The Eighth Man

T8M’s US Quidditch Cup 9 Spectator’s Guide

Editor’s Note: This article was completed before Ethan Sturm was informed that The Eighth Man would be running a livestream of various games throughout the weekend. You can check out those games on our Livestream channel.

Quidditch returns to South Carolina for a third time this weekend as 60 teams descend on Columbia for the US Quidditch Global Cup National Series Quidditch World Games 9. While the format has–much to some of our chagrin–returned to pool play after a year of Swiss-style competition, there is still plenty to be excited about in the early rounds of play, with standings of questionable accuracy and management of questionable effectiveness–here’s looking at you, Utah–creating some incredibly intriguing, if gravely unfair, pools of death.

So, with eight games going on at all times, how do you narrow down which to watch in any given time slot? We’d suggest following the so called “livestream” pitch all day, except, realistically, that’s probably not even the most interesting individual pitch. Instead, we have carefully curated the complete viewing experience in list form, allowing with the storylines, key matchups and stakes that make each a must watch. Let’s get to it.

All team rankings come from The Eighth Man rankings.

9 am: No. 13 Ball State University vs. The Fighting Farmers of America – Pitch One

Yes, I know, I talk a big game about the livestream pitch being a let down and then immediately pick a game from it, but no other game this early has such massive implications. Ball State and Farmers should be far-and-away the best two teams in this pool, and whichever team can come out fresher first thing in the morning should be walking away with the top spot some 12 hours later.

Credit: Sofia de la Vega

Credit: Sofia de la Vega

This game also serves as a complete contradiction in team dynamics, with Ball State a long-standing college program built around a system and Farmers a community team of talented players that rarely practice. Each side has a Team USA-quality star, with Vanessa Goh arguably the best female chaser of all time, and Tyler Walker fresh off a Major League Quidditch MVP and a dominant USQ season. The matchup, however, may come down to how much Sean Pretti, who was vital to Arizona Quidditch Club’s quarterfinal run last year, can minimize Walker’s control of the game. If Pretti is successful, expect the Farmers to push forward with a sizable edge in the quaffle game.

This early in the morning, players and spectators alike will be looking for the inklings of wide-reaching storylines for the tournament, and this match could definitely provide a few. A Farmers win would leave people starting to draw comparisons between them and the aforementioned Arizona squad, while also discounting a Great Lakes region that has remained largely insular throughout the year with sparse but unimpressive inter-region results. But a Ball State win would flip the script and set the Cardinals on the road for a potential Cinderella run.

Also worth a look: Penn State University vs. Tennessee Tech University – Pitch Six

9:40 am: No. 19 Texas Tech University vs. RPI – Pitch Eight

Our first match was all about the high stakes of first place in a pool being on the line. This game’s stakes are just as high, but in a pool where spots one through five are all wide open, the details are a little different. The winner of this early morning game should have a very clear track to day-two qualification, likely just needing to get a couple of positive results against teams they should be favored against. But the loser will be sweating it out, potentially needing to run the table from here on out just to make it to Sunday. When you consider that Texas Tech has been a mainstay in the Top 20 since their Southwest Regional Championship semifinal run and that RPI has been there all season until unceremoniously dropping out in the final poll of the year, that could be a pretty tough pill to swallow for either side.

On the actual field of play, we have the team that is seemingly built to pull off some major World Cup upsets in RPI against the team that already managed one of the biggest of the year, with Texas Tech defeating Texas State in the quarterfinals of the Southwest Regional Championship. Neither team is interested in a particularly high pace, but the way they go about enforcing that is different. RPI will rely on the high-level beating of Mario Nasta and their triangle passing, while Texas Tech is likely to bring the physicality against a team not particularly built to take it. While this one could come down to who is more effective in the few possessions they do actually get, I would expect this one to still be in snitch range when the seeker floor ends.

In terms of storylines, RPI gets the chance to immediately reverse the growing talk of their late-season tailspin, while on the other side, a Southwest squad gets a chance against an elite beater from outside the region for the first time. I have said multiple times that if the Southwest bubble were to pop, it would because its beating is no longer keeping up, and that theory gets put to the test here.

Also worth a look: University of Kansas vs. No. 14 Crimson Elite – Pitch Six

10:20 am: Arizona State University vs. University of Minnesota – Pitch One

There are certain things you can count on at US Quidditch Cup 9, year after year: Ohio State playing University of Richmond, an appeal during a University of Miami game, a match that necessitates a rule change and everyone not giving Minnesota enough credit. Consider that, last year, Minnesota made bracket play and were only down 40 to Lone Star in the round of 24 when the snitch was caught. That was the closest anyone came to the Southwest community team in the bracket until the final. Yet, despite that impressive performance, along with a Midwest Regional Championship title this year, there is absolutely no hype surrounding the Golden Gophers entering Cup.

They will get a chance, however, to prove themselves right away on pitch one against an Arizona State side that might be one of the best iterations of the team since its earliest days. Built around their talented beating core, the Sun Devils have already slain bigger foes this season, including a win against the Los Angeles Gambits way back in the fall and a trip to the West Regional Championship final in the spring. Each team will rely on a quintessential defense, with Minnesota falling back on its hoops zone and Arizona State going to the horizontal beater set frequented by many West squads. Both defensive sets are incredibly reliant on bludger control, so expect the match to hinge on that factor, with the team that does it best winning the right to challenge Quidditch Club Boston for the top spot in the pool.

Also worth a look: UNC vs. Illinois State University – Pitch Three

11 am: No. 8 Rochester United vs. No. 15 Lake Effect Maelstrom – Pitch Six

This was one of the hardest slots to choose all day. I would not fault you at all for checking out No. 4 Texas Cavalry vs. District of Columbia Quidditch Club on pitch one, as I think it’s one of the few true tests a top-tier community team gets on Saturday. I’d also completely understand you opting for No. 11 University of Michigan vs. Penn State, an upset waiting to happen–especially if Scott Axel can take over the match–that would throw a very interesting Pool Six into chaos.

Credit: Isabella Gong

Credit: Isabella Gong

That said, I couldn’t resist picking one of the few Top-20 matchups we get to see on Saturday, especially one with as juicy storylines as this one. A rematch of the updated versions of two teams that met in the Sweet 16 last year–with Blue Mountain Quidditch Club beating the University of Rochester–it’s a chance for both to make a much-needed statement after unremarkable springs. Maelstrom needs to prove that their “full roster,” whatever that means at this point, can perform at the highest level, while Rochester United needs to prove that perceived weaknesses at beater–where they lack an elite talent–and seeker–where they are 0-3 in SWIM situations this season–aren’t enough to hold an incredibly talented group of chasers back from a deep bracket run. Add in that no one is safe in the death pool that is Pool Four, and there is a lot riding on this game.

Maelstrom should enjoy a clear and decisive edge in the beater game, with Ashley Calhoun and Chad Brown easily the best two beaters on this pitch–assuming Brown actually beats. But look for Rochester to counter with a two-male beater set, pushing the onus back on Maelstrom to be responsive. If Rochester can get anywhere near parity in the bludger game, expect Shane Hurbert and Jon Jackson to take over. But even so, if United fails to get out of range, you have to imagine the edge remains with the Great Lake’s side.

Also worth a look: No. 4 Texas Cavalry vs. District of Columbia Quidditch Club – Pitch One

11:40 am: Lunch

Things are about to get really interesting after the break, and you’re not going to want to tear your eyes away from the action. So, take this time to grab some food, check out some of the other things going on around the grounds and maybe even teach some kids quidditch.

If you are insistent upon marathon-viewing games all day, University of Kansas vs. University of Virginia on Pitch Four is probably your best bet. It’s very possible that Kansas is less talented than I’ve pegged them to be and that Virginia, coming off a deep run at World Cup 8, springs the upset. But if that is the case, I expect it to be because the talent level of these two teams lags behind the other three in this pool of death, rendering the result pointless. If the Jayhawks are up to the task, then I wouldn’t expect a particularly worthwhile watch.

12:20 pm: Quidditch Turns 10 Display

US Quidditch staffers have been hard at work putting together a comprehensive display of everything that is and was quidditch over its first 10 years of existence, and having had a chance to watch the effort they’ve put in, I have incredibly high hopes for the project. From important moments to historic rivalries to a sampling of the best photography our sport has to offer, it will all be here. So put your 40 gameless minutes to good use and check it out.

1 pm: No. 6 Lost Boys vs. No. 10 Tufts University – Pitch Three

The final of the so-called pools of death, Pool 11, has a quiet morning, but gets the afternoon started in a huge way with one of just four top-10 matchups on tap for Saturday.

On paper, these two teams have a lot in common. Each has a keeper capable of taking over a game–David Stack for Tufts and Alex Browne for the Lost Boys–each relies heavily on its beater game to provide defense, each has a checkered World Cup history and each has spent the season playing second fiddle to a cross-town rival. Unfortunately for Tufts, similarities are not the common components of upsets, and the Lost Boys significant edge in the snitch game–where Team USA’s Margon Aleman dons the yellow headband–means the Tufflepuffs may need to be out of range before the seeker floor ends to stand a chance. That said, Tufts is a far more physical team this year, with the capability for the kind of gang tackling that could stop Browne and slow down the the Lost Boys offense. And if Stack can get hot from midrange, he could make it a long day for the Lost Boys horizontal beater set and keep Tufts hanging around.

Also worth paying attention to in this one is the potential presence of Missy Sponagle, who has rostered for the first time this season after taking an injury-related break from quidditch for much of the year. If she returns at a high level, the Lost Boys ceiling for this tournament rises significantly, and if she will be stepping onto the pitch, you have to imagine this is the game they call on her for.

Also worth a look: UNC vs. No. 19 Texas Tech University – Pitch Seven

1:40 pm: No. 16 Sam Houston State University vs. Boise State University – Pitch Six

Two years of Northwest self-hyping culminates in one game with huge statement potential. Since the creation of the region at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, perhaps no game has been as big, as the Northwest’s best get a chance to prove themselves against a second-tier Southwest side that already has a win over Texas on its resume. A victory for Boise puts it in great position to be the first ever Northwest team to make bracket play while affirming its own competitive chops. A loss, however, would would leave the Abraxans sweating out a pair of potentially difficult games against New York Quidditch Club and UCLA.

Courtesy: Kym Couch

Courtesy: Kym Couch

As much as the storylines swirl around Boise, the game might come down to which SHSU shows up: the one that made an impressive Southwest Regional Champions run or the one that spent the rest of the season going 1-8 against Nationals-bound opposition and losing games to Baylor University and University of Arkansas. The Abraxans, to their credit, will need to make sure to shake off the rust immediately against their first high-level competition in months, and set the tone that they can be every bit as physical as a Southwest squad.

Also worth a look: No. 2 Lone Star Quidditch Club vs. No. 17 University of Maryland – Pitch Two

2:20 pm: No. 8 Rochester United vs. University of Kansas – Pitch One

I tried really hard to stay away, but this pool is just too juicy to not go back to the well. United should enter the game as the heavy favorites, but the Jayhawks have a long history of over-performing, a long history of keeping elite teams close and arguably the best seeker to ever play the game in Keir Rudolph. When you compare the teams’ snitch-on-pitch games, you could easily make a case for a 90/10 or 80/20 advantage for the Jayhawks, making the implication for United clear: get out of range or lose.

When you keep that in mind, and all but spot Kansas a 30-point advantage, this matchup gets much more interesting. Do we see the return of “Kansas-ing,” an attempt to slow the game to a crawl, or do the Jayhawks feel confident in playing United straight up? Will United be relying on a two-male beater set like a crutch at this point on Saturday–opening their male beaters and female chasers alike up to exhaustion–or will they make an effort stick to a standard set at the risk of ceding the bludger game to Kansas?

No matter the storylines or strategic implication you place on this game, the argument for it is simple: In a pool with four teams worthy of places in the Top 20, every win matters, and as we enter the late rounds of Saturday, the result of this game will loom large.

Also worth a look: No. 3 Los Angeles Gambits vs. No. 18 The Warriors – Pitch Seven

3 pm: UNC vs. RPI – Pitch Two

This is a game of vastly contradicting styles in a pool just begging for an upset result to blow it wide open. UNC wants to play at a high tempo, while RPI wants to slow things down and minimize total possessions. UNC wants to sit in a hoops zone on defense, while RPI is perfectly content standing in a corner passing around in its triangle all day if it’s not pressured.

All of that said, both teams will struggle to execute their game plans if they cannot maintain bludger control, and that will be decided by a top-tier matchup between UNC’s Kyle Bullins and RPI’s Nasta. Look for RPI to try to force Bullins to exert himself as much as possible to hassle their offense, especially because UNC is not a particularly physical team, the one thing that has consistently disrupted UNC throughout the season.

On paper, this game feels like a simple storyline of a Pot One team taking care of business. But RPI has notched some impressive wins on the year, and has always looked the most dangerous against teams they don’t see often. RPI may be too talented for this to truly be considered a trap game for UNC, but it sure feels like one.

Also worth a look: Arizona State University vs. Gulf Coast Gumbeaux – Pitch Eight

3:40 pm: District of Columbia Quidditch Club vs. University of Miami – Pitch Two

It’s the battle of regional champions who have gotten no respect this season, and, if Cavalry is running away with the pool, it’s a battle for a much cozier bracket seeding, with the loser likely destined for a Round of 32 matchup with a pool winner.

Miami took home its unprecedented fifth regional crown in February, and did so without veteran stars Sean Beloff and Shannon Moorhead. That said, Miami also attended October’s Oktoberfest with Beloff and Moorhead and put up middling results, calling into question whether their regional win is more a result of the weakness of the South than any kind of Beloff-Moorhead “Ewing effect.”

DCQC, meanwhile, cruised through the soft half of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship bracket on their way to their first regional title in their second year of existence. With a roster that appeared to have more top-to-bottom talent than any other in its region, the squad looked poised for an impressive Nationals run. But a series of partial rosters and underwhelming results in the spring left more questions than answers. In this game, we might finally get a chance to see what a full DCQC roster look likes.

On the pitch, expect this game to be decided on two levels. Miami needs to be able to grab an edge in the bludger game to mitigate any quaffle game disadvantages, and they need to have an answer for Darren Creary. If they can do both, it could mean a chance at an impressive result for a region that hasn’t had many in recent year. But if not, DCQC could take this one with ease.

Also worth a look: Boise State University vs. UCLA – Pitch Three

4:20 pm: Dinner Time

With five time slots left, pools will be decided, teams will be eliminated and you aren’t going to want to miss any of it. So grab food now and get ready for the final stretch.

5 pm: No. 6 Lost Boys vs. No. 7 Texas State University – Pitch One

Almost undoubtedly the game of the day, and a rematch of an instant classic a year ago in pool play, the matchup between these two could do a lot to write the narrative of the college against community debate that will rage throughout this tournament. Despite Texas State developing something of a reputation for a slower pace of play, last year’s affair was an up-tempo battle of athletic and physical beating, and there is no reason to expect any less this time around.

This match will be won and lost in the bludger game, and with Jackson Johnson facing off with Chris Seto and Amanda Nagy, it will not disappoint. Expect the Lost Boys to hold strong in their horizontal bludger set, but for Texas State to show extreme restraint in holding onto possession until their beaters can breakthrough. From there, it will be a matter of whether the Lost Boys chasers can stop the Bobcats’ drives. On the other end of the pitch, expect Texas State to do all it can to take Browne out of the game. But if they do, keep an eye on Sponagle, whose addition to the roster adds a scoring threat that could force teams to play Browne honest.

Pool 11 was never going to have much “who moves on?” drama, but for teams with championship hopes, a pool win goes a long way. With Tufts also lurking in this pool, this result might not decide things completely, but it will go a long way in doing so.

Also worth a look: No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 18 The Warriors

As the night reaches its end, it becomes too difficult to pinpoint the best watch, as the stakes of each game can swing massively due to earlier results. If a couple earlier surprises mean one team is clinched for bracket play and one team is eliminated entering the match, it’s safe to say it’s probably no longer worth a watch. But in a vacuum, I think my final four watches of the night would be:

5:40 pm: No. 11 University of Michigan vs. Oklahoma State University – Pitch Two

Two incredibly physical, athletic teams face off in a high-tempo clash that could decide anything from the pool winner to who moves on to day two.

6:20 pm: No. 15 Lake Effect Maelstrom vs. University of Kansas – Pitch Two

When in doubt, it’s always safe to assume a Pool Four game is going to offer the most intrigue and the highest stakes.

7 pm: No. 7 Texas State University vs. No. 10 Tufts University – Pitch Two

Beaters gone wild. Simple as that.

7:40 pm: No. 3 Los Angeles Gambits vs. No. 9 Texas A&M – Pitch One

A pair of top 10 matchups to end the night, no explanation needed here.

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