Guest Column: Southwest Beater Analysis


Credit: Kevin Freeman

Credit: Kevin Freeman

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. 


FILLING THE VOID
By Daniel Daugherty

Baylor University met all expectations last season en route to reaching the Elite Eight and losing to the eventual champions, University of Texas. Now, they are No. 7 in our preseason poll and predicted by many to duplicate their success from last year.

This team has lost at least a third of their players from last year.
Drew McBrayer – keeper
Paul Williard – chaser
Chris Rhodes – beater
Stephen Ciccolela – keeper
Beissy Sandoval – chaser
Dylan Greenleaf – chaser
With Baylor’s huge strategy-specific game, it will be difficult to replace more than a handful of players at a time. Each person they are losing has been a solid contributor to their team and the loss of depth will be a challenging obstacle to overcome. Baylor has always been known as a team with a significant number of athletes that can run a stingy, still-rare defense. Without these six players, they will need to recruit highly talented replacements if they want to make another Elite Eight run.

Building on that, Baylor also does not have the 50,000+ undergraduate recruiting pool that its competitors—the University of Texas and Texas A&M—have to capitalize on. Their pool is a mere 13,000 strong. It will be a struggle for Baylor to reload from such key losses, and especially difficult to do so when they are a mere third of the size of many larger public schools.

The biggest advantage that Baylor has on the national stage is that nobody is truly accustomed to their defense, with the exception of their Southwest counterparts. When they first hit their stride and introduced their “Hoop Zone” defense, the Bears upset top-tier programs on their way to a 2013 Southwest regional title. While it is true that the Hoop Zone or “Baylor D” has already taken the team to the finals of Breakfast Taco in the 2014 season, we have to remember that this tournament was unofficial and likely was not every team’s best showing. The Hoop Zone gets more and more vulnerable every time it is seen, and while Baylor has consistently done the best with this strategy, there is no way it survives another season under the relentless attack of the Southwest. Let’s not forget that Texas beat them handedly at World Cup. Baylor needs to add some wrinkles to their defense or else they will be at risk of being left behind as their defensive plays become more well-known within the league.

Another major issue Baylor faces this season is the replacement of their coach, Paul Williard. He was arguably the reason that Baylor was able to play the Hoop Zone so effectively and was certainly one of their most important leaders on and off the pitch. While some may shrug off the loss of a coach and place a bigger emphasis on the loss of players, losing a great coach can be rather devastating—see USC without Mitch Cavender. While there were more factors at play there, the loss of USC’s coach certainly did nothing to help, and it appears that Baylor is in a similar situation. While it is possible for others to step in to teach and motivate the team, it is not likely that another will be able to match Williard.

If the Bears can fill the void left by Williard and company while further expounding upon their current strategy, they will, once again, be a force on the pitch. However, I truly believe overcoming these feats will be costly to overcome and Baylor will come up short in the 2014-15 season.


BAYLOR TO EXCEED EXPECTATIONS
By Tad Walters

Baylor? But I hardly even know her! (There is a point to this, I promise.)

Since their breakout tournament at Diamond Cup in 2012, the Baylor University Bears have been a staple of the Southwest quidditch scene. They continuously find themselves in the finals or semifinals of Southwest tournaments, and at World Cup VI and VII, they have placed in the Final Four and the Elite Eight, respectively. Despite consistently proving themselves as one of a top-10 team in the country, most people cannot name more than a three or four players from their roster. So when one or two of those players are no longer playing for Baylor, most people drop Baylor from their World Cup favorites list. That is a huge mistake.

Let us start with their losses:
Drew McBrayer – keeper
Paul Williard – chaser
Chris Rhodes – beater
Stephen Ciccolela – keeper
Beissy Sandoval – chaser
Dylan Greenleaf – chaser

At first glance, it seems Baylor will be losing just under a third of their roster from last season. However, under further scrutiny, only four of these players received any noteworthy amount of playing time: Rhodes, Ciccolela, Sandoval and Greenleaf. McBrayer and Williard were out with injuries for most of the season, and Wallum received little playing time this past season. While the team will miss the offensive intelligence of Greenleaf and Sandoval, the aggression of Rhodes and physicality of Ciccolela, these players are more or less replaceable within Baylor’s system.

Even with Rhodes gone, Baylor has arguably the best beater set in the Southwest. David Gilbert and Tim Brestowski are two Team USA-caliber athletes who dominate games with their IQ and physicality. They have maintained bludger control against some of the best teams in the world and, if lost, regained it quicker than many pairs in the league. With a third beater moving up from Osos De Muerte or transitioning from the chaser corps and learning from Gilbert and Brestowski, I expect Baylor to maintain their beater game, especially considering they are paired up with one of the game’s best in Brittany Ripperger.

In the chaos caused by their beaters, Baylor’s chasers thrive in a fast-break oriented offense, utilizing quick drives against no beaters or crisp passes to the deep pockets of the field. With the absence of two of the team’s best drivers, Ciccolela and Greenleaf, Baylor will have to rely on their veterans to pick up the slack and score on those precious no-bludger opportunities. Easier said than done in the Southwest. Expect keeper Jacob Bruner to step further into the spotlight after he makes stunning play after stunning play this season. Relatively unknown, Bruner is one of the bigger keepers in the Southwest, but he also possesses surprising speed, making him a formidable player. Not to mention he is one of most consistent drivers in the region. We should see him paired with longtime teammate Trent Miller, whose height, vertical and wingspan creates mismatches on defense.

Baylor’s depth at chaser/keeper is impressive, boasting players like Mark Williard, Reed Marchman, Michael Barnard, and Drake Osborn. After recruitment and moving up players from their B team, Baylor will be deeper than ever. With their bevy of female talent at chaser, they will be able to run a two female chaser line and give Gilbert and Brestowski time to play at the same time, tearing apart the other team’s beaters. Even with Beissy Sandoval gone, players Steffi Hoffman, Shawn King, and Kat Marcos showed they are very capable off-ball players, adept at not only getting open behind the hoops for alley oops, but making stellar plays in the open field on both sides of the ball.

Looking at the seeker position, Baylor has always had a high SWIM score. Many attribute this to their talented beaters who excel at on-snitch beating, which is partially true. Many overlook the skill of Baylor’s starting seeker, Matt Blair, and the skill of the Baylor chasing corps and utility players they throw in to seek. Those players combined with the beaters playing on the other seeker, give Baylor’s seekers more than enough time to seal the deal. Last season, Baylor had seven games in snitch range, and won five of them.

Baylor will continue to be a formidable foe to the other top Southwest teams and could potentially go all the way to championship. This is not a rebuilding year for Baylor. This is not a year in which they struggle to stay relevant. This is a year in which Baylor will come out of the shadows of the Southwest and exceed the expectations placed upon them.







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