The Eighth Man

Countdown to Kissimmee: Northern Arizona University

 

The NAU team from the 2013 Western Regionals.

The NAU team from the 2013 Western Regionals.

The NAU Narwhals came into Western Regionals as relative unknowns, having only played in two tournaments this season, mostly against fellow Arizona teams. They came away from Roseville with one of the region’s precious few World Cup bids, and were definitely no longer unknowns. Their pre-game dance parties and the boombox that they carried with them everywhere ensured that people won’t struggle to remember them, and their on-pitch success didn’t hurt either.

 

 

Best Wins: ASU (70*-50, Oct. 13)

Worst Losses: vs. Northern Colorado (90*-50, Nov. 11)

 

Key Players: Although he was injured and had to miss the second day of Western Cup, seeker Porter Marsh is as clutch a seeker as you will find in the sport, and NAU’s strategy often revolves around their defense in order to keep the score close enough to let him do his thing and bring home the victory. A veteran with a long track record of success, Marsh may be small, but is deceptively strong and incredibly capable. While Schyler Harris did a terrific job filling in for Marsh on the second day of Western Cup, Marsh will still be NAU’s go-to guy in Kissimmee, and the bane of snitches everywhere.

April Gonzales is the anchor of a very strong beating core. While all of the Narwhal beaters are quite aggressive, Gonzales is also collected and in control on the pitch, making her a dangerous threat on any given play. Her pitch awareness often makes up for gaps caused by her teammates sometimes being over-aggressive.

 

 

Player to watch: Beater Justin Regan is an emotional leader for the team and effectively energizes them during games. While playing, he will often get this teammates on the sideline pumped up, and when he is on the pitch the team’s energy level rises significantly. His play also fuels the play of his teammates on the pitch. When Regan is on, his whole team seems to be on a roll.

 

Strategy: NAU’s strategy focuses on its aggressive beaters. They are constantly either going for bludger control, or using that bludger control to completely stymie opposing offenses. When the Narwhals have bludger control, they also tend to send one beater up as an escort for the quaffle carrier. Their offense revolves around driving up the pitch as far as they can with keeper Marc Hubble, and then having him either attempt a mid-range shot or pass it to a chaser behind the hoops. Fast breaks on turnovers caused by their aggressive beaters also figure heavily into the offense.

 

Strengths: Beater play fuels this team. The aggression shown by the Narwhal beaters tends to wreak havoc on opponents’ game plans, and opens up frequent scoring opportunities for their offense. And when the beaters have kept the game within snitch range, NAU hands the reigns over to one of the most reliable seekers in the sport in Marsh and he rarely comes away empty-handed.

 

 

Weaknesses: The team’s overall reliance on aggression and emotion sometimes comes back to bite them. When things are going good, they do great. When things start to slip, however, the Narwhals tend to implode. It can take them a while to snap out of a rough patch in-game. Their aggression also sometimes leaves them with holes in their strategy, as skilled opposing beaters can sometimes catch NAU being too aggressive and deprive them of the bludger control they rely so heavily on.

 

 

Prediction: If the team is having a good game, they can be formidable against all but the very top teams in the sport. However, their emotional style of play usually presents a hiccup or two, so it is unlikely they will advance past the first round of bracket play. Their success depends entirely on what part of the emotional cycle they are on during pool play: expect to see them advance to bracket play if they are having a good day on Saturday, or be eliminated after pool play if they are in a slump. 

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