Saturday, April 1, 2017

US Quidditch Cup 10 Preview: The Sixth Day of Kissimmee

On the sixth day of Kissimmee we have a pair of community teams looking to take the next step - be it a title or a deep bracket run and three pot five teams looking to prove that they belong among the country's best.

Rochester United
By Mike Pascutoi

Entering this season with high expectations, Rochester United (RU) performed basically as expected throughout the season, losing two games to regional rival Quidditch Club Boston and a tight affair with Bowling Green State University while without star keeper Shane Hurlbert. Touting an experienced though often shorthanded roster, RU is a well-oiled machine of on-pitch efficiency at best and a slow, predictable opponent at worst. Even when the team falls back on its standard strategy of hero-balling behind keepers Hurlbert and Jon Jackson, the talent of its roster cannot be matched by most opponents. Defensively, a rotation of solid point defenders dictate the pace of the defense, allowing one of the deepest beater corps in the country to help limit opponents to under 100 quaffle points in all but one game this season.

A second straight year as the runners-up in the Northeast Regional Championship may have been disappointing to the team, but all of the pieces are in place for RU to make a run for the US Quidditch Cup 10 title. The team is built around Hurlbert and Jackson, who both command extra defensive attention due to their athleticism and penchant for scoring from any spot of the pitch. A non-male chaser rotation of Alyssa Giarrosso, Helen Snell, and Maria Jackson allows for the team to seamlessly switch between traditional and double-male beater sets. Though there is much to be said for the star-driven aspect of the sport, the depth of RU’s roster will end up being its greatest strength heading into US Quidditch Cup 10, and a second-straight finals appearance is very likely for this experienced and athletic squad.

RIT Dark Marks
By Mike Pascutoi

The RIT Dark Marks have admittedly had a down year. Despite losing few players from their US Quidditch Cup 9 squad, the Dark Marks were unable to improve much on their 5-10 record entering the national championship last season, winning only nine out of 22 games this season. RIT’s penchant for seeking high-quality opponents has been a partial issue, but entering US Quidditch Cup 10 without a win so far in the spring might prove detrimental to RIT’s ability to compete.

That being said, this team is not without its bright spots. At his best, keeper Brendan Jacobs is one of the hardest players to bring down in the sport, and his ability to lead an offense and provide solid defense both at the hoops and on point, is an asset RIT will need to fully utilize moving forward. Supporting chasers Mitch Brown, Dominic Arieno, and Matt Robinson are still developing as players, with flashes of brilliance amongst their consistent performance throughout the season. A lack of a standout seeker is likely to hurt RIT heading into the national championship, as it went 0-4 in SWIM situations in the spring and 3-7 over the course of the year. Expect RIT to double down on scouting its opponents and providing them with a gritty opening round performance. Amongst Pot 5 teams, RIT has a very good chance to exceed expectations, but a trip to bracket play might be a stretch.

SHSU Quidditch
By Carrie Soukup

It took until the last round and a snitch catch (90*-50 final score) at the Southwest Regional Championship for SHSU Quidditch to qualify for US Quidditch Cup 10 this year out of the tertiary bracket. The team has struggled this year; despite playing well enough to drop Oklahoma State University in the semifinals, SHSU was handed a loss in the finals of Platinum Cup by fellow USQ Cup 10 qualifiers the Silver Phoenix. The team has been able to get to the finals in previous tournaments this season, including Brooms on the Brazos, but has struggled to get to the first place podium. Historically, however, SHSU is slow to warm in the first part of the season, and this year shows it following the same path.

Players to watch include seeker and captain TJ Goaley, who keeps a steady head about him in relentless pursuit of snitches, as well as Hayley Rutledge, whose play both on offense and defense helped give SHSU the final spot from the Southwest. Katherine Hayworth at chaser is another who is unafraid of laying down the tackles on defense that the region is well known for. This team will be an outside shot to make the bracket. It is equally able to rise to the occasion or crumple under a few bad plays; however, its physicality may help it eke through.

TJ Goaley defends the snitch against Oklahoma State seeker Paige Lehrmann | Photo Credit: Alex Russell
Gulf Coast Gumbeaux
By Michael Duquette

When the historic Louisiana State University program started to decline after World Cup VII, it was only a matter of time before we saw another great team pop up out of southern Louisiana. That team is Gulf Coast Gumbeaux, a second-year community team based out of the New Orleans area. The team has the ability to throw some amazing beaters at you, whether it’s seasoned veterans Kody LaBauve and Sarah Kneiling or budding stars Josh Mansfield and Brittany Laurent (who will be playing as a keeper at US Quidditch Cup), and they have all developed great chemistry with one another. Gumbeaux has fit nicely in the upper-middle tier of the Southwest talent pool, being a step below the top-tier teams, such as Lone Star Quidditch Club and Texas Cavalry, but a step above many of the college teams in the region.

Gumbeaux is in complete control of its own fate – it could miss bracket play just as easily as it could make a quarterfinal run. While Gumbeaux’s beaters held their own in every game at the Southwest Regional Championship and even dominated other beater corps in numerous games, there are so many question marks surrounding the team’s quaffle play. Mansfield has become a very consistent hyper-aggressive style beater, oftentimes getting bludger control, then beating out the third bludger. However, while these driving lanes are being created, the Gumbeaux chasers have not been taking full advantage of these scoring opportunities. The team has done a great job adapting its gameplay strategies depending on its opponents, but when its chasers aren’t finishing on offense, Gumbeaux will not be able to reach its full potential. If Gumbeaux has developed a reliable seeker and the chasers are able to consistently utilize the opportunities the beaters create, this team can be dangerous to face down the road.

Josh Mansfield sets up on defense against SHSU at the Southwest Regional Championship | Photo Credit: Alex Russell
Illinois State University Firebirds
By Jaxon Matheny

Editor’s Note: The author is a player for the Illinois State University Firebirds

Another season, another upset, and another surprise run to US Quidditch Cup 10 for the Firebirds. For three years in a row, the Illinois State University (ISU) Firebirds have played Cinderella and beaten a team ranked far higher than themselves to qualify for USQ’s championship tournament. How was it done this season? Having elite seeking doesn’t hurt. After being selected to Team USA over the summer, Jeff Siwek continued his habit of coming through in the clutch. Due to his outstanding play, as well as fantastic beating during the snitch on pitch, ISU has a chance to win every time it plays an in-range game. Unfortunately, staying in range has been a problem. ISU is still trying to find its rhythm on the offensive side of the pitch, and time is running out. However, if it does develop that chemistry, complete its passes, and finish at the hoops, this team can be dangerous.

ISU relies on a drive-and-dish style of offense to create easy chances for its off-ball quaffle players. Siwek and keeper Emerson Gagnon are both nightmares to guard one-on-one, and when playing well, they can help the Firebirds put up points quickly. They have quality passing options in MJ Siwek, Elizabeth Cerullo, and Jaxon Matheny, who all can finish in traffic. The beaters, led by captain Jeremy Hoffman and Crystal Jones, love to play a smart and aggressive game. Where this team truly shines is during snitch-on-pitch situations. Siwek is a world-class seeker, and backup Matheny is an excellent change of pace as well. While likely not a threat to make it to bracket play, don’t be surprised if the Firebirds pull off an upset and shake up the standings on Day One.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misspelled Paige Lehrmann's name.

Beater Jeremy Hoffman during brooms up of the Midwest Regional Championship | Photo Credit: Shannon Brennan

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