The Eighth Man

Will They or Won’t They: Silicon Valley Skrewts, #9

 

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. 


CAN’T STAND UP TO SKREWTINY
By Ricky Nelson

Before we get into the quidditch of the matter, a couple quotes from our inspiration:

“Newly hatched Skrewts looked like pale, slimy deformed shell-less lobsters. They had legs sticking out at odd angles. They were about six inches long and smelled strongly of rotten fish,” and “[in time,] the Skrewts had grown ten feet long, and were incredibly dangerous (and probably quite lethal). They resembled giant scorpions with stingers curled over their backs. Their shiny armour deflected most spells, and they used their blasts to propel themselves at a foe. Its single undefended spot was its armour-less underside.”- JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This is the Silicon Valley Skrewts namesake. The crustacean version of an ugly duckling and based on their performance at World Cup VII, some would argue the team has made that transition from something underwhelming to something fearsome. Now, while I do not think that this team is going to be a pushover, a Sweet 16-Cinderella run does not make a team top-ten worthy. Especially not this team’s run. It started in one of the easier pools and ended 3-1, telling us they were better than the competition, but not untouchable. The Round of 32 matched them with Central Michigan University. Central Michigan is a solid Midwest team, but not the best, and the game was dead even when the Skrewts pulled the snitch. I will applaud the win, but it is not a stunning, decisive victory that really showed dominance.

That brings us to their defeat in the Sweet 16. The Skrewts lost to Boston University—a team with some of the best players in the sport—just out of snitch range. Commendable to be sure, but with a grain of salt, because despite how great some of BU’s players are, its depth tapers off very quickly. So most of the way through World Cup, those crucial players were starting to feel their aches, giving an asterisk, in my mind, to any game they played late in the day. So the Skrewts’ run, which all these expectations are based on, showed they are capable of crushing the weak, but they can just barely match up with upper-level competition.

The Skrewts are a community team that has had very little roster turnover this off season, but what is considered a coup for a college team is to squander a community team’s greatest asset. The ability to pick up the cream of the graduate crop of players is what allows community teams to constantly evolve. Without an infusion of fresh blood, the Skrewts are just a year older, with the concerns of the real world pressing in against people entering their prime and worried about getting into bars. So while they still have the same solid beaters in Kyrie Timbrook and Willis Miles IV and serviceable quaffle corps, unless some spark of inspiration comes to their strategy in place of new players, the advantages they had will be lost as their play style is put up to more scrutiny in the limelight of the top 10.

That limelight is the final nail in this coffin. With Lost Boys QC failing to deliver after their Cinderella run at World Cup VI, the Skrewts are the favorites of an entire region. The pressure of being at the top can crush a team, whether it be through their morale via demanding expectations, growing egos and frustration at losses or, more tangibly, having teams tailor strategies to beat you. Being the favorite puts a big target on your back and gets you a lot of views on YouTube. Our friendly neighborhood parallel, the Lost Boys, even demonstrated this when they lost to LSU, a team that had studied them all season. So do not be surprised if the same fate befalls this Cinderella after the ball, though maybe not in as dramatic a fashion.

Right now this is a team that got lucky, the same exact team, but now it has a harder road to accomplish the same thing, and people would have me believe they are going to go even further? No. They are the uncrowned kings of the West right now, according the most talkative minds in quidditch, but the role does not suit this team. I would love to see the Skrewts pull in the recruits they need, as they did last season, turning them into the team people think they are. Until then, people would really do this team a huge favor by letting it fade into obscurity by predicting a Round of 32 finish at the next big show.


SAME TEAM, SAME SCHEME, SAME STELLAR RESULTS
By Alan Black

The Silicon Valley Skrewts are not exactly an enigma. They have long used basically the same philosophy on the pitch: dominate the beater game; heavily utilize a precise passing game; have a stable of reliable and sure-handed seekers; and play disciplined quaffle defense. You rarely see a Skrewt out of position on any given play, both on offense and defense.

That philosophy has served them well, leading to them winning their pool (as a horribly mis-ranked Pot Four team) and advancing to the Sweet 16 at World Cup VII earlier this year. Unfortunately for the Skrewts’ opponents this season, neither that philosophy nor the team’s roster has changed all that much.

The Skrewts lost very little from their roster as far as impact players are concerned. The most notable departure is underrated defensive specialist chaser Jason Winerip, and he was only a sub. Longtime captain and keeper Kevin Oelze will miss at least part of the season while recovering from back surgery, but he was also unable to play for a large chunk of last season, so this is nothing that the team has not dealt with before.

Among the few changes to the rosters are two new Skrewts who are known impact players. Chaser Lucy Miller comes to the Skrewts from NYU and has exceptional height and size for the female chaser position, as well as excellent hands and a talent for swatting down passes and shots on defense.

The biggest addition to the roster, however, is former Santa Barbara Blacktips keeper Chris Lock. He is practically a perfect fit for the Skrewts’ system. At 6’6”, Lock fits perfectly on defense in a system that forces opponents to take longer shots. Height is more important than tackling ability for keepers in the Skrewts’ system, and Lock’s long arms should do wonders blocking shots. He is also quite astute in recognizing fast-break opportunities and capitalizing on them, and the Skrewts’ beaters provide a wealth of those opportunities. Even more importantly, Lock developed high-level passing ability last season and was the main distributor in the Blacktips’ “OT3” offense that ran superbly alongside Ben Harding and Ren Bettendorf. Although Lock will not have Harding or Bettendorf this season, he will have a wealth of highly-disciplined chasers who are well-versed in putting themselves in excellent scoring position.

As far as seekers go, the Skrewts look exactly the same, which is good news for them. Forrest Stone arose last season as a major threat in the seeking game, providing the athleticism to complement the superb analytic abilities of the other main seeker, Sam Fischgrund. The Skrewts can mix-and-match their seekers to suit whatever position they find themselves in at any given moment.

The Skrewts are looking pretty darn good so far, and I haven’t even mentioned their three best players.

Lets start with Alex Makk. He is utilized most frequently as a chaser, but he can play and thrive at every position. While he lacks height, that is pretty much the only thing. He takes and dishes out hits with the ability of someone twice his size and is pound-for-pound one of the strongest players in the entire sport. I can literally count on one hand the number of players who successfully solo-tackled me during my playing career, and Makk is one of those players, despite being nowhere near my size. He has a cannon for an arm and exceptional accuracy from his water-polo days. He also has elite, or near-elite, speed and the endurance to stay at that speed for an entire game. Physically, Makk has basically every single ability you could ask for. He does not really have a physical weakness besides his height. The only question surrounding Makk this season will be how many tournaments he will be able to attend and how he will mesh with the rest of the team, since he currently resides in Arizona and is unable to practice with the Skrewts regularly. Given the intellectual fortitude of the Skrewts as a whole, they should have no problem inserting him into the lineup in the best way and times possible.

As freakishly talented as Makk is, he is not even the most fearsome part of the Skrewts. That honor goes to their stalwarts on the beater line, Team USA player Kyrie Timbrook and longtime beating partner Willis Miles IV. Miles and Timbrook are quidditch’s version of the Wonder Twins. They are always on the same page and seem to know what the other is doing without having to see it. No beater pair in quidditch even comes close to the synergy that Timbrook and Miles have alongside one another. And that is before considering that both are elite beaters in their own right. Timbrook has a cannon for an arm and is no stranger to making full-pitch-length beats. When Timbrook comes toward opposing players with a bludger in hand, there is a very real intimidation factor. Considering that she is also quite accurate, Timbrook is an extreme threat to the opposing team with a bludger in hand. While some intimidation-style beaters can hurt their team with their aggressiveness, the Skrewts do not have that problem with Timbrook, because of Miles. While Miles has above-average athletic abilities for a beater, it is his brain that makes him and his pairing with Timbrook so fearsome. He is always where he needs to be, both with and without a bludger in hand. Not only is he physically able to make any beat he needs to, he is always in position to do so. In addition, he is one of the best in the sport at regaining bludger control, neutralizing opposing beaters, forcing opposing teams to change their strategies and all-around dictating play on the field. I have no hesitation in saying that Miles and Timbrook are the best game-in-game-out beater pairing in the sport, especially as far as the gender rule is concerned, and neither of them needs to sub out very often.

It is incredibly tough to imagine a scenario where the Skrewts will not succeed this season. They are one of the most intelligent teams in the country, have a tried and true system with personnel that know it well, lost almost no players of significance from last season, picked up a couple high level players who fit their system well and already have at least three elite players on the roster, as well as having the best beater pairing in all of quidditch.

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