The Eighth Man

The Return of Abayan: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Credit: Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff

Credit: Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff

The sporting world has had its fair share of short-lived retirements of major players. Brett Favre dick-wagged his way from the Packers to the Jets to the Vikings. Michael Jordan took up baseball, learned what millions of young Americans learn every year – that can’t become a professional athlete just by wanting to be – and returned to basketball. Now, the quidditch world has its first such case.

Last season, Andy Abayan was one of the two heads of the UCLA beating monster. His play, which may have been less heralded than teammate Asher King Abramson’s, was every bit as good, and was essential to the Bruins’ finals run at World Cup VI. And while Abayan’s highlight reel might not be quite as burned into everyone’s mind, his play in the semifinals, negating both of Baylor’s elite beaters in a matter of seconds, was as good as any beater play I’ve ever seen. Had he started this season on a team, he likely would have been considered the best active beater in quidditch, but Abayan instead chose to take a break from the game to focus on other aspects of his life.

That all changed in the last month, as rumors of his return to quidditch were followed by Evan Bell drafting him for his Quiyk team while announcing that he would be playing for the Santa Barbara Blacktips for the remainder of the season. Just like that, one of the strongest beaters our sport has ever seen was back in the game.

This past weekend, lost in the headlines of the Southwest Regionals, Abayan made his return to quidditch at the Gold Medal Invitational, helping Santa Barbara to a semifinals run that ended with a loss to the No. 2 Lost Boys.

So what exactly can we make out of his return? Is he a Brett Favre, living out his career past its prime, or a Michael Jordan, primed for more championship runs? Lucky for me, video has surfaced from two of their biggest games of the weekend: a pool play matchup with Northern Arizona, and a bracket play matchup with the Silicon Valley Skrewts. Let’s break it down.


The Hard Facts

Vs. Northern Arizona (Pre-Seeker Play)

  Time Points For Points Against
With Abayan 12:05 70 30
Without Abayan 11:40 50 70

Six Forced Turnovers, Two Losses of Bludger Control, No Gains of Bludger Control

Vs. Silicon Valley Skrewts (Pre-Seeker Play)

  Time Points For Points Against
With Abayan 5:56 10 20
Without Abayan 10:02 40 40

Two Forced Turnovers, No Losses of Bludger Control, No Gains of Bludger Control


The Good

Abayan’s raw skills, which alone are enough to put him above most beaters in the game, haven’t fallen off at all in his time away from the sport. His speed and agility make him a massive threat on the defensive end, capable of making multiple beats in a single possession while recovering his bludger again and again. It was plays like these that completely hampered Northern Arizona in the early minutes of their game. In fact, in his first shift, which lasted just over five minutes, Abayan forced four turnovers while holding the Narwhals scoreless.

Perhaps the perfect example was this play early in the game, where an offensive turnover by the Blacktips left the Narhwals with three quaffle players on the break against the two Santa Barbara beaters. By the time the play is over, Abayan has stopped the rush and beaten three players by himself.

And while Abayan’s stamina may have tailed off a bit, something we’ll discuss later on, his arm strength was able to bail him out when his feet didn’t have it in them anymore. Look at this point saving beat made 24 minutes into the match.

While his movement was somewhat more limited by day two, something that may be attributed to a movement-hampering blister he picked up during the tournament but also may be contributed to a decrease in stamina, it was hard not to be impressed with the pure athleticism Abayan possesses, and what he could do with it. Just by having him on the team, the Blacktips can count on three or four plays every game that they didn’t have the talent to make before.


The Bad

Unfortunately, those lower levels of talents in the beater core also occasionally made it so nothing Abayan could do was enough to fix Santa Barbara’s issues. Midway through the Northern Arizona game, Abayan did everything he could on a play, clearing out the Narwhals’ unarmed male beater, beating their ball-handler while forcing a weak pass, and then forced Northern Arizona’s female beater, April Gonzalez, to throw at him, at which point he made the catch. This left the Blacktips with four quaffle players and a beater to defend against three quaffle players with no beater support. But the Blacktips’ female beater missed the beat, conceding bludger control in the process, and the four quaffle players couldn’t pull off a successful wrap, leading to a Narwhal goal.

An extension of the weaker beaters around him, but also likely largely due to his own break form the game, was that Abayan struggled in beater interaction situations, which require less of the raw athleticism and more experience and decision making. He was not able to regain bludger control once, despite spending 8:41 over the course of two games without it. When playing for UCLA, that was generaly alright, as the players around him made it so that playing defense and creating offense with one bludger was more than enough. But with Santa Barbara, when Abayan didn’t have control, the team was much more vulnerable. Abayan will need to improve on this before World Cup to maximize his impact.


The Ugly

I’ve tried to find a nice way to say this, but I honestly can’t: Abayan was utterly and completely manhandled by Willis Miles IV in his six minute shift at the beginning of the Silicon Valley Skrewts game. After Miles and beating partner Kyrie Timbrook took bludger control on brooms up, they never got anywhere near relinquishing it to the Blacktips.

But it wasn’t just that they held their two bludgers in the shell of their defense to protect control, Miles also consistently and effectively neutralized Abayan with Silicon Valley on offense. On one play, Miles ditched his bludger and laid a hit on Abayan, taking him out of the play. On the next, Miles stepped up with his bludger and confidently beat Abayan, against rendering him ineffective while retaining control.

If the Skrewts had a little more athleticism and were capable of consistently finishing at the hoops, the game could have easily been 60-or-70 to 10 after those first six minutes. Instead, the game was close, Blacktips second-string beater Brian Vampola wrestled control away from the Skrewts backups, and Santa Barbara eventually would go on to win on a snitch grab.

Not every team has a Willis Miles, or even a Kyrie Timbrook for that matter, that will be able to so athletically go up against Abayan. And yes, maybe Abayan was limited by injury on Sunday. But the fact remains that the Andy Abayan of April 2013 was almost always the best beater on the pitch, and he’s still got some work left to get back to that level, with only a month to go before the Cup. And with Santa Barbara’s seeker issues, anything short of Abayan circa 2013 is going to make a deep Cup run impossible.

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