The Eighth Man

Part I: T8M Staff Breaks Down Its Picks for Team USA

The selection committee has been chosen, coaching applications have been submitted and the player deadline is looming. Soon enough, the third edition of Team USA will be appointed. The committee has a tall task ahead of it, but we’re here to help! This series will feature players who have yet to don a gold medal for our country but we feel are deserving of such an honor.

Simon-Arends---GraphicAnd on the seventh day, the Lord rested and admired Simon Arends.

Arends is, without a doubt, the greatest chaser to never be on Team USA. He is also, arguably, the greatest chaser in the history of the sport. For those who have had the privilege of seeing him play, his credentials are obvious—few players jump off the screen like he does on film. His combination of quickness, speed and strength make him a nearly impregnable point defender, and an equally stifling wing. Point blank: There is no defender in the league who is more “lockdown” than Arends. On offense, that same athleticism—combined with his mastery of the push-pass and push-shot—makes him an incredible threat any time the ball touches his hands.

Arends’ only visible weakness as a chaser is his height. At first glance, it appears that he would be unable to guard chasers over 6 feet tall, or be a viable passing option for anything other than a perfect dart to his chest. But then you see him jump.

Like a Nirvana album, never mind.

Arends possesses not only the physical skills necessary to excel on Team USA, but also the intangibles. As you would expect from looking at him shirtless, Arends has made a commitment to training and improving himself outside of team practices, even after becoming a household name at World Cup VI. He is also an incredibly coachable player who is constantly searching for outside criticism and suggestions on how he can improve his game. Team USA needs to be a “Team-First” environment, and few Hall of Fame-caliber players embody that attitude better than Arends.

Photo by Matt Dwyer, Vine by Billy Quach

Brenden-Bixler---GraphicBrenden “Baby Bix” Bixler took the West Coast by storm at West Fantasy this past summer, putting on an absolutely electrifying show that helped spark his team all the way to the title. But this was nothing new to Bixler, who racked up over 1,100 yards receiving during his senior year of high school football. Which was last year.

Fast forward to now, and Bixler finds himself racking up goal after goal for Boise State University, the odds on favorites to win the Northwest Regional Championship crown. How does he do it? Raw athleticism. In a one-on-one, no-bludger situation, Bixler is difficult to even get a hand on, let alone stop without help. And, as the Abraxans employ a hyper-aggressive offensive beating system, Bixler frequently finds himself out in space with nothing between him and paydirt but an off-ball defender. Easy money.

For those who have never seen Bixler play (most of you), I will compare him to a player you should know. Bixler is a younger, lighter version of Simon Arends. While he does not yet possess the physicality, muscle mass and experience of Arends, Bixler attacks the hoops on offense with the same speed, explosiveness and hands that have made Arends so lethal for the past three and a half seasons.

With the Northwest needing to send at least one player to World Cup, Bixler’s ability to play the role of an explosive scorer coming off the bench makes him an ideal choice for selection, and a valuable card for the eventual coaches of Team USA to have in their arsenal.

Photo by Lang Truong

Michael-Duquette---GraphicSeveral moments will forever haunt my dreams of World Cups past. Of those not related to bathrooms, Michael Duquette’s catching Mollie Lensing’s bludger during snitch on pitch of the World Cup 8 finals is near the top. That play will forever resonate with me as the single moment that allowed Texas to come away with their third consecutive championship, and was executed by a player who had been immeasurably instrumental to the team’s success.

Duquette is not the biggest beater. Nor is he the strongest beater, or the fastest beater. On paper, he should not be in contention for a spot on Team USA. But that is why champions are not determined on paper. The characteristics that make Duquette a Team USA-caliber beater are his tenacity, aggressiveness and uncanny ability to make big, momentum-swinging plays in all phases of the beater game (I believe the kids call that “#clutch”).

Duquette is just flat out versatile. In the modern game, some beaters excel on defense. Some excel on offense as the torpedo in the 1.5 system. And some excel only during snitch on pitch. Rarely, however, do you actually find a beater who excels at all three. Duquette is that beater—a beater with the type of versatility that every coach lusts for. Duquette is a Swiss Army knife with a bludger attached to it, and Team USA would be crazy not to carry him in their back pocket in the treacherous territory behind enemy lines in Germany.

Photo by Matt Dwyer

Justine-Taylor---GraphicJustine Taylor is an athlete. Justine Taylor is a physical specimen. Justine Taylor is the future of the non-male chaser position.

Truth be told, Taylor does not have much of a quidditch resume at the moment. She previously played for a rebuilding Northern Arizona University team, only recently transferring to the LA Gambits just before the transfer window closed earlier this season. She has not had much of an opportunity to stand out to the league at large. But for those that have seen her play, her skill and potential are undeniable.

It is nearly impossible to compare Taylor to any single established female chaser, because, frankly, there are not any like her. Justine is, essentially, a combination of Audrey Wright’s strength and physicality, Vanessa Goh and Missy Sponagle’s speed and agility and Becca DuPont’s ability to climb the ladder to make ridiculous jump dunks. The only thing she lacks compared to these former Team USA gals is experience and consistent play with elite ball handlers who are able to feed her the ball and let her work. Enter Tony Rodriguez.

Taylor’s performance at the West Regional Championship will undoubtedly make or break her Team USA campaign. As a member of the reigning champions, the Gambits, Taylor will not only finally have all eyes on her for the majority of a tournament, but she will also finally be playing with teammates who will give her the opportunity to shine. And, if she performs up to her abilities, she should find herself draped in red, white, blue and gold this summer in Germany.

Photo by Matt Dwyer

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