The Eighth Man

Countdown to Kissimmee: University of Southern California

Credit: Lisa Thomas

Credit: Lisa Thomas

University of Southern California turned heads at this season’s Hollywood Bowl by taking out University of Miami and cross-town rival University of California-Los Angeles, two teams considered by many to be true World Cup VI title contenders. But the USC that showed up at Regionals didn’t look at all like that tournament-winning team, making everyone wonder: will the players on their Cup roster be enough to bring the former-Western Cup champions back to their former glory?

Best Wins: vs. Miami (150*-80, Oct. 27), vs. UCLA (100*-80, Oct. 27)

Worst Loss: vs. Stanford (70*-50, Dec. 1)

Key Players: Keeper August Lührs is essentially the lifeblood of USC, serving as both their most fearsome defender and, often, their most dominant scorer. While their new powerhouse chaser Remy Conatser relieved Lührs of many of his usual responsibilities earlier in this season, Conatser’s departure from the team means Lührs will have to pick up where he left off last spring.

Chaser David Demarest is not at first glance as intimidating of a defender, but he is another of the team’s most powerful and effective tacklers. On offense, he can plow through defenders to score with ease. Demarest also acts as USC’s top seeker, where his impressive burst and sturdy frame keep snitches from being able to keep him at bay.

Player to Watch: With an injury keeping Nicté Sobrino from playing at her best this season and Charlie Capron and Spencer Gold becoming less active members of the team, Nicky Guangorena had to step up and become the amazing beater that USC needed this year. He’s exceeded all expectations – despite his limited experience, Nicky demonstrates great field awareness and an incredibly accurate arm. Teams that think the absence of the beaters typically associated with USC will create an easier path to their hoops have another thing coming to them.

Strategy: This whole season, the greater part of their strategy revolved around Conatser, who both took up the quaffle and powered it through opponents, and then immediately became his team’s first line defense, pressuring opposing ballcarriers as soon as they left the keeper zone. So with him absent from their Cup roster, little can be known for sure about the strategy USC will implement there. Based on their trend of depending primarily on their largest players to take the ball up, Lührs will likely return to the point guard role he used to play for the team, with their beaters staying close to their own hoops for almost the entirety of their games as a defense against turnovers. Demarest acts as the most dependable passing option, and their female chasers will stay near the hoops in hopes of a quick catch and release.

Strengths: Lührs and Demarest are an amazing one-two punch on offense. Their size makes them extremely hard to take down, they’re both solid at blocking bludgers, and they trust in their teammates enough to not just selfishly hold onto the ball. If you devote all your resources to taking them out, they’ll execute a perfectly timed pass to one of their other chasers, who can then finish an easy goal.

Weaknesses: Frequent roster changes have kept this team from developing a clear and effective strategy this season. Their Cup roster will likely force them to revert back to their 2012 Western Cup playing style, and with so many teams having evolved since last spring, that may not be enough anymore.

Prediction: An Elite Eight run isn’t entirely impossible for this veteran team, but a Sweet 16 finish seems much more likely.

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