The Eighth Man

Can Three College Teams Carry the New Midwest?

Credit: Matt Dwyer

Credit: Matt Dwyer

Entering a new year, new storylines develop in each region: rivalries, teams on the rise and teams on the edge. While not a new region by name, the Midwest’s narrative has shifted drastically, in part due to the split from the Great Lakes territory.

The 2015-16 season in this area will be highlighted by what seems to be a three-team race for the regional title, the advent of a second community team in the twin cities area and the advancement of competitive quidditch in Illinois. These storylines, however, will only truly be of interest during the regular season. As with most sports, the regular season is important, and success during the regular season is something to take pride in, but the postseason is what truly matters. Regular season accolades can be largely overshadowed by a failure on the national stage. An impressive regular-season record and a conference tournament win in college basketball can quickly become a disappointing year with an early exit during March Madness. While the Midwest may have interesting in-region storylines, the chances that any team can make a national impact are incredibly low.

Unlike most regions, the top tier of the Midwest is void of any community teams. The only true community team in the region, TC Frost, now has to deal with a split talent pool after the formation of Minnesota Nice Quidditch Club in the Twin Cities area. Without a big-time community team, the Midwest will have to rely on college teams to carry the regional banner on any type of national stage.

The top three of the region are clearly defined as the Universities of Minnesota, Missouri and Kansas. Each of these have experienced some type of national success in the past, with a Final Four run for Minnesota at World Cup V, an Elite Eight run for Kansas at World Cup VI and Missouri netting its first bracket appearance at World Cup 8. It is likely that one of these three teams will be the regional champion this fall, but their collective chances at national relevance are slim.

When it comes to garnering national attention through the postseason, deep runs are the only way to accomplish it. The Midwest is widely viewed as one of the weakest regions in USQ, and for good reason. Only putting two teams in bracket play at World Cup 8 and none into the Sweet 16 did not bode well for the future of the region. For this upcoming year, Kansas has lost a huge chunk of its trademark beating: Samy Mousa, Doug Whiston and Kate Cooley. Leadership has been completely revamped because of the loss of Cooley, along with former captain Max Wallerstedt and Vice President Bradley Vonada. While an Eighth Man Top-20 team all regular season, the Jayhawks failed to make the semifinals of their regional championship or bracket play at World Cup. Replenishing from its JV team, the Crimson Warhawks, would be an option, but the Warhawks brought a very depleted roster to World Cup that dwindled with injuries. Unless they can train a new beater corps and have a chaser line similar to the Nguyen-Sharp-Drake of World Cup VI, Kansas does not seem up to the task of carrying a region on its back.

And for the program’s neighboring rivals, the odds are not much better. While Missouri was underrated for most of last season despite its consistent performance, the loss of Josh Ebbesmeyer hurts its quaffle game enormously. When it was needed, Ebbesmeyer would step up and the offense would run through his game of accurate shooting and great distribution to competent wing chasers. While other quaffle players showed flashes last year, Ebbesmeyer was Missouri’s go-to playmaker, and that is difficult to replace. The beating of David Becker and company can make up for many deficits early season in the quaffle game, but without a go-to chaser or keeper to take control of a game, this team will falter when it runs into a team it cannot control with its beater play.

That leaves the most interesting option: Minnesota. The Minnesota Hoop Zone is well known, and the defense has seen varying degrees of success year in and year out. The team has a system in place that works for it. For more system-based teams, implementing the system is the most important aspect needed for success. If new recruits are taught quickly and efficiently, they are given more time to acclimate to the specific gameplan and, as a result, play better team ball. Minnesota is returning five of its nine executives from last year, specifically beater captain Tim Ohlert. With many returning players in leadership roles, the transition for new recruits should be fairly smooth. The isolated location of the team typically results in very little film of it being released, which only helps it with the reintroduction of pool play at Nationals. While teams can still prepare for a hoop zone, learning Minnesota’s tendencies on both sides of the ball will be more difficult. However, even with these things going for it, Minnesota lacks the quaffle talent to put up points in big numbers, which is the key to beating those teams that can handle a zone.

When it comes down to it, knowing how a season will play out is impossible. There are so many underlying factors, especially when dealing with college teams and new recruitment. Each one of the teams listed could have a near-perfect recruitment year, bringing in the missing pieces each need to make a run come April.

At this point, the Midwest is not interesting on a national, competitive level. It does not boast a team that can compete with the upper tiers of other regions. This is not to say that none of the teams have the ability to make a deep bracket play run, because they do. Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri all have the potential to be Cinderella stories this upcoming year, much like the 2008 Elite Eight Davidson College basketball team. The big difference between these stories is the “it” factor. Davidson had Steph Curry. For any of these teams to experience national success, they will have to find their “it” factor. If not, the only national attention the Midwest will garner is not coming through in the clutch.

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