The Eighth Man

Bruin a Winning Formula: Community Teams Rise, but UCLA wins Western Cup

UCLA’s team hoists the Western Cup after winning the tournament. Credit: Vanessa Goh

Feb. 16 and 17 saw the first regional of the spring season take place in Roseville, Calif., as 17 teams from the Western Region of the IQA to determine who would earn the six qualifying teams for the World Cup, as well as the title of Western Cup champion.  

No. 5 UCLA was clearly the class of the tournament, not playing a single game in snitch range the entire weekend.  Although the school’s biggest rival, No. 9 University of Southern California, showed up extremely undermanned, they found an unexpected challenge in the finals from the Lost Boys, one of two community teams to make the semifinals of the tournament, who kept them close throughout the match.

Ultimately, it was the three Los Angeles squads, along with the Silicon Valley Skrewts, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University, that were able to punch their tickets to Kissimmee.

Pool 1: USC, Arizona State, Santa Barbara, Riverside

ASU’s Willie Jackson holds the quaffle, while USC’s David Demarest tries to stop him. Credit: Monica Wheeler.

Arizona State’s lack of official games this season greatly penalized them in the IQA rankings, placing them at No. 132 going into the tournament. But the hard-hitting team played far better than their ranking suggested, and nearly upset University of Southern California in their first game of the tournament, falling 120*-80.

USC was missing several of their usual starters, and it showed. Without August Luhrs acting as a brick wall in front of USC’s hoops, ASU’s Willie Jackson and Alex Makk were able to match each opposing goal with goals of their own. They kept the match within snitch range, and if ASU’s beaters had paid more attention to USC’s seeker once the snitch came onto the pitch, they could have topped this pool and had an easier path to the tournament quarterfinals. But, regardless of their lineup and ranking both teams had no trouble dominating the two first-years squads in their pool.

Santa Barbara’s game against Riverside, which the Blacktips took, 150*-40, was the only other “close” game in this pool, and it played out very similarly to an early season matchup between the two. Riverside’s Tye Rush managed to make a few decent plays, but he and his team were no match against much bigger opponents like the Blacktips’ Chris Lock and Jake Sternhagen.

Pool 2: UCLA, NAU, Hollywood, Occidental

Entering the tournament, UCLA were heavy favorites, and nothing about their pool play performance dispelled these notions.  They completely ran away with it, with their closest game being a 160 point victory in which they nearly shut out an extremely talented NAU side that would go on to qualify for the World Cup.  As is always the case when UCLA is clicking, no individual player really stood out, with every person acting as an interchangeable part.

UCLA’s Alex Browne and Michael Binger run the quaffle down the pitch. Credit: Monica Wheeler.

For most of the day, NAU too breezed through their pool matches, easily dispatching both Hollywood and Occidental by triple-digit margins.  NAU nearly shut out both teams, as they displayed a fierce, physical defense that was nearly impossible for the less-skilled teams that have not yet developed a passing game to breakdown.  On the rare occasion someone could break past, they almost always had bludger control ready to stop those players.  On offense, they scored mostly in the transition game, utilizing one-man breaks or quick passes to set up very easy goals for themselves.  When they ran into UCLA they found these opportunities weren’t quite as available, and they struggled to put up points.

The only game in the entire pool in snitch range was the game to determine third place in the pool between Hollywood and Occidental.  Although not much was on the line, both sides played a close, hard-fought match, which the Harpies pulled out by 10 on a snitch grab.

Pool 3: Lost Boys, Cal, British Columbia, San Jose State, Golden Snitches

Cal’s Sean Robbins runs the quaffle behind the hoops, flanked by the Lost Boys’s Austin Izquierdo, Amanda Turtles, and Tony Rodriguez. Credit: Monica Wheeler

Though this pool had an extra team and more games because of it, there isn’t too much to be said about it. In each of the ten games played in Pool 3, one team was completely dominant over the other, keeping them well out of snitch range.

Cal’s game against the Lost Boys was meant to be the most interesting game in this pool, but even though the community team made several strategic slip-ups during the game, prompting verbal frustration from captain Dan Hanson, the Lost Boys were able to completely annihilate their opponents, 150*-10

Pool 4: Silicon Valley, Utah, Stanford, Arizona

There was plenty of intrigue about this pool coming into the tournament, with opinions of the pool winner split fairly evenly between the Skrewts and Fliers. On the field, things were split so evenly. Silicon Valley ran away with the pool, winning every game by at least 120 points. Utah, meanwhile, not only failed to contend in the pool-deciding game, but was even on quaffle points with Stanford before a snitch grab earned them an 80*-50 victory. Even the University of Arizona made some noise, keeping Stanford within snitch range before falling as well, 140*-90.

The Skrewts performance was almost completely unheralded, and solidified their spot in the upper tiers of the west. The change in results, which included blowout wins over Arizona, 250-40), Stanford, 170*-50, and Utah, 190*-20, was in line with a change in style. The Skewts have moved from an offense reliant on charges by keepers Kevin Oelze and Chris Sauro to score to a passing offense capable of spreading a defense, cutting through lanes, and picking out opportunities. They’ve also developed a beater line competitive with any team in the region, which combined with physical chasing defense makes them tough to score on.  

Willis Miles from the Skrewts keeps the bludger away from Andy Hopkins of Utah, as Kevin Oelze of the Skrewts and Ben Reuling look on. Credit: Monica Wheeler

Behind them, Utah was hampered early by an injury to chaser and defensive anchor Brady Groves against Stanford, which made things far more difficult the rest of the way.  They were able to easily dispatch Arizona, but they found themselves tied before winning by a snitch catch against a surprising Stanford side, whose strong defense and bludger game kept them hanging around.  In most games, Utah found themselves having a lot of trouble getting or maintaining bludger control, and it frequently made it very difficult for their offense to score.

Stanford was an up-and-down side, but continues to show promise, especially on the beating side of the game. They competed with the Skrewts for bludger control and dominated it against Utah throughout, making them a scary side capable of springing an upset. Their quaffle play, however, could still use some work.

Arizona trotted out a surprisingly talented side for such a young team.  While their only previous experience tough losses against NAU and ASU at the Lumberjack Invitational, this is a team that played with much more experience than one would expect from a six-month old team, and they were able to back that up with some strong athletic talent.  This allowed them to win a game in the bracket play over the more-experienced Hollywood Harpies side.

Semifinals:

UCLA vs. USC

 

USC’s Harrison James is tackled by UCLA’s Alex Browne. Credit: Lisa Thomas


   
The game started out with UCLA getting on the scoreboard first, but USC scored a couple long goals to keep the game close.  For most of the match, USC stayed close but eventually, thanks to their superior beater play, UCLA was able to just rack up the goals and pull comfortably out of snitch range. While USC would occasionally get bludger control, they were only able to hold on to it for 15-30 seconds at a time.  UCLA beater Asher King Abramson was especially effective in this regard.

Eventually, USC had difficulty getting anywhere near the UCLA hoops, and had to settle for long shots or weak passes.  The Bruins also used exceptionally accurate passing to spread the Trojan’s defense thin, and were able to get a number of easy put-in goals as a result.  By the time UCLA seeker Michael Maben pulled the snitch, the game was pretty safely in hand for the Bruins. They moved on to the finals, 140*-30.

Lost Boys vs. Skrewts

Both teams were able to scout each other a month before the tournament at Stanford’s Sunshine Bowl, but from the moment the match started, the Lost Boys showed that they had better used that time to prepare for another match against their rivals. Even though they were able to hold bludger control for large portions of the game, the Skrewts found themselves having a lot of trouble generating the quick goals that seemed to come so easily in the rest of the tournament, thanks to strong off-quaffle defense of the Lost Boys.  The usually-unstoppable trio of Skrewts keeper Kevin Oelze and his beaters Kyrie Timbrook and Willis Miles IV found themselves constantly pressured by Lost Boys beaters Michael Mohlman and Chris Seto, and keeper Tony Rodriguez’s long arms and agility forced Oelze to make long passes behind the hoops that rarely hit their mark.

The Skrewts’s Tyler Barton knocks a pass away from Lost Boys Ross Lopez and Ali Cottong. Credit: April Gonzales

 

On defense, the Skrewts focused primarily on the Lost Boys’ male chasers, allowing Amanda Nagy and Liz Fisher to score a few easy goals. Due to the Lost Boys’ lack of a full-time seeker, Skrewts seeker Sam Fischgrund caught the snitch off-pitch 18 minutes into the game, just as he did the first time the rivals faced off this season, but this time his team was down by 30 and his catch put the game into overtime. On “brooms up”, the Lost Boys were able to score a quick goal before seeker Steve DiCarlo caught the snitch deep on his side of the pitch in the first fifteen seconds. Despite his request to call the catch off due to his thumb being caught in the snitch runner’s shorts before the pull, the ref and snitch called the catch good and the Lost Boys took the game, 100^-60*.

Finals:

The easy prediction would have seen UCLA dominating the Lost Boys like they have every time they’ve played this year.  But this was the first time these two teams have met since Tony Rodriguez joined the community side, and this is the most complete team the Lost Boys have had all year.  

UCLA’s Brandon Scapa drives for a key goal in the finals as several Lost Boys attempt to stop him. Credit: Monica Wheeler

UCLA was able to jump out to an early lead, thanks to complete dominance of the bludger game and the personal brilliance of Abramson.  Adam Richardson was able to score UCLA’s first three goals — one on a long shot, one off a pass from keeper Alex Browne, and the other an easy dunk after a brilliant turnover forced by Abramson.  

A mostly defensive-battle ensued, as both teams had trouble scoring.  On defense, the Lost Boys were able to stop all but the closest shots, as Tony Rodriguez had great success in shutting down the passing game of UCLA, while UCLA was able to use their beaters and strong point defense to shut down the best opportunities of the Lost Boys. Still, UCLA was able to get some goals in transition situations, giving them a 60-20 lead by the time the seeker floor was up.  

The score stayed in the 30-40 point range for most of the rest of the match, with the Lost Boys able to score on some brilliant runs by Rodriguez, who is proving himself an absolute tank that almost any team is going to have trouble taking down.  For their part, UCLA continued their overall bludger dominance, and keeper Zach Luce and chasers Brandon Scapa made several nifty runs through the Lost Boys defense, resulting in goals for UCLA.  

The Lost Boys were able to close back into snitch range briefly near the end of the game, with long shots from Rodriguez and Steve DiCarlo bringing them back into the game at 90-60, but shortly after, Richardson was able to find chaser Michael Binger for a transition goal to push the Lost Boys out of snitch range for the final time at 100-60.  As the snitch returned to the pitch , both defenses held before UCLA seeker Kirby Cool was able to give his team the championship on a diving snitch pull.

West All Tourney

All-Tournament Team

(Positions ordered by gender and then alphabetically)

Beaters

Asher Abramson was easily the MVP of the tournament’s finals, constantly catching the bludgers thrown at him by the Lost Boys and using those bludgers to put instant pressure on the opposing quaffle carrier. The most impressive play of the game featured Abramson hitting Lost Boys’ Tony Rodriguez just as he left his keeper zone, allowing UCLA to pick the quaffle up and score instantly.

Willis Miles helped anchor the surprising Skrewts’ defense, combining incredible arm strength with near-perfect positioning to give the Skrewts one of the toughest defenses in the tournaments.  He also displayed the ability to physically punish the opposing beaters with tackles or catch thrown beats right at him.

Gavin Saldanha from Cal manages to dodge a beat from the Skrewts’s Willis Miles. Credit: Monica Wheeler

 

Michael Mohlman of the Lost Boys used his amazing arm to keep opponents honest the entire day, showcasing a complete willingness to tackle, and using his quickness to quickly move around and control the pitch.  

April Gonzales was able to anchor an impressive NAU defense, which seemed to have a stranglehold on bludger control for most of the tournament, with the lone exception of their game against UCLA.  April showcased every talent you need in a beater: a strong arm, good discipline, and excellent positioning.  

Kara Levis was always the perfect complement to Abramson and the other UCLA beaters on defense, playing a more reserved role and protecting the hoops while her teammates aggressively pressured their opponents. Her strong arm and accuracy made her a great last line of defense for the champions throughout the tournament.

UCLA’s Kara Levis escorts Alex Browne up the field. Credit: Monica Wheeler

 

Kyrie Timbrook was an intimidating presence on the Skrewts, always willing to get physical with her opponents. Her softball experience was incredibly evident in her hard, spot-on throws, and she always displayed an excellent understanding for when to use or preserve her bludger.

Chasers

Without Remy Conatser and August Luhrs to dominate USC’s offense, David Demarest had to step up and be the hard-hitting chaser the former Western Cup champions desperately needed in their games against ASU and UCLA. And despite his gentle personality off the pitch, Demarest fulfilled that role quite well, both on offense and defense. Demarest usually functions as an amazing support chaser, but he showed at this tournament that he could carry the load himself too.  

Alex Makk of ASU may have shown himself to be the best chaser in the West at this tournament.  Alex has literally every tool in the chaser toolbox: he’s arguably the fastest chaser in the region, but he combines that with impressive amounts of strength, showcasing a hard shot developed from water polo.  In addition, Alex plays tough defense, able to make hits and tackles on chasers of nearly all sizes.  His incredibly quick hands make sneaking the ball past him a nearly imposisble task.  

ASU’s Alex Makk takes the quaffle in, opposed by Santiago Gonzalez of the Lost Boys. Credit: Lisa Thomas

Michael Montgomery brought a much-needed speed element to the Santa Barbara Blacktips, making impressive jukes around the opponents that his larger teammates couldn’t plow their way through.

UCLA’s Adam Richardson acted as an incredibly persistent point chaser throughout the tournament, and those who thought they could merely shake him off found themselves immediately deprived of the quaffle. He made several strips and tackles that immediately translated into goals for his team against both USC and the Lost Boys.  He also made arguably the play of the tournament, meeting Tony Rodriguez at midfield, driving him back several feet before stripping the ball, recovering it, and taking it in for a pivotal goal in the final match.  

UCLA’s Adam Richardson’s defense was key for UCLA all tournament. Credit: April Gonzales

Cal veteran and captain Sean Robbins also proved himself in this tournament. While Sean is relatively slight of build, his game-changing footspeed had him play a pivotal role in many of Cal’s games.  Without him, they would have had trouble holding in snitch range multiple times.

Greg Weber of the Silicon Valley Skrewts announced himself to the Western Region at this tournament.  Weber anchored the Skrewts’ point defense, frequently stopping some of the better chasers in the region and creating quick turnovers and fast breaks for his team.  On offense, he and keeper Kevin Oelze showcased some impressive chemistry leading to some crowd-pleasing alley-oops on long, sharp passes through opposing defenses.  


UCLA’s Katelynn Kazane had a breakout tournament, proving that her name belongs alongside team USA chasers Missy Sponagle and Vanessa Goh on the list of “incredible female chasers who play for UCLA.”  Kazane had superb positioning on offense, often getting herself open next to an unblocked hoop and quickly putting the quaffle through for the easy score.  On defense, she played a tenacious “pest” defense on opposing teams’ quaffle carriers, forcing countless turnovers and errant passes and shots.  

Amandy Nagy from the Lost Boys continues to earn her place, and was one of the toughest chasers at the tournament, consistently finding openings in opposing defenses and capitalizing on them after being fed the quaffle.  

UCLA’s Missy Sponagle continued her strong offensive and defensive display at the Western Cup. Credit: April Gonzales

Missy Sponagle surprised no one by providing her usual incredible defense and offense for UCLA, even serving as an emergency beater when it was necessary.  When chasing, she made several key strips and stops to force easy goals, and she functioned perfectly both with and without the ball, helping to run the fluid, pass-focused offense that UCLA executes so well.

Keepers

More than any other position, keeper seems to be a loaded position in the West, and this tournament saw a mix of new and old. With USC keeper and all-tournament team regular August Lührs out of the tournament with an injury, some of the biggest names in the West saw their play match the buzz about them.  

Although he is primarily a defensive keeper, ASU’s Willie Jackson has long been one of the most intimidating players in the region. While he traditionally has had trouble staying on the field, Willie has really cleaned up his tackling to abide by the rules, making him an absolute force against oncoming chasers, while still using his height, length, and quickness to be able to shut down any long passes or shots.  

The Skrewts’ Kevin Oelze leads his team’s offense, able to slow play the ball up the field without fear of opposing point players and execute either an accurate shot that only the most agile keepers can block or a spot-on pass to one of his team’s constantly moving chasers the moment they get in the right position. His field awareness and ability to communicate with each of his players make him a huge threat while guarding his hoops, and his size keeps players from being able to plow through him if lucky enough to find themselves presented with a rare bludgerless Skrewts defense.

 

Tony Rodriguez throws a pass past Greg Weber in the semifinal match between the Lost Boys and Skrewts. Credit: April Gonzales

 

The Lost Boys’ Tony Rodriguez, appearing in his first Western Cup, showcased some impressive athletic ability.  On defense, he single-handedly shut down the passing games of entire teams with his length and quickness.  On offense, he resembled an unstoppable juggernaut, forcing teams to commit nearly their entire defenses to him in order to slow him down, helping him free up his teammates for easy goals.

Seekers

With Cal’s star seeker Donovan McNiff out for this tournament, and ASU’s Wesley Rose unable to play seeker often due to a lack of his team’s games being in snitch range, we saw some newer, but still veteran names emerge out of this group of seekers.  

Steve DiCarlo of the Lost Boys and Wesley Rose of ASU fight for the snitch in their quarterfinal matchup. Credit: Lisa Thomas

Steve DiCarlo, graduate of Hofstra and current Lost Boys chaser/seeker, continued his impressive display in the West.  While he never had an opportunity to go after the snitch in the championship, DiCarlo had probably two of the three biggest snatches of the day: pulling the snitch when losing by 20 points to ASU to secure a World Cup and semifinal spot, and pulling the snitch right at the start of overtime to knock-out the Skrewts and advance to the finals.

Igor Gorbatok of the Silicon Valley Skrewts had some of the tournament’s quickest, most seemingly effortless catches, one of which occurred when he skipped his way to the snitch and pulled it as soon as he outstretched his arm.

Michael Maben tries to pull the snitch from Steve DiCarlo against Occidental.  Credit: April Gonzales

 

And while Michael Maben’s catches were never really game-changers, since none of them occurred when his opponents were in snitch range, UCLA was always able to rely on him to make the pull and get those extra thirty points towards their point differential (which was the highest in the tournament), regardless of whether or not their opponents made efforts to suicide grab.

(Alan Black and Steve DiCarlo also contributed reporting to this article.)

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