Wednesday, April 5, 2017

US Quidditch Cup 10 Preview: The Tenth Day of Kissimmee

On the tenth day of Kissimmee, we have an all-college team edition with five programs that have reached great heights over the years and are fighting to make sure they don’t slip from their past dominance.

University of Rochester Thestrals
By Mike Pascutoi

The University of Rochester Thestrals surprised many during the fall season by exploding out of the gate with a 10-5 record, not including a 3-1 record during its participation as an unofficial team at the King In The North tournament in Toledo, Ohio. As a team famous for being chronic underachievers except when it matters, the Thestrals outperformed many expectations in a series of snitch-range losses to RPI Quidditch (90*-60), Maryland Quidditch (150*-90), District of Columbia Quidditch Club (110*-100), and an unofficial loss to the Ball State Cardinals (120*-80). Fall captain Perry Wang revamped the Thestrals’ roster by shifting exclusively into the use of the double-male beater set to take advantage of its five-deep male beater line and talented non-male chasers. Emphasizing ball control on offense and scrappy defense, Rochester succeeded in going 3-0 in pool play at the Northeast Regional Championship (NERC), solidifying its ascent from last season’s 8-17 finish.

University of Rochester Thestrals at the 2015 Northeast Regional Championship | Photo Credit: Sandra Glynn
The Thestrals lost a few players for the spring season but still boast a fair portion of their successful fall roster. Beaters Perry Wang and Steven Belitzky are likely to play a majority of the team’s minutes, opening opportunities for keeper Basem Ashkar and chaser Sean Benjamin to run a drive-and-dish style of offense. Emma Foley and Samantha Dinga will likely be Ashkar’s top passing options, and their efficient offensive play will likely keep the Thestrals in range of all of their pool play opponents except a larger and more experienced Texas State University - San Marcos. Four years ago in Kissimmee, Florida, Rochester surprised many at World Cup VI by finishing 3-1 behind several clutch snitch catches. With their experienced seeker corps gone, a repeat of that 3-1 record is unlikely, and the Thestrals’ bracket play prospects will be left in the hands of seekers Morris Shayo and Tim Kwan.

Tufts University Tufflepuffs
By Mike Pascutoi

Tufts is entering US Quidditch Cup 10 with the worst record in its history at this point in the season at 10-8. The Tufflepuffs lost two of their best players to graduation last season and defensive stalwart Emily Hickmott to graduation in December. The team enters US Quidditch Cup 10 with an inconsistent 4-5 SWIM record (though the team is only 2-5 in those games). Anyone blindly looking at these facts and Tufts’ tough pool play opponents will assume that Tufts will inevitably bow out after pool play. However, anyone looking deeper at the roster and the team’s gameplay this year will see something few others realize.

Tufts is actually the scariest Pod Four team in the tournament. The Tufflepuffs admittedly had some growing pains early in the season, losing three games in the season opener against Quidditch Club Boston. Since then, they have only lost one game out of range, a 140-120* loss to an elite BosNYan Bearshark squad. Quaffle players Breandan Haley, David Stack, Max Leonhardt, and Devon Ramsey are all immensely talented, with Stack and Ramsey having gained experience on the Boston Night Riders’ MLQ championship team last summer. Having depended heavily on their stars early in the season, coach Noah Schwartz and Leonhardt have done a wonderful job developing the depth behind them and emphasizing the same tradition of intelligent, unselfish play. The key for the Tufflepuffs will be in their beater depth behind Ari Panzer, a solid contributor and backup for the past three seasons. With strategic game planning and a chaser line that has rarely had issues scoring at will when healthy, Tufts only needs Panzer to hold off opposing beaters long enough to give Ramsey opportunities at seeker to score the upset. Expect all four of Tufts’ pool play games to be competitive and captivating affairs with at least one upset propelling Tufts into bracket play on Day Two.

Michigan Quidditch Team
By Matt Pesch
While Michigan may not have as dominant of a team as last year, it is a force to be reckoned with. Michigan’s seven losses this year have come only from higher-ranked teams, and four of those games were in-range. The team heads to US Quidditch Cup 10 after a very successful Dobby Memorial Tournament, in which it gave Bowling Green State University its only loss of the season. After last year’s disappointingly short bracket run, Michigan will look to show the national stage that it is still among the Great Lakes’ best.

Despite being a Pod Three team, Michigan can play up to almost any opponent. It has a well-balanced team that doesn’t rely too heavily on any one offensive strategy, unlike the Michigan we’ve seen in previous years, which relied heavily on its keepers’ ability to drive to the hoops. Michigan has improved its snitch-on-pitch game tremendously in seeker Zach Fogel, who is rather new to the position, as well as beater Evan Hoopingarner, returning to the team better than ever after an MLQ season with the Detroit Innovators. The duo has contributed to a 7-4 record for in-range games. Expect to see the two of them leading the team into Day Two, though a deep bracket run is probably beyond this team’s capabilities.

Zach Fogel attempting to catch the snitch at a Michigan Quidditch tournament | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch
By Austin Sharp

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch (UNC) has had a season of mixed results after an uncertain start due to the unexpected loss of a few of the team’s previously key players. After a rocky start, UNC pushed on to defeat Mid-Atlantic regional champion Maryland Quidditch in the fall, claimed a win at its own tournament this spring over the District of Columbia Quidditch Club (DCQC), and made a run to the semifinals at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. The team’s success comes from smart play that fights hard to stay in games through high levels of team-oriented play and moving the ball around. Captain and chaser Lee Hodge and James Hicks are lead players on the team with well-balanced play that provides an important physicality to the team. Beater Kyle Bullins is another strong player with smart and technical play, as is chaser Kayla Jensen, whose instincts and surprising force on defense helps drive the team’s success.

UNC is entering US Quidditch Cup 10 as a Pod Four team, meaning qualifying for bracket play on Day Two will come with an uphill fight. However, UNC has shown this season that it is more than comfortable taking on a challenge and should not be counted out when considering the fate of its pool. While coming out as the victors of its pool over Texas Quidditch, the Ball State Cardinals, and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is unlikely, UNC could pose a threat of an upset to UCLA, as it did to Maryland and DCQC earlier in the season, and claim a spot for Day Two. Success for UNC at US Quidditch Cup 10 will be the product of hard work and team synergy that has been cultivated to be the mentality of UNC this season.

David Littleton contributed reporting.

Maryland Quidditch
By Austin Sharp

Maryland Quidditch (UMD) is a college program that demands attention on the field, from its alumni, and its tweets. After a surprise defeat in the Round of 32 at last year’s US Quidditch Cup to the Ball State Cardinals, Maryland is returning to US Quidditch Cup with a 25-3 record and a regional title to show that it is keeping the Maryland tradition  alive and that the regular season was only the beginning. The foundation of Maryland Quidditch is hard-hitting physicality backed by technical know-how of a swath of veteran players. UMD has a deep pool of chasers featuring four full lines that keep the intensity of the game going. The beater corps showcases aggressive play from Mike Madonna and Jeremy Dehn, as well as thoughtful play from Lauren Dyke and Melissa Smith.

Maryland Quidditch after winning the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship | Photo Credit: UMD Quidditch Twitter

Maryland has experienced few close games this season, and it could easily continue its success into US Quidditch Cup 10. On Day One of the tournament, Maryland’s strongest opposition will come from RPI Quidditch, though Maryland’s ability to play both strong and smart games makes it the likely pool favorite. In the regular season, Maryland’s only out-of-range loss was to Rochester United, marking a potential red-flag for the team on Day Two. If Maryland falls short at US Quidditch Cup 10, it will come at the hands of an upper-crust community team like Rochester United who is able to match Maryland’s physicality and outplay it despite its seasoned roster. Regardless, expect to see Maryland Quidditch make a strong run in the bracket.

Mike Madonna contributed reporting.

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