Wednesday, July 20, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on the United States

By Danielle Lehmann and Bruce Donnelly  

The United States has the honor of saying that quidditch started here, at Middlebury College in Vermont (in the northeastern United States) by Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe in 2005. As freshmen that year, Manshel and Benepe created the groundwork for quidditch, but it was quite different from the sport we know today.

In 2005, there were seven teams of all Middlebury students who competed with one another, many of whom wore capes to games. From there the sport slowly grew in the Northeast from 2006-07. The year 2007 saw the first World Cup played between teams from two schools, and by 2008 the World Cup tournament had expanded to 12 teams, including an international team from McGill University (from Quebec, Canada). Every year after, the amount of teams participating in the World Cup doubled until 2012, and the league still continues to grow. In the next year, World Cup VI was held in the South region, the first time it would be played outside of the Northeast region where it stayed for the next four years.

Capes and goggles galore at World Cup I. | Photo courtesy of Alex Benepe
For the 2015-16 season, there were 173 registered US Quidditch (USQ) teams, which included 121 university teams, 49 community teams, one official university/community team, and three high school teams. These teams were from eight different regions: the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, South, Southwest, and West. The Southwest and West regions have the greatest number of teams (27 each) and the Northwest and South regions have the least number of teams (12 and 18 respectively). 

USQ has a season that runs with a typical university or college school year, from mid- to-late August to mid-April. Typically, November and February are the months for regional championships. One regional championship takes place in each region, and teams in each region compete for bids to the US Quidditch Cup (previously known as World Cup) in April. Each region has a different number of bids depending on how well teams from each region performed at the previous US Quidditch Cup and the number of teams in the region. The US Quidditch Cup is the national tournament that featured 60 teams this past April 2016, and if you are unfamiliar with US Quidditch Cup, we have a guide here.

In the past, the end of the USQ season left May through August open for various fantasy tournaments, but the United States has seen the emergence of Major League Quidditch (MLQ) to fill these often stagnant months. Now in its second season, MLQ has expanded from eight teams split between two divisions (in summer 2015) to 16 teams split between four divisions this year. The teams from each of the four divisions play each other during the summer, and the season culminates in the MLQ Championship at the end of August. MLQ has opened new doors for those who are serious about their quidditch play and looking for more competition. While most USQ university teams take anyone interested in the sport, MLQ teams are capped at 30 players and typically comprised of experienced players who want to take their play to the next level and continue to develop as athletes. Whether they are playing during the USQ or MLQ seasons, however, United States teams are known for their physicality and aggressive beater play.

Beater battle between Gulf Coast Gumbeaux and Quidditch Club Boston at US Quidditch Cup 9. | Photo Credit: Monica Wheeler Photography
For most American teams, there is little international play, and there may be even less moving forward. This past 2015-16 season, two Canadian teams (British Columbia Quidditch Club and University of British Columbia) were permitted to play in USQ games and tournaments. Next year, however, they will not be allowed to participate in USQ events. This leaves MLQ play as the only official international play, with the Ottawa Black Bears as a part of the North Division. This doesn’t mean that the US and Canadian teams cannot play each other; it just excludes more than two of those games from being officially counted toward regional play. 

The Squad
The process for selecting players for the United States national team started on Nov. 18 when applications opened for the team and selection committee. Applications poured in and on Jan. 8, USQ announced eight people who were chosen to help bring together a strong Team USA, a three-month process of looking for coaches and players. 

With passionate essays, letters of recommendation, fundraising ideas, quidditch resumes, and proposed training schedules in front of them, the committee announced two leaders for Team USA on Feb. 10: Head Coach James Hicks and Assistant Head Coach Mollie Lensing. Hicks is the head coach for the District of Columbia Quidditch Club and has been involved in quidditch for five years as a player, captain, coach, and Team USA player in 2012. (Read more about Hicks here.) He will be taking on the non-playing role of the on-site speaking captain. Lensing is the non-playing coach for Lone Star Quidditch Club and has been involved in quidditch for six years as a player, coach, and Team USA player in 2012. She will continue her work as a non-playing coach for the US National Team. (Read more about Lensing here.) 

Just over a month after the coaching announcement, the official roster was released on March 18. The original selection committee, along with Hicks and Lensing, chose their squad. Without the ability to see all of the applicants play in person, the committee had to rely on its own knowledge of the applicants and their personal essays, recommendation letters, fundraising proposals, and three unedited films from games they played. 

Originally, the goal was to have at least one player from each region on the roster, and the committee was successful in doing so until Jeffrey Siwek (Midwest region: Illinois State University Firebirds) dropped from the roster to be replaced by Jason Bowling (Great Lakes region: Ball State Cardinals). The Midwest region is the only region without a representative, although the Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, and South regions only have one representative: Stew Driflot, Lindsay Marella, and Bernardo Berges, respectively.

Rutgers University Quidditch chaser Lindsay Marella has the honor of being the only Mid-Atlantic representative for Team USA. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
The Roster (By Position) 

James Hicks (Head Coach - District of Columbia Quidditch Club)
Mollie Lensing (Assistant Head Coach - Lone Star Quidditch Club)
Sarah Woolsey (Team Manager and USQ Executive Director

Jayke Archibald (Quidditch Club Boston)
Shane Hurlbert (Rochester United)

Hayden Ray Applebee (Oklahoma State University Quidditch)
Andrew Axtell (Michigan Quidditch)
Julia Baer (Quidditch Club Boston)
Bernardo Berges (University of Miami)
Stew Driflot (Boise State Abraxans)
Kaci Erwin (Texas Cavalry)
Harry Greenhouse (Quidditch Club Boston)  
Sam Haimowitz (Lone Star Quidditch Club)
Lindsay Marella (Rutgers University Quidditch)
Michael Parada (The Warriors)
Simon Van der veen Quant Arends (Lone Star Quidditch Club)

Alyssa Burton (Los Angeles Gambits)
Ashley Calhoun (Lake Effect Maelstrom)
Michael Duquette (Texas Quidditch)
Max Havlin (Quidditch Club Boston)
Amanda Nagy (The Lost Boys)
Tyler Walker (Ball State)

Margo Aleman (The Lost Boys)
Jason Bowling (Ball State Cardinals)

Interview with Team USA Manager Sarah Woolsey
Recently appointed USQ Executive Director, Sarah Woolsey is the manager for Team USA. Woolsey has been instrumental in USQ’s success since she became gameplay coordinator in 2011 and will surely take that experience to Frankfurt to aid the United States team.

Team USA Manager Sarah Woolsey at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
Quidditch Post: What are your goals for this tournament?
Sarah Woolsey: Our goal is to win the gold again while competing with high sportsmanship as excellent representatives of quidditch in the US.

QP: What will your team need to do to accomplish these goals?
SW: We’ll work during onsite trainings and throughout the weekend to build team cohesion, in addition to pre-event strategy preparation. 

QP: How is your team preparing for World Cup?
SW: Our players have been training independently, and many are continuing to play quidditch during the summer through MLQ, fantasy tournaments, and other summer activities. We communicate regularly as a team and will be training together when we arrive in Frankfurt.

QP: Team USA’s roster consists of players from all across the country. Will Frankfurt be the first time the entire team plays together?
SW: Yes, our team will play together for the first time when they arrive in Germany.

QP: Are you concerned about team chemistry on the field?
SW: Our selection committee focused on building a team from players whose skills will be an asset to the team as well as players who were believed to work effectively together. Additionally, we’ve focused on ensuring that our coaching staff had experience at previous Global Games and can bring their personal experience as players and their skills as coaches to Team USA.

QP: What impact do you anticipate World Cup having on quidditch in your country?
SW: I think World Cup will increase the visibility of international play within the United States, and to encourage further international play in the future. 

QP: Are there any teams that you particularly would like to play at World Cup?
SW: Pools were just released, and we’re excited to face all three teams in our pool - we haven’t competed against any of those teams previously. Otherwise, we’re looking forward to playing against teams that our players normally don’t get the chance to compete against.

QP: Who are some of your team’s key players? Who would you say is one player who doesn’t get the attention they deserve?
SW: All of our players are on our roster because they play a different key role on the team. We’re spotlighting each of our players through our #RepresentTheBest campaign, because we want to showcase the unique talents and experiences of our players. 

Team USA is loaded with talent. It’s as simple as that. The country has the largest pool of talent to choose from (with nearly six times as many teams as any other country) and it shows on the field.

The roster itself is largely comprised of players who reached at least the final 16 at US Quidditch Cup and fill complementary roles. Both coaches can be expected to get the most out of the natural abilities of each player to fit them in the best way possible.

The quaffle offense will begin with two elite passers, Jayke Archibald and Michael Parada. Both have the innate ability to see every player on the field and find open receiving targets for quick, easy goals. Expect those wing targets like Julia Baer, Bernardo Berges, and Lindsay Marella to thrive off of the passing from the two Northeast distributors.

Team USA keeper Jayke Archibald led Quidditch Club Boston to its win at US Quidditch Cup 9, setting a precedent as the first community team to win a US national championship. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
Along with their passers, the team has several ball-dominant chasers who can push the game’s tempo with their athleticism and drive through almost any quaffle defenders. Stew Driflot, Shane Hurlbert, Hayden Ray Applebee, and Andrew Axtell each have experience being that player for their regular season teams and will continue to play that way on an international level.

Quaffle defense will also be a large part of the team’s strengths and something opposing teams will struggle against. Point defenders like Simon Arends and Harry Greenhouse will make life especially difficult for opposing quaffle carriers. The support of Kaci Erwin and Sam Haimowitz on the wing will make it even harder to get quality passes off to receivers and prevent the secondary or tertiary ball carrying options from being able to do much in the way of scoring.

Then there’s the beating. Arguments could be made for Michael Duquette or Max Havlin being the best beater in the world and with this roster construction, there is a chance we could see them as beating partners. Assuming Team USA follows the newly common two-male beating set to open games, it will likely be Duquette starting with Tyler Walker, which means that opposing beaters will basically be incapable of beating either of them because of Duquette’s catching as well as Walker’s shifty movements.

The focus of the beating, though, should not be solely on the males. Alyssa Burton is an unrelentingly athletic beater who can play up or protect hoops as she is needed, as well as be a great support for any aggressive beating by her partner. Amanda Nagy and Ashley Calhoun are two of the hardest beaters to strip possession from and both will be able to stop any driving quaffle carrier before they get a shot on the hoops off.

While Amanda Nagy is a veteran to the sport, her transition to beating is recent, making her Team USA accomplishment even more impressive. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
If Team USA plays any in-range games, which is hard to imagine, the seeker beating would likely give just about any seeker enough time to make a game-winning catch. Team USA doesn’t boast just any seekers, though. Margo Aleman and Jason Bowling can grab almost any snitch and have a record of some incredibly quick, athletic catches, which tend to help their USQ teams through many close games.

It goes without saying that the national team should be expecting nothing less than the gold medal. Anything less will be seen as an unmitigated disaster.

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