The Eighth Man

Unpopular Opinions: USQ Cup 2022

After a nearly three-year hiatus, welcome back to The Eighth Man’s Unpopular Opinions. ​​

What are Unpopular Opinions? Well, in quidditch we tend to hype the same players, back the same teams and utilize the same surface-level analysis. Dating all the way back to 2013, this series seeks to break from that mold, with a series of takes about USQ’s major event—all of which are judged to be outside the norm of popular opinion.

Now in its eighth iteration, the Unpopular Opinion article has been a mixed bag of surprising successes and embarrassing failures, the type you would ultimately expect from the world of risk-heavy prognostication. And with hundreds of athletes attending their very first national tournament in cold rainy weather, it’s almost a certainty that chaos will reign again. Let’s see what hot takes our analysts bring to the table for US Quidditch Cup 2022.

Courtesy: SHSU Quidditch

Pool E Will Go Winless in Bracket Play

Almost immediately during the selection show, Pool E was labeled the pool of death. The pool features two teams in the current Eighth Man rankings: No. 8 Sam Houston State University and No. 10 UCLA. It also features the strongest team out of the Great Lakes region:  the University of Michigan, whose only loss at Regionals came from No. 2 Creighton University. Normally, we would expect big things from these teams on Sunday.

But the deck is definitely stacked against all three coming into the weekend. The teams’ Saturday games are likely to be hard-fought, draining affairs and leave them in a difficult position both in terms of roster depth and standings come bracket play.

UCLA, Michigan and Sam Houston are all built from a similar cloth; All three have a preference for mark defense, which fails to give defenders the type of breather that zone defense provides. It also means that just about every game between the three will be full of big hits and drives through traffic rather than the passing-heavy strategy most teams opt for against zone. 

Two of these teams also rely heavily on a star quaffle player to provide for them on the offense and defensive sides of the ball. Michigan’s Andrew Stephenson and Sam Houston’s Hayden Boyes both improved drastically this season, building off their MLQ experience this summer to become indispensable to their respective teams.  In a normal pool, Stephenson and Boyes would likely be able to  rest in their easier day one games, but if their teams hope to get the requisite wins to move on in this pool of death, they may have to eat up serious minutes on Saturday: a rainy, cold day in extreme altitude that is going to challenge even the best of athletes.

With all due respect to Brandeis University, it seems unlikely they will take a game from any of the big three so there are two ways this pool is likely to play out. In the first scenario, one team goes 3-0 with weak tiebreakers due to the strength of their competition, one team goes 2-1, and one team goes 1-2. In this scenario, the 3-0 team will get a direct path to the Round of 16 but due to tiebreakers will likely face another 3-0 team that did not have to go through the same gauntlet. In the second scenario, they all split games with each other and each finish 2-1. This is probably the scenario that offers the pool the best chance of a win, but even so, these 2-1 finishes with weak breakers are likely to leave them with first round matchups against other strong pot-two teams like No. 5 Harvard University and No. 9 University of Virginia.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I do not foresee this as a weekend where mark defense will be the path to success. With cold, wet weather in the forecast, effective ball movement will be difficult and many teams will be forced into a more drive-heavy gameplan. This can still work against mark, but will struggle to break down zones, which are often beaten with two or even three accurate passes. This will leave these teams more susceptible than others in their tier, and likely make them underdogs in any Sunday morning matchups.

-Ethan Sturm

Cal Will Make It Feel Like 2019 All Over Again

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A smart, skilled beating game headlined by the high ceiling play of Ivan Avalos; a talented chasers whose name not enough people know that is fully comfortable playing with or without the ball in her hand; a wing chaser named Phipps who is more athletic than everyone else on the pitch. Now give them all a friendly draw, a series of impressive results, and you get a run all the way to play under the Sunday night lights. 

Things have once again broken kindly for No. 7 University of California-Berkeley, who look to follow their US Quidditch Cup 12 Finals run with a similarly impressive performance this year. And fresh off a West Regional Championship title, they have all of the right pieces to do just that.

It’s hard to talk about a Cal team without first talking about a Phipps; this time around it’s Aidan Phipps. Phipps, like his two brothers before him, popped off the screen consistently at West Regionals, and is every bit the deadly wing chaser that his brother Eli was during their last run. And while he is not much of a ball handler, the Bears have plenty to offer in that department as well. Lucca Menezes has come a long way in his first season and as the team’s starting keeper, and most of the team’s passing offense works its way through Dara Gaeuman, whose confidence and vision with the ball in hand allows her teammates to focus on being the monstrous off-ball threats they are.

The team’s beating runs deep, but stars the aforementioned Ivan Avalos as well as Eric Shen, a student of the game who always makes the right split-second decision. Both have years of experience as well, which will go a long way against a large number of beaters in this tournament who have never been to nationals.

The draw also was incredibly kind to Cal, who drew one of the easiest pools available. This is in large part due to their pot-two team Middlebury College, who will likely be traveling short-handed to Salt Lake City and who most recently were eliminated in the Massachusetts Quidditch Conference Division 2 semifinals by pot-four Brandeis College. Virginia Tech could be a tricky pot-three team, having made the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship Final, but they have only played three games since that event, and looked unconvincing in a 160-65 loss to the University of Virginia this spring. The University of Rochester rounds out the pool, but is also unlikely to be a threat. This means that Cal could easily leave this pool not only 3-0, but with the tiebreakers to be one of the top two or three seeds in the bracket.

In those Sunday matchups, Cal will prove to be a tough out for just about any opponent. Their beating core is too veteran and experienced to get played off the pitch, and the efficiency of their ball movement will allow them to find solutions against mark and zone defenses alike to keep them in games. If they can catch a few snitches–something that’s been something of a coinflip for them so far this season– it should be enough to get them the two wins they will need to make it to the Final Four for a second consecutive nationals.

-Ethan Sturm

Credit: Zach Armantrading

Terminus Will End Up in the Final Four

Terminus Quidditch Atlanta comes into nationals with a 7-9 record and is currently ranked 14th among club teams– hardly the record of a National Championship contender. However, digging deeper into that record and their season, Terminus is poised to make a deep run into the club bracket, making it to their programs’ first Final Four appearance.

This year’s Terminus team has run the gauntlet of tournaments, playing in Oktoberfest, the Invitational Division of the Crescent City Invitational, Sin City and South Regionals: the only club team to go to all four of those events. They’ve suffered losses to The Warriors, the Bosnyan Bearsharks, Texas Hill Country Heat, Texas Cavalry, Pegasus Quidditch and the Boston Pandas. These are all the top teams in the country and Terminus has tested its mettle against all of them. Over the course of these games, Terminus has put together great parts of games, notably going on an impressive 40 to 0 run against Cavalry in their game at CCI. 

Luckily, none of the above teams landed in Terminus’s pool. Their one seed, Anteaters Forever, has a 11-2 record but has played none of the best six teams in the country. One of Anteater’s losses is to DCQC, a team that Terminus beat 210 to 60. Their three seed, Atlantic Dragons, has played five games total this season and brought a ten person roster to South Regionals. Chicago United has won only two games this season, one of which was a forfeit by West Michigan. Terminus will be able coast to a top four seed, leaving them with an easier path in the bracket.

This Terminus team is made of talented players from the South’s historic programs. Terminus beater corp is deep and experienced and offers a variety of looks. Sean Pagoada uses his physicality and speed to create holes in opposing teams and Kody LaBauve is still a sniper, with a range that makes it imperative to always know where he is on the pitch  (Both were also featured on the Golden Snitchy, which gives you an idea of how long they’ve been in the sport). Joe Goldberg has incredible hands and will more than likely catch any ball that is thrown at him. Tony Bonadio is a great engage beater, baiting opponents into throwing at him and dodging and blocking those beats. Celine Richard is always in the right place and uses her speed incredibly effectively all over the pitch. Mary Cueva uses her positioning and awareness to force turnovers. Every beater is able to play with every other beater, which allows for a variety of looks. Their quaffle core is also deep and athletic, featuring USNT talent Quincey Hildreth and Jacob Parker. Logan Hartman, Ruthie Polio, Madison Burns and Lee Hodge are all off-ball threats that force the defense to adapt to them. Both Tyrell Byrd and Zachary Thompson are players who can come off the bench and act as spark plugs, turning the tide in games. Finally, Terminus has some of the best seekers in quidditch in both TreyPressley and Ryan Davis. Both of these players offer different looks at the snitch. Terminus is a team that has all the pieces needed for a successful run at nationals 

While it is likely they will run into one of the six teams that have already beat them this year, it’s always harder to beat a team a second time. If this Terminus team is able to play a complete game and keep their heads, they have the talent across the board to upset one or more of those teams on the way to a Final Four finish. 

-Emily Hickmott

Creighton’s Season Will Come Up Short

The USQ regular season is a long, drawn out affair and it is not rare to see a team peak too early. At the 2014 Southwest Regionals, Baylor beat Texas twice, including once by 110 points, only to lose to them out-of-range in the quarterfinals of World Cup VII two months later. Over the course of seven months, teams ebb and flow.

Which brings us to No. 2 Creighton University. It’s hard to report on any trends from the program, as they last logged an official game almost exactly five months ago. While they traveled the globe in that fall semester, winning two regionals, beating No. 4 Tufts University and Rutgers University in New Jersey, and losing twice to No. 1 University of Texas, everything about this team’s current state is a question mark.

In the college game, five months is an even longer period of absence; all those additional reps matter to first year players and we have seen other teams in the college division absolutely transform from fall to spring. 

Creighton is uniquely situated to develop talent in a short-period of time, having enough players to form a second team and get game reps in practice. But anyone who has ever had to practice quidditch with the same teammates over and over during the cold winter months can tell you that there is a point of diminishing returns. After a while, the effects get more deleterious than productive. 

No one can deny that Creighton boasts quaffle players that can take on just about any college team on paper. Darian Murcek-Ellis, Joe Goulet, Sena Morimoto and Laura Levin can form a line that is faster and more athletic than even Texas can muster. But the last time we saw Creighton play official games–and against that very Texas team–Murcek-Ellis and Levin were both sidelined with injuries. Nationals will be the first time that their recoveries will be tested at full, competitive game speed. And with only a 15-player roster– a conceit made to make sure the programs’s two teams could have a degree of depth at nationals–there is no room for them to show up at anything but 100 percent.

Although Creighton vaulted to No. 2 in our rankings, their dominant fall semester looks a little less dominant upon review. At Oktoberfest Invitational, they were only +30 in the quaffle game against Rutgers. At Midwest Regionals, they were only +20 in the quaffle games against the University of Missouri. They benefited from a first line fresh off an MLQ summer, while most of their opposition came off an 18 months hiatus away from competitive quidditch. They did cobble together a 19-2 record this season, but that came mostly from teams not likely to figure heavily come Sunday at nationals.

Finally, there are real questions about how prepared this team will be to play situational quidditch. The closest match they’ve had to play all season, either winning or losing, was a 55-point margin. The majority of this team has never been in anything close to a next-goal-wins situation, or had to make the type of rational, calm decisions that win tight games down the stretch. When that happens for the first time in the Round of 16 or the Elite Eight, they may find themselves not up for the task.

I’m not here to tell you Creighton will lose to unranked teams or fail to make bracket play. But given all of the above, I would not be surprised if they’re tripped up in the Elite Eight, instead of  the finals run penciled in for them since September.

-Ethan Sturm

Brown, Not Maryland, Will Make the Elite Eight

A tale as old as time: A stacked Maryland roster underperforms at Nationals. Whether the flight-play loss to Central Michigan at US Quidditch Cup 11 that forced the Terrapins into Texas’s quadrant of the bracket, or the overtime heartbreaker to NYU in the quarterfinals of US Quidditch Cup 12 after nearly beating UT at the same tournament, Maryland’s talent hasn’t translated to national success since their Final Four run all the way back in 2015. This year especially, Maryland has struggled with depth issues, particularly with their lack of female and gender non-conforming players that often forces the team to play down a player to maintain gender rule during snitch on pitch. This year is just not the Terrapins’s year and they will fail to make the Elite Eight.

But it will be the year for the pot-two team coming out of their same pool: Brown has transformed from a feel good college story to a certified dark-horse threat this year as they continue to get better and better. Their 165*-130 win over Harvard University this spring is a clear indication that this team should have everyone on high alert. Behind star player Andrew Steinberg and with some good seeking by Will Richardson, I could see Brown making an Elite Eight run. Only three things in life are certain:  Death, taxes, and collegiate star players leading their teams to deep runs.

-Ethan Warren

Maryland Will FINALLY Make a Finals Run

The University of Maryland has taken a lot of heat after an up-and-down spring semester and a standing that slipped all the way to No. 6 in our most recent rankings. Two losses set the Terrapins back from the lofty place of title contenders in our fall rankings: a 185-100 loss to University of Virginia at Cavalier Cup and a 175-160 loss to Harvard University at Knights Cup.

However, it wasn’t ultimately the losses that altered perception of Maryland, but their roster depth issues. Due to a lack of female players, they have had to play a player down during snitch-on-pitch at multiple tournaments, including Mid-Atlantic Regionals–which they still won. At Knights Cup, Katie Glendon picked up an injury and stayed at her own hoops on offense, leaving the Terrapins veritably down two players during snitch play. They also only had two beaters for the tournament, and star Heather Farnan was not able to sub out once all day.

Depth concerns could become backbreaking, especially given the wear and tear the current gameplay rules have on teams during tournaments. The new end game rules have created grueling and lengthy affairs this season, and the two-day tournament format and high altitude won’t be friendly either.

However, there are a lot of reasons to believe the Terrapins will be just fine–and perhaps even thrive–in Salt Lake City. Maryland brings their largest roster of the spring semester, which should help them return to the heights they reached during their undefeated fall. They have also been granted a less taxing pool on Saturday. The University of Illinois and Emerson College will be completely outclassed athletically by the Terrapins. The upstart Brown University squad will likely give them their best shot but the Bears have no answer for Farnan in the beater game, and Brown star Andrew Steinberg will find himself in the rare position of being outclassed athletically by TJ Generette. I expect the game to go back and forth early, but eventually end in a comfortable win for Maryland.

If the Terrapins can complete a straightforward, low-exertion 3-0 in their pool, they will enter Sunday in the Round of 16 with a favorable matchup to secure the three victories needed to make the finals. And I believe that in those three games, their talent can outweigh their depth issues.

In the college game, Generette is a cheat code. Almost no defender can stay in front of him when he has the ball in hand, and his shooting and passing are both top of the league. There really isn’t any defensive scheme, whether mark or zone, that can stand up to him if he can get free to hit the lane, which he generally does at will. Farnan is arguably the best free beater in the league and definitely the one with the strongest arm, rendering holes in their generally aggressive 2-2 hybrid zone almost non-existent. Players like Jerrick Knippel and Brendan Randall bring both size and years of experience to the pitch, while Arthur Nissen provides an X-factor playing for the first time since regionals.

Nationals is built as a test of endurance. But this team is uniquely equipped with the athleticism and schedule to push through that and make a deep run. And if they can avoid Texas, a team I think that they match up poorly against, I expect to see them playing in the final game on Sunday night.

-Ethan Sturm

Courtesy: Nancy Tao

No One Will Mess With, or Even Get Within 50 points of, Texas

All year, we’ve talked about threats to a Texas repeat. Creighton has had a dominant run at multiple regionals, but was blown out twice by Texas on the Blue Jays’s own home field. UTSA played Texas to a next-goal-wins scenario at Southwest Regionals…in a game Texas star beat Jack Wang wasn’t there for, and have subsequently been blown out by the Longhorns every other time they’ve played them. 

The hard truth of the matter is that this Texas team is even better than we predicted. While Wang came into the season as the conclusive top beater in the collegiate game, we didn’t think his toughest competition would come from his own teammate Kyzer Polzin, who took a massive leap into stardom this year and matched Wang’s talent over time. It’s not hyperbolic to say Texas has the two best beaters in the college game this year. Combine that with their incredible chaser talent, headlined by USNTDA players Josh Johnson and Caroline Tao who have lived up to the billing, and backed by Davis Roe and Kasye Bevers who have been every bit as good–I don’t realistically see a team that can keep up with Texas for a full 30 minutes all weekend long. 

-Ethan Warren

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