Antwerp QC, Much of Belgian Core, Leaves Competitive Quidditch

Credit: Isabella Gong

Within the quidditch community, there has been a growing chorus of people advocating for and implementing something called the 2-2 defense. For those keeping up on quidditch film or quidditch forums, this “new” defensive strategy–alternatively known as the Box 2 defense–has become a new standard. 

But, if you are still on a team dependent on man defense, or haven’t been paying attention to the shifting meta, what comes next may shock you. Reader, I regret to inform you that man defense in college quidditch is dead. And it was one freshman chaser and a junior keeper that killed it.

For any new player, man-to-man defense is the first defense you learn, because it is the simplest: Three chasers mark the three biggest offensive threats. It is their responsibility to make sure that if their mark has the quaffle, they cannot drive, and if their mark doesn’t have the quaffle, they cannot receive it. The keeper guards the hoops from a shot while keeping an eye on the unmarked chaser. It is important to note that there is no true “man defense” in quidditch–the American football analogy of a Cover-0 defense. If the keeper truly played man coverage, the hoops would be left wide open for shots. So, in quidditch, it is important to realize that “man defense” is really a Cover-1 defense, with the keeper playing zone around the hoops. 

The emerging 2-2 zone, on the other hand, is a hybrid scheme with two players stationed at the hoops, sharing the larger zone area. The remaining two defenders play man defense, switching their mark as the situation adapts. It takes much more discipline–and a good understanding of the fundamentals–to run the 2-2 zone effectively. 

So why is it so popular this year?

Each season, strategy evolves from the lessons we learn from the previous year–often inspired by the season’s champion and their surprising runs. The explosive growth of aggressive beaters, for example, came after the USQ Cup VII and 8 seasons, when  Michael Duquette and the University of Texas beaters choked out superior chasing squads with incredible athleticism. So, in this case, how did a rookie quaffle line of a junior and three freshmen systematically disassemble every team en route to a nationals rout? 

While the Longhorns’ nationals success–and the subsequent death of man defense– was undoubtedly a team effort, it centered on two people: junior keeper Luke Meissner and freshman chaser Kasye Bevers. 

A shooting keeper, Meissner drove when necessary but was also dangerous in open space. Bevers was a generational talent at chaser, with incredible ability to catch tough passes in tight windows and make plays under pressure. Together, their skill sets were the perfect combination to combat man defense.

In American football, two receivers can attack the Cover-1 zone defender with separate deep routes on opposite edges of the zone,  forcing the safety into indecision between who to guard. In quidditch, however, the safety is replaced by a keeper who needs to be able to block a shot as well as a pass. Thus, in our sport, attacking a zone requires only a single player at one end of the zone and the threat of a shot at the other end of the zone. 

So the solution was simple: Meissner would drive toward one side of the hoops while Bevers–unmarked in a standard man defensive scheme–would cut in front of the hoops on the opposite end. If the keeper stepped up to guard the shot, a bullet pass to Bevers at the other end of the hoops would be a sure goal. If the keeper instead stepped up to guard the pass, Meissner would take the shot himself. If the easy pass-and-goal wasn’t available, then freshman chasers Davis Roe and Josh Johnson could probe the defense until a driving lane or another pass opportunity opened up.

The effectiveness of this simple attack can be seen in the national championship finals against UC Berkeley. In the play below, the Golden Bears don’t even give up a zero; Cal beater Ivan Avalos still has his bludger, but is distracted from quaffle play for an entirety of one second due to Texas beater Jack Wang’s 1.5 attack. That was all Meissner needed–he cut to the right hoop, Bevers cut to the left hoop and, an instant later, the Longhorns had a goal. The entire play took one and a half seconds.

Watch at .25 speed.

This success was repeated soon after, with Bevers and senior chaser Dylan Bottoms:

This play was so fundamental to Texas’s offense that Bevers became the team’s top scorer against ranked opposition–a first-time accomplishment for any female or gender minority chaser in recorded history (USQ Cup 10 season onward). In the Longhorn’s 2018-19 season against ranked opposition, the most common way for their possession to end was the following, frequent play-by-play: “L. Meissner to K. Bevers at the hoops. GOAL.”

That statistic–that the most common result of any possession against ranked opponents was this pass to the hoops between Meissner and Bevers–is otherworldly. But the true magic of this pass’ power against man defense lies in the details.

The previous year, the University of Rochester took a clear-and-drive game plan all the  way to a championship, with their beaters clearing lanes and keeper Basem Ashkar driving in on the chaos. However, this standard clear and drive–where one player drives through an entire defense before dunking on the hoops–is tiring on the ball carrier. Moreover, with the college-game improvements in team tackling and defense, this strategy also requires a no-bludger scenario for increasingly longer and longer times– perhaps a four to five second zero. At the highest level, even with the worst beater mismatches, it is rare to reliably create and maintain a zero for so long consistently on every possession. 

Back to the Longhorns: unlike the previous champions, Texas beaters didn’t need to strike five second zeros for their offense to work. With USNT beaters Tate Kay and Kylie McBride heading up the attack, Texas chasers just needed to employ their disciplined passing against the opposing beater press. It was inevitable that every few drives, Texas would get a one or two second zero when Meissner was able to get past his defender. Beaters could avoid losing big to Kay and McBride; they could not avoid losing altogether.

That is the beauty of the Longhorns’ simple attack on the zone. Because their chasers only needed a one or two second zero, in an era of beater hyperdominance, Texas beaters reverted to good old-fashioned 1.5 beater strategy. Attacking beaters don’t need strategic passing from their chasers when going for control; if the defensive beaters are off position for two seconds to make a play for control, they give up the easy goal. And attacking chasers don’t need aggressive beating from their beaters to clear lanes; all they need is their beaters to make a distraction for two seconds. This allowed for not only an effective strategy but an efficient one; the Longhorns rarely played defense tired, because the one-pass play is much less taxing than the old-school clear-and-drive meta. And so it was that a starting quaffle line of a junior keeper and three freshmen chasers was able to beat almost every team significantly out of range en route to a national title. 

Tellingly, the only team at USQ Cup 12 to play Texas in range played a 2-2 zone. Of course, zones had already proliferated the club game with both national finalists–Texas Cavalry and Texas Hill Country Heat–employing generous doses of the 2-2 zone to great effect in their route to the finals and in their final matchup. So perhaps, it should be no surprise that when the quidditch season began anew, every single top college team settled on some variation of the 2-2 zone for their alternative defensive scheme. 

A well-maintained 2-2 zone eliminates the effectiveness of the attack on the hoops. By splitting the hoop zone between two defenders, they can work  together to simultaneously guard the pass and block the shot. Moreover the zone is better at goal-line defense, as double team tackles become more viable. It is simply the best answer for teams like Texas. In fact, Texas State University, who started the season in a man defense scheme, rapidly switched to the 2-2 after an early tournament shellacking at the hands of the Longhorns. 

Now it truly appears that man defense in the college game has been destroyed, not by a veteran quaffle line of USNT-caliber seniors, but by a college junior and a college freshman.

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