The Eighth Man

The Favorites Awaken

By Ethan Sturm
Managerial Editor

Steve DiCarlo
MLQ Correspondent

The second week of MLQ action features the first series of the season for three teams selected by our analysts to take home their respective divisional crowns. The Austin Outlaws, Boston Night Riders and Los Angeles Guardians went a combined 26-1 during the regular season a year ago but will all be tested as they kick off a title defense.

Austin and Boston will match up against their division’s respective 2016 runners-up, as the Night Riders take on a New York Titans team loaded with talent across the board and the Outlaws face off with a Kansas City Stampede squad that was seconds away from forcing them into overtime a year ago. Then, the weekend ends with a Guardians squad with major roster turnover hoping to steady themselves against a Phoenix Sol team hungry for a victory.

Will the favorites waltz their way to 3-0 series wins or will one of the underdogs score the first major upset of the 2017 season? Let’s break it all down.

Credit: Ginger Snaps

South Division
Kansas City Stampede (2016: 5-4, 2nd) at Austin Outlaws (2016: 9-0, 1st)
June 10, 12 pm EDT
All-Time Series: Austin 3-0

This match had all of the makings one of the early season’s best. A year ago, a largely anonymous Kansas City squad played a heavily favored Austin tight in game two of the series before an accidental suicide snitch grab left the Stampede 10 points short. Undeterred, Kansas City went 5-1 the rest of the regular season to secure the second spot in the league’s most-talented division. The Stampede’s roster made waves for the Midwest throughout the USQ season, with the University of Missouri going all the way to the Final Four at USQ Cup 10 and the University of Kansas completing a Sweet-16 run. With David Becker playing at an all-world level, Kansas City was positioned to walk into Austin this weekend as the Outlaws’ first, true divisional competition.

Unfortunately, the match rosters rolled out yesterday and took all of that hype with them.

The Stampede will be more of a docile herd this weekend, with just a 14-player roster that lacks not only numbers but also star power in the beating game–with Becker, Rachel England, Jake Simon and Sam Urban not making the trip–and quaffle game, where they will be without Jacob Bruner and Hai Nguyen. Instead of a dynamic back-and-forth affair, we may be looking at a lot of Adam Heald being chased down by a ravenous pack of talented Austin beaters. But, on the bright side, at least Heald is allowed to play.

For the home team, it will be a treat to dissect how the most athletic squad in the sport chooses to attack the new rules. If a team were to try a half-court trap or something similar, this would be the team to do it. And while last year’s Outlaws largely relied on patiently waiting for bludgerless drives as a means of generating offense–a tactic that, to be fair, most teams utilized–this group is more than capable of morphing back into the type of high-paced offense that the Lone Star Quidditch Club of World Cup 8 made look so good.

Of course, doing so will mean incorporating the sizable chunk of Texas State University players that has been added to the roster. Texas State has always been a regimented, well-drilled team within its own system and it will be interesting to see how quickly and efficiently head coach Cole Travis can mesh all of the roster’s moving parts together.

While the play in this series is likely to be highly-watchable, the scoreboard will likely not be as exciting. Expect Austin to cruise to a 3-0 record and turn its attention to the rest of the South Division.

Credit: Ben Holland

East Division
Boston Night Riders (2016: 9-0, 1st) at New York Titans (2016: 5-4, 2nd)
June 10, 6:30 pm EDT
All-Time Series: Boston 8-0

Boston puts two streaks on the line as it travels to New York for their first-ever away series against the Titans. Of course, there is the well-advertised 28-game winning streak but the Night Riders have also never been held in snitch range during the regular season, a stretch that includes 18 games. No team has gotten closer than New York to ending the streak– with Andrew Zagelbaum literally holding a game-winning snitch during the 2015 finals–and the Titans should be by far the biggest threat to do so during the regular season.

The first task for New York will be to get a foothold in the beater game against one of the greatest beater foursomes ever assembled on one team: Max Havlin, Lulu Xu, Mario Nasta and Leeanne Dillmann. Further complicating things for the home team is a lack of Kyle Jeon, who is very experienced with the play of all four. Devin Lee will likely need to reach a level we have never seen from him to even get the bludger game on level footing for one match in the series, and that could even not be enough if he cannot get enough of a contribution from his partner, be it Lindsay Marella, Rachel Ayella-Silver or one of the team’s other male beaters.

It will also be interesting to see whose hands New York chooses to put the quaffle in. Alex Linde has done much of the ball carrying for this team in the past but with him off the roster, there is a void that could be filled by a number of players that have ball handled, but that are not known for it. David Fox used to be a primary ball handler in his Emerson College days, but that was long ago. Drew Brekus was the standout player in this series last year, while giving Kyle Carey more minutes may be the most obvious choice in this position.

On the Beantown side of the ball, we more or less know exactly what to expect from the team’s top lines–which have changed little since a year ago– but we may also get our first taste of the youthful depth coach Harry Greenhouse loaded this roster with. RPI’s Michael Li, Middlebury College’s Ian Scura and University of Texas’s Michael Johnston Jr. will all make their Night Riders debuts. When they get on the pitch, we will have a chance to see just how quickly a new player can be assimilated into the Boston system. While it’s probably not needed, it would go a long way if this team could truly run 21-players deep, especially as the new rules add far more possessions to the average quidditch match.

If you had to imagine a scenario where the Titans could be the ones to derail the streak, it would be most likely be during game one. First game of the season jitters are always in play, especially after months of practice preparing for this one game. If Boston is wasteful with possession early while getting up to game speed and New York can nick a couple of goals, they could build some confidence. It would still take a herculean effort in the beater game and a snitch grab in a snitch-on-pitch game that should favor the Night Riders, but the possibility is in play.

Even with that, last weekend we saw how vulnerable the weaker team is under the new rules. Expect Boston to efficiently extend an advantage throughout each game and reach the 20-minute mark out of range. The Titans are more than capable of putting up a fight, but I would expect the streak to live through the weekend.

Credit: Tayyeb Mubarik

West Division
Los Angeles Guardians (2016: 8-1, 1st) at Phoenix Sol (2016: 0-9, 4th)
June 10, 9 pm EDT
All-Time Series: Los Angeles 3-0 (2016 series was forfeit by Phoenix)

This weekend, the Los Angeles Guardians will begin their journey to become repeat champions of the West Division as they face off against the relatively unknown Phoenix Sol. Phoenix’s roster issues kept these two teams from playing against each other last season, and with an Arizona team stealing the regional title away from a Los Angeles squad during this past USQ season, it’s sure to be an interesting series.

It’s impossible to deny that this season’s revamped Los Angeles Guardians roster has an incredible amount of potential, despite losing a majority of their top players from last year. The chemistry shared between the 14 current and former Lost Boys players on this weekend’s roster will undoubtedly give the Guardians a huge advantage early on in the MLQ season.

Head coach Chris Seto will surely have his team play the Lost Boys’s patient and calculating style of offense, which will led to less turnovers and fast break scoring opportunities for their opponents than we saw in last week’s series between the Salt Lake City Hive and the San Francisco Argonauts. The team has everything necessary to dismantle the Sol, from a skilled veteran beater corps led by Seto, Andrew Burger and veteran all-star Peter Lee to large ball carriers and an agile chasing corps, both of which allow them to speed up the game if they catch their opponents getting tired or trying to slow the pace.

All that all said, Phoenix couldn’t have hoped for a better time to square off against the reigning champs. The Guardians need to figure out how to work the non-Lost Boys players into their system and–with this being their first series of the season–they may try some lines that simply don’t work. If Sol coach Shane Bouchard can stay near his beaters and avoid making risky passes and Jarrod Bailey can find a way to create lanes for Bouchard and equally skilled driver Alex Makk, the Sol could find themselves giving the Guardians a closer series than expected. Bailey has also proven himself to be an elite seeker this past season, and if Phoenix can slow down the game enough to limit Los Angeles’s possessions, they could very well steal one of the organization’s first-ever wins this weekend.

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