The Eighth Man

The Stakes of US Quidditch Cup 10

Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang

With the regular season in the books, four teams have separated themselves from the pack in The Eighth Man rankings, becoming the heavy favorites to take the title at the end of the weekend in Kissimmee, Fla. Each is favored due to a series of specific strengths, and each winning would be historic for its own reasons. Below, our staff looks at their chances and stakes, one by one.

No. 1 Quidditch Club Boston
Almost exactly three years ago, Quidditch Club Boston–at the time still toting the name “The Massacre”–was on the verge of collapse. The team’s first season was full of in-fighting, drama and poaching accusations, and ended with the squad going 1-2 in pool play and being bounced by RIT in overtime in the round of 48 at World Cup VII.

Two years later, when the team claimed the US Quidditch Cup 9 title, only three players from that World Cup VII squad remained. Under the leadership of Jayke Archibald, the team’s culture had been completely retooled, and the result was a team that bore little resemblance to its origins–not even a name. The addition of Harry Greenhouse and Max Havlin didn’t hurt, either.

Following the title, the team once again went through a culture shift. Five key contributors during the title run splintered off to play for the BosNYan Bearsharks. Three more players from the US Quidditch Cup 9 roster stopped playing. The squad went from practicing last season three times a week, rain or shine, to “once a week if you can make, and we’ll probably play board games instead if the weather is bad” this year. After traveling all the way to Texas last January to face off with the best of the best at the Bat City Showcase in preparation for nationals, the team traveled no further this season than Rochester for Northeast Regional Championship, the bare minimum if they wanted to play at US Quidditch Cup.

But while the mentality shifted, the winning didn’t stop. The team started the season ranked No. 8 in The Eighth Man rankings, but beat a stacked Oktoberfest Invitational field in early October without an injured Archibald, then added Stew Driflot in time to win a second straight Northeast Regional Championship at the end of the month. They reclaimed the No. 1 spot in our polls on Nov. 10 and held it, along with an undefeated record, for the rest of the season. A pair of unofficial losses at Cat City Invitational to Rochester United and the Bearsharks brought to light some potential shortcomings in this squad, but the absence of Havlin for those games smoothed over a lot of those potential questions.

So what would another Boston title mean? It would keep the total number of programs with a USQ title at just three, something that a University of Texas title would do as well. It would be the fourth consecutive national title for a Boston-area team, adding to those won at US Quidditch Cup 9 and the 2015 and 2016 MLQ Championships. It would–assuming a 4-0 performance in pool play–be the first perfect USQ season since the days of Middlebury College, who only had to go undefeated at World Cup itself to complete a perfect season. It would further confirm that Havlin is the best beater to ever play the sport, and thrust Greenhouse into the conversation of greatest career ever for a quaffle player, a title that Augustine Monroe currently holds comfortably. It would also bring up some uncomfortable questions on what it says about our sport that a team that can barely be bothered to practice, with almost no depth, can win our country’s most-prized title.

A chance at a title will undoubtedly rest heavily on the shoulders of Greenhouse and Havlin. The pair is 82-2 in official games together across USQ, MLQ and the IQA, and have developed an incredible understanding on the pitch. The plan is almost always the same: have Havlin–with the help of Lulu Xu–gain bludger control and then create havoc, providing the ideal opportunity for a Greenhouse drive. If the defense collapses, it gives Greenhouse the option to dish, the part of the equation that hasn’t come together as well this season as it did a year ago when Tyler Trudeau and Julia Baer–now Bearsharks–were the targets of many of those passes.

Arguably more important than the play of Greenhouse and Havlin, which is like clockwork at this point, is the performance of the supporting cast. Archibald is a Team-USA talent in his own right, but has never clicked with Greenhouse on the offensive end, leading to them consistently playing on separate lines in the past for both Boston and the Boston Night Riders. Driflot is an athletic and physical marvel that the team has struggled to incorporate on either end of the pitch so far this season. Bryan Mulcahy has impressed as a secondary point defender to Greenhouse, but doesn’t offer the height advantage of a David Fox while defending off-ball, a fact fully on display while attempting to cover Rochester United’s Jon Jackson at Cat City. Isabella Leon will need to play massive minutes at chaser on a stage she’s never been near before. And when Havlin inevitably has his off game, it will be up to the combination of Jesse Knowlton and Matt Cardarelli to step up, and, while both are strong options, they are a far cry from Mario Nasta or Kyle Jeon, who Boston teams have been able to lean on in the past.

Boston’s margin for error entering the weekend is almost zero. They will need exceptional performances from Greenhouse, Archibald and Havlin, game-in and game-out, all weekend. An injury to Greenhouse or Havlin would likely be the end of things, with the team lacking the depth they had last year. And even if that all goes right, they will likely need to win at least three straight in-range games at the end of bracket play, which will always be a coin flip, even if the coin is a bit weighted when Boston is in the discussion.

But with all of that said, there still is not a scarier first line in the world. Boston is the prohibitive favorites for a reason, and that reason is that their top players have been untouchable for nearly two years now. Whether that’s enough to make a deep run in the sweltering conditions of Kissimmee remains to be seen, but a historic victory from the Boston squad is very much in the cards. Just don’t expect a Massacre.

– Ethan Sturm

Credit: Matt Dwyer

No. 2 Lone Star Quidditch Club
In their first year of existence, a stacked and determined Lone Star Quidditch Club team bowed out in the quarterfinals to a then-undefeated Texas A&M University squad at World Cup VII. That same Aggies team would go on to lose a crushing semifinal to the eventual champions Texas. Determined to win a championship, Lone Star reloaded that summer, absorbing most of the core of that Texas A&M team in an effort to secure a championship in their second season. At times, it seemed almost inevitable that Lone Star would do just that, but a sick coach and brutal bracket led to Lone Star once again coming up short, falling victim to Texas in the final. At US Quidditch Cup 9, Lone Star fell victim to the “Year of Boston” and couldn’t quite pull out of range of the eventual champion in the semifinals. Finally, in their inaugural season, an Austin Outlaws squad consisting of many of the same players from Lone Star were swept by the Boston Night Riders in two snitch-range games.

Given that you could easily argue that Lone Star has been the single best team in US Quidditch over the last three years, their lack of a national title is a glaring hole in an otherwise unblemished resume. For those in the program who trace their origins to Texas A&M, the bitterness goes even deeper, having realistic championship aspirations in World Cups V and VI, as well. A championship wouldn’t wash away the disappointment of all of those years, but it sure would help the healing process. Doing it over a Boston team that’s now denied them two major championships in a row would be even sweeter. Since every single one of these losses for Lone Star in the major championships has been in snitch range, being able to pull in a championship-winning, snitch-range game might be the cherry on top of a Lone Star redemption story.

Here’s the great news if you’re a Lone Star player or supporter: In my opinion, Lone Star has never been in a better position to capture the national championship. They come into this tournament as low ranked as they’ve ever been, the product of a first semester of uncertainty and depleted rosters. Yet, they still managed to capture a Southwest Regional Championship in a year where the Southwest is arguably as good as it has ever been. They managed to do so by winning an intense snitch-range game against a strong Texas State University.

More than that, though, Lone Star looks like they may have the pieces in place to finally bring everything together. They remain as athletic as any team in the game, but they’ve added pieces they’ve never had before. Notably, in years past, their beaters were strong enough to essentially neutralize other team’s advantages in the beating game, but they weren’t going to dominate the field against an elite opponent, which explains part of their problems in the snitch game. This year, however, their nationals roster has two male beaters from Team USA 2016 in Michael Duquette and Tyler Walker. Duquette is arguably the most notable snitch-on-pitch beater in the world, and nearly got Team USA a gold medal with his heroic play in the World Cup final. He was an integral part of Texas’s snitch-range win over Lone Star at World Cup 8. Duquette pairs with Walker, who is coming off two impressive years for an overachieving Indianapolis Intensity and who was one of the key contributors to Ball State University’s Cinderella run to the Final Four last year at nationals.

Even past the beaters, they’ve managed to add valuable contributors. They may have lost Nichole Galle, but Abbie Simons brings a unique skill set from Crimson Elite. They may have lost Drew Wasikowski, but Eric Reyes brings a similarly strong Team USA resume. They’re also hoping that adding Ball State’s Blake Fitzgerald as the missing piece in the seeking game to help push them over the proverbial hump to finally capture the national title they’ve been missing.

Is there a path where Lone Star fails to capture the championship? Absolutely. A season that started looking like there were only two realistic title contenders has evolved to a year of parity. I see no fewer than eight teams that could legitimately win the title, and that’s excluding several teams with very strong resumes. Draining the pace of play has become a more and more common tactic, which could make every game in bracket play a potential upset. All it takes is a brief moment of failure by a snitch in a snitch-range game to derail a team’s title hopes. But this goes the other way: all it takes is one breakthrough by a seeker to guarantee a win for your team. I’m not sure who’s going to win in Kissimmee this weekend, but I do know this: my money’s on the team that is never going to fall out of snitch range.

– Kevin Oelze

Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang

No. 3 Texas Cavalry
Texas Cavalry is a team that has had the sad misfortune of being associated with uninteresting quidditch for the entirety of their existence. Cavalry was formed in large part due to the rivalry between Lone Star and Texas. The bitterness led to not a single graduate from Texas in the World Cups VII and 8 seasons joining Lone Star. In essence, Cavalry was formed from a desire to play on any community team other than Lone Star.  

However, the team has not nearly had the success of the their cross-city rivals. Lone Star has won three consecutive regional championships while being knocked out of the nationals bracket by a snitch grab in each of its three seasons of existence. Meanwhile, Cavalry’s debut at nationals ended with multiple losses in range and an out-of-range shellacking by Lone Star in the Sweet 16. While Cavalry has been by far the dominant team in the Southwest this fall, analysts have chalked that up to the youth and inexperience of many college teams as well as the lack of a complete roster from Lone Star in the early going.

Cavalry winning nationals would not only be a victory in the sense of proving their skills, but in a number of other ways. It would be vindication for a team that had bad results in pool play. Most importantly, maybe, it would serve as a proof of concept for all the people who trusted in the leadership and design of former champions and Cavalry captains Monroe and Marty Bermudez over the leadership of Lone Star. The two teams have radically different leadership and radically different playing styles, and Cavalry’s struggle to build talent and teamwork behind Lone Star’s all-star lineup has led to Cavalry often playing in Lone Star’s shadow. Winning in this sense would be vindication for new graduates (Texas State’s Tyrell Williams) and Lone Star defectors (Carlos Elarba) alike that Cavalry was the right choice despite having had less success so far. Monroe and teammates Aryan Ghoddossy and Shelby Manford winning their fourth nationals title may not be the best of stories, but with Boston and the Boston Night Riders domination in both US Quidditch Cup and MLQ Championships, many players on that team are beginning to encroach upon the titles of many former Longhorns. If Boston wins, Cavalry’s Marty Bermudez, Freddy Salinas and Kaci Erwin will no longer be the only two-time US Quidditch Cup champions currently playing the sport. A new community team dynasty is rising in Boston, and the drive to reclaim their place as the nation’s best has to be a huge motivator for many of the Texas alumni on the team–to extend the legacy of their alma mater.   

Incredibly, a nationals championship for Cavalry is easily achievable. In fact, Cavalry might be the team best equipped to win a national title. Their path to the championship is simple, in large part because their style of play is so uniquely tuned to the current dominant strategy in quidditch. Due in part to the large skill gap between experienced players on veteran community teams and college team rookies and the increasing abilities of elite beaters, relative success rates for community teams against a zero bludger drive are at a three-year high. That, in turn, incentivizes waiting for a zero bludger-like situation to emerge before really starting to drive in on a defense. Cavalry has perfected this delicate waiting style and each game against top competition usually contains a clip of Cavalry.

Moreover, Cavalry allows the fewest number of zero-bludger drives compared to any other top team in the Southwest, in large part due to their press-defense which is the best by far in the nation. The beater press is a strategy that involves aggressive beater play by the defense after a bad throw by an offensive beater, in the hopes of forcing a turnover that leads to a zero-bludger situation. Cavalry’s chasers’s coordination has lead to them surviving multiple beater presses. In fact, many times in this situation, elite beater opponents like Harris Coleman, Eddie Molina and Jackson Johnson all attempted presses that were able to make Cavalry retreat behind their own hoops but were unable to force a turnover. This combination of waiting for a zero-like situation and allowing the fewest zero-bludger drives with slow, patient play is by far the dominant strategy in today’s quidditch game, and Cavalry has executed it perfectly. Beating many teams today relies on forcing and taking advantage of zero-bludger drives. With Cavalry, teams need to try a different strategy.

Detractors might say that their Lone Star Invitational game against Texas–where Cavalry allowed the Longhorns to take a 30-point lead during snitch on pitch–is evidence that Cavalry doesn’t have what it takes, or that “Cavalryball,” as it is sometimes known, had met its match strategically. But that is misleading. That particular game was the result of an unusually long snitch on pitch caused by snitch Dilan Freeman. But long snitch on pitch games are outliers for Cavalry.

The recent loss to Texas State has been written off by analysts bored of Cavalry’s style of play as some sort of evidence that Cavalry could not win every SWIM situation, as evidence of Texas State’s rise to prominence and Cavalry’s fall. But do not forget: that has been Cavalry’s only official in-range loss this entire season. The coup de grace of this “unstoppable” Cavalry juggernaut is the team’s deceptively good snitch on pitch play. Cavalry’s snitch-on-pitch beaters Monroe and Cole Travis are relatively new to the position, having each played keeper before their time at Cavalry. Each one alone has been outplayed by most elite beaters, but together they pose a threat to every team that doesn’t have depth at the beater position. Their teamwork combined with the skills of seekers Salinas and Joshua Andrews has led to an incredible median time of 97 seconds to catch a snitch, the seventh best of any team playing at nationals, and a 5-1 official record in in-range games. Perhaps only Boston has a better record in SWIM situations, and I find it hard pressed to believe that Cavalry could not easily win a SWIM situation with any other team.

Therefore, despite the strength of the Boston quidditch dynasty, and Lone Star adding two Team USA beaters, Cavalry’s path to the championship is clear through their domination of the current meta in quidditch. We might very well see three players win their fourth nationals title, redemption for those that believed in Cavalry’s style despite Lone Star’s dominance and true national prominence for a relatively new Austin community team.

– We Breathe Quidditch

Courtesy: Kristopher De La Fuente

No. 4 Texas State University
Three years and one day ago, Texas State had arguably the greatest Cinderella run in quidditch history. This mid-tier Southwest team didn’t impress anyone all season and even dropped a game to the Macaulay Honors College on day one of World Cup VII. However, they then went on to win four snitch-range games in a row on day two to end up in the finals against reigning champions, Texas. Even though they lost out-of-range, the Bobcats were now on the map. From that point on, they were contenders.

World Cup 8 saw a Texas State team heavily disadvantaged by Swiss play, having to play Lone Star, arguably their biggest rivals, on day one. The Bobcats pulled off a huge upset by putting on a clinic for slowballing, but couldn’t recreate the result come day two, losing to Lone Star out of range in the Elite 8. Even more disappointing than this was the loss of the graduating seniors that had comprised most of the starting line for both the World Cup VII and 8 teams, including Rich Kemp, Lauren McGarrah and Beth and Ryan Peavler, amongst others. The team would have to rebuild if they wanted to be contenders for US Quidditch Cup 9.

Last year, Texas State was a team of stars with no cohesion. In his senior year, Williams just couldn’t get much out of the offense besides no-bludger drives, courtesy of beater Jackson Johnson. This resulted in the team getting upset multiple times during the season, most notably by George Mason University on day one at US Quidditch Cup 9. Their luck didn’t fare better on day two as Texas State bowed out to Bowling Green in the Sweet 16, puting a succinct end to Williams’s tenure as a Bobcat.

Coming into this season, the loss of Williams was huge for Texas State. Not only would he no longer be part of the team, but he would go on to join Cavalry, a rival of the Bobcats. Only four players remain from Texas State’s World Cup VII run: Romie Lof, Steve Gralinski, Tessa Lantsberger and now-captain Johnson. This year has seen a huge recruiting class for both varsity and the B-team, the San Marcos Sharknados. The fall also saw several veteran Sharknados players make the move up to the maroon and gold.

Earlier this season, Texas State was off to a rocky start. With out-of-range losses to Cavalry and University of Missouri and snitch-range games against Sam Houston State University and Texas Tech, this seemed to be the same Texas State team we saw last year. But if you watch film of their play from the fall, you’ll notice a lot of new faces. Five players on the nationals roster for this season are brand new to the sport and five were moved up from Sharknados this season; that’s virtually half of their roster that has never played at nationals before. These 10 athletes played an incredible amount of minutes early this season and made many basic mistakes in games like Cavalry and Mizzou. But these 10 players–in addition to the nine returners and transfers Craig Garrison and Stephan Vigil–culminate in one of the most-complete teams that will be present at US Quidditch Cup 10.

So what makes this team so great? For starters, the keeper line boasts Lof and Garrison, two smart veteran players known for making great plays on both sides of the ball, as well as newcomer Robby Sluss, whose sheer athleticism helps convert no-bludger situations into goals. Texas State also has one of the deepest beater sets in the country with Ryan Nawrocki, Kristopher De La Fuente, Jessica Markle, Bailee Fields and Johnson switching between two-male beater sets and a standard set frequently during games. Nawrocki and Johnson are extremely aggressive, opening up lanes that their athletic chaser corps can capitalize on on offense, while still playing a very disciplined but effective defense. The Bobcats are able to run an immensely effective two-male beater set in part to their deep non-male chaser line. The four-headed monster that is Hannah Shaw, Riley Jackson, Jenna Bollweg and Lantsberger probably combine for at least half of the goals the team scores in any given game. This is because the Texas State system uses their non-male chasers almost perfectly, arguably more effectively than most of the country. Veteran TJ Martinez is a methodical ball carrier on offense, while Vigil and Tim Nguyen both have a physical presence on defense and can almost guarantee a point in a no-bludger situation. Anchoring this line-up is my vote for Rookie of the Year, Christian Rodriguez. Even though he’s new this season, Rodriguez’s mind for the game rivals that of any seasoned veteran. His no-look passes and his no-bludger drives, combined with his shot blocking and immaculate 1v1 chaser defense make this kid truly something special.

This team has proven that it can hang with the best of the best all season. Just two months ago, they beat No. 3 Cavalry and lost up 20 to No. 2 Lone Star, and have beat every team they’ve lost to this season, with the exception of the Los Angeles Gambits. Expect them to be training for SWIM games, where they rely on the two-male beater set of Nawrocki and Jackson and on the seeker trifecta of Steve Gralinski, Garrison and Austin LaFoy. This team is primed to easily make the Elite Eight, and with the right amount of luck, we could easily see a Texas State team finally bring home the gold.

– Tad Walters

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