The Eighth Man

Countdown to Kissimmee: Silicon Valley Skrewts

Credit: Jacob Angel

Credit: Robin Will

At first glance, the Skrewts don’t appear to be a particularly athletic team, and could easily be cast into the “whimsy” category of the quidditch spectrum. They’ve got their own cheerleaders and several of their players wear jerseys which feature numbers only the math nerds on their team understand. But in this year’s Western Regionals, they proved that they are one of the best community teams in the country, and deserve to be taken seriously in April. Let’s take a look into how they’ve shed the whimsy label on the pitch.

Best Win: vs. Lost Boys (70*-50, Jan. 19)

Worst Loss: vs. University of California Berkeley (90*-70, Sept. 22)

Key Players: If you saw them play at World Cup V, you’re likely thinking that by simply focusing all your energy on shutting down keeper Kevin Oelze, you can absolute annihilate the Skrewts both offensively and defensively.  But this new and improved team wants you to think that. Oelze continues to play point guard extremely well for the team, but now he’s flanked by beaters Kyrie Timbrook and Willis Miles IV, one of the greatest beater pairings the West has to offer. Both Timbrook and Miles are incredibly accurate and willing to get aggressive with opposing beaters, and they have good enough field awareness and communication abilities to constantly aid each other on both offense and defense. They clear out Oelze’s path of defensive chasers and allow him to get close enough to the opposing hoops to either make a shot or, more often, a pass to a chaser ready behind the hoops. Greg Weber is often his best option, as he has great hands and should the pass go long, he’s fast enough to beat defenders to the ball and aggressive enough to drive the ball in.

Player to Watch: While Weber and Oelze often score most of their team’s goals, you can’t simply leave Sunil Venugopal or Aviva Maine uncovered on defense. Both chasers are capable of making the quick and easy catch-and-releases that the Skrewts are so great at. And while their seekers don’t have the huge wins under their belts that many other Cup-bound seekers have, both Sam Fischgrund and Igor Gorbatok are not to be underestimated. Fischgrund is especially talented at off-pitch snitch grabbing, and Gorbatok’s slender frame makes him easy to ignore. This allows him to make effortless, incredibly fast pulls that even the most experienced snitches won’t expect.

Strategy: No longer depending on the steamroller that is Oelze to simply run through defenses single-handedly, this revamped Skrewts squad features a constantly moving offense that is all about passing. Their chasers never stand still, and are always setting picks for each other to create defensive mismatches, so one of their players can get open for the few seconds needed to make an easy catch and release through a hoop. Oelze’s size and beater bodyguards allow him to slow play the quaffle all the way up the pitch, close enough to either make a shot or pass to one of those open chasers. While Miles and Timbrook go all the way up on nearly every possession, one of them always keeps a hold on their bludger and sprints back on defense when the other team regains possession of the quaffle, and acts as their team’s primary form of defense. Oelze, on the other hand, is the last line, sticking close to his hoops in hopes that players will be cocky enough to try to plow through him for a goal, and then using his height to cut off sloppy near-the-hoops passes.

Strengths: The Skrewts have an amazing passing game, and even when you know exactly what play they’re running, it can be hard to stop them from getting away with it. Their beaters are aggressive and accurate enough to nearly always get Oelze within fifteen feet of the hoops, and when he’s on his game, his throws typically result in goals or passes that end in goals seconds later.

Weaknesses: When Oelze is off his passing game, the Skrewts’ entire offense suffers. In their game against the Lost Boys in the Western Regionals semifinals, few if any of his passes hit their mark. This isn’t a common occurrence for the veteran keeper, but it happens, and the Skrewts don’t seem to like ever switching him out of the point guard role. Their defense is very reliant on their extremely talented beaters; when bludgerless, their chasers seem unable to make the hits and blocks necessary to prevent some easy goals.

Prediction: The Skrewts have it in them to do well against nearly all of the first-year teams that will be at World Cup VI. However, being in Northern California meant they weren’t able to play any truly experienced powerhouse teams this season, so it’s hard to say how they would fare against them. I can easily see them making day two, but if they want to find a spot in the Sweet 16, they may need to add a few new plays to their playbook.

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