The Eighth Man

Quidditch is Coming: Cocoa Cup Preview

Cocoa CupIt’s been almost two months since relevant quidditch was played in the so-called “cold” regions: the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. But it’s also less than three months until the quidditch world descends on South Carolina for World Cup VII.

Which all makes this weekend’s Cocoa Cup that much more relevant. While fantasy tournaments are generally about meeting up with old friends, playing with new people, and generally having a good time, this rare chance for temperature-controlled quidditch in Connecticut – where high temperature on Monday will be below freezing – was always going to be a little something more. And if you still had doubts of this, registration should wipe them away, with 170 players signing up; including players from 14 different World Cup qualified teams.

The format for team selection was selectively randomized, with the added caveat of allowing team captains the freedom to trade for a week in an attempt to better their squads. As the two Champagne Cups have shown, randomized teams don’t make for the fairest teams, and the gulf of experience amongst the captains made for some rather unbalanced trades that didn’t help the matter.

Because of the lack of balance amongst the teams, I’m not going to waste all of our time breaking down each pool team-by-team before making some rather obvious predictions. Instead, I’ll give a quick rundown of the pools, before getting into some of the storylines for the tournament that I find more interesting than the actual results.

Pool One is by far the more interesting of the two, as, with the exception of House Stark, every team has a shot at going 3-0. Stark lacked the beating to begin with, and losing Emerson’s Jackson Maher and Tyler Trudeau in the eleventh hour didn’t help. They’ll be heavily reliant on Noah Schwartz of Tufts, Pablo Santiago of Emerson and Erin Mallory of Maryland, but with such large rosters, they likely won’t be enough.

House Baratheon has all of the quaffle player depth Stark lacks, including six such players from the coast’s two major community teams: Boston Massacre and the NYDC Capitalists. But beater is where this team comes up short, with Robert O’Neil having struggled all year for Massacre while neither Jenna Jankowski nor Kara Levis is currently playing up to the hype they’ve garnered in the past. They also lack an upper tier seeker, leaving them with many of the problems of captain Ben Nadeau’s actual team.

In House Arryn and House Tyrell, I think we get the tournament’s two most talented beaters: Emerson’s Aaron Wohl of House Arryn and Tufts’ Michael Sanders of House Tyrell, with each captain quickly trading for his guy once the transfer period was open. House Arryn has the clear advantage in elite talent, as David Fox is easily the most talented keeper in the tournament while Meredith Taylor is the best female chaser, but in quaffle player depth, House Tyrell has the edge, with the ability to trot out Bowling Green’s Daniel Daugherty, Boston Massacre’s Brian Zanghi, Maryland’s Josh Marks and the Badassilisks’ Josh Stone. They also have the pool’s best seeker in Tufts’ BJ Mestnik, he of the perfect 4-for-4 career SWIM record. Because of the depth and the all-around talent, I see House Tyrell as the clear favorite.

Brian Zanghi is just one part of the stacked chaser lines of House Tyrell. Credit: Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff

Brian Zanghi is just one part of the stacked chaser lines of House Tyrell. Credit: Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff

Pool Two has a lot less going on. Houses Frey and Greyjoy simply don’t have enough talent to compete, a combination of bad drafting luck and even worse trades. On the top end of the pool, we get two teams that could compete for the tournament crown. House Lannister automatically started with a strong beater game thanks to captain Ricky Nelson of Maryland, and they have two of the best female chasers at the tournament – NYU’s Lucy Miller and Tufts’ Emily Hickmott – as well as two of the best male quaffle players – Maryland’s Harry Greenhouse and Bowling Green’s Zak Hewitt. Not to mention the added value Greenhouse brings at seeker.

That being said, it’s hard to argue with the sheer mass of talent on House Targaryen’s roster, which doesn’t just have three dragons; it has five. I won’t waste time repeating the many things that have been said about these players, but Devin Sandon, Shane Hurlbert, Victor Viega, Hannah DeBaets and Andrew Zagelbaum are all arguably the best at what they do in this entire tournament. Add in solid role players like captain Jeff Sherman, Boston University’s Lulu Zu and Rochester’s Lisle Coleman, and this team has everything it needs for a run at the title. The only area that could hold them back, and that gives Lanniser a chance at topping the pool, is a weakness at male beater. We’ll see if it’s enough to make a difference.

All things considered, I see Houses Tyrell and Targaryen topping their pools and eventually making their way to the finals, with their depth proving more and more valuable as the day goes on. As most fantasy tournaments do, I expect this one to come down to snitch play, giving Harry Greenhouse yet another chance to snitch a classic game. With the game on the line, expect the veteran Zagelbaum to eventually come up with the grab, propelling Targaryen to the title.


Players to Watch

Listed below aren’t my best players on each team, or even my predicted all-tournament squad, but a least of players with the most interesting individual storylines entering the weekend.

Kevin Estavanik, Chaser, House Arryn (Emerson): The Emerson chaser lines seem to be ever influx, whether due to missing players, injuries or internal issues. But Estavanik, a transfer student, has been a constant in the lines, steadily improving his game over time. However, we’ve yet to see a truly impressive offensive game from him, something we’ll be watching for this weekend.

Alex Linde, Beater, House Stark (NYDC Capitalists): Seeing Linde listed as a beater here could normally be looked at simply as a player wanting to have some fun out of position for the day. But male beaters have been the elephant in the room for the Capitalists, and all of their attempts so far to throw ex-male chasers at the problem have produced tepid results at best. Linde might be their newest potential solution; We’ll get a preview of whether he’s up to the task.

Shane Hurlbert, Chaser, House Targaryen (RIT): One of the most disappointing parts of me missing out on Northeast Regionals was not getting a chance to see Hurlbert in action. The reviews are nothing but excellent, including a performance against Boston University in the semifinals in which he almost single-handedly kept RIT in the game. If you, like me, missed out on seeing him in the fall, I’d take this opportunity.

RIT's Shane Hurlbert has proven himself on the region's biggest stage, but is still working to make his name stick. Credit: Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff

RIT’s Shane Hurlbert has proven himself on the region’s biggest stage, but is still working to make his name stick. Credit: Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff

Stephen Grant, Chaser, House Frey (Syracuse University): After just barely missing out on qualification for a second straight year, the Orange very much feel like they have something to prove. For Grant, one of their most athletic players, there will be even more to prove this weekend, as captain Jake Vuolo traded away Estavanik to get him. If Grant can thrive under all of this, it’ll go a long way in legitimizing the claims of a Syracuse team that could still end up in the World Cup before all is said and done.

Kara Levis, Beater, House Baratheon (Boston Massacre): Levis started 2013 nearly on top of the world, a key cog in the UCLA team that marched all the way to the World Cup VI finals. But a knee injury late on Sunday forced her to miss the championship match, and the effects have lingered, leading to a rough first semester with the Boston Massacre and the continued used of a brace. Massacre lacks an elite male beater, and much of their ability to make a deep World Cup run will rely on her playing at the level she was at a year ago.

Harry Greenhouse, Chaser/Seeker, House Lannister (University of Maryland): Like Levis, Greenhouse ended the 2012-2013 in only the highest of regard. But, in the months since, his reputation has suffered, whether deserved or not. His reputation as an elite point defender has faded, likely in part due to a lack of marquee games to showcase his talents in. But, more than that, his reputation as a seeker, where he was once considered one of the best in the country, has dropped off as well, with much of the criticism coming from his aggressive style opening up opportunities for the opposing seeker. He’ll have plenty of chances to disprove both of these denouncements this weekend against some high-end ball handlers and seekers.

Josh Marks, Keeper, House Tyrell (University of Maryland): Marks has quietly brought success with him everywhere he goes, from multiple tournament titles as captain of the Terrapins last year to a Northeast Fantasy Championship in 2012. He’s never been the flashiest of players, but puts in good minutes for his teams. Now, after a semester abroad, Cocoa Cup will be his first competitive quidditch action since the summer. His return, if he’s the player he’s been in the past, could be a major boost for Maryland.

Robert Vortherms, Beater, House Greyjoy (UMass Amherst): As one of the region’s most underrated players, a point I’ve made ad naseum for over a year now, he’ll face an interesting task this weekend: Trying to carry a team whose talent across the board can’t match up with its opponents. This will be an important rehearsal for Vortherms, who will be doing something similar for his school team at World Cup VII. Last year, the squad failed to win a game at cup, a prospect certainly facing Greyjoy this weekend. But if Vortherms can carry them to a win or two, he may be capable of the same in Myrtle Beach.

Jason Rosenberg, Chaser, House Targaryen (Penn State University): One of the hardest working players in the game, Rosenberg was unlucky to suffer a broken bone in training, causing him to miss the last two months of the fall semester, including Turtle Cup and Mid-Atlantic Regionals. A talented point defender and one of the most physical players on the East Coast, Rosenberg may be the one piece that a strong Penn State team led by beater Scott Axel needs to take the next step. Monday is a chance for Rosenberg, and the rest of us, to see how far he’s come in his recovery.



The Out-of-Towners

I mentioned earlier that many World Cup qualified teams have jumped at this chance for some mid-winter quidditch, and few are taking advantage as much as the regional champions of the bordering regions: the University of Maryland and Bowling Green State University. Despite drives of five hours for Maryland and ten hours for Bowling Green, the teams will be sending contingents of 11 and 5 players, respectively.

For the Maryland players, Cocoa Cup presents an opportunity to prove they are more than a big fish in a small pond. While a regional title can’t be dismissed, their marquee match out-of-region was a disappointing 70*-60 loss to Emerson on Maryland’s home field.

The high profile players the Terrapins are sending include Ricky Nelson, Harry Greenhouse and Erin Mallory. Nelson is the known entity in a bludger game that remains a question mark, Greenhouse gets more grief than he probably deserves, specifically at seeker, while Mallory was forced to miss out on Turtle Cup due to her tournament director duties, losing a major chance to impress in a multi-region tournament.

But the really interesting thing from the red, black and yellow perspective is the lesser-known players they’ll be bringing. Matt Angelico has succeeded on both the university and fantasy level but still gets looked over. Meanwhile, the younger players have been much hyped internally by the Terrapins, and many will be on display. Most notably, Steven Sleasman and Chris LeCompte have become important cogs in Maryland’s chaser lines, while Robert Kornfield hopes to serve as another seeker option for the team to support Greenhouse. All have been placed in situations with a chance to shine this weekend.

Chris LeCompte is one member of Maryland's talented, young freshman class that will be on display this weekend. Credit: Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff

Chris LeCompte is one member of Maryland’s talented, young freshman class that will be on display this weekend. Credit: Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff

Bowling Green has fewer unknown players traveling with them this weekend, but more to prove, especially after much of the quidditch community spent all fall picking the Midwest apart like it was the second coming of the NFL’s NFC East. All eyes will be on Daniel Daugherty, a first-team All-American who will be expected to play like the best player at the tournament if he hopes to meet the lofty expectations often unfairly set for him. A single chaser can rarely make that much of a difference, especially with rosters this deep, but his shortcomings in fantasy tournaments of late have been well-documented, and he’d likely receive the same treatment here.

Outside of Daugherty, the team’s female contingent, led by Meredith Taylor, will also be expected to produce all weekend. Taylor is one of the most talented female players I’ve seen on the offensive side of the ball, and we can only hope for an Arryn/Targaryen matchup that would leave Tufts’ Hannah DeBaets, an elite defensive chaser, matching up on her. I’m also excited to see the play of young beater Jennifer Rindler, who could be vital in revitalizing their beating game and letting them get further away from two-male beater sets. Zak Hewitt and Katie Milligan, two well-known and talented entities, round out the Falcon’s contingent.

These two teams represent some of the best chances of a strong performance at World Cup east of the Mississippi, and their journeys, a silly as it may seem coming from a fantasy tournament, start here, as we all assess where their players are after a few months off.


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