The Eighth Man

Quick Takes: World Cup Flights Announced

Maybe it is just those of us who were still playing in snowstorms last weekend, but World Cup really seems to have snuck up on us this year.  The usual hype trains, regional badmouthing and major controversies have largely been replaced by an overarching stillness.

But if anything, that was all the calm before the storm. World Cup 8 is less than two weeks away, and the new Swiss format is set up to answer more of the questions that have plagued us all season than ever before. And while we’ll miss the excitement of pool distributions, the two-flight system leaves us plenty to overanalyze for the next 12 days. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

FLIGHT ONE
Best First-Round Matchup: Capital Madness vs. University of Miami
Last month, the University of Miami’s run of South Regional Championship titles came to an end, with the team failing to make the finals after losing to College of Charleston in the semifinals. Now, its streak of World Cup bracket play runs could be in danger as well. If this team hopes to buck the doubters, it is going to have to start immediately in round one, as the team faces a difficult draw in Capital Madness.

While Madness does not have the most raw talent amongst the major community teams in the country, this squad makes up for it by rolling out strong gameplay thanks to the careful planning of coach James Hicks. While the team got off to a slow start this season, a 100*-60 loss to University of Maryland showed what Madness could do, and you can only imagine Hicks will have just as careful an attack prepared for the Hurricanes.

Miami has often struggled to put even average teams away, losing twice to Loyola University back in the fall, going into overtime with University of South Florida and, of course, falling to Charleston. In its first official game since that semifinals defeat, Miami is going to need to come out incredibly sharp to keep the game from ending up in snitch range. A defense led by Shannon Moorhead is always going to do its part, but, as a favorite, the team is going to need to put points on the board as well, and Madness will not make this easy.

A win will put the Hurricanes right back on track, and give them a nice strength-of-schedule boost as well, but a loss could be too difficult of a setback for the former kings of the South to recover.

Potential Match of the Flight: Lost Boys/LA Gambits vs. New York University/QC Boston: the Massacre
Yes, I know I cheated a little bit on this one, but bear with me. Back in UCLA’s heyday at World Cup VI, the West region was the clear second best in the country. It wasn’t even particularly close. Then, at World Cup VII, the West faltered, and the Northeast kind of took over that distinction by default, putting two teams in the Elite Eight and being the only region besides the Southwest to produce a Final-Four team.

But the title wasn’t really earned, as the two regions didn’t have much interplay between their top teams. The Lost Boys were knocked out of bracket play long before they could face off against Emerson College or Boston University, and the Silicon Valley Skrewts’ Sweet 16 match against the Terriers ended prematurely with the final off-pitch snitch catch in the U.S.’s competitive quidditch history.

However, thanks to the magic of the Swiss system, this year looks very likely to make up for it, with the West’s best two teams and two of the Northeast’s top three all occupying the same pool. While it might be ambitious–and potentially cruel to the teams–to ask for all four match ups over the course of Saturday, even one or two could go a long way in determining how the two cross-continent regions stack up against each other.

The best part is, however it breaks down, the storylines are going to be great. Massacre vs. Gambits is a matchup of former teammates and Hofstra University captains in Jayke Archibald and Steve DiCarlo, Massacre vs. Lost Boys is a fight between Team USA male beaters Chris Seto and Max Havlin, NYU vs. Lost Boys matches up two of the best two-male beater sets in the world, and NYU vs. Gambits is a matchup of teams that have worked all season to gain respect amongst the sport’s elite.

No matter the pairing, every one of these games is a must-watch. The entire Swiss format was built to get more cross-regional play at the top of the sport, and these games might be some of the best examples of it.

Unpopular Opinion: Ball State University’s Season Proves to Be a Red Herring
It’s hard to imagine that a team that started this season by scoring wins over Ohio State and Bowling Green State University could be on the outside looking in come bracket play, but it is the exact style Ball State University showed in those victories that makes it so susceptible to coming up short at World Cup.

In their biggest successes this season, the Cardinals were a team that drained the pace out of the game, reduced the total number of possessions and counted on their seeker to come through with the catch. They were the Virginia men’s basketball team of the quidditch season; once they became a favorite that was expected to win games, it got a lot harder to win comfortably. With the rigors of the five rounds of Swiss play, Ball State is going to be in a dogfight game after game, and just a couple of snitch grabs going the wrong way could spell doom for them, which, even with Jason Bowling at seeker, is very much a possibility with the questionable snitching of flight play.

Ball State is also being penalized for the flight having one of the stronger teams than it was supposed to. Penn State University, with the return of beater Scott Axel and chaser Jeremy Ross, had the team looking arguably the second best in the Mid-Atlantic, a title the Nittany Lions may have earned in a shootout victory over UNC. Its rise could make the bubble that much tighter in flight one.  I think it is just enough to lead this squad to a tough fifth-round loss to a second-tier Southwest team and an early trip back home.

The Bracket 12
Lone Star QC, Texas State University, Lost Boys, LA Gambits, NYU, QC Boston: the Massacre, UNC, University of Kansas, University of Michigan, The Warriors, Oklahoma State University, Penn State University

FLIGHT TWO

Credit: Blue Mountain Quidditch Club

Credit: Blue Mountain Quidditch Club

Best First-Round Matchup: Blue Mountain Quidditch Club vs. Arizona State University
A game between two of the best near-Cinderella stories of their respective regionals, it is really a chance for us to see what we are going to get from two teams that have shown us a lot of different faces this season. Is Blue Mountain QC the star-laden juggernaut led by the beating pair of Luke Changet and Ashley Calhoun and the physical specimen that is Chris Barnard that almost took Ohio State out at Midwest Regionals, eventually falling 110*-80, or are is the team the depth-lacking question mark that just last week lost to Central Michigan University? Is Arizona State the balanced, doesn’t-need-a-star side that beat UCLA at Western Regionals to make a semifinals run, or the gimpy, starless team that has a loss to the California Dobbys on its resume and played three snitch range games out of four in a set of matches against Northern Arizona and University of Arizona a few weeks ago?

On the pitch, it is going to come down to whether Josh Mattison, Ryan McGonagle and the Sun Devils beating core can gain an inch in the bludger game against the Blue Mountain veterans. If they can’t, this could easily end up looking like the West semifinals, where the Lost Boys beaters ran wild and came away with a 240*-70 victory. But if the team can do enough to put the emphasis on the quaffle game, Arizona State definitely has the depth and talent to make it a game.

With two teams that always seem to be in flux results-wise, this is going to be a telling match for where these squads are in Rock Hill. Whether it is fair or not, one of these teams will leave this game as a giant question mark, while the other will be credited with going back to the well for a bit more fairy godmother magic. It is definitely worth the time to find out which is which.

Potential Match of the Flight: University of Maryland vs. University of Texas
Just over a year later, we get the rematch of perhaps the most famous unrecorded match in our sport’s history. At World Cup VII, in the Round of 16, the Terrapins played the Longhorns to a 60-50 quaffle game, with Harry Greenhouse sidelined with an injury, before a Texas snitch grab sent them one round closer to their eventual second-straight World Cup Championship. Some people say it was a short game marred by stoppages, while others counter that you can’t discount a 10-quaffle-point differential. Either way, you can bet Maryland, which continues to plummet in the public perception despite dropping just one game all season, is licking its chops for another shot.

And it is not hard to argue that, if a Southwest Big Four team was going to fall to an out-of-region opponent in flight play, this would be the matchup, and not only because the Longhorns have at times looked susceptible to lesser teams this season. While a year ago, it was the Terrapins that entered the matchup fairly beaten and bruised, this time around, the shoe is on the other foot. If Paden Pace, Kenny Chilton and Christian Dowdle are back from injury, and if Augustine Monroe has rejoined the team as a player, all four could very possibly be getting their first competitive licks in this game.

While much of the rest of the country will attempt to take on the top Southwest teams by changing up how the game is played–either by slowing things down or sitting in two-male beater sets–Maryland is more than happy to play the style Texas is accustom to, and the Terrapins have the depth and athleticism to do so. It will be a cutthroat affair, with the edge likely going to the team that can start putting together some passes early and getting an edge in the beater game, whether through control or simply overt physicality. Starting Maryland beater Jeremy Dehn will have to stand tall against the onslaught of male beaters the Longhorns throw at teams, but if he can, Maryland might just be in business. And of course, if the Terrapins can keep things in range, it could be a battle for the snitch between former Team USA teammates in Chilton and Greenhouse.

Let’s all just hope that, if this game does happen, someone actually films it this time.

Unpopular Opinion: Rochester United, Rochester Successful
If this is indeed a preview of the Rochester community team expected to come next fall, there’s a lot to be excited about in upstate New York. With the addition of a slew of RIT transfers, University of Rochester’s team is the most complete it has ever been and more than capable of a bracket play run, as it proved last weekend with a run to the Glass City Classic finals, where the team fell 80*-70 to Michigan after jumping out to a huge lead.

The combination of these two teams is about as smooth as you could imagine it ever being for two quidditch squads. RIT was a physical squad that lacked much of anything resembling a beater game, while Rochester had a few star players but nothing substantial in terms of depth. The squad that showed up in Toledo was the best of both worlds, with the former RIT quaffle players complemented by Rochester’s star chaser Devin Sandon and star beater Jack Venuti.

What is so exciting about this team is that it brings a level of physicality that is not typically associated with the Northeast. All the way down this roster, at both chaser and beater, this team can hit, and it is never going to be an easy out. And with Shane Hurlbert’s duties in the quaffle game eased by the depth of talent there, he can focus more on being well-rested for seeker play.

It’s obviously a tall order to expect a brand new team to make bracket play at World Cup, but if anyone can do it, this group of Rochester players, who have played against and respected each other for years, is the one for the job.

The Bracket 12
University of Texas, Baylor University, University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Tufts University, Bowling Green State University, Emerson College, UCLA, University of Arkansas, University of Rochester, Texas A&M,  UTSA

You can take a look at the first matchups of Swiss play here.

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