The Eighth Man

Unpopular Opinions: US Quadball Cup 2023

Welcome back to unpopular opinions, our annual article focused on takes that may go against the grain of the majority in the community. Now in its ninth iteration, the piece has spanned multiple decades with only the spiciest of takes and is now coming with us into the future of quadball media.

And what a future it is. We have never had more active podcasts in the community at one time, allowing for more and more voices to be heard. We need to empower the next generation of quadball analysts, because if no one is talking about the sport, no one is interested. 

So listen to a podcast. Start your own. Or, even better, consider picking up the pen. Podcasts are great, but the written word still maintains a certain power that has been missing in the sport in recent years. Nothing is quicker to consume, nothing is more universal, and nothing is more meaningful to a young, up-and-coming player than seeing their name in an article.

But I’ll get off my soapbox now, because we’ve got a national championship to decide tomorrow. So here it is, an abridged Unpopular Opinions for a tournament we can only hope will not be abridged by concerning Saturday weather forecasts.

The college USQ Cup Championship match will be played at 5:20 pm on Saturday.

Allow me to save you a two-day ticket. This year’s Div. 1 college championship is not being decided on Sunday night. In fact, it’s not being decided on Sunday at all (weather pending). And that is because the Div. 1 college final is being contested by No. 3 Rutgers University and No. 5 UTSA on pitch 5 at 5:20 pm on Saturday.

To explain myself, I need to first reiterate how you are viewing the Div. 1 college championship as a whole. You are probably picturing a marquee event featuring team’s playing “the beautiful game,” wowing the crowd with their high-level skill expression. But that is not what this tournament is going to be. Instead, it’s going to be a long, tiring slog, where the winner is simply the last team still standing.

If you have not been following college quadball closely this season, you may have missed just how difficult of a time college teams are having holding up to the grueling environment of two-day tournaments. Only three championship matches at Regional Championships were actually played this season. Teams playing deep into Sundays consistently found themselves shorthanded due to injuries, with players stretched to their limits and playing below their skill capacity.

This tournament is set to compound the issue because of the small size of the Div. 1 field. Even for the top contenders, there will not be many opportunities to rest their starters in blowouts, because every team in this field is talented. While the top club contenders may not play a competitive game until Sunday afternoon this weekend, some top college contenders will have played two competitive games by noon on Saturday.

So which teams are best equipped for the task at hand? In my opinion, there are only three teams in the Div. 1 field that can legitimately be considered deep: Creighton Univeristy, Rutgers and UTSA. All three will also have the advantage of playing only three games on Saturday after being drawn into the four-team pools. They also all dodged Pool B, the undeniable pool of depth that is likely to render every team in it dead tired by the end of Saturday.

I’ve talked extensively about Rutgers and Creighton in other articles this week, but let’s take a minute to discuss UTSA before moving on with our point. UTSA was my pre-season No. 1 due to the absurd amount of skill the team possessed in the quaffle game. Jay Stewart, Matt Blackwood and Milena Sousa are all future superstars of the sport, with support players like Wyatt Ross and Christian Cortez only a step behind them. UTSA had more players playing heavy minutes in an MLQ semifinal last summer than some of their top opposition has upperclassmen total. And while the quality of the team’s beating was very much in question for the first semester of the season, especially during a 165-50 drubbing at the hands of Creighton, Javi Tijerina has emerged as a real threat on that side of the ball for the team, and Bradley Himes has returned to the team to bolster the an already deep group including Kyle Bryant and Ankita Girish. Add to all that Stewart being one of the few sure things in the college seeker game, and you have a real contender.

Getting back to my point, I think Creighton, Rutgers and UTSA are the only team’s capable of having anything left in the tank Sunday afternoon. I believe the Pool B teams will basically knock themselves out of contention during grueling Saturday games before even reaching bracket play, and while the No. 4 University of Michigan has a friendlier path, if Julien Theuerkauf can carry an entire team’s offense for a seven-game weekend, I will be happy to eat my words.

So with three contenders, two are inherently going to be on the same side of the bracket. The one team by itself? The winner of the UTSA vs. Rutgers match. So while Creighton will get a path that includes a quarterfinal matchup with the loser of this match and then a potential semifinal against a Michigan team that has already beaten them twice this year, the winner of this match is likely to play a quarterfinal against either No. 9 Sam Houston State University or No. 10 RPI, with a semifinal against a No. 2 University of Virginia team that will likely have played a tournament and a half’s worth of competitive games at that point.

UTSA and Rutgers are also two of the teams best matched strategically to upset Creighton in a potential finals matchup. For Rutgers, Jason Ng should give them a quaffle game edge, while the passing talents of Annika Kim, Byron Ng and Jahved Cole should be capable of handling Creighton’s press or breaking down its zone. For UTSA, the passing attack is just as deadly, and Stewart may be the only seeker in all of college quadball with the same level of talent at the position as Joe Goulet.

It’s going to be a long and crazy tournament, but for Rutgers and UTSA things couldn’t be simpler. Go 3-0 on day one, and win two or three games you are expected to be favored in. But of course, you have to go out and beat the other one first in a much-watch matchup Saturday night.

– Ethan Sturm

There will be no Pot 4 or Pot 5 teams in the club bracket.

Picking chalk might not seem like an unpopular opinion (oooh wow you’re picking the favorite in every game, how brave of you), but a lower seeded team nearly always springs a pool play upset and advances to the bracket. For macro and micro reasons, that trend will come to an end this year.

The macro, big picture reason is this: the often maligned USQ algorithm actually has ranked most teams correctly this year! Because of the high volume of inter-regional play at all levels (not just the very top teams), and because almost every regional featured an out of region challenger, no team has an artificially low ranking by playing an extremely difficult schedule like eventual semifinalist Pegasus QC last year. The most glaringly under ranked team is BosNYan Bearsharks, but the main culprit there was bringing extremely short rosters to two of the three tournaments they attended. Even with that being the case, BosNy slots it as a pot 3 and therefore are expected to make the play-in at the very least.

Even so, there are strong pot 4 and 5 teams who could be expected to swing an upset and pot 2 and 3 teams that might seem vulnerable. And that brings us to the micro reasons: unfavorable matchups for the dark horses. 

Pools W and Y look extremely likely to go chalk. Both Pot 5’s (Chicago United and Philadelphia Freedom) are teams that finished the season outside the top 20 and have zero wins over any team playing in the competitive division this weekend. Pool W’s Pot 4 Seattle QC was handily dispatched by Lost boys, the pot 2 of their pool, at West Regionals 185-70, and there’s little on their resume to suggest a reversal in the rematch or in their game against Terminus. Pool Y is a similar story. Pot 2 Boston Pandas and Pot 3 New York Slice both dispatched Bay Area Breakers and Anteaters Forever at Heroes Vs Villains Invitational, only for the Breakers to run around and crush this pool’s Pot 4, the Silicon valley Vipers, at West Regionals. The Vipers did post a close wins over Anteaters at West Regionals, but they’ll be hard-pressed to compete with the beating and shot-making on display form Slice and Pandas.

Pools X and Z show more hope for an upset. Pool Z features one of the strongest Pot 4’s, the Orlando Spider Knights, and the strongest Pot 5, the Southwest Alliance. Unfortunately there’s some risk of them cannibalizing each other – even if one of them beats the Pot 3, Bay Area Breakers, they could turn around and lose to the other, setting up a 3-way tie. Southwest Alliance hangs their hat on bringing a ton of physicality on both ends in the chaser game, with multiple strong drivers who like to get all the way to the hoop, especially when their beaters create no-bludger situations. Unfortunately the Breakers, who play their beaters extremely low, are focused on taking away drives to the rim and lobs behind the hoops- staples of the SWA offense. The Breaker beater corps, led by Sam Selle, are difficult to create no-bludger opportunities against, and if the SWA beaters overcommit, the Breakers will create presses and fastbreak opportunities for their own chasers. SWA will need to be able to consistently score against armed beaters and avoid giving up transition to spring the upset.

The Spider Knights are a similarly physical team but with more conservative beaters than SWA, and an elite seeking game that has generated multiple under 10 second catches on the season. The ingredients for an upset are there, but Spider Knights have also struggled with transition defense this season, which will allow Breakers to score without having to break down the Spider Knights physical defense. While Breakers will likely face two close games here, they should be seen as the favorites in both.

Finally, in the Pool of Death, pool X, everyone seems to have penciled in the “upset” of Pot 3 BosNy – bringing stalwarts like Bashem Askar and Rachel Heald for the first time all season – over Pot 2 Twin Cities QC. Even worse for TCQC, they also face off with one of the strongest Pot 4’s, the Washington Monuments. The Monuments have looked to be on the brink of a major upset multiple times this season, notably playing DCQC and Terminus extremely close at Mid-Atlantic Regionals. Twin Cities meanwhile has had a quiet season – aside from an early season win over their rivals Boom Train, they did not notch any impressive wins during the regular season.

To their credit however, TCQC also has no bad losses – they took care of business against every other team they faced at West Regionals and pulled out a gritty 125-90 win over Southwest Alliance in the last game of CCI, a game in which neither Max Meier not Henry Baer-Benson played at chaser. TCQC will be in trouble if they rely on those two players going one-on-one with Monuments keeper Justin Kraemer, one of the very best point defenders in the league, and Twin Cities preferred way of scoring – mid-range shots – will not be open against the trees zone Monuments prefer. But Frost has experimented with playing trees themselves this season and will know how and where to attack. 

On the other end, Kraemer serves as the co-star of the offense with teammate Maggie Dodson, with both eager to hunt shots on the middle hoop. When Kraemer, who carries a heavy load on both ends, heads to the bench, however, the Monuments struggle to keep up. TCQC’s superior depth will help over the course of a long game. A close game also favors TCQC, who have Baer-Benson at seeker, over Monuments, who have struggled to come up with grabs all season. While Monuments, like SWA and OSK, have a talented team capable of springing the upset, the favorites are the favorite for a reason, which will lead to only teams from the top 3 pots advancing to bracket play.

– Ben Mertens, Guest

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