Friday, August 19, 2016

MLQ Championship Preview: Pod 1

Fourteen intense teams will come together this weekend, August 20-21, for the second Major League Quidditch (MLQ) Championship. These teams were divided into four pods for pool play and we were able to talk to some of the managers and players who will be fighting for the gold in League City, Texas. To know more about these three Pod 1 contenders, read about the Cleveland Riff with Chris Bowman, the Los Angeles Guardians with Tony Rodriguez, and watch our conversation with League City’s head coach, Philip O’Brien.

Spotlight on Cleveland Riff
Article by Andy Marmer

With a 3-6 record, Cleveland Riff placed third in the North Division; however, Rochester Whiteout dropped from the MLQ Championship and Cleveland was bumped up to the second seed. The Riff’s season started with three snitch-range losses to Rochester. An out-of-range loss to the Detroit Innovators begot two snitch-range wins over the Innovators, followed by a snitch-range win over Indianapolis Intensity. However, the Riff couldn’t continue its momentum to close out the series against the Intensity, the eventual division champions, falling in its final two contests of the year. Last year, the Riff advanced to the semifinals before falling to the eventual champion, Boston Night Riders.

The Quidditch Post spoke with Riff chaser Chris Bowman about the upcoming MLQ Championship.

Quidditch Post: With the championship coming up, what will it take for Cleveland Riff to win it all?
Chris Bowman: I think we need our defense to communicate effectively early on, and our offense needs to finish.

Cleveland Riff getting dunked on by Rochester Whiteout. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
QP: With 15 players returning this season, how much of a factor has chemistry been this year?
CB: Chemistry is definitely a factor since we have a lot of Bowling Green State University and Ohio State University people who have been playing together for years. We've also tried creating chemistry between people from other teams for more flexible lines.

QP: How has the team been preparing for the championship?
CB: We've been practicing every weekend and observing other teams strategies and such.

QP: How do you feel the regular season prepared you for this tournament?
CB: We've played some great teams, including Rochester, which pretty much consisted of the team that made the finals this past US Quidditch Cup, and Indianapolis, which consists of a lot of Ball State University players who made the final four. We've also been conditioning to be able to play 100 percent for three consecutive games.

QP: Do you feel that any of your team’s players aren’t getting the credit they deserve this season?
CB: There are a lot of people who deserve credit. The same people usually get mentioned and credited, and they are great leaders and players, but they can't do it alone; they need the rest of the team to help them out.

The good news for Cleveland is that it played seven snitch-range games throughout the season, which indicates that it was close in nearly all of its games. The bad news is that Cleveland won just three games. Cleveland finished 11th in the league in quaffle points per game and only caught three of nine snitches. If the team wants to win in Texas, it will need to correct at least one of these two deficiencies.

Riff seeker Drew Weiler attempts to catch the snitch to win the match against the Detroit Innovators. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
The Riff’s offense is keyed by Jeremy Boettner, who finished third in the league last year with 20 goals. A shifty chaser, Boettner has a knack for creating space that can be used to fire a shot or set up a teammate.

In the seeker game, the Riff has the always-dependable Samuel Roitblat, who is as capable as any seeker in the league; however, this has not led to catches for Cleveland so far this year.

The Riff features strong players and has been in many games this year, but so far it has been unable to get it done this season. If the team wants success in Texas, it will have to find a way to turn things around. A pod with the Los Angeles Guardians and League City Legends is a tough draw, and it seems more likely that Cleveland will fade away rather than finally finding the right notes.

Spotlight on League City Legends
Article by Andy Marmer
Interview by Danielle Lehmann

The home team for the championship, the League City Legends enter the finals after a third-place finish in the South division. The last team to start their season, the Legends dropped two of three to Kansas City Stampede before being swept by Austin Outlaws and sweeping New Orleans Curse in their final series. The Legends season can thus be seen as a bit up and down snitch-range failures against Kansas City begat a strong showing against Austin and a dominant finish against New Orleans.

The Quidditch Post interviewed Philip O’Brien, head coach and chaser for League City Legends, about the upcoming MLQ Championship.

League City appears to be a team of players who are universally underappreciated during the USQ season. 

Ryan and Beth Peavler anchor a dependable beating line. The hyper-aggressive Ryan Peavler enjoys foraying deep into the opponent’s territory, and while his adventures can be crucial to League City notching goals and regaining controls, it’s the steadying presence of his wife and beater partner that enables these risky ventures.

Legends beater Beth Peavler preparing to strike with her bludger during the Legends vs. Curse series. | Photo Credit: Jenna Bollweg
On the quaffle side, players like Jaycob Freeman, Stephan Vigil, Kevin Tran, and Austin LaFoy have proven adept on both the offensive and defensive side of the pitch. 

While not getting perhaps the attention he deserves, seeker TJ Goaley carried SHSU Quidditch to a strong showing during the USQ season. Relying on his quickness, Goaley is capable of ending games with the best of them.

Legends seeker TJ Goaley moments before his catch. | Photo Credit: Jenna Bollweg
Drawn into a three-team pod, League City will need to overcome a formidable Los Angeles Guardians squad to advance. While the team is unquestionably talented and has experience playing against some of the best players the sport has to offer, advancing out of pod play will prove a real challenge to this group, and it is unlikely that the Legends will leave Hometown Heroes Park as newly-minted hometown heroes. 

Spotlight on Los Angeles Guardians
Article by Elizabeth Barcelos
Interview by Alberto Coronado 

Tony Rodriguez walks up the pitch with Alex Browne while Chris Seto and Missy Sponagle maintain bludger control. Is this Western Cup V again? Nope, it’s the Los Angeles Guardians, but you’d be mistaken if you thought this team was a Lost Boys/Los Angeles Gambits reunion. Drawing from SoCal’s two dominant teams, storied programs like UCLA and University of Southern California, plus a good amount of Long Beach funkiness thrown in, the Los Angeles Guardians took the best of LA, the West’s strongest quidditch hub, and had a dominant season. The team won eight of its games outside of snitch range, with its only loss coming to the Salt Lake City Hive in its very first game of the season.

Guardians coach and keeper Tony Rodriguez keeps his opponent off him while his former Lost Boys teammates are once again there to knock out the opposition. | Photo Credit: Seabass Photography
The Quidditch Post interviewed Tony Rodriguez, the coach and keeper for the Guardians, about the upcoming MLQ Championship.

Southern California has long been the dominant force in West quidditch, so it comes as no surprise that the Guardians finished the regular season with a nearly perfect record, dropping only one game to a Salt Lake City squad that had the mental advantage of having played and swept an MLQ series. How do you analyze excellence? How do you break down a roster with a bench that could be starters on almost any other MLQ team?

Everyone expects Team USA-caliber players like Tony Rodriguez, Alex Browne, Chris Seto, and Missy Sponagle (as well as current Team USA seeker Margo Aleman and beater Alyssa Burton) to be excellent. Everyone’s going to be looking at them, but it would be a mistake to overlook LA’s bench. Photographer turned player Sofia de la Vega has capped off an excellent rookie season with beautiful goals that show her focus on where to be and when. Elle Wong breaks tackles and makes it look easy. Justin Bogart did the Middlebury legacy proud with some gif-worthy goals, driving through Salt Lake and San Francisco Argonautsdefenses with grit and a wily determination. Shea Hillinger put on a show all summer in MLQ and fantasy alike with his ankle-breaking speed both at chaser and seeker. Andrew Burger showcases a similar speed at beater. Finally, Grant Rose has been more than matching his more famous teammates with dunks for days.

Guardians chaser Elle Wong played point defender at the Hive vs. Guardians series. | Photo Credit: Tayyeb Mubarik’s Photography
This bench is as deep as it is varied. If speed will not work, the Guardians can switch things up and throw in more powerful players. Their beater game clicks no matter who is paired with whom. This team isn’t just the stars you know; it’s a Swiss Army knife built from the finest tools Southern California has to offer. The Guardians are the best hope for the West Coast’s first quidditch championship because they are the best team the West has ever put together.

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