Guest Column: Southwest Beater Analysis


By Ethan Sturm
Managerial Editor

Raghuveer Achukol
Correspondent

Steve DiCarlo
Guest Correspondent

In the past 10 years, there has been a lot of quidditch. Over the next two weeks, a committee of veteran players, referees and organizers will attempt to whittle down that sizable cache into a list of the top 10 matches of all time. But first, let’s start with those games that just barely fell short of the rankings.

As it turns out, picking just 10 games from the tens of thousands of official matches that have been played across the world this decade is not an easy task. As our committee gathered to hash out a list, we realized that–while we did feel the10 chosen games were deserving–we were also forced to leave a lot of historic moments on the cutting room floor. 

In order to get a fuller view of the past decade, we decided to include an honorable mentions section for the ten games that didn’t quite make the cut. While we will run through this portion of the list in more of a quick-hits style, we encourage you to check out each of these games for yourself.

So, without further ado, let’s get to it. Here are the not-top-ten games of the decade.

T-18. Texas A&M vs. University of Kansas: World Cup VII, Pool Play

Before Texas State University and Texas Cavalry could stall in the finals of USQ Cup 10, University of Kansas had to crawl at World Cup VII. Facing a pool play skirmish with Texas A&M, the No. 1 team in the country and undefeated on the season, the Jayhawks had nothing to lose. So, on pitch one under the primetime Saturday lights, they chose to, strategically, not play quidditch.

Much of the match featured Kansas with bludger control carefully tucked back under its own hoops, as Adam Heald—three years prior to his infamous teabagging suspension—held the ball at the top of the offensive zone. Resets were unlimited and used to their fullest extent. Meanwhile, Texas A&M, teeming with athleticism and depth, tried to take each of its possessions as quickly as possible to maximize the number of them they could hope to get.

The Jayhawks, to their credit, took their offensive opportunities when they were given, with a series of slick goals that kept them in the match. And while the Aggies would eventually catch the snitch to remain undefeated, it was Kansas who left the game having left a mark on quidditch.

It might feel today like slow-balling has always been a part of quidditch after years of watching it utilized and legislated. But before the Los Angeles Gambits stalled Lone Star QC at World Cup 8 and before the USQ Cup 10 final slowed down into a sport only vaguely resembling quidditch, Kansas did it to Texas A&M first.

T-18. New York University vs. University of Maryland: USQ Cup 12, Quarterfinals

For nearly the entire decade, the University of Maryland has been synonymous with elite college quidditch. The Terrapins won a record sixth regional championship earlier this year and have been fixtures in the top 10 of our site’s media rankings both before and after the college-community split.

And yet, success on the national stage has completely eluded the program. The team has never made a national championship game, and only made one trip to the Final Four all the way back at World Cup 8 when perhaps the most-talented Maryland team ever was stomped by Lone Star QC in an entirely one-sided affair.

But USQ Cup 12 felt like it would be different. Maryland entered the tournament as one of the contenders, and ended Saturday playing as well as just about anyone, even playing the University of Texas even on quaffle points. They drew the softer side of the bracket, opposite the top Texas sides, and a Texas vs. Maryland rematch for the final seemed all but assured. They even got to match up with a New York University team in the quarterfinals that failed to make its regional championship that season. A second Final Four appearance seemed assured. 

The game started out slowly, with both teams locking down the other’s offense with physical defense. But as snitch on pitch approached, a mini-run from Maryland threatened to give us the result we all expected. However, while the Terrapins stretched the lead to 40 points on multiple occasions, New York’s Frank Minson and Landon Garfinkel always had another mid-range shot or shifty drive in the tank. When New York’s seeker, Janice Lu, picked up a card while her team was down 40 and the snitch down to one arm, Maryland seemed through to the finals for sure–but New York not only survived the penalty but pulled the lead back down to 30. Lu snuck up on the snitch to make the grab that would send it to overtime, and New York would catch once more in the extra session to secure the upset and become the second Northeast college in two years to make a Final Four run.

Looking back over the past 10 years, Maryland has plenty for which to pat itself on the back. But it will be the shortcomings at nationals, with this being perhaps the most egregious, that will be hard to ignore. New York, for its part, used its miraculous nationals run to catapult into its first Northeast Regional Championship just six months later, hoping to start a regional dynasty to rival that of the team they beat in Austin.

T-18. Texas State University vs. University of Kansas: USQ Cup 11, Flight Play

This game may not have been a championship game, but it was a perfect vindication of both the Swiss system and the college-community split, both newly established for the USQ Cup 11 season. Texas State and Kansas were ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, by The Eighth Man rankings going into nationals, and due to the nature of Swiss play, ended up in the same flight. After three rounds of Swiss play, the two teams both found themselves 3-0 and set to face off in the fourth round. 

The Jayhawks had travelled down to face Texas State at Alamo Cup earlier that season, and this rematch truly had everything. Though they were underdogs coming in, Kansas took a 70-30 lead due to a beautiful display of beating, passing and coordination. But Donovan Mitchell and the Texas State chasing corps responded through a fantastic series of plays that included broken tackles, winning 50-50 loose balls and a mid-stride stop to avoid a bludger. Texas State topped the thrilling comeback with a fantastic catch by seeker Steven Gralinski. Every play was full of tension and excitement, and the fairly large feature pitch crowd gave it the feel of a late Sunday matchup between two heavyweights. 

All in all, while perhaps not that consequential of a game, it was a fantastic matchup between two big-name teams featuring three future USNT athletes. It had heart, it had hype, it had lead changes and comebacks, it had athleticism and teamwork. It was everything anyone could have hoped for the future of college quidditch and a big reason as to why the Swiss format remains popular to this day.

17. Boston Night Riders vs. New York Titans: 2015 MLQ Championship Finals, Game 1

The 2015 MLQ Championship finals were the sum of a series of firsts. It was the conclusion of the first season of the semi-pro MLQ. It was the first championship match to be played off of the East Coast and the first to be regionally televised. 

It was also an opportunity for a first for the city of Boston, as well. As prominent of a part as Boston had played in the early years of quidditch, as of August 2015 the city had never won a national quidditch championship. The USQ title and three MLQ titles were all still in the future. But this finals match seemed like the turning point. The Boston Night Riders had not lost a game all season and had swept this New York Titans 3-0 earlier in the season. Still, there was no shortage of talent on the Titans’ sideline, most prominently due to the addition of Augustine Monroe, who moved to the New York area to play for the team just this one summer.

Game one of the finals looked poised to be a one-sided affair, as Boston jumped out to a 30-0 lead. But Monroe stepped into the quaffle game and stabilized things for New York, scoring nearly at will with a series of mid-range shots and passes to Lindsay Marella. While the Night Riders pulled out-of-range on multiple occasions, they never led by more than 40, and, as beater pair, Kyle Jeon and Leeanne Dillmann started to take control, the Titans made a run to bring the game nearly level as the snitch was released.

Then, just minutes after release, New York seeker Andrew Zagelbaum came up with the grab that seemed to seal the victory for the Titans and end Boston’s perfect season. But after a long referee meeting, it was determined that Zagelbaum had briefly pursued a downed snitch in the seconds before making the decisive catch. In a shocking decision, an otherwise clean grab was ruled no good. Seconds later, Harry Greenhouse caught for Boston to push them to the brink of an MLQ title, which they would win one game later.

This dramatic and controversial game seemed like it would be the beginning of a long rivalry between the two teams. But Monroe and Dillmann would never play another game for the Titans, and New York would have to wait until 2019 to finally get a victory over Boston. The Night Riders, meanwhile, went on to win two more MLQ titles in the decade, and much of the core of the team would celebrate a USQ title eight months later at USQ Cup 9. But it was one referee decision that started it all.

(No film is available.)

16. League City Legends vs. Los Angeles Guardians: MLQ Championship 2016, Day One

With the way the format was set up that season, the League City Legends and Los Angeles Guardians would essentially play a three-game series to determine who received a spot in the semifinals. League City were the heavy underdogs, and after 25 minutes of play in the first game, the Legends trailed by 80 points. The game seemed like your run-of-the-mill early round blowout that is commonplace throughout the sport.

But then came the comeback. 

It wasn’t a great display of athleticism, but it was a display of home-field advantage that is pretty much nonexistent in modern quidditch. For the next 20 minutes, every goal, every stop by the Legends was accompanied with raucous cheers and elation from the crowd at a level that is almost never seen outside of national finals. Every second of those 20 minutes was exciting, and it had everything you could want for both a marathon match and a comeback: a called-off snitch catch, exhausted teams still making goal-line stands, frantic snitch-on-pitch beater play. 

To this day, it remains the largest comeback in USQ or MLQ history, and was just one in a long chain of events that led to MLQ’s disappearing presence from the West. When seeker Austin LaFoy caught the snitch to give the Legends the 220*-180 win, it was the most perfect example of an underdog, buoyed by a home crowd, beating a powerhouse. The Legends would go on to lose the second game out-of-range but win the third game, sending them to the semifinals of the 2016 MLQ Championship and an iconic, mud-filled showdown with the Austin Outlaws.

(No film is available.)

15. Bosnyan Bearsharks vs. Lone Star QC: USQ Cup 10, Sweet 16

When members of QC Boston left the team following its USQ Cup 9 victory to form a squad which openly strived to take itself less seriously, people didn’t know quite what to expect. The Bosnyan Bearsharks preferred to play kickball before games instead of warming up, their practice schedule was practically non-existent and their hearts didn’t seem to be in it as much as several of their opponents throughout the year. Lone Star QC, meanwhile, took the exact opposite approach to the sport and did everything possible to finally achieve glory. They fixed gaps in their roster and played against several of the league’s top teams throughout the year, and it seemed more guaranteed than ever that they’d take home the championship several of their members hadn’t seen since their time as Texas Longhorns. 

Yet, somehow, when the two club teams faced off in the Sweet 16 of USQ Cup 10, the fun-loving Northeast squad managed to take down the Southwest giant. The many tackling experts of Lone Star simply couldn’t stop the likes of David Fox and Tyler Trudeau, and Bosny actually took Lone Star out of range. The crowd watching the game built up after every Bosnyan goal, until almost every single athlete not playing in a game was there watching this underdog story play out and cheering as if it was the tournament finals. Northeast versus Southwest has become quidditch’s greatest rivalry, and this game may have been the first to truly prove that there are some things bigger than Texas.

14. University of Texas vs. Lone Star QC: Alamo Cup 2015, Semifinals

Just about everyone involved in quidditch is familiar with the World Cup 8 finals match between the Texas and Lone Staryou just might be seeing it on this list later in the week. But what many don’t remember is that the story for much of the season was not two heavyweights on a collision course for the finals but, instead, one team seemingly headed for unassailable greatness.

In the semifinals of World Cup 7, Texas and Texas A&M faced off in a ferocious, physical battle that highlighted the talent of the two best teams in the country. When large swaths of those teams graduated and joined up with a Lone Star team already talented enough for a deep bracket play run, the sky seemed to be a limit. They even added Mitch Cavender to the sidelines fresh off a stint coaching the USNT.  And for the first five months of the World Cup 8 season, they did appear unstoppable. Lone Star ran the table, and no team was able to get within 30 quaffle points of them, including a trio of wins over Texas State as well as victories over Baylor University and Texas.

When Lone Star stepped onto the pitch for their semifinal against Texas at Alamo Cup in February, it seemed like yet another formality. The Longhorns did not even have star Monroe for the weekend, and victory seemed all but assured.

But then Texas, the two-time defending national champions, came out and punched Lone Star in the mouth. Texas scored on four of its first five possessions on the way to an early 50-20 lead. Lone Star had no answer for Michael Duquette and Freddy Salinas in the bludger game. All the cracks that the Longhorns and other teams would expose two months later were suddenly wildly apparent to all.

Lone Star would rally back, and ever have a catch ruled off due to play having already being stopped, but as the Texas beaters continued to dominate snitch-on-pitch, the upset-sealing catch was inevitable. The Longhorns win ended Lone Star’s bid for a perfect season, a feat that has still never been accomplished in modern quidditch, and set the table for an epic final just two months later in South Carolina.

13. Lone Star QC vs. Los Angeles Gambits: World Cup 8, Flight Play

Large comebacks are a rarity in quidditch, where the existence of the snitch makes it incredibly difficult to get back into a match. To see one with an entire season on the line is that much rarer.

This was the proposition that faced Lone Star as they took on the Los Angeles Gambits in the last flight play round of World Cup 8 thanks to the marquee pairing provided by the Swiss Play system being used for the first time this tournament. Already having suffered a loss to a slow-balling Texas State the day before, Lone Star faced potential elimination if they could not win their early Sunday morning match.

Much like Texas State, the Gambits took advantage of the lax delay of game and reset rules of the time to minimize the number of possessions against the talented, deep, athletic Lone Star side. By waiting until the moment was perfect to actually attack the defensive zone, Los Angeles both ate up clock and forced the Lone Star defense to press high, leaving them open to incisive passes and drives from Tony Rodriguez and Ren Bettendorf. The methodical approach could not have worked better, and the Gambits took a shocking 70-0 lead into the end of the seeker floor.

But whether it was due to the change in pace of play afforded by the seeker floor or simply the tired legs of the Gambits top line, the match changed almost immediately. Lone Star went on a 70-10 run in a matter of minutes, erasing all the hard work Los Angeles had done over the opening 18 minutes. When the Gambits had to work Rodriguez into the seeker rotation as they continued to try to secure the grab, things only got worse in the quaffle game. With the snitch reduced to one arm, Mathieu Gregoire of Lone Star finally broke through for the game-sealing grab.

The win will go down for the historic nature of the comeback, but also for its relevance in keeping Lone Star alive in the tournament, setting up a final match for the ages against Texas. It is also yet another data point in the on-going argument for rules to stop slow-balling, an argument that continues to thrive to this day. 

12. University of Maryland vs. UNC: Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship 2014, Final

Quidditch, by nature of its end-game scoring, does not have many opportunities for matches that end in a truly dramatic fashion. Because of that, when they do occur, they become that much more exciting. When they come at the end of a regional championship match between two Mid-Atlantic colleges locked in a multi-year rivalry, they tend to make a list like this.

Maryland had not yet become the regional dynasty we now know, entering 2014 with just one of the team’s now six titles. But this iteration of the Terrapins may have been the strongest of the decade, boasting a talent-rich senior class featuring Greenhouse and Erin Mallory and a beautiful system of cuts and passes that split defenses apart. Maryland would lose just one regular season game and go all the way to the semifinals of the World Cup that season.

UNC, meanwhile, had built around a core of Max Miceli, Andrew McGregor and Kyle Bullins and employed a run-and-gun style offense and lax defense that served as quidditch’s answer to Big-12 football. Though the program’s fall would be rather precipitous over the following years, this version of the team was brimming with potential and would make it all the way to the quarterfinals of World Cup 8 that season.

This match started off with a quick spurt of Maryland scoring, but as Bullins began to take over the bludger game, UNC started scoring at will, slowly but surely building up a lead on the Terrapins. With the game threatening to go out-of-range with the snitch on pitch, Greenhouse delivered a catch with his now patented move to send the game to overtime. 

As time ticked away in the extra session, it became clear that a snitch catch was not in the cards. Miceli, with just 10 seconds, uncorked a pass behind the Maryland hoops, where Bryan Barrows just barely got a hand to it to force the turnover, gathering the ball with eight seconds to go. Barrows, one of the fastest players in quidditch, took off down the field, firing a pass of his own from just inside midfield with three seconds on the clock. Mallory received the pass, used a stiff arm to separate herself from the defense of McGregor and released a shot with one second to spare. The ball bounced off the bottom of the hoop ring before continuing on through, sealing a buzzer-beating regional championship win for Maryland that Billy Quach just so happened to be there to immortalize.

 

11. QC Boston vs. Lone Star QC: USQ Cup 9 Semifinals

The late rounds of USQ Cup 9 were somewhat unique in modern quidditch history. Texas, the three-time defending champions, had long since been sent packing by Ball State University. Monroe, playing for Texas Cavalry in its first season, missed out on the finals of a USQ or MLQ championship for the only time since 2011. Entering the semifinals, Lone Star remained the only hope of a Southwest team making the final two.

But to do so they’d have to beat a QC Boston team on a mission. QC Boston, built of much of the core of the 2015 MLQ Championship-winning team, had won the prestigious Bat City Invitational featuring many of the top teams in the country earlier in the year, even beating Lone Star, and entered the tournament ranked No. 1. For many, this matchup was being considered a veritable final.

The semifinal match featured some of the most entertaining, high-level quidditch to date. Lone Star’s Drew Wasikowski looked unstoppable early in the patch, driving and dishing at will, and Lone Star’s free-flowing passing offense was running on all cylinders. But QC Boston, boasting a beater advantage that struggled earlier but really took off on Max Havlin and Lulu Xu’s second shift, did enough to hang around despite not scoring for the first six minutes of the match, thanks in large part to a series of point-blank, goal-saving blocks and tackles from keeper Trudeau, who put in massive minutes.

The game fittingly ended the seeker floor at 60-60, but as QC Boston’s bludger dominance continued to show itself in the seeker game, Lone Star’s depth and athleticism was rapidly tearing apart QC Boston’s tired legs in the quaffle game. But at 80-60 Lone Star, with the game rapidly slipping away, Greenhouse delivered the snitch grab to send QC Boston on to the final.

QC Boston would go on to win the title over Rochester United, but, after an off-season schism, never get close to a title again before folding this past summer. Lone Star saw a number of retirements in the wake of another heartbreaking end to the season, and never got close to the title again. But this game is a gift to all of us from the heights of two of quidditch’s proudest club programs.

The following make up our Matches of the Decade committee. The years listed mark the year they became involved in the sport: Raghuveer Achukola (2011), Amanda Dallas (2011), Steve DiCarlo (2011), Matt Dwyer (2011), Sarah Kneiling (2009), Joshua Mansfield (2013) and Ethan Sturm (2010).







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