Guest Column: Southwest Beater Analysis


Ever wonder what we argue about behind the scenes? The Eighth Man had our three Western Region analysts—Santiago Gonzalez from The Lost Boys Quidditch Club, Alan Black from The Utah Crimson Fliers and Kevin Oelze from the Silicon Valley Skrewts—sit down to discuss the upcoming season for the region.

calskrewts

Credit JH Photography

 

Santiago Gonzalez: Let’s start with [University of California, Los Angeles]. Can UCLA rebound? UCLA is in a tough spot going into this year. Looking at the teams from the Western Region, they have the most soul searching to do as the season starts. They’re all very friendly and chemistry has never been an issue. However, beyond the talent they’ve lost, an even bigger issue is the leadership on the pitch they lost. People are going to need to step into those roles. Adam Richardson is their best point defender, but his ability to control emotion is a risk for them. Zach Luce is now their main offensive weapon and we just don’t know if he has the physical ability to survive a season of people attacking him due to his frame. So rebound? I do believe they’re top three in the West, so in that way they’ll be fine. But rebound and be a clear cut number two in the country? I just don’t see it happening.

Kevin Oelze: I think I agree with you—UCLA’s going to take a step back this year. I can’t see them contending on a national level, but I wouldn’t write them out of the Western Regional crown yet, even if they may come in as underdogs this time. They’re going to have one of the best top-lines of chaser/keepers when you combine Brandon Scapa, Richardson, and Luce (along with Katelynn Kazanne), but depth, for once, is going to be a really key issue because of how hard they were hit by graduation. I also think they may have some consistency problems in their beater core; they graduated essentially their entire amazing beater core. While they may be able to plug a couple of experienced beaters in (Sarah Simko, Ryan Donahue—and I’ve seen them both play very strong games), I haven’t seen the consistency from them that you would have from the previous UCLA beater line. As always for college teams, who’s going to come in as a young player is going to be really important; as far as I know, they added a single freshman last year (Michael Binger, who will also be near that top-line too) to their tournament team, and they’re going to need much, much more impact than that from their younger players this year.

Alan Black: I would agree with that. I see them as still one of the major contenders in the West, but I’m not sure that they’ve got anything more than an outside shot at returning to the championship game. As weird as it sounds to call the defending runners-up a dark horse, I feel like that’s what they will be when it comes to World Cup. Like Kevin said, they just don’t have the depth that they have had in previous years. Their starting seven will be up there and could do well against most teams in the sport, but then after their top couple subs, there is a DRAMATIC drop-off in talent and experience. Part of the strength of past UCLA teams is that they had a wealth of talent on the depth chart that they could just plug in at any given time. That doesn’t look to be the case this season.

Kevin: I think they may end up being better off having really unbalanced playing time for their team this year, which is so contrary to what they’ve always run as a team. I’m not sure they want to make that adaptation.

Santiago: I think the best thing UCLA could do this season is see what USC did during last season and rebuild on the fly. They still have speed and great IQ, but they need people who have never been a ‘physical player’ before to step up and be a force for the team. Their beaters work well together but against harder, more physical beater lines, they represent a major risk.

Alan: I also think that they need to be really smart about penalties. Richardson and Binger are incredible, physical players. But their playing styles kind of lean towards a higher possibility for cards. With their reduced depth, UCLA really can’t afford for that to be a common occurrence.

Kevin: I’m actually not super concerned about cards for them. I’ve seen both play large number of minutes in tournaments, and very rarely have they had card issues. (Richardson’s red card in the semifinals of the World Cup being a notable exception.) That being said, if they can find some nice depth pieces and shore up the beater game, that team’s going to be just as formidable in the region as they were before, though perhaps not a write-in to the World Cup semifinals as they were last year.

Santiago: Agreed. UCLA still sits high in the region, but no longer can be seen heads and shoulders above the rest of the teams like last season. I think it may be weird for them to face the Lost Boys with a number of their top players from last season now on that roster, but playing USC and Lost Boys will allow them to keep their intensity high all season. As a person from Los Angeles, the fact that the UCLA/USC/Lost Boys grouping went 12-0, even though only one team was a tier-one team, spoke volumes about the local competition.

Kevin: On that note, how do people feel about [University of Southern California]? They’re the other traditionally high-profile team from Los Angeles, but they had a very, very rough spring. However, they had an almost-surprising World Cup performance, taking their pool and making it all the way to the sweet 16.

Alan: I think it’s important to remember that they also made the sweet 16 at World Cup without the services of David Demarest. He’s coming back this season. So are August [Lührs] and Harrison [James]. I don’t think people outside the West understand how truly talented Demarest is. That’s a very good core of players that are returning. My main question is with their beater game.

Kevin: I think USC totally has the potential to be a top team, but they’re even more of an unknown than UCLA will be.

Santiago: I love USC. I don’t think enough people took notice of the rebuild they pulled off. ANY other team with a top five keeper (Lührs), top 10 chaser (Demarest) and a physical beater core would be talked about much more than this current roster is. It’s like somehow the loss of Remy [Conatser] and Mitch [Cavender] last season made people believe there was nothing left. While they still are in SERIOUS need of female players to give their current ones a couple moments of air, they have a potent 1-2 at keeper and can play James, Lührs and Demarest at the same time. Also they can even put in James at keeper to let Lührs seek. It’s my honest opinion that USC will be the top collegiate team in the Western Region next year.

Kevin: USC managed to avoid the huge losses to graduation that UCLA did, but they kept losing people throughout the year and were plagued by inconsistency. Nicky [Guangorena] showed himself to be an absolutely fantastic beater, but because he relies on such a physical style of beating, he may be vulnerable to improved beater reffing. I don’t consider him a dirty player at all, but assuming improved beater reffing, all physical beaters are going to be forced into an adjustment period.

Alan: Yeah, I also wonder who his beating partner will be, and how he will work alongside them.

Kevin: Are they going to keep running a heavily-male two beater set? If so, they’re really going to need some depth in female chasing. Even so, I feel like Guangorena’s the most underrated beater in the Western Region, if you don’t count Demarest as a beater.

Alan: I feel like he needs a disciplined, smart beating partner though. He is extremely aggressive, and sometimes relies too heavily on his aggression and physical abilities. This will work well if you have a good, complimentary beater who is more conservative and organized. I would just say that they should at least be fairly solid, with Demarest, Guangorena, Lührs and James. It’s whether or not they can surround them with other solid players that will determine if they’re actually a top team or not.

Santiago: With all this talk of LA teams, is it now a requirement for Western teams to include a LA swing into their schedule to prove they’re competitive or at least to measure themselves?

Kevin: I say yes.

Santiago: I believe it is. [Northern Arizona University] and [Arizona State University] can beat up on each other all they want, but they don’t adapt as quickly as the LA teams because of a lack of different styles to plan for. Skrewts are pretty much alone up north, due to [University of California, Berkeley] not being a factor, so it’s really needed for them.

Kevin: If teams really want to be able to measure themselves and improve, they need to be playing a wide variety of very strong competition. If that existed anywhere else in the West, then it wouldn’t be nearly as big of a deal. But it doesn’t. Like Santi said, ASU and NAU can get strong competition playing each other, but they need other opponents. I don’t think [University of Arizona] will be relevant fast enough to make it solid. I think it will also be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as teams that want to be elite will go to LA to measure themselves and improve faster.

Alan: I think it depends on what type of team they are looking to become. If they’re just looking to become a solid team with a decent World Cup showing—a la ASU at last World Cup—then the LA trip probably isn’t absolutely necessary. But if they really want to push into the upper echelon of teams, both in the IQA and in the region, they’re going to have to test themselves against the LA teams. Playing varied competition is extremely important to a team’s growth and the West faces an obstacle that most other regions don’t have: there are far fewer teams in a larger radius to each team, so in order to encounter more playing styles and more talent, you need to travel to where that is more concentrated. For the West, that’s LA.

Kevin: If I can put a personal bent onto this, I feel like the Skrewts were greatly affected by this last year. Tournaments were fun and got us some great experience, but it was a huge adjustment difficulty for us for a tournament like World Cup, where all of a sudden every single game for us was a fight and you needed to bring a B+ or higher game or you’d get blown off the field. I remember we had a tournament before Western Cup in the Bay Area where we took half of our team, around 11 people, and didn’t play a game to within 80 quaffle points. It was a lot of fun, but ultimately was not great for transitioning into a tournament where every game required a high level of play. I think likely improvement in some of the other Bay Area teams may help that to some degree, but if you want to be elite, you have to play the best multiple times. That’s in LA.

Santiago: Agreed, on the personal side, I think for the Lost Boys last year, we got our butts handed to us early in the year. Taking those beatings and learning how to play above ourselves helped all of us later in the year when we bonded as a team and added high-level talent. So when in tough games, where we didn’t have our best from the start (ASU/Skrewts in Western Regionals or Arkansas/NYU at World Cup), we knew we could rally.

Kevin: I also think that having that one game against the Lost Boys before Western Regionals at Sunshine Bowl really helped the Skrewts adjust to the intensity that was needed. That game blew every other game we had played that year off the map in terms of intensity and it really helped get us focused. IQA rankings aside, I think tough games end up being hugely beneficial for both teams, as it helps your team learn to play at a much higher level.

Alan: Yeah, it definitely makes a huge difference. Utah did pretty well in our limited tournament play before Western Cup, but we just hadn’t faced a wide enough variety of quality teams and it definitely showed at regionals. You get better by playing a multitude of talented teams and to really do that in the West, you have to face the LA teams.

Santiago: Odd spot for me but… Lost Boys. Should people believe the hype? If not, why? If so what are some of the biggest obstacles they’ll face this season?

Kevin: Believe the hype, but be careful. In most cases, I feel like the new additions were a case of the rich getting richer. They managed to add to areas they were already very strong in—female chasers and male beaters. Now, upgrading in those areas will make a team that was very, very good even better, but we saw this year—the teams that threatened to win World Cup were those who were able to do everything at a very good or better level. The Lost Boys, traditionally, have been less strong in their male chasers, and so I honestly feel that their biggest addition is going to be UCLA’s Jeff Lin in terms of their chances of being a World Cup contender. Also, I think Vanessa Goh is a better female chaser than any of their female chasers and teaming her up with Amanda [Turtles] Nagy is going to make for a very terrifying overall chasing line combined with Lin and Tony Rodriguez. Additionally, I think Peter Lee is one of those beaters who can impose himself upon the entirety of a game.

Alan: I say believe the hype, but with reservations. Look, talent-wise the Lost Boys are absolutely stacked. There isn’t a specific type of physical ability that the team lacks, especially with the off-season additions. Some would say that the chaser line was the team’s weak point last season, but it has to be considered a strength this season. Lin brings speed and agility, Jake Tiemann brings one of the most physical presences in the sport and adding Goh and Tiffany Chow to a team that already has Turtles means that they have plenty of freedom to get creative with their chaser lines. It also gives them the ability to frequently utilize a beater line of some combination of Lee, Chris Seto and Michael Mohlman—one of the top beater pairings in the sport. We already know about the keeping and seeking game for the Lost Boys with Rodriguez and Steve DiCarlo, which will probably only get better with the reduced pressure on them. The question with the Lost Boys isn’t whether they have the talent, it’s whether they have the chemistry to live up to expectations. Can a team full of people who know they are extremely talented accept their probably diluted roles within the framework of the team overall? That’s a bigger challenge than you would think, and the Lost Boys will probably be the litmus test for whether or not a team full of players who come to the team as stars already can work.

Kevin: In games where the Lost Boys have struggled (the two that come to mind are the Skrewts game at Beachside Brawl and the ASU game at Western Regionals), their beaters seemed to really struggle to heavily impact the game. Even though they won the games, both were very close to being in terrible positions. I think adding Lin and Tiemann is going to beef up that chaser line and, if Lee can have a good half-year as a Lost Boy, that team could really threaten as a championship contender. But I also think they may need another male chaser or two to really give them the depth they need, particularly so DiCarlo can focus on catching snitches.

Santiago: I obviously believe their roster is without a doubt better than last season. While they have added depth at spots they are historically deep in, I believe their biggest upgrade is that, with their new players, they have legitimate options behind Rodriguez at keeper. Tiemann from UCLA is an underrated offensive force and has soft hands for a man of his magnitude. The ability to go Goh, Turtles and Chow all at once, gives them something not many teams have. Their beaters are relentless with the Seto/Mohlman combo and Misty Gray behind them gives them the best back-up beater in the West. Not only that, but Lin can sub for DiCarlo at seeker, if need be, and that way they’ll have a better chance to avoid the injury bug during long playing days, like they had during World Cup.

Kevin: I think it’s interesting to note how much better blue team was at FireMercs when they stopped running the ball through Tiemann, though. It’ll be an interesting stylistic difference from having Rodriguez in, who obviously excels with the ball in his hands. I feel like the Lost Boys will be strongest in a two male beater set. Gray is a strong beater, though I disagree that she’s the best back-up beater in the West. Combine that with their absurd depth at female chaser, and it seems strategically advantageous for them. That being said, if they were going to have Lee in the fall, I’d pick them to take the Western Regionals. I still think they’re the early favorites.

Santiago: I also believe that one of the most underrated add-ons is Mitch [Cavender]. While his personality has obviously given him a fair amount of eye rolls from the quidditch community, the man is one of the hardest workers you’ll see on the pitch. He can play any position because he puts the hours in to be the best he can be. He’s a high IQ person that fits into the mold of Lost Boys players in terms of very serious and VERY goofy.

Kevin: I think Cavender is a solid player, but I don’t think his singular addition will be much of an impact.

Alan: I’m not sure that any one player will really have a singular impact though on that team. It’ll be all about finding which players work best together in which roles.

Kevin: Like I said earlier, I think Lin and Lee will have huge impacts.

Santiago: Agreed.

Kevin: I’d like to switch over to the Arizona teams. What sort of chances do you think NAU has of repeating a similar quarterfinal run? Can ASU regain the form they had when they dominated the Western Region?

Santiago: I believe in the NAU vs. ASU relationship, but there’s going to be a shift here. NAU could very well ride Porter [Marsh] and their beaters again to World Cup and, if he gets on a hot streak, no one knows how far he may take them. However, I honestly worry for ASU. They are a team of massive change, with the loss of JT [Lain], Alexis [Bristor] and Willie [Jackson] being major parts of that. The team is under new leadership and, without Jackson in the center, their defense will take a hit. Offensively, he wasn’t much of a factor at the end of last season and they didn’t need him to be. Nevertheless, Lain coached the heck out of that team and knew how to make the hard choices for them.

Kevin: Last year, NAU’s recipe was elite seeker + strong defense + good beating game, and it took them to the elite eight. Their beaters weren’t even elite, they were just solid. They found trouble against some of the better beater games they played against. I’ve never really believed that you can just rely on a strong seeker to carry you. The odds would be against it, even when your seeker is Marsh. But if their chasing game, and in particular their offense, can catch up, suddenly that team becomes terrifying.

Santiago: NAU with great chasers would be elevated near top of the West, no question.

Alan: I’m actually not sure if NAU will be able to repeat. While their strategy worked well for them at World Cup, it depended on getting just the right circumstances. Look at last Western Cup, where they barely qualified for World Cup. The truth is, they need to significantly improve their quaffle game if they’re going to turn in another strong performance. Look at what happened to the purple team at FireMercs, which was molded in the likeness of NAU with several of the same players. They got crushed at that tournament, mainly due to the failings of their chasers. Teams who know what NAU is trying to do can counter it by not letting the game slow down into a grind-it-out, move-it-slowly-down-the-pitch game. NAU plays with confidence in their system, but they need more out of their chasers and keepers. Otherwise, when momentum is on their side they do great, but when it’s not, they struggle mightily.

Kevin: I actually think ASU’s going to be the best collegiate team in the region, to turn in a different point. They’ve long had arguably the best chaser game in the region outside of UCLA, but they never seemed to find the beater play they needed. I think a change in leadership will give that team’s beaters a breath of fresh air they may need to innovate and change up their strategies a bit to be able to play with the other beaters in the region.

Alan: As far as ASU is concerned, they may have lost some key players, but they still have a good amount of talent on their team, including one of the elite players in the sport in Alex Makk. Everybody around him plays better when he’s out there on the pitch. My main questions with ASU concern their beaters and their composure. ASU did a great job last season of not letting their emotions boil over on the pitch nearly as often as in previous seasons, and it resulted not only in fewer penalties, but also in a more coherent team that ran smoother overall. If their beaters can improve to even close to the level of their chasers and keepers, ASU is a team to truly be feared. Additonally, I think ASU is actually a team to watch out for, who could potentially sneak in and grab a World Cup bid, depending on how many slots are allotted to the West this year. They already have quite a bit of athleticism on that team, and it showed at Western Cup last year, where they were easily the best team out of those from the bottom pot for pool assignments. With experience added to that talent, I think we’ll start to see them become more competitive within the middle tier of the region.

Kevin: That team grew a lot between Western Cup and Beachside Brawl, too.

Santiago: Arizona will have to fight Utah, Remus Riverside Runners and the Santa Barbara Blacktips for those new spots this season, in terms of the teams who didn’t make it last year.

Kevin: What about Stanford?

Santiago: Stanford hasn’t shown enough growth year to year for me to believe they could top one of those third-quarter teams.

Alan: With the loss of Natalie, Stanford faces a pretty big uphill battle this season. That team had terrific beating defense and a smart keeper running their offense in David Saltzman last season. Without Natalie’s incredible beating, they’re not nearly as formidable.

Kevin: Don’t forget about Dylan Liu. He’s a heck of a player for that team too.

Santiago: That’s one player though, not enough to carry that team to a World Cup bid.

Alan: Agreed, but it seemed like he relied heavily on his beaters to help him.

Kevin: The West is getting a whole heap of extra spots this year. There’s 20 more teams and they received way more automatic bids from World Cup this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all of those teams qualify.

Alan: I think that brings up an interesting question. How do you guys see the middle tier of the West shaping up this season?

Kevin: What do you define as the middle tier?

Santiago: What would be everyone’s Top 10 in the Western Region? That would give a Top Five, and then six through ten would be the middle tier.

Alan: After Lost Boys, UCLA, USC, Skrewts, and ASU/NAU.

Kevin: I feel like the Blacktips and Riverside are probably going to be the best two teams after that group. They’re in a competitive area, and they’ve got a lot of relatively new athletic talent that will improve with seasoning. Cal, obviously, is a team that people should keep an eye on too. While they have veterans who know what they’re doing, they need some new blood to inject more talent into the team.

Santiago: Lost Boys, USC, UCLA, Skrewts, NAU, ASU, Riverside, Blacktips, Utah, Cal

Alan: I think the Blacktips will be an interesting team. In their first season last year, they came out and surprised a lot of people. However, there has been quite a bit of turnover on their roster, so it will be interesting to see whether the Blacktips can build on their inaugural season or whether they actually regress this season. This list also lends itself to another question: are there any teams outside of the California and Arizona hubs of quidditch in the region that can make an impact in the West this season, especially as far as World Cup-qualifying is concerned?

Kevin: No.

Santiago: No.

Kevin: The closest team I can see is Vegas, but I really don’t see it. There’s a lot of athleticism on that team, but it’s got a long way to go. I mean, I guess it’s going to depend on how many World Cup spots there are. I’d give Utah, for instance, a decent shot of qualifying. But in terms of actually making an impact near the top of the region? I don’t see it.

Alan: Yeah, I’m thinking more as far as the middle tier of the region is concerned.

Santiago: The only non-California and Arizona team that is Top 10 in region would be Utah.

Kevin: At the middle tier? I can see Utah making a splash. I can maybe see Vegas making a splash at middle tier. I can’t see any Pacific Northwest teams doing it. University of British Columbia was the best of them that we saw last year, and University of Victoria has experience from World Cup V, but that Arizona regional is going to be really, really rough.

Alan: Not even UBC? They looked to have some fairly solid pieces in place at last Western Cup, and if they can build off of that, I can see them having a shot at qualifying for World Cup, if they can afford to get most of their team down to Tempe for regionals.

Kevin: I just don’t think they’ll get to play enough quality competition to make middle tier impact. Maybe at the very bottom of the middle tier.

Santiago: Finally, regional winner and runner-up? Dark horse to win the region?

Kevin: Lost Boys winner. ASU runner-up, even if I don’t necessarily think they’re the second best team in the region. I really don’t think there’s a dark horse to win the region. I can’t see a team from outside the Top 5 doing it. If I have to pick one, I guess it has to be the Blacktips.

Santiago: Winner: Lost Boys. Runner-up: UCLA. USC as my “dark horse” because I don’t think either of those teams WANT to face USC to get to the finals.

Alan: Winner: Lost Boys. Runner-up: USC. Dark horse: Skrewts. I feel the creation of a separate “fun” team will allow them to focus more on really improving as a competitive team. If they can find a replacement for an injured Greg Weber, they have some definite potential, especially with the absolutely terrifying beater combo of [Willis] Miles and Kyrie [Timbrook].

Santiago: This is shaping up to be an exciting season and the first that has really ever included an off-season acquisition mode that will strongly influence the outcome of the schedule.







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