The Eighth Man

MLQ Preview: Ride to Redemption Begins

Credit: Amanda Dallas

The Rivalry Continues

The MLQ East Division kicks off tomorrow with the league’s most historicif rather one-sidedrivalry, as the New York Titans travel to take on the Boston Night Riders. The two squads have played a league-high 11 matches against each other, and while Boston has ended up on top in every contest to date, New York has kept them in snitch range on three occasions, including twice in the 2015 MLQ Championship final. Only the Austin Outlaws have kept the Night Riders in snitch range or better more.

This season features a new-look Titans, with Michael “Yada” Parada ceding head coaching duties after three years to focus on leading the US National Team at the World Cup. New Head Coach David Hoops will have little time to rest on his laurels, with his toughest regular-season test coming right off the bat against Boston. He will also be trying to strain as much chemistry as possible out of a roster with heavy turnover from last season: only half of this weekend’s roster played in the match in New York one year ago.

Boston, on the other hand, remains the model of consistency, carrying just two MLQ rookies on their 21-player squad for the weekend. The team’s top two lines, which have historically seen the majority of play time for the Night Riders in competitive matches, have remained almost unchanged since the addition of Mario Nasta, Grace Dastous and Leeanne Dillmann at the start of the 2016 season, and that will likely remain the case into 2018.

But there are two central questions of the early Boston season: How will those lines be utilized? What wholesale strategic changes is Boston considering after the end of their undefeated streak and semifinal loss at the hands of Austin at the 2017 MLQ Championship? A year ago in this series, the team’s starting linefeaturing Jayke Archibald, Bryan Mulcahy, Teddy Costa and Dastouscame out with an offensive concept that often looked clunky and struggled to get on the board. These issues plagued the team on and off throughout the season, right up until their fateful match with Austin. A more-streamlined, less-stiff offense on opening day could signal a team ready to take back the crown in August.

If the Titans are to remain close with the Night Riders this weekend, or even steal a game, it will most likely be on the back of the matchup between beaters Devin Lee and Max Havlin. While Havlin remains one of the dominant players in the sport, Lee has consistently been his kryptonite, going as far back as Lee’s time with Rutgers University. In the one game the Titans stayed in-range last season, Lee forced five no-bludger situations and added two dodges and a catch on the defensive side. He was nearly as efficient in the two blowouts in that series, recording a +/- of +10 in a 90-quaffle point loss and a -10 in a 60-quaffle point loss. Because Boston utilizes full-line switches, New York can plan to make sure Lee is on the field any time Havlin is. And if Lee can continue to get the best of him, he could potentially force the Night Riders out of their comfort zone and into lineups they would prefer not to play.

But, even with strong beater play, New York will likely need some scoring efficiency to keep up with the inevitable goals of a dynamic Boston squad. Shawn Hazlett returns after leading the team with 11 goals a season ago, but he did so on just over 50 percent shooting. Taylor Crawford and Mo Haggag did the majority of the rest of the team’s scoring in 2017, but both are most comfortable in off-ball roles. Who will be the ball-carrier with Hazlett off the field and how effective can that player be in the role at minimizing wasted possessions will determine whether the Titans have any hope of staying in-range of the Night Riders.

The Night Riders enter the series as clear favorites at home, but this matchup has always had a tendency to zag when you most expect it to zig. It was Boston that swept New York out-of-range when the Titans entered the inaugural season as the favorites, but then the Titans who responded that same year with two snitch-range games in the finals. Last year, when it seemed New York may have taken a step back and Boston was reaching invincibility, it was the Titans that shocked everyone by playing the Night Riders even in the quaffle game in the third match. We can only hope for similar levels of intrigue this weekend.

Credit: Joseph Halm

On Brand Brawl
By Cole Travis
Guest Correspondent

The New Orleans Curse hosts the League City Legends to open the MLQ season in the South Division tomorrow. Last season, the Legends captured the series 2-1, although all three games were in snitch range. While both teams feature some fresh faces, each retain much of the core that lead them to the 2017 MLQ Championship.

League City boasts an impressive quaffle line up. Drive-heavy chasers like Jaycob and Dilan Freeman excell at collapsing defenses and finishing at the hoops, and off-ball targets such as Kevin Tran punish teams that overcommit to a help defense. Additionally, chasers Perry Walton and Jay Ross are dangerous counter attackers who work best when they can put their elusiveness to use.

Similarly to last season, the Legends lack female beater depth, though, this year, it seems to be by design rather than the result of injuries, as they only list one female beater on their roster. With that said, expect to see a lot of two-male beater sets featuring the likes of Thomas Morgan, Baldemar Nunez, Cody Boyes and Josh Carroll.  

Meanwhile, Curse is largely the same team they were last season with Charlton Tramel leading the quaffle game and Josh Mansfield heading up a beater corps that is quietly the strength of the team. Expect to see a lot of Tramel, Francis DePano and Shelby Newcomer throughout the series, as they will need to have a great offensive showing if Curse plans to pick up its first series win versus League City.

Defensively, New Orleans lacks a reliable point defender after DePano, so the beater corps will have to pick up the slack. Along with Mansfield, veterans Kody LaBauve and Michael Sanders bring poise that may be the key in the matchup with the talented but erratic League City beater corps.       

Snitch-on-pitch play should be particularly interesting in this series, as both teams trot out new seekers to start the season. Curse is will not return its two primary seekers Tevin Foster and Tad Walters, while Legends seeker Austin “Springs” Lafoy won’t make the trip to the Big Easy. While it is likely to be a seeker-by-committee approach from both teams, it is entirely possible both will employ a female seeker in SWIM situations. Legends’s Autumn McArthur and Curse’s Sarah Yanofsky could be key strategic pieces for their coaches as both have shown they can win a game if given the right snitch match up.

Can the New Orleans beaters win enough interactions to create scoring opportunities for its outgunned chaser lines, or will the Legends chaser defense be too tough to crack? Expect three competitive games between these two contrasting styles, with the winner gaining the inside track to a spot in the MLQ Championship.

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