The Eighth Man

Will They or Won’t They: Texas A&M, #5

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. 

By Beto Natera

Perhaps no team, other than maybe the Lost Boys and LSU, has lost as many cornerstone players as Texas A&M. The graduation of program giants Drew Wasikowski and Becca DuPont had been long anticipated. However, the loss of Kifer Gregoire, Sean Fry and Tyler Sessions to Lone Star Quidditch Club was unexpected and will severely hurt the Aggies dreams of repeating as regional champions. While underclassmen like Sam Haimowitz are still on campus and gearing up for the fall season, my gut tells me that the Aggies will be unable to reload or recover from the talent and experience drain suffered over the summer.

The big question for the Aggies this season is how they plan to replace the vast majority of their offensive production and creativity from the past season. The trio of Wasikowski, Gregoire and Sessions dominated quaffle possession for Texas A&M. While Haimowitz did gain some experience as a primary ball handler, he has yet to face the burden of being “The Guy” offensively for his team. Moreover, Haimowitz is losing what was one of the most reliable passing options in the whole game: DuPont. While the other Aggie female chasers are capable of making grabs and getting layups, no one from this past season’s roster showcased an ability to score through contact on a consistent basis like DuPont. This is not to call out A&M either. There is a reason DuPont was selected for Team USA.

Now we come to the defense. Wasikowski and Gregoire were two of the hardest hitters in the entire Southwest this past year. The two were regular point defenders for the Aggies to devastating effect. However, their loss on the defensive side pales in comparison to the loss of starting beater Fry. Over the past year, Fry improved exponentially as a beater. His improvement was key to the Aggie’s prolonged, undefeated streak as he routinely kept bludger control for his team and was absolutely devastating in clearing out opposing offenses. In my mind, he cemented his performance as one of the elite beaters in the game over the past year. Replacing him will not be easy. Add to this the loss of key role players like chaser Joe Wright and utility player, Luke Wigley, and the Aggies have become a shell of themselves on paper. Now, anything can happen.

Unlike in major college sports, quidditch does not cover high school recruitment, making any recruiting class a giant wildcard. The Aggies could recruit a squadron of monstrously athletic freshmen to lead their program to a much deserved and elusive first title. But, I can’t say that with as much certainty as I can say the following: The Aggies will not win the USQ national championship this year.

Based on the personnel losses; based on the improvement of teams throughout the nation; and based on the loss of leadership and experience, I do not think the Aggies will be able to reload and offer a defense of their regional title. Unlike University of Texas, the Aggies have lost their leaders and their best strategic minds. It will be difficult for them to develop a completely new set of players into a team capable of beating the defending champions or their key rivals throughout the country.

Do not get me wrong though, this team will make some noise at tournaments throughout the season. A favorable draw at World Cup (read as: a bracket not filled with Southwest teams) could lead to a Final Four birth for this team. I just think that there are three to four teams that are just a class above the rest. Unfortunately, A&M happens to be in the same region as the majority of those teams.

By We Breathe Quidditch

It took a while for the 110*-50 loss to University of Texas to sink in for everyone. Instead of the heated matchup of Texas A&M v. Lost Boys that everyone predicted, World Cup VII would feature a finals matchup between No. 6 Texas and No. 13 Texas State. When the season was over, many analysts still considered A&M No. 1, while others ranked A&M no lower than second, a testament more to the general disappointment with how Texas won World Cup than a statement about A&M’s performance. But then, when the season ended, every analyst dropped A&M out of their World Cup picture. A&M had lost their two Team USA players and could not win World Cup. What chance could they have?

Perhaps more of these questions stem from the fact that for three World Cups in a row, A&M was widely considered to be the best team going in, and for three years in a row, they lost to the team that would eventually take the crown. It is true, A&M has never won a World Cup, despite three very good years—but neither has any other team not named Texas or Middlebury.

Two people do not make or break an elite team. Yes, the Aggies are losing two Team USA players—Drew Wasikowski and Becca DuPont. But Texas circa World Cup VI lost three eventual Team USA players, reloaded and won back the No. 1 spot. And the Aggies are losing fewer key players than Texas did.

Literally all the doubts about Texas A&M stem around a misunderstanding of one game—the Aggies’ sole loss last season. Had the Aggies won that game, they would have been world champions returning a majority of their roster. No one would have ranked them lower than No. 1.

A&M did not lose that game because of an injury to Wasikowski. A&M lost that game because Texas had roughly 90 percent bludger control. A&M’s beaters had struggled throughout the World Cup, giving up similar bludger control percentages against University of Kansas.

When Texas’s Margo Aleman sought without bludger control, he went 0-2 in SWIM situations. A&M’s record? 4–1. Unlike most teams, A&M manages to seek just fine even in the absence of bludger control. And even so, with an extra year of experience for many returners, look for the Aggies to fix their beating woes this season.

But all of that completely ignores their biggest physical strength. A&M can mask the loss of Wasikowski and DuPont with the return of a plethora of star chasers: Keegan Adlis will be back, as will Sam Haimowitz and Mark Wigley.

Perhaps the most important factor, however, is the fact that A&M is a program that executes. For two years in a row, the Aggies were ranked the clear No. 1 in the last Eighth Man rankings before World Cup, even during the year that saw total Texas dominance. In the last two seasons, the Aggies have lost a grand total of a single game before World Cup—a two-snitch-grab overtime loss to Baylor University in the semifinals of a Southwest Regional Championship. The only teams with winning records against A&M in the last three seasons are Middlebury and Texas. The only losses at World Cup in the last three seasons for A&M were against the eventual World Cup champions. A&M rebounded last season from a disappointing Breakfast Taco tournament appearance to display dominance for the rest of the year. Yes, the Aggies have weaknesses. But just like every single season before this one, they will fix those weaknesses very quickly and will be competitive throughout the year. This is a team that beat Lone Star Quidditch Club five times in the span of one season. This team will come out driven, motivated and, most importantly, determined to not let another World Cup trophy escape their grasp. Do not be surprised in April if you see A&M winning World Cup VIII.

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