Guest Column: Southwest Beater Analysis


Credit: Lang Truong

Credit: Lang Truong

Opening day 2014 was rung in loudly by several top Midwest teams competing in Columbus, Ohio, and the headlines were still dominated by an unofficial tournament in the Southwest. Hiding behind those two tournaments was Crimson Cup, a tournament buried off in Salt Lake City and won by our No. 16 team, the LA Gambits. When the dust settled across the country, the Gambits found themselves sitting as USQ’s top-ranked team.


THE VICTOR
Everyone outside of the tournament was only looking in to see if one story would unfold: will the Gambits stumble? The Gambits formed largely from major pieces of three of last season’s teams: the Lost Boys, the Long Beach Funky Quaffles and Quid Pro Quo. Behind one of the world’s top players, Tony Rodriguez, and the studs surrounding him at chaser, the Gambits are among the favorites to win the Western Regional Championship. They have set plans in motion to travel to several out-of-state tournaments this season, not wasting an opportunity in the first official weekend of the season to take on the top teams from the Mountain West corridor. This area, however, does not boast teams on the same tier as the Gambits’ local Los Angeles area. Anything other than the Gambits strolling to a championship would have been a surprise considering their veteran talent.

The Gambits debuted in the fourth game of the tournament against the University of Northern Colorado, a much-anticipated match after the season opened up with three blowouts. After the Gambits failed to finish on a brooms up possession and De’Vaughn Gamlin of Northern Colorado made them pay with a goal on the other side, it seemed like the sky was falling. Andrew Murray converted the Gambits’ first goal of the season on their fourth possession, but Northern Colorado was able to trade goals with the Gambits and the underdog held a surprising 50-40 lead ten minutes into the game. Finally, the Gambits seized control for six straight goals and never looked back. The game remained only 10-20 points out of snitch range until Alex Richardson sealed it 150* – 70 with his first of four impressive snitch grabs on the day.

The biggest question concerning the Gambits this weekend was depth, but it did not look like it as they only grew stronger as the day went on. It may have looked from the outside like the Gambits underwhelmed in their first game. On the contrary, they looked scarier than projected. After ten minutes of growing pains, they were able to take a skeleton of their roster with nine male players and only two females and show complete control throughout the rest of the tournament. Rodriguez seemed to be playing with his food, taking several casual long shots and hitting around half of them, lower than his usual standard. He added a number of driving dunks and mid-range scores with some style points on the side.

Contrasting with Rodriguez’s cruise control was Murray, who stole the show on offense. He dove masterfully under so many bludgers sent right at his torso that he seemed to be impossible to hit. He also boasted the best tackling form on defense of anyone at the tournament.

One of the most impressive performances of the weekend came from Alyssa Burton. She showed off a strong arm and a surprising amount of aggression at beater for a player without any available substitute. She would then seamlessly transition to chaser, where she stood out on defense. Her female counterpart Caylen McDonald stayed at chaser, and the Gambits were able to execute a cherry-pick offense, where McDonald often did not even return to her side of the pitch to play defense. She simply avoided beaters and waited for her team to recover possession, making herself an easy pass option. However, she was often caught flat-footed on passes behind the hoops and could not convert for more than the occasional score. No team accounted for her throughout the day, but the strategy was extremely effective, as it allowed her to be a factor on offense for every minute of every game.

The Gambits’ two-male beater lineup did not completely dominate the competition, but any lineup of beaters the Gambits put on the field was more than enough. The experience of their big name beaters Steve DiCarlo and Duston Mazella showed on the field, but it was former Quid Pro Quo chaser Tyler Bryce who displayed the strongest arm in the beater corps and should be a huge value for the team this season.

The rest of the tournament for the Gambits avoided any hint of a scare like they had in the first ten minutes against Northern Colorado. They handled teams defensively, limiting every team they played to between 30 and 50 quaffle points and never failing to put up over 100 themselves. The final was more of the same, as Richardson dove to catch a 200* – 50 victory to beat Northern Arizona University for the second time of the day.

For a team missing one of their biggest stars in Ren Bettendorf, not to mention several other solid players, the Gambits performance at Crimson Cup should establish them as the team to beat in the West. We will see them again at Lumberjack Invitational on October 18, where they will ideally encounter the Crimson Elite, a more experienced NAU squad and their expected hometown rival, the Lost Boys. However, the Gambits will really test their mettle November 15 at Lone Star Cup, where we will see how they stack up against the several of the top teams in the country.


THE FIELD
If you are a fan of the Mountain West teams, then the matchups between them was where you saw the real action of this tournament. The Colorado State University Boggarts brought a club full of rookies that was not able to hang with the more established programs, finishing with a record of 0-4.

The host team, the Crimson Elite, finished off the first official game of the USQ season by dismantling the Boggarts 190*-20. The Crimson Elite are a new team sprung from the Utah Crimson Fliers program that enjoyed a surprisingly successful performance in World Cup pool play. They looked like they would be the Gambits strongest challenger after a huge win in a scrappy defensive game against NAU, winning 130*-50 in the longest game of the tournament (27:58). Veteran captains Ben Reuling and Edgar Pavlovsky led a huge group of rookies at their respective positions of beater and chaser, with Emerson Evans and Brian Flach bursting onto the scene as a duo of rookie keepers. Rebecca Lewis also had a breakout performance, logging many minutes at beater in her first ever tournament. Even though she had no natural beater sub behind her, she made herself one of the most crucial cogs of the Crimson Elite defense.

Before facing the Gambits, the Crimson Elite stumbled to an early tournament exit, with a 100*-90 loss against Northern Colorado. The loss dropped them into the elimination side of the double-elimination bracket. Then, in the most surprising result of the tournament, the Crimson Elite lost 80* – 70 to Boise State. The Crimson Elite had been on a rigorous practice schedule, and it showed at the beginning of the day, but they did not display the depth of talent they needed to put teams out of snitch range, and it cost them big time.

The Boise State Abraxans were representing the brand new Northwest and seemed to be spelling doom for their region after losing 130*-20 to Northern Colorado, a team that didn’t even qualify for World Cup last year, in the opening game. However, the Abraxans improved more than any other team as the tournament went on. Their chasers finally started to click, managing to score 50 points on a tough Gambits defense before a Stew Driflot suicide catch—the only snitch the Gambits failed to catch. Then came their impressive work holding the Crimson Elite in snitch range and capping off the upset with a nearly-immediate snitch catch by, you guessed it, Driflot. Where the seeking game was their advantage, they seemed to be smelling another upset when their defense held NAU to a snitch-range game, but Steven Gruenewald laid out to make the catch, ending a run for Boise State that was better than their 1-4 record looks.

Credit: Lang Truong

Credit: Lang Truong

Northern Colorado made some noise with their performance against the Gambits and continued to do so as they knocked off the Crimson Elite. De’Vaughn Gamlin has always been the big star for Northern Colorado, but it was the way he worked in tandem with Brandon Nhean that really made the team click on both sides of the ball. The beater play for Northern Colorado provided a huge boost, as Scott Rice led an aggressive and effective strategy that was able to throw off most offenses. They played all-out to start the Gambits game, creating successful opportunities for their offense to score. The drawback was that they were often caught bludgerless on transition defense against the Los Angeles team. Had Northern Colorado’s beaters settled in earlier, they might have been able to control the Gambits’ offense even better.

The NAU Narwhals arrived at Crimson Cup as the most historically successful team at the tournament, coming off the season as a Final Four team in the West and only one season removed from an Elite Eight finish at World Cup. However, the Narwhals this year are an entirely different team. Greg Leininger took the helm as the on- and off-pitch leader. He is the team’s surest scorer, highlighted by a moment in which he threw down a back-handed dunk through pressure into the tall hoop. One of their best beaters from last year, Steven Gruenewald, played in a super utility roll. He put up points, played stalwart defense at beater and made the clutch snitch catch to knock out Driflot and Boise State. Luke Sanchez made the opposite switch, from one of the top chasers on the team last year to (mostly) beater, where he plays with the speedy style of The Lost Boys’ Chris Seto. The hope for this team going forward lies with a group of developing rookies. Bryan Mugge made the catch in the thrilling 180*-140 marathon victory over Northern Colorado to put NAU in the finals, filling in nicely for absentee seeking legend Porter Marsh. But no rookie at the tournament had more star power than Justine Heisley-Taylor. Heisley-Taylor first attracted attention for her muscles that make Audrey Wright look flabby. Then Heisley-Taylor took a hit to the head that sent blood pouring down her face, looking like a total badass. And of course, she was soon back on the field, acting as a valuable finisher and defender for NAU all day.

The Gambits had but one rookie on their roster, Michael Richardson. With the rest of these teams hungry and full of developing players who improved incredibly over the course of the weekend, we may see a stronger showing when these teams meet up with the Gambits again. We were also treated to an exciting four-way, four-state rivalry developing between NAU, Northern Colorado, Crimson Elite and Boise State. These are teams we should see matched up many times this season as they are the closest competition to one another in the vast Rocky Mountain region that, who knows, may someday become its own region.

The Eighth Man’s unofficial Crimson Cup awards:
MVP: Andrew Murray, Chaser, LA Gambits
Honorable Mention: Tony Rodriguez, Keeper, LA Gambits
Honorable Mention: Alyssa Burton, Beater/Chaser, LA Gambits
Rookie of the Day: Justine Heisley-Taylor, Chaser, NAU







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