Antwerp QC, Much of Belgian Core, Leaves Competitive Quidditch

In addition to our preseason rankings, The Eighth Man staff will be releasing a series of articles focusing on the top 20 teams, counting down from 20 to one. Each article will be written by two members of the staff, one who believes the team will live up to or exceed expectations and one who thinks they will come up short. 

By Luke Changet

There are only two things in life of which I am more certain about than Ohio State’s ability to succeed this season: death and taxes. Last year, Ohio State was the best team in the Midwest, overall. They looked like the most impressive team in the region at every tournament they attended, except for their regional championship. Their offense was the best the Midwest has seen. Their defense, anchored by Team USA-alternate beater Julie Fritz was, while not astounding, very passable. Their seeking game had a massive turnaround which led to their surprising, but not altogether shocking, Elite Eight run.

And they have lost a grand total of zero players from that squad.

Say what you will about the Midwest, but this is a region which has consistently performed at a high level. As far as inter-regional competition goes, the Midwest has only ever been consistently beaten by the Southwest. Being the best team in any region is an accomplishment, and the Buckeyes are the best in the largest region in quidditch. But what is it that really makes them the best?

Their beaters, while passable, are not jaw-dropping. Their chasers, while athletic, are not astounding physical specimens. Their seeker, Mitch Boehm, barely looks old enough to be in high school.

But then you actually watch this team play, and you know that they have something special. Their passing game is phenomenal. The chemistry between their players is unparalleled outside of the Southwest. One of the best plays I have ever seen in quidditch came from these Buckeyes last year at the Glass City Classic. When playing their arch-rivals, University of Michigan, Ohio State-star Jeremy Boettner threw a lobbed pass back behind the hoops toward lifelong friend Chris Bowman. Bowman, while on the run, jumped over two imposing Michigan defenders and completed the alley-oop with one hand, while taking a hit and twisting in midair. This is just a small sampling of the kind of cohesion Ohio State has to offer.

This group of seniors, featuring the likes of David Hoops, Braden Stevenson and Fritz, turned Ohio State into a real team. This group of juniors, featuring Boettner, Bowman and Clint Yoos, gave an extra kick to the chasing game and some much-needed depth to the keepers. Then this past season, stellar athletes were added in Gunnar Smyth and Gavin Kyle. This team has only gotten better every year, and with no losses to graduation this past season and only a small handful the year before, these Buckeyes are poised to be scarier than ever.

Last season, the biggest question mark in Ohio State’s record was their blowout loss to the Lost Boys. Nobody gave them a chance after that, and I am willing to bet my opponent will be mentioning that loss as a big reason why Ohio State will not be able to hang with the elite. However, I think that loss is exactly why Ohio State will be able to live up to the hype.

It takes big losses to bring about big changes. Before that game, Ohio State had never faced beaters as in-your-face as those on the Lost Boys. They had never faced a physical specimen like Tony Rodriguez before. When these two elements combined, it sent Ohio State into shell shock. I did not see the start of that game, but by the time I arrived, Ohio State was already down big, and their play showed it. The stellar passing game that had brought them this far had vanished. The Buckeyes were not playing their own brand of quidditch, but instead trying to muscle through the same way Rodriguez had done to them. That is not how Ohio State wins games, and it showed.

However, two positives came out of that game and showed immediately. Boehm was able to beat out famed Steve DiCarlo for the snitch, giving him an extra boost of confidence going into day two, and Ohio State realized that they could only succeed as a team. When day two came around, the Buckeyes were determined not to go down like that again. When Texas State University got out to an early 30-0 lead in the Elite Eight, the Buckeyes easily could have slipped back into defeat mode. But instead, they found some players open behind the hoops, put some points on the board and fought their way back.

How close was Ohio State to the Final Four? This close:

Will Ohio State do it again? I am struggling to come up with reasons why they would not. They have all their talent back, plus new recruits from one of the largest recruiting bodies in the nation. They have firm leadership, a taste of winning and heartbreaking losses to feed their desire to win even more. They have somehow avoided much of the drama that surrounds a lot of quidditch teams. They have absolutely nothing holding them back from greatness.

By We Breathe Quidditch

Ohio State boasts an impressive number of returners; a convincing performance at World Cup, ending with an in-snitch range loss to finalist Texas State; and strong regional competition. All signs point to this year’s Ohio State being the best Midwestern team ever assembled.

They will be. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, even that level of play will not rank them as high as sixth.

One of Ohio State’s biggest problems rests not in their roster, but rather in their style of play. Unlike University of Kansas, another Midwestern team that has matched up favorably against the rest of the US, Ohio State does not orient their entire game plan around a single strategy, preferring instead to rely on the physicality and athleticism of their players.

If Ohio State continues to play the same style, they will cruise through intra-regional play and hit a hard wall at World Cup.

Ohio State ran a relatively aggressive style of beating the past season. Against relatively weak in-region beating competition (they only faced Central Michigan twice and never played Kansas), captain Julie Fritz led the beating corps to a very successful season. Unfortunately, that success hid some very big weaknesses.

Ohio State’s beaters lose bludger control a lot. They get bludger control back quite a bit too. But in either scenario, they use their bludgers rather liberally.  In the Midwest, the physicality of their chasing line up and the accuracy of the throws by keeper David Hoops was enough to mitigate the damage done by liberal beating. Against the far more physical and skilled Lost Boys and Texas State squads, it was not.

The Buckeyes gave up four drives with no bludgers to the  Texas State offense. Texas State, quite conceivably, scored on every opportunity. Whenever there was a no-bludger situation in Ohio State’s favor, their physicality was not enough to reliably find a score.

It is not impossible to play a strong game with bludger fluidity. The Lost Boys, and to a certain extent Texas State, used this strategy very effectively. But the fact remains that if you are going to be facing a  zero-bludger defense, you want your chasers on offense to be physical enough to fight for every ball. You want your chasers on defense to be strong enough to slow down the drive until a beater recovers the third bludger. Ohio State, despite matching up very well in the Midwest, did not have the physicality to deal with the Southwest elite and the Lost Boys. The aforementioned, combined with a mediocre 6-6 SWIM record throughout the season showing an inability to consistently win close games, shows a relatively bleak future for the Buckeyes outside of the Midwest.

There are many ways this could be fixed. It is possible that Ohio State had amazing recruitment and managed to find an elite seeker that will improve their SWIM record. It is also possible that Ohio State’s impressive line-up of returners makes their play inherently more physical. It is also possible that their now-experienced beating corps plays a more conservative game and is still able to wrestle bludger control from their opponents.

Even without all these, Ohio State is on track to be a top-tier team next year. They are even on track to being the undisputed Midwest champs and possibly the best team ever produced by the Midwest.  But if they cannot deal with the physicality of the rest of the US by fixing all three of their weaknesses, then even that will not be enough for Ohio State to be elite. It will not be enough to deserve a No. 6 ranking. And given that Ohio State’s only two losses at World Cup VII were to more physical teams, I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt here.

These articles were written prior to Tournament of the Stars II.

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