Thursday, August 18, 2016

MLQ Championship Preview: Pod 4

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 on the first day of the championships and we were able to talk to coaches and players of everyone in Pod 4 who will be fighting for the gold in League City, Texas. Watch our conversations with Coaches Tyler Walker, Steve Minnich, and Ben Reuling below.

Spotlight on Indianapolis Intensity Article by Andy Marmer
Interview by Danielle Lehmann
Last year’s Major League Quidditch’s North Division champions went 7-2 to top the division for the second straight year. The two losses came to the Rochester Whiteout and Cleveland Riff, both in snitch range games. The Indianapolis Intensity won all three of its series this year, managing an impressive 5-2 record in snitch range games. The team advanced to the semifinals last year before falling to eventual runner-ups New York Titans. With 15 players returning from last season’s team, the Intensity will look to build on last year’s semifinal appearance and bring quidditch’s first championship to the North Division. Interview
The Quidditch Post interviewed Tyler Walker, the Head Coach and beater for Indianapolis Intensity, about the upcoming MLQ Championship.

Any conversation about Indianapolis has to start with All-World beater Tyler Walker. Walker led MLQ in 2015 with 28 controls gained and was second in the league in beats. Of course, like with many great players, the stats do not do justice to Walker’s skills, as he helped lead Ball State to the semifinals at US Quidditch Cup 9 and has the ability to take over a game.

Intensity beater Tyler Walker going up against the Innovators at the beginning of the season. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
The Intensity are 5-2 in snitch-range games, and while Walker deserves much of the credit, Team USA seeker selection Jeffrey Siwek and Team USA seeker Jason Bowling are two of the best in the league at ending games, which could prove crucial in League City. Pod 4 will be especially intriguing, as it could potentially see Indianapolisexcellent snitch-on-pitch play square off against the Salt Lake City Hive, a 7-2 team that’s 4-0 in SWIM contests. Expect the pod play game(s) between those two teams to be among the very best of the tournament, but don’t sleep on the Washington Admirals. If Indianapolis can survive its intense pod, it has as good a chance as any team to take home the title. Spotlight on the New Orleans Curse Article by Andy Marmer and TJ Goaley
Interview by Danielle Lehmann
The Curse was clearly on the receiving end rather than the casting end, as nothing quite went right for New Orleans this season. The team played just two snitch-range games, both in its lone home series against Kansas City Stampede, and ultimately was defeated in both contests. On the road, the team struggled mightily with six out-of-range losses at the hands of the Austin Outlaws and League City Legends. Quidditch in the Bayou has a rich history with Louisiana State University debuting at World Cup II. The Curse will look to take this heritage to the next level, bringing an MLQ Championship down I-10.

The Curse after its series against the League City Legends. | Photo Credit: Jenna Bollweg
The Quidditch Post spoke with Michael Gallaty, manager of the New Orleans Curse, and Josh Mansfield, assistant coach and beater on the Curse, about the upcoming MLQ Championship. Quidditch Post: How is the chemistry on your team?
Michael Gallaty: Our team chemistry has definitely come a long way. The makeup of our team is pretty evenly split amongst Louisiana quidditch teams, so we worked hard to ensure everyone got comfortable playing with all the different people. QP: How have you transitioned all of your star players to a cohesive team?
Josh Mansfield : I think that unlike a lot of teams in this league, nobody on the Curse came in with very much “star power.” It has been nice to have a team completely wide open, allowing those who want to shine to have the room to develop throughout the course of the season. However, it’s given us an added difficulty in knowing which pieces to build the team around and which to fall back on when we are struggling on the pitch. QP: Have you had any players on your team who surprised you?
MG: Brittany Laurent. She came from University of Southern Mississippi and has really developed into a excellent beater with all the work she has put in over this summer. Also, Rachel Ayella-Silver. She had only played beater before and came in as a fourth or fifth female chaser. However, over the summer, she stepped up her game and is in the running for that top spot. Nik Jablonski has definitely improved a lot this summer. Before, he was just a piece in a machine, but over the summer he has definitely become more able to make plays on his own.
Curse chaser Rachel Ayella-Silver has stepped into her new position with grace, vying for a spot on Curse’s starting line. | Photo Credit: Jenna Bollweg
QP: Are there any players in the league, outside of your team, who have surprised you? Or any player who doesn’t get as much recognition as they should?
MG : Zach Pickett’s transition to beater for League City really impressed me. He’s certainly a force on that beating corps, and one I did not see coming. QP: What are your team’s greatest strengths?
MG : At the end of the day, keeping our heads up and our camaraderie high throughout a disappointing season has been a key factor in keeping our team improving and competing. QP: How have you found the quality of your opponents compared to the teams you play in USQ?
MG: Obviously, MLQ is a huge step up from the competition you see in USQ. What’s been particularly noticeable is how well teams are at taking advantage of the mistakes you make. In USQ competition you can often get away with minor errors in your game, but when you play against teams with the talent and experience that every MLQ team has, any mistake can be turned against you. QP: Was it difficult selecting your roster for the tournament?
MG: It was pretty easy. With so many people on the team, it really just comes down to who's available and who we think can perform. QP: How has the team been preparing for the championship?
MG: We keep pushing ourselves. Whether it is our team practices or smaller group practices or even personal training, we keep pushing ourselves. QP: Is there a team you’re looking forward to facing in pool play, or hope to face in the bracket?
MG: All of them. We have spent the whole summer training to play these players from other regions and really test how we match up against them. QP: Is there any match you’re not playing in, but can’t wait to watch?
JM: League City vs. Los Angeles [Guardians]. I think League City has flown under the radar this season, but it has one of the best chances of pulling off a major upset on Day One. QP: What are your goals for the MLQ Championship?
MG: Win, obviously. From the beginning of the season, we knew that the weekend that mattered was championship weekend. Each series we played, we kept challenging ourselves with new ideas, different lines, trying to find out everything about our team, our weaknesses, our strengths. Now we hope all that will come together for a great weekend for the New Orleans Curse. Analysis
New Orleans will need to step up its game on all ends if the team is looking to succeed in League City. It has the talent to win games, and it is a surprise that this team was unable to pull off a single win this season. New Orleans’ keepers and beaters anchor a strong defense. A beating corps featuring players like Tad Walters, Sarah Kneiling, Kody LaBauve, Jason Winn, and Joshua Mansfield brings experience to the pitch. However, the question for New Orleans will be about whether it can produce enough offense. With 38.9 points scored per game, the Curse is second-worst in MLQ in offensive output, and a glance at its roster reveals the reason. New Orleans lacks a dominant quaffle player who is able to put points on the board.

Curse beater Jason Winn during the Curse vs. Stampede series. | Photo Credit: Ginger Snaps Photography
The team’s best source of offense this year has been Nik Jablonski, and while Jablonski is a capable scorer, he does not possess the ability to single-handedly create a goal, nor the ability to create one for someone else that many of the top players in MLQ have. The good news for the Curse is that its pod features winnable games. With potential matches against Indianapolis Intensity, Salt Lake City Hive, and Washington Admirals, New Orleans draws three teams that have relied heavily on the snitch game this year and don’t necessarily feature the juggernaut offenses of other MLQ teams. Still, without being able to score 80 to 100 points a game, it is unlikely that New Orleans will be taking any games against its more physical and talented opponents. Spotlight on the Salt Lake City Hive Article by Elizabeth Barcelos
Interview by Danielle Lehmann
These Utahns have a lot of history with one another. The team draws mostly from Utah Quidditch’s program, the Crimson Elite and Utah State Quidditch Club, which was co-founded by George Williams, who has now returned to the Crimson Elite and is playing for the Salt Lake City Hive. The only other USQ teams featured on this roster are the Fighting Farmers, represented by former Flier Matt Williams, as well as Edgar Pavlovsky and Sydney Lancaster, who played for Crimson Elite before switching to the Los Angeles Gambits. The Hive rode this chemistry to a 7-2 record this season, including a 4-0 performance in SWIM situations. Its only two losses came at the hands of Divisional Champion the Los Angeles Guardians, while it went 3-0 against San Francisco and defeated the Phoenix Sol by forfeit.

Hive captain and keeper George Williams has been part of the founding of both of the Utah quidditch teams that make up Hive. | Photo Credit: Seabass Photography
The Quidditch Post interviewed Ben Reuling, the Head Coach and beater for Salt Lake City Hive, about the upcoming MLQ Championship.

Salt Lake City came away with a win in its first series against Los Angeles for the same reason it swept the San Francisco Argonauts; it was the opponents’ first time playing together as a team while the Salt Lake players played like they knew each other for years… because they do. Salt Lake will not have that advantage going into the MLQ Championship, but that’s not to say the team won’t be able make some waves. Salt Lake plays a double male beater set anchored by Paul Davis and Brandon Handy. It’s both a strategic choice and one driven by necessity; Salt Lake’s only non-male beater is the scrappy Allison Froh. While intimidating, they have been stymied by disciplined duos from Los Angeles as well as San Francisco. When they can maintain control and let their seekers the impossibly long-limbed Daniel Howland and the intensely aggressive Edgar Pavlovsky and their chaser corps do their thing, the Hive can control the game. However, regaining control is sometimes an issue, leaving the team looking lost.

Hive beater Brandon Handy at the Argonauts vs. Hive series. | Photo Credit: Seabass Photography
Speaking of chasers, the Hive also boasts one of the best female chasing corps in the West, if not the country, featuring Gina Allyn, Abbie Simons, Kristin Jakus, Sydney Lancaster, and underhyped rookies Sierra Whipple-Padgen and Madison Ransom. The primary ball handler for this squad is George Williams, though Cameron VomBaur and Erik Tita also take shifts, who has led most of these players before and certainly demonstrates that rapport on pitch, knowing when to pass and to whom, or when to drive. He also plays a strong defensive game, including bringing down Northern California’s own juggernaut, Dan Marovich, in a beautifully executed tackle. Salt Lake City is a good team all around with great seekers. Any team in League City that gets into a SWIM situation with the Hive better expect to get stung. Spotlight on the Washington Admirals Article by Andy Marmer Interview by Danielle Lehmann
After a third-place finish in the East Division and elimination in the quarterfinals of the MLQ Championship last year, the Admirals went 4-5 this season. Although they started off with a 3-0 sweep over the Ottawa Black Bears, including a snitch-range win, the team went just 1-2 against the New York Titans and was then itself swept in a cagey series by the defending champion Boston Night Riders. With a third-place finish in the East Division, the team thus enters as the third seed in the pod, but with strong performances against tough Boston and New York sides, Washington is a dark horse contender to make a deep run. Interview
The Quidditch Post interviewed Steve Minnich, the Head Coach and chaser for the Washington Admirals, about the upcoming MLQ Championship.

Washington knows how to share the rock. Keeper Brenden Hutton and chaser Bernie Berges have both racked up strong assist numbers. While the team placed third in the East Division, its recent 0-3 sweep at the hands of Boston was with a somewhat depleted roster that was missing standout chasers Beto Natera and Patrick Rardin among others. Despite the absence, Washington held tough against the defending champions.

Admirals keeper Brenden Hutton carrying the quaffle up the pitch against the Night Riders. | Photo Credit: Loring Masters
Washington’s beating game is characterized by its aggression, with Jeremy Dehn, Mike Madonna, and Isabella Newton first, fourth, and sixth respectively in average range. Dehn is also fifth in MLQ in beats per game. Washington may lack star power, with just one Team USA player in Berges, yet it brings a good deal of depth to the table in the form of numerous players who played with either the University of Maryland or DC Quidditch Club, two teams that advanced to bracket play at US Quidditch Cup 9. Berges, though, is not the only Admiral who made an impression overseas this year; chaser Natera also stood out for Team Mexico. The 2014 Team USA alternate plays with a quickness and determination that makes him difficult for any opponent to stop. Even those from less established programs, such as Toli Gunning who plays during the USQ season for the College of Wooster, have been key contributors for the team. Gunning will feature for the Admirals on MLQ’s newly-established reserve list. Although he only began playing quidditch during the 2015-16 USQ season, Gunning picked up the sport quickly and became a key beater and seeker for Wooster, as well as snitching the finals at US Quidditch Cup 9. Another small program player is Salisbury chaser Justin Barnard. Adept around the hoops, Barnard is a weapon both with his finishing and passing. The Admirals were drawn into a tough pod with strong teams like Indianapolis and Salt Lake City; however, both teams rely on strong seekers to win snitch-range games, opening the door for Washington to possibly pull some upsets if its snitch-on-pitch play can match its formidable foes.

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