The Eighth Man

Will They or Won’t They: LA Gambits, #T-16

Credit: Kat Ignatova

Credit: Kat Ignatova

In addition to our preseason rankings, The Eighth Man staff will be releasing a series of articles focusing on the top 20 teams, counting down from 20 to one. Each article will be written by two members of the staff, one who believes the team will live up to or exceed expectations and one who thinks they will come up short. 


FALLING SHORT OF THE HYPE
By Ethan Sturm

We have been down this road before.

A year ago, we ranked four brand new community teams in our top 20 before they had ever played a game. One lived up to the hype, one dropped off for much of the year before coming on strong at the end, and two fell off the face of the earth, failing to even make it to the Round of 32 at World Cup not receiving a single vote in our season-ending poll. That is not exactly a glowing endorsement for continuing to rank such teams this season.

And yet that is what we have done here, ranking the LA Gambits in the top 16 despite them not having a single player coming from a squad that made the Sweet 16 at World Cup VII. Sure, it is tempting to rank any team with Tony Rodriguez–one of the top five most valuable players in quidditch–highly, but we are entering an age of quidditch where it takes more than a single individual performance to win a match. And Rodriguez, despite his talent, has only made it as far as the Elite Eight.

Outside of Rodriguez, the Los Angeles area is famous for two major exports: male beaters and female chasers. In a region not known for its physicality, it was elite beating and the ability to get a huge talent advantage at female chaser that pushed University of California Los Angeles and the Lost Boys to the brink of greatness.

But as the season begins, it doesn’t look like the Gambits will include any of such stars. Asher King Abramson is long gone from the sport; Andy Abayan will likely stay with the Santa Barbara Blacktips; Chris Seto and Peter Lee will be sticking with the Lost Boys; and Vanessa Goh and Missy Sponagle’s futures in the sport remain up in the air. So while La-La Land has been producing contenders since World Cup V, the Gambits lack many of the elite pieces those teams were built around.

In the place of this cadre of All-World players, the Gambits will be relying on players converted from other positions and standouts from Los Angeles’ B-team, the Long Beach Funky Quaffles. Steve DiCarlo and former Arizona State University beater Duston Mazzella will be forced to attempt to anchor a beating game against some of the best beater lines in the world in the West. And while DiCarlo has improved quickly and Mazzella has long been a stalwart for his squad, achieving parity against the likes of Seto and Lee or Kyrie Timbrook and Willis Miles IV (Silicon Valley Skrewts) is a tall order for anyone.

At seeker, this team will need DiCarlo to get back to his 2012-13 season form. A year of blowouts for the Lost Boys and off-field distractions for their star seeker led to him coming up short when it mattered most, finishing the year with a 0-1 SWIM record in an unimpressive performance against Louisiana State University that showed more issues than just a little bad luck. The Gambits will not be runaway regional favorites like the Lost Boys were last year, and they are going to need some clutch snitch catches along the way. But to get them, DiCarlo is either going to need to step up or show the leadership to turn over the duties to Rodriguez and Alex Richardson.

All of these on-field issues are before we even get to the scandalous circumstances that this team was built on. Whether you believe they are to blame or not, it’s undeniable that Rodriguez and DiCarlo were at the center of whatever broke down within the Lost Boys. And even ignoring that, first-year community teams in general don’t exactly have a phenomenal record of team chemistry. But if even the typical growing pains start popping up and they go public–and let’s be honest, in Los Angeles, they will–people will start questioning whether everything is once again coming apart. That is a lot of pressure for a young team to exist under.

Even if everything I have said here proves to be a non-issue, the fact remains that this is a team of players that have never competed together in official games entering a league where cohesion within a team is at an all-time high in importance. Rodriguez throwing alley oops to former Santa Barbara star Ren Bettendorf is what dreams are made of, but they have never played together, and it could take months for them to get fully on the same page. The same goes for the squad’s beaters: there is no pairing the team can put on the field that has ever played together in an official game. Sure, it could all come together, but when exactly will that be?

Betting on new teams just because of a few big names becomes a more dangerous prospect every season, and I believe this will be the year that permanently puts such wagers to bed. The Gambits have the potential to become a great team and could be a national contender down the road. But right now, there are too many questions and not enough answers.


THE STRONGEST CHASER CORE IN THE WEST
By Kevin Oelze

At a bare minimum, our baseline for the LA Gambits should be as a Sweet 16 team. This team has one of the deepest and most complete quaffle cores in all of the nation. It starts, as any team with him has to, with keeper and captain Tony Rodriguez.

Rodriguez remains one of the most dangerous weapons on the pitch offensively, with a devastating long shot, which paired with a killer spin move, that makes him nearly impossible to guard. One could easily argue that almost any decent team with Rodriguez on it is already a top 20 team. But this is not a “decent” team around him. This is an extremely solid team from top to bottom.

Backing up Rodriguez at keeper is former Santa Barbara Blacktips star Ren Bettendorf and ex-Long Beach Funky Quaffle Kyle Epsteen, whose presence should give the Gambits some freedom to play with lineups, as Bettendorf will likely take a lion’s share of the minutes chasing. With Rodriguez, Bettendorf can play off ball and act as a large passing target with incredible hands or give the Gambits a second point in their offense. Almost as importantly, Bettendorf should be able to give Rodriguez plenty of rest time, especially in games where the chaser core overwhelms the competition.

If these were the only two premiere quaffle players, the Gambits would already be a squad that looked difficult to deal with, but what really makes this chasing core shine is the sheer depth it possesses. Having absorbed most of Long Beach’s chaser core, the Gambits have inherited a roster full of players who can hit and hit hard. Foremost among them should be ex-Harvard University and ex-Funky Quaffle player Andrew Murray, who turned heads and earned MVP votes playing for Flora’s Finest at West Fantasy. Murray has shown himself to be one of the few elite point defenders in the West as well as a great ball carrier. With just Murray and Rodriguez, the Gambits can throw out two great point defenders, but their roster is full of people who are at least solid defenders as well. From Long Beach, they got one of their multiple small but strong tacklers in Alex Richardson. Having absorbed most of Quid Pro Quo, the Gambits also acquired Rich Hatch, a solid player at all positions, and Daniel Daniels, who is extremely undersized but a spectacular tackler.

While the male chaser core is clearly the heart of this team, the rest of the team should be able to carry its weight as well. The female chaser core is solid, with Julie Brietigam being a relatively unknown name that most should know. Brietigam has fantastic hands and is a great finisher, and against Gambits’ offense, she should find herself able to maneuver around the hoops almost unguarded, which is a huge mistake in her case. The beater core stars Alyssa Burton, formerly of Riverside and the Lost Boys, who quietly has become one of the best beaters in the West. Burton has a strong arm and an uncanny ability to catch bludgers thrown at her. While it looked like she would be paired mostly with Steve DiCarlo at beater, the Gambits got a boon at tryouts when former (ASU) beater Duston Mazzella showed up, giving the team some male-beater depth that it really needed.  Neither DiCarlo nor Mazzella will overwhelm people with their arms or ball skills.  In fact, it is without a bludger when they both excel. All of their male beaters should apply plenty of physical pressure. They should be best with bludger control, where the opposing team will be bombarded by a bludgerless beater going after their single bludger, taking out the best defense a team has against the strong chaser line.  Finally, their seeker game is anchored by DiCarlo, a former Eighth Man All-American seeker. But DiCarlo should also be supplemented by Richardson, the incredibly physical seeker for the Long Beach squad, and Epsteen, who will give the Gambits a different look against snitches that DiCarlo may struggle with.

With arguably the strongest chaser core in the West, the Gambits should be looked at as a legitimate threat to take the Western regional crown.  They should be considered a team likely to push to the Sweet 16. Most importantly, if their beater game can anchor the defense and provide the opening the chaser core needs, all they will need is a couple of clutch snitch grabs and this will be a team looking at the Elite Eight, overachieving on their The Eighth Man ranking.

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