because of the teams’ successes this year, but also because of the accomplishments of their players in years past. Texas Cavalry is a new team that boasts a roster core from the three-time national champion and current holder of the title University of Texas, including captains Martin Bermudez Jr. and Augustine Monroe. Cavalry’s beaters are aggressive and work well together to maintain bludger control, which is its key to a successful offense. When other teams take that control away, however, the offense falters and the team must regroup without the crutch of two bludgers, which slows it down.

At the same time, Pod 2 team DCQC managed to bolster its roster by bringing three players out of retirement from the University of Maryland squad, who won the previous two Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships: Erin Mallory, Patrick Rardin, and Jimmy Pritts. These players add to a championship roster with the offensive firepower of former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) players Max Miceli and Andrew McGregor, who helped lead UNC to the Elite Eight last season. The results from the team’s only spring tournament, however, left much to be desired when DCQC lost all but one of its games at Backyard Quidditch Cup.

DCQC chaser Max Miceli taking on University of Richmond Quidditch’s defense at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography

With so much championship pedigree, Texas Cavalry and DCQC should be expected to go first and second respectively, leaving the third spot up for grabs. It will be up to UM to maintain its pace from the South Regional Championship in order to fend off Utah State and Syracuse and make it to Day Two. Even without the experience of Shannon Moorhead this Miami team has enough talent and depth, led by Team USA’s Bernie Berges, to get the job done.

Miami won’t simply be handed the third spot, however. Both Utah State and Syracuse put on gutsy performances on their way to qualifying. Utah State rode the backs of its beaters to close quaffle play against the top teams in the region, like the Lost Boys. Then Utah State took a No. 9 seed in its bracket and beat the higher-seeded California Dobbys to qualify before it lost to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Gambits. Syracuse, on the other hand, qualified the hard way, losing its first bracket game before winning snitch range games against the Macaulay Honors College Marauders and Stony Brook Quidditch to earn its bid. All teams will have to bring the best seeking possible if they are going to win a close game with UM, who won every bracket game that was in snitch range at the South Regional Championship.

While many view the South as a less capable region than the West or Northeast regions, the Southern champions shouldn’t have trouble taking the third spot from the pool, assuming they don’t allow themselves to be caught off guard. UM will join Texas Cavalry and DCQC in bracket play on Day Two, with the livestreamed matchup between the two at 11 a.m. determining which finishes highest. Don’t, however, expect either to finish this tough pool with the point differential to be a top 4 seed.

Pool 8
By Ryan Smythe

Quidditch Club Boston (QCB)
Arizona State University (ASU)
Minnesota Quidditch
Gulf Coast Gumbeaux (GCG)
Ohio University Quidditch Club (OUQC)

There are a lot of reasons to believe that QCB will easily sweep this pool: the top two being Max Havlin, arguably the best beater in the world, and Lulu Xu, arguably the biggest snub of the latest Team USA squad selection. Every time Havlin steps on the pitch, there is a very real chance something spectacular will happen. He puts on a show like no one else, more than earning himself the inaugural MVP award in Major League Quidditch last summer.

Xu is not as flashy as her partner, but there is something mesmerizing about how unbreakable she is. Because of her stature, teams regularly send their largest beaters to take her out, and every single time she takes the hit, pops back up, and beats her opponent without even flinching. Because of her remarkably consistent play, Havlin can run around like a madman, knowing the entire time that Xu is standing strong at his back, ready to step up and cover any missed beats.

The unlikely beating duo is what makes QCB so terrifying opposite playing styles come together effortlessly when Havlin and Xu take the pitch together. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

Another reason QCB could sweep the pool might be Harry Greenhouse, the terrifyingly aggressive chaser/seeker who occasionally works out by hitting truck tires with a sledgehammer. Or its advantage just might be that its physical playing style loves to pressure the field on offense, using its beaters to almost walk the team to the opposition’s keeper zone for easy goals. Boston’s only loss all year came to the Lost Boys on a snitch catch, and even then it started the game with a 50-point lead.

The team most likely to make QCB sweat is Arizona State. It already played spoiler to the Los Angeles Gambits at the 4th Annual Lumberjack Invitational, beating them 150*^-120. There’s a very real chance that it will make a return as Goliath-killers, but the Gambits did not have a beater pair quite like Xu/Havlin to give their seeker ownership of the space around the snitch.

ASU has all the tools to take the second seed going into bracket play. Minnesota plays a conservative 3-1 zone, covering each hoop and leaving a solitary chaser to help its beaters on defense. ASU beaters Ryan McGonagle and Vicky Sanford could lead their offense by attacking everything off the hoops, letting their quaffle carriers get easy buckets.

Minnesota needs to watch out for that against QCB as well, because if its defense is pushed in, there are very few players able to stop someone like Greenhouse or keeper Tyler Trudeau once they pick up some momentum in an open field. Even QCB’s smallest starting chaser, Julia Baer, regularly takes out players the size of Trudeau. Minnesota will need to break off from its 3-1 zone to have a chance of even thinking about containing QCB’s top-tier offense.

Minnesota’s hopes of bracket play likely rest on its first match of the day against the Gulf Coast Gumbeaux. It’s always fun to wake up to the likes of Brad Armentor and Tad Walters barreling down the pitch into you, and that’s exactly what Minnesota needs to withstand to have a chance at bracket play.

Gumbeaux will have to rely on the beating of Walters and Sarah Kneiling as well as Armentor’s exceptionally broad shoulders in order to try to make it to bracket play. That’s not to say that talent is this team’s only chance. Fun fact: Kneiling has been playing quidditch since World Cup II. That veteran knowledge is only added to by players like chaser/beater CJ Junior, who has been playing since the Quidditch Champions Series just after World Cup V.

The advantage of experience on Gulf Coast Gumbeaux especially shows on the pitch when veteran beater Sarah Kneiling has possession of a bludger. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

Minnesota’s veteran beaters Tim Ohlert and Hallie Schley, along with chaser David Pray, will have their work cut out for them leading their young team against the onslaught of old-school physical play coming from QCB, ASU, and GCG.

As for OUQC, the quidditch world loves an upset. If seeker Ryan Scott can continue the success he has had throughout the season, there is a chance OUQC can win a game or two if it is in snitch range. Getting to the point where Scott can make an impact will be the greatest challenge.

Pool 9:
By Bruce Donnelly

Los Angeles Gambits
Texas A&M Quidditch
The Warriors
Ohio State Quidditch (OSU)
University of Richmond Quidditch (URQ)

Whether intentionally or not, gameplay sure knows how to make an interesting schedule of livestreamed games. While there could be many contenders for the most interesting matchup of Day One, the headlining game of Pool 9 which, coincidentally, is also the 7:40 p.m. live streamed game might be the most competitive of them. It’s not only that top matchup that makes this pool so good, but also the parity amongst the teams in Pods 3, 4, and, 5.

The first team of Pool 9 is the West Regional Champion, the Los Angeles Gambits. Led by a beating core of Steve DiCarlo and Team USA’s Alyssa Burton, the Gambits can stifle most offenses while their own puts in big points, as shown in their 250*-90 championship game over Arizona State University. It wasn’t just in the finals that the Gambits smothered opponents either; at the regional championship, the Gambits played every game except one out of range, and only one of those was even within 100 points. They will look to continue this trend and get out on each of their Day One opponents early.

Despite the lack of attention in comparison to other top teams’ beaters, Gambits beater Alyssa Burton made Team USA this year and is arguably one of the best beaters in the game. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

It will be especially important for the Gambits to mount a quick lead on the Pod 2 team, Texas A&M. An in-range loss to Texas Cavalry in the quarterfinals of the Southwest Regional Championship forced Texas A&M to qualify through the secondary bracket with an out-of-range win over eventual qualifier Oklahoma State University. The loss to Cavalry was one of seven in the season for A&M, but all seven came against teams that qualified from the Southwest. Texas A&M’s attack is led by three of its captains, Keegan Adlis, Cody McKenzie, and Clay Enderlin, who bring physicality and athleticism to the quaffle game that can put points on the board in a hurry.

The Warriors reached the Sweet 16 at USQ World Cup 8. This year’s iteration is, in large part, the same core. Three-time Team USA chaser Michael Parada is still the captain and coach, while also leading the offense. In addition to the strong chasing, this year the team has added beaters Ricky Nelson and Alex Leitch to shore up what they seemed to be most lacking last season. In spite of the improvements, the Warriors have failed to score over 100 quaffle points in 10 of their 17 games this season, including in all of their six losses. It is lapses like these that put the team in limbo as the third team in Pool 9. If they are able to come out firing on all cylinders, the Warriors can give any team in the pool a run for their money; if not, they are at risk of failing to even qualify for Day Two.

Despite opening the season with four losses in its first five games, Ohio State Quidditch went into the Great Lakes Regional Championship, won its pool on Day One, and easily qualified for US Quidditch Cup 9. Its trip to the regional semifinal followed a path that OSU has been familiar with in past years: finding a way to win a low scoring game by relying on crisp passing to maintain control of the game. Unlike last year, when OSU only lost two regular season games, this year’s team finds itself an underdog in a tough pool. It will be on OSU to keep to its strategy and keep games close and hope that either seeker Brien Polivka or Mitch Boehm can make the catch to send the team to Day Two.

Of all of the teams in Pool 9, the Pod 5 team, University of Richmond Quidditch, has played the most games this season. Keeping a slower pace helps URQ stay in a lot of its games, making it a threat for an upset. URQ will have to keep its cool and control the game from start to finish against the higher tempo offenses, but if it can, it will be able to give the higher seeded teams in its pool a lot of trouble.

Aside from the Los Angeles Gambits vs. Texas A&M game in the last time slot, look for the results amongst the other three teams to really determine the outcome of the pool. The Warriors, Ohio State Quidditch, and University of Richmond Quidditch all play a different type of game, which could lead to problems for the rest, leaving the third spot completely up for grabs.

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

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