Antwerp QC, Much of Belgian Core, Leaves Competitive Quidditch

Credit: Shirley Lu

In addition to our preseason rankings, The Eighth Man staff will be releasing a series of articles focusing on the top 10 club teams and top 10 collegiate teams. 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. 

Built for the College Game
By Joshua Mansfield, Editor, Elo

The winds are changing in collegiate quidditch. The 2017-18 season brought with it the advent of the divisional split, leaving college teams across the country to realize that their playstyles needed to shift. Before the split, college teams were forced to try and develop the refined, meticulous version of play we’ve come to expect from club teams but with a core of players that would constantly treadmill from season to season. USQ Cup 11 showed us a refreshing break from that trend—college teams competing against each other while playing at a distinctively collegiate level.

The most successful collegiate teams at USQ Cup 11 were not the teams that had perfected the precise gameplay of club teams; they were the teams who cultivated their strongest and fastest quaffle players, while their beaters caused enough chaos for their chasers to use their athleticism to excel in up-tempo, higher-scoring games. To a degree, this was a method all four semifinalists perfected and rode through the grueling Swiss-play schedule seen in April 2018.

Thanks to this shift in the collegiate game, this is Texas A&M University’s year to shine. A&M’s style—one built around chaser speed and athleticism driving a fast-tempo game—has always been the style that fits college ball best. That is why the Aggies dominated for so long during the college era, slowly fell off as club teams emerged and then were able to return to form during the 2017-18 season.

The off season has not been kind to the Aggies in terms of recruitment, but the pieces they’re bringing back are exactly the ones they need to excel in the college game. Sam Haimowitz returns, bringing with him one of the longest stints of on-pitch leadership any college team will benefit from this season—with an added distinction as one of three 2018 USNT players to compete in the college division this season. Meanwhile, the team is bringing back a dangerous beater corps fronted by Nick Roy, whose talent puts him in the top echelon of southwest beating and whose growing experience could easily lend itself to his breakout season. Beater Alex Stewart is entering her senior season and has quietly risen to the top level of that same echelon while still remaining anonymous to anyone outside the region. While the loss of Daniel Sobarzo will be felt on the team, veterans Miles Travis and Aron Gebremicael will ensure this team maintains one of the most aggressive beater corps in the college game.

If Haimowitz and returning Head Coach Sean Church can train their athletic (and mostly fresh) batch of quaffle players to use their strength and speed to their advantage—a task A&M’s leadership is no stranger to—this is a team that will certainly be built for excelling in April. The Aggies’s young, scrappy quaffle corps may matchup poorly with some of the more patient club teams they run into this season but in a division carved out for colleges, Texas A&M is a team nobody will want to face on their way to the quarterfinals or higher at USQ Cup 12.

Credit: Shirley Lu

Lack of Direction Dooms Aggies
By Raghuveer Achukola, Correspondent

Texas A&M University had a decent performance at USQ Cup 11, blowing out every team in the tournament they played except for the University of Texas and the University of Maryland. But even in both losses, the Aggies played admirably. Against Texas, A&M held even in quaffle points before losing by a snitch grab. Against Maryland, the Aggies held a dominant 40-point lead for much of the game before the Terrapins came back during snitch-on-pitch play. After what looked like a missed beat on the Maryland seeker by A&M beater Daniel Sobarzo, the snitch relaxed slightly and the Maryland seeker seized the opportunity for a pull. Both of these games were solid performances and Texas A&M lived up to their No. 9 postseason ranking.  This year–despite losing many key players–we have the Aggies ranked No. 6. Texas A&M will not live up to this ranking.

Sure, the backbone of the A&M crew will return from last season. In the beating game, expect to see veterans Alex Stewart and Nick Roy anchor the A&M defense. In the chasing game, USNT chaser Sam Haimowitz will return, in addition to chasers Landis Walther, Jessica Hembree and Connor McIntyre. With Aron Gebremicael, the Aggies even get a seeker that was on the team two years ago. But it won’t be nearly enough.

After an upset victory over the Longhorns at the 2018 Southwest Regional Championship, and after the announcement that Haimowitz would join the USQ Cup 11 Aggie squad, many people felt that A&M would be one of the top competitors for the title. Instead, Texas A&M’s results were not a significant improvement over their success without Haimowitz earlier that seasona win over Texas (100*-80) and Texas State University (150*^-120). Of course, last year Haimowitz did not have enough time to integrate with the team. But don’t be deceived by the idea that time will fix the Aggies’s problems.

A veteran chaser, Haimowitz was a galvanizing presence on the USNT this summer, exposing Australia and Belgium with incredible cuts, positioning and off-ball movement. He thrives as an off-ball chaser and is one of the best wings in the college game. However, at Texas A&M, Haimowitz never got the opportunity to play the position for long. In the Swiss play game against the Longhorns, he started out as a wing chaser but was forced to switch over as a primary ball carrier due to lack of penetration from the Aggie offense. Beaters Roy and Sobarzo failed to create no-bludger situations and the other chasers failed to capitalize on the drive. With no penetration up top, Haimowitz was forced to switch into a ball-carrier role in order to keep his team in the game. To his credit, it worked and Texas A&M was able to crawl back into the game against their rivals. But with Haimowitz misutilized as a primary ball carrier, the Aggies’s full potential is limited. Haimowitz is a USNT-caliber wing chaser, but just an above-average driver.

Unfortunately, the team might have no other choice than to continue to play Haimowitz as ball carrier. Logan Zahn, Sean Erwin and Sammy Garza are all gone. Without chasers stepping up to take responsibility as ball carriers and without beaters that can completely dominate the bludger game, opponents will never need to respect the drive. A&M’s most dangerous wing chaser will be once again be forced to bail his team out as a ball carrier.  As a big quidditch program with no shortage of talented recruits, it is possible that more talented chasers will fill the shoes of departing Aggies. However, will these new recruits be able to step in as a dominant driver? True ball carriers that can drive in on an entire defense alone and that can draw the defense into double-team tackles are rare–even in big schools with large pools for recruitment.

Another major vulnerability for A&M is their seeker game. Historically, A&M boasts one of the worst SWIM records of all teams. During the USQ Cup 10 season, A&M ranked 56 out of 60 national-qualifying teams in SWIM percentage. The year before that, even with an incredible season from beater Harris Coleman and seeker Gebremicael, A&M only won 46 percent of their in-range games. This season, the Aggies lose seekers Juan Acevedo and Zahn, and with them, lose a deadly one-two punch that won 56 percent of their in-range games last year in spite of lackluster snitch-on-pitch beating. Gebremicael will return this year, but it remains to be seen if his beaters can give him enough time to win games.  

Texas A&M will no doubt be a solid team this year, with the potential to beat any other college team. However, the gaps in their roster may be enough to compromise the consistency needed to make a deep run this April.

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