Guest Column: Southwest Beater Analysis


 

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Credit: Monica Wheeler

After the Lost Boys won the LA Open, two of our West correspondents, Kevin Oelze (Silicon Valley Skrewts) and Dan Hanson (Crimson Elite), sat down to talk about the state of the West and quidditch in general.

Oelze: Okay Hanson, leading up to LA Open, I’d have said that the West Regional Championship was wide open. I’d probably even have given a slight edge to the LA Gambits before, but now, in spite of the Gambits missing Peter Reynebeau and Maddy Wojdak playing out of her mind this weekend, I’d have to say that the Lost Boys are huge favorites going into Western Cup VI. You agree, right?

Hanson: Huge favorites? I don’t know. Reynebeau will be a good depth addition, but in this stage of the season, I don’t think it’s such an advantage to add a player you have never practiced with. And I don’t see any reason why Wojdak would decline; she’s been working for years to get to this level. The Gambits were in range until right around the 18-minute mark. What surprised me most was that the Gambits domination of snitch-on-pitch play at Next Best West was nowhere to be found at LA Open. The Lost Boys have the beater advantage. The Gambits have the seeker advantage. Who would you say has the advantage in terms of quaffle players?

Oelze: I think the Gambits have the edge in terms of quaffle players, but maybe not as starkly as I would have thought before this weekend. Jake Tieman had a huge weekend. I think, though, that edge in quaffle players will get magnified once the snitch is on pitch if the game is in snitch range. The Lost Boys pulled away because they were able to focus all their beaters on the quaffle game, whereas the Gambits kept theirs on the seeking game. I think the types of chasers the Gambits have will provide an edge if the snitch is on pitch and the game is still in snitch range. I think the biggest key for the Lost Boys in that matchup is to pull out of snitch range before the snitch gets on pitch. If they can’t do that, I think the Gambits have the advantage.

Hanson: Which is why I can’t say the Lost Boys are huge favorites.

Oelze: Fair enough. What about the other teams? Are there any others that you think might be able to challenge? Before this weekend, I’d have said Arizona Quidditch Club, but now I might have to think about the Santa Barbara Blacktips, if the bracket sets up right. I don’t think they match up well with the Gambits, but I think they match up pretty well with the other teams.

Hanson: The Blacktips are such an exciting team, but I still haven’t figured out how they have been able to do so well in their ten-point victories over AZQC this past weekend and the Lost Boys back in November. Their regular keeper Ben Harding just has to do so much, even with a fantastic new complimentary chaser in Jeremy McIntyre, a threatening new female chaser in Sara Weman, strong beater play from Brian Vampola and the most clutch seeker in the West this season in Justin Fernandez. AZQC on the other hand… I got to know them pretty well having reffed all five of their games last weekend. What I noticed most was their unbelievable improvement as the tournament went on. It makes a ton of sense because I am almost positive that they have never had a team practice. They threw away possession after possession against the Blacktips in their second game, but by the time they played the Gambits in their fifth, they were making a much more reasonably low number of strategic mistakes. Meanwhile, they hit in a way that reminds me of the two-time defending champs. Neither team seems to be at the level of  the Gambits or Lost Boys yet, but I see other teams figuring out how to stop the Blacktips better and better while I see AZQC becoming more and more dangerous with each game they play together.

Oelze: We were playing the Lost Boys when Gambits and AZQC were playing. Can you tell me a bit about how that game went?

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Hanson: It had a crazy start. Three of the four beaters in the game received yellow cards on the Gambits’ first drive, but that yellow on Steve DiCarlo ended up being the only Gambits penalty of the game, and I think that was huge for them. They let AZQC’s physical and sometimes-illegal play get under their skin at Lumberjack Invitational, but this time, they made sure not to commit any penalties themselves. AZQC ended up with eight yellows to the Gambits’ one. The Gambits took control of the game quickly and were out of range well before the snitch came on pitch. However, AZQC showed some serious backbone with a pair of exciting rallies that kept them dancing on the edge of range throughout the game. When Alex Richardson made yet another great catch for the Gambits, there was a huge celebration that felt a lot bigger than the quarterfinal win that it was for. Those teams have an intense and exciting rivalry developing. On that note, what did you think of the bracket?

Oelze: I think fixed brackets are dumb.

Hanson: That was my idea for this tournament! Jerk!

Oelze: You put them in as a way to avoid rematches, but, at some point, these rematches are going to happen. In avoiding them, you risk stacking one side of the bracket so that one side has a much easier path to the finals. That happened here: you had four of the six best teams in the tournament all on one side of the bracket and, arguably, the two best teams on that side. The scores may have made it looked like the Lost Boys waltzed through their half, but both they and the Gambits had to deal with much harder quarterfinal games than either UCLA or Santa Barbara did. At least when the tournament is seeded, there is something you can do about that. When it is fixed like this tournament was, you get crazy things like how the Silicon Valley Skrewts would have had an easier bracket if they had intentionally dropped their game to Riverside Quidditch, which seems wrong. I’m just not a fan.

Hanson: True, however, I wanted this tournament to be as different from next month’s West Regional Championship as it could be. Tough quarterfinals were the lesser of the evils here for me, because we got to see exciting new matches throughout the bracket. There was not a single rematch in the whole tournament. I just wish we had thought to run this as a Swiss tournament!

Oelze: You can’t upstage the Swiss debut of World Cup! Plus, Swiss would be difficult to run with an odd and fairly small number of teams.

Hanson: You’re right, it would not have worked. But no matter whether Swiss is a huge success or a huge failure at World Cup, nothing will be able to upstage it.

Oelze: Can we talk about how resilient UCLA was in the final? They almost brought that game back into snitch range, even though I’m still not sure if they’re a top four team in the region, they showed they can compete like one. And that was on a day when Zach Luce clearly was not on his strongest form—he was missing shots much easier than ones he usually makes.

Credit: UCLA Quidditch

Credit: UCLA Quidditch

Hanson: I can’t even tell if I thought UCLA overachieved or underachieved at this tournament. Making the final didn’t mean as much here as a normal tournament. I really hope we get to see them up against the Gambits and AZQC before the end of the season.

Oelze: I’d love another shot at UCLA too. We had an extremely close defensive game, but having Alex Makk back could possibly give the Skrewts the offense they need. Of course, we’ll see at our regional just how much of a difference someone who has not played an official game with the team this year can make.

Hanson: Yeah, the Skrewts vs. UCLA match-up was one of the most interesting games on Saturday, but watching that game, it just didn’t have that feel of a great game. You certainly made UCLA work hard and make great plays when they did score. Your defense was excellent. However, I don’t think UCLA’s defense was great by any means, and you guys just struggled to make plays on offense, especially before the snitch was on the pitch and your offense was working against two beaters.

Oelze: I don’t think it was a great game from either team. I felt like we submitted a really strong defensive game, and UCLA played a more impressive offensive game, but the other half was a little bit lackluster. Of course, then the Lost Boys turned around and made our defense look like Swiss cheese the next day.

Hanson: If I hear one more Swiss cheese joke….

Oelze: Alex Browne is an unbelievable passer. Your marking has to be top notch if you’re going to slow down the Lost Boys offense.

Hanson: Yeah, let’s talk about Browne. He’s been playing for six years, and he seems to have taken it up a notch, or several, this year. He has looked like a more effective player for his team than the player he backed up last year, Tony Rodriguez, does for the Gambits.

Oelze: I think they’re different. Browne is a better passer and driver, but Rodriguez is probably one of the two best shooters in the West along with Luce. I think Browne’s team needs him to do more than the Gambits need Rodriguez to do, and I think that helps make him look more impressive.

Hanson: I still don’t think I can say Browne is a better passer or driver than Rodriguez. There was a great moment in Lost Boys vs. Gambits where Rodriguez put in one of the most accurate shots I have ever seen. He threaded it between a fully extended Browne and the top of the top hoop. He turned and talked some classic “Tony trash.” At that point in the game, Rodriguez looked like he was having his best game as a Gambit. He was perfect from mid-range, and sometimes longer, and couldn’t be defended. He just couldn’t do it for more than ten minutes and the game got away from the Gambits. I don’t understand how Rodriguez, Murray and Bettendorf can’t be more effective as a trio. They should be unstoppable.

Oelze: To me, the chemistry does not look like it’s there yet. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it will get there by the West Regional. I’m even starting to wonder if it will get there by World Cup.

Hanson: Meanwhile, Browne is making ridiculous plays like going from being on the ground to jumping clear over a bludger within a one second span… literally. Also, Lost Boys and former UCLA bruiser Tieman is settling into a role where he finally looks like a superstar. He was a huge difference-maker, coming into that game late in the seeker floor, although still within ten points. He scored his first goal to make it 100-80 and the Lost Boys never looked back.

Oelze: I find it interesting that every team in the West seems to have these well-defined weaknesses, and they’re all different. It can make the matchups very intriguing on paper. AZQC seems to be unable to keep seven players on the field, and their male beaters are lackluster. The Lost Boys have keeper depth and seeker as a weakness. The Gambits lack truly elite beating, which made them pay big in the Lost Boys game. The Skrewts have some offensive questions and can be picked apart by elite passing offenses. The Blacktips can struggle for depth—they nearly gave away the AZQC game once Harding got tired. UCLA’s weakness is probably a lack of major strength in any one area.

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Hanson: I agree with pretty much all of that. The upcoming West Regional should be a fun ride. I think what most analysts, myself included, were wrong stating that at the beginning of the season there was parity at the top. It’s less crowded at the top, but the middle is getting interesting, which should make the qualification games as great as the late rounds. Who do you have qualifying?

Oelze: If I had to make a list of teams I think will definitely qualify right now, I’d probably guess at Lost Boys, Gambits, UCLA, AZQC, Santa Barbara, Silicon Valley and the Crimson Elite. That leaves four slots open for the remaining teams. I’d guess those teams as San Jose State University, Northern Arizona University, University of Southern California and Arizona State University. Of those eleven teams, I’d guess ASU and USC are the two most likely to surprisingly not qualifyASU has some very close games with teams not on this list (Long Beach Funky Quaffles, California Dobbys), and USC has a history of not always being able to bring its full roster to tournaments.

Hanson: You know what though? I’m gonna go a little Oelze and make a risky pick. I think the Funky Quaffles are due for a win. I mean, they have been unable to buy a big win so far this season. They had a heartbreaker in which they almost took out Santa Barbara at Next Best West, and they are a team full of athletes and they play hard. I think they finally get that one big win they need at the most important time and end up qualifying for World Cup.

Oelze: I don’t think that’s that big of a hail Mary: if I had to pick a number 12 team right now, they’d be my pick. Other teams I can see springing an upset and swiping a bid would be Utah State University (they play very smart and control possession well) and Stanford University (David Saltzman is the best beater nobody thinks to call elite for some reason).

Hanson: I’m picking Utah State to qualify, too. Total homer pick, but I think their beaters can play better than some of the shoe-ins to qualify. When they play two guys, they have controlled games against some much more experienced programs. Rookies and Snow Cup champs Brandon Handy and Devon Anderson deserve some serious recognition. They can make plays. Captain George Williams has trained one of the youngest teams in the region to play very smart. Utah State has a habit of jumping out to shocking leads against heavily-favored opponents. They led Northern Colorado University 60-10 in their first official game as a program and, at LA Open, led USC 30-0 and had the Skrewts tied 40-40 near the end of the seeker floor, but lost each of those games. Their problem has been depth, as Williams bears an enormous workload. They excel in a fast pace led by aggressive beaters, but the pace usually costs them before they can make it to 18 minutes. They haven’t shown any seeking ability yet. When Dakota Briggs travels with the team to the first time, which will be at their regional, they should get a huge boost.

Oelze: So you have Long Beach and Utah State qualifying. Who do you have falling out?

Hanson: That’s such a tough question. If only there were international teams we know would drop and give each region an extra slot or two! That’s another interesting storyline this year. You have to think that the teams that qualify will be the teams that actually qualify. In years past, you could finish several spots outside of qualifying in the West and know you could still make it if you can swing last-minute, cross-country tickets for your team. Did I successfully dodge your question?

Oelze: Nice try. I’m still paying attention. I want names. And I want to know which shoe-in teams you think Utah State’s beaters play better than.

Hanson: Skrewts! Can Martin Pyne deliver that clutch goal for you yet again? Seriously though, I can’t predict how the bracket will fall so I’m not going to try.

Oelze: If the Skrewts qualifying comes down to another awesome Pyne goal in the 11th-place game, I’ve failed in so many different ways this year.

Hanson: Back to LA Open. We’ve talked about the telling results, but what about the results that are still surprising in retrospect. Would you consider Blacktips 90* to AZQC 80 an upset?

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Oelze: Yeah. I actually picked the Blacktips to win, but I thought I was picking an upset. For a while it looked like Santa Barbara might put AZQC out of snitch range, but then they did everything they could to give away that game in the middle—they were taking five-second possessions; they were giving their team no time to get bludger control. It just wasn’t pretty quidditch for a while. But they battled back and pulled the snitch for the upset.

Hanson: There really weren’t a lot of surprising results, were there? Utah State kept Skrewts surprisingly close and the Dobbys kept ASU surprisingly close, but that’s pretty much it in terms of surprises.

Oelze: How about Riverside almost playing a snitch-range game against UCLA? Could they swipe a World Cup bid?

Hanson: I mean, they could. They have seeking, and they have a few play makers. Look out for new face Corey McCourt. But if I couldn’t find two teams to pick that wouldn’t make the list, no way am I going to find a third for Riverside.

Oelze: Can we at least agree that Saltzman is the most underrated beater in the region? I’m sick of driving this hype train by myself.

Hanson: You’re not alone. I’m just worried that he’s becoming overrated because of all the people saying he’s underrated. The Asher-King-Abramson Effect.

Oelze: You mean the Andy-Abayan Effect?

Hanson: The UCLA Non-Steven-Tindula-Male-Beater Effect?

Oelze: Sounds good to me.

Hanson: Okay, let’s take off our hipster glasses and talk about the present. Any other new players you saw bursting on to the scene?

Oelze: Not new from this tournament, and you have mentioned him, but I have been super impressed with McIntyre this year from the Blacktips. I also thought Brooke Lydon had a great tournament for the Lost Boys. She really stepped up with no Jo Lam and a crippled Missy Sponagle.

Hanson: How does it work out that once I leave, the Lost Boys have more Emerson College alumni than ever?!

Oelze: Obviously you were keeping them away.

Hanson: Sticks and stones, Oelze. Sticks and stones. Speaking of being mean, let’s talk about Mitch Cavender’s observations. He was harsh on the West through his Twitter (@mitchriggins). Think the West is as weak as he does?

Credit: @mitchriggins

Credit: @mitchriggins

 

Oelze: I don’t think it’s a strong region, but, no, I don’t. The style of quidditch that the West plays may not be what he’s looking for, but that’s not the same thing as the entire region being terrible. It’s very beater-centric and not nearly as physical as the Southwest. Of course, we’re all playing for second place behind the Southwest until something drastic changes.

Hanson: I still think the Southwest has shown a proneness to struggle against the style of the rest of the country. I think sometimes they are so surprised about how slow other teams are willing to play relative to their own style, that it could lead to an upset for any of the top teams.

Oelze: I don’t see Lone Star Quidditch Club getting upset by an out-of-region team.

Hanson: I just don’t see them getting beat, but the beautiful thing about quidditch is that, like most sports, anything can happen!

Oelze: I’m going to paraphrase Cavender’s speech to Team USA: this is not a Disney movie. Anyway, we’re getting a little bit off the rails and attempting to set the record for longest article ever written. Let’s wrap up with our biggest takeaways from the weekend.

Hanson: The Lost Boys do not look like they took a step back from last year, which is pretty huge considering what the community thought back at the beginning of last summer and what they were expected to do last year.

Oelze: This is a team that looks refreshed and cohesive. When you combine it with as much talent as they actually have, their lack of a seeker is the only thing that stops me from seeing this team making as deep of a World Cup run as they were expected to last year.







Archives by Month:




Archives by Subject: