The Eighth Man

Countdown to Kissimmee: Emerson College

Credit: Emily Oliver

Credit: Emily Oliver

With Middlebury dropping out of the picture this year after a beyond disappointing Northeast Regional, Emerson College has officially taken the title as little school that could in the quidditch world. Winners of last season’s Champions Series and Massachusetts Quidditch Conference as well as an eight-team tournament in Boston this season, they entered the Northeast Regional as co-favorites, eventually falling to Boston University in a hotly-contested final.

No school bleeds quidditch quite like Emerson. A school of just 3,500 students, they have almost 300 active members in their club, six intramural teams, and have remained on the precipice of the top 10 all season. But are they still built to hold up against the giant state schools of the Midwest and Southwest?

Best Wins: vs. Hofstra (50*-20, Nov. 18), vs. Boston University (80*-60, Oct. 13)

Worst Losses: None

Key Players: David Fox is most dominating physical presence in the Northeast Region. On defense, he is capable of taking down just about anyone, and a couple of his tackles in transition on Brendan Stack during the Northeast final were highlight reel material. He’s also agile enough to cut off passes and block shots. On offense, he’s at this best when he can charge through a bludgerless opposition, as few players can match him strength for strength. But he’s also steadily developing a strong passing game, making him a multi-faceted player capable of creating for his teammates as well.

Joanne Lam and Maddie Smeaton are the east coast’s answer to the incredible UCLA female chaser lines and Emerson’s thunder and lightning. Lam is slight of build but quick on her feet, and the combination makes it difficult for opponents to get a hand on her. Her cuts through opposing defenses are equally good at creating easy layups for herself or opening up opportunities for her teammates. Maddie, on the otherhand, has size and strength, and is willing to use both. She’s a great target for passes, often able to beat her man to the ball with her height, and is a sturdy defender as well.

Players to Watch: With star beater Mara Shuster-Lefkowitz away for the semester, Emerson will need even more from the rapidly rising Aaron Wohl. Wohl is everything you want from a beater: short and quick but with a strong enough arm and the ability to win back bludger control. He prefers, as most Emerson beaters do, to close the gap between himself and a chaser before making a beat. If he gets close, his pump fakes will often force the other team’s player into a mistake, without him even having to risk losing control. He’s not yet at the level in which he can take over a game singlehandedly yet, but the sky is the limit.

Fox’s heir apparent is Victor Viega, an ex-football player and absolute truck on the pitch. The first time I ever saw him play, he basically bent an opposing chaser in half without even committing his full body weight. His offensive game could still use some work, as his passes and long shots leave something to be desired, but his speed and strength often allow him to create for himself. Emerson has been experimenting with ways to get Viega and Fox on the pitch together, and if they find the right combination, they may be able to matchup physically with any team in the country.

Strategy: Likely owing to their lengthy history and depth of knowledge within the club, Emerson is a well-oiled machine when it comes to their on the pitch action. Offensively, their keeper will bring it up to midfield, but won’t go beyond unless there is a gaping hole in the defense ready to be exploited. Fox will often not even bother to go through an overmatched chaser if there is a beater in the area. Their chaser will vary their movements, but it will typically boil down to a series of actions: an on-ball pick, a drive towards the hoop for a quick catch-and-release, or an attempt to find space on the wings to take possession. The machine never stops turning, and they will continue their movement until they’ve tired the defense enough to find a hole.

On defense, they will mark their men tight, both on the ball and off of it. They will get a beater, usually their male beater, up front with their point defender, allowing him to close the gap between him and the ball without any effort while the female beater monitors the action from closer to the hoops. From here, the male beater can force a weak pass that has no good target due to the marking, or a beat-caused turnover. Of course, Fox and Viega are waiting in the middle of the proceedings, making even an open drive look like a dangerous proposition.

Strengths: Emerson is going to be just as big, or bigger, in their chaser and keeper lines than every single squad they go up against. They also have plenty of athleticism and depth, and are capable of going up and down the field with any team at any tempo. Their beater lines may not produce many well-known names, but they are well-trained and do things in a very specific and effective manner, no matter who is on the pitch.

Weaknesses: Against teams that can manage above-average defense, cutting off one-man drives and forcing more complex offensive movement, their scoring is apt to shut down. They scored just 20 quaffle points against Hofstra in the Northeast Semifinal and 50 in their first match against Tufts, which left them in danger of upsets despite their forceful offense. When they’ve failed to get out of snitch range, their seekers have often struggled as well. Tufts’ two upset victories against Emerson have come on three consecutive snitch grabs for the Tufflepuffs, while the Emerson seekers had all of the time in the world, one-on-one with the snitch, during the Northeast Regional final.

Predictions: Emerson will have no problem finishing towards the top of their pool, but bracket play could be a scary prospect for a team with their specific set of weaknesses. Depending on the matchup, expect an exit in either the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, though they definitely have the experience with success to make a deeper run.

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