After an extended break from quidditch analysis and writing due to the Keystone Cup, I'm back to bring you five storylines from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. While Maryland will win MARC easily, fascinating questions abound in the middle and lower tiers of the Mid-Atlantic.
1. Can Villanova's offense pick up steam? Despite having an athletic group of chasers, Villanova's offense has struggled mightily against organized defenses. Villanova seems hesitant to challenge opposing chaser defenses and content to pass the quaffle around midfield. I'm not expecting Greg Habeeb to turn into Eric Reyes or Brad Armentor, but Villanova's smaller ball handlers have to attack and penetrate more. Villanova's offense rarely forces defenses to collapse anywhere. If Villanova's offense can force defenses to collapse on its ball handler through penetration, its talented off-ball chasers like Julia Fillman will find more open space and score more goals. Penetration is Villanova's key to avoiding embarassing losses to Virginia and George Mason.
2. Is the Mid-Atlantic's balance of power shifting towards the south? Historically, Pennsylania's trio of Villanova, Penn State and Pittsburgh have been dominant, top-tier squads in the Mid-Atlantic. Last year saw the emergence of Richmond and North Carolina as regional contenders. This fall, I believe Richmond and North Carolina have vaulted over Pennsylvania's storied trio. However, the Mid-Atlantic's changing balance of power is most evident in the lower tiers. Look at Pool A. Appalachian, Johns Hopkins and Lock Haven. Hailing from the Tar Heel State and participating in the Carolinas Quidditch Conference, Appalachian has gained significant experience against higher-level and lower-level teams. The CQC has given Appalachian a place to develop young players, test new strategies and experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. In addition, Appalachian has improved alongside North Carolina.
Lock Haven, which is located in central Pennsylvania, has failed to improve thanks to relative isolation. Without many local tournaments geared towards developing teams, Lock Haven has traveled to Turtle Cups III and IV. Lock Haven's treks to College Park, MD have been rather pointless, featuring obliterations from Maryland, Emerson, the NYDC Capitalists and more. Furthermore, as Villanova, Penn State and Pittsburgh have declined, Lock Haven has lost valuable opportunities to compete and has stagnated.
Johns Hopkins is in the middle. Hopkins has had the benefit of some local competition with George Mason and Capital Madness, but the Beltway quidditch scene is far from thriving. While Johns Hopkins will no longer be challenging top-tier teams, a 110*-20 defeat of George Mason shows me that Hopkins is still contending for a bid to Rock Hill, SC.
Appalachian will qualify for World Cup VIII. Lock Haven will not. Johns Hopkins is on the fence.
3. Richmond or North Carolina? After Turtle Cup IV and Keystone Cup, I am fairly certain that either Richmond or North Carolina will meet Maryland in the finals of MARC. I am big fan of Richmond's ball handling duo of Jeremy Day and Brendan "Bo" O'Connor. Day and O'Connor display similar confidence and strength, but offer fresh legs with each substitution. Often overlooked, chaser Ian Mitchell provides power and experience on- and off-ball for Richmond and often acts as the glue on both ends of the pitch.
I expect North Carolina to give us more of the same. Aggressive beater play from Kyle Bullins, constant fast-breaking from Max Miceli and Andrew McGregor, improvement from role players like Emma Troxler, Alex Crawford and Justin Cole and no defense. North Carolina will likely secure the number one seed going into bracket play on account of its propensity to play long, high-scoring games.
If Day and O'Connor can conserve energy and stay healthy during a pedestrian pool play schedule, Richmond should be capable of slowing the pace and springing an upset on the Tar Heels. Watch for Richmond's seeking game, which attracted significant attention at the Oktoberfest Cup, to come up big again at MARC.
4. Can Capital Madness make the next step? DC's first true community team has proved vulnerable to dramatic highs and lows. Capital Madness has shown remarkable strategy, focus and determination under the leadership of James Hicks, but sometimes falls victim to the emotion of impact chaser Steve Minnich. If Madness can stay level-headed and keep its composure, Maryland's beaters should prepare to feel very uncomfortable and Penn State should fear a loss. In addition, I hope Capital Madness' hodgepodge of chasers has gotten James Hicks' creative juices flowing. I could see Sam Medney acting as the ball distributor like Missy Sponagle. I bet Minnich and utility Robby May could execute a plethora of handoffs like Texas State or premier Canadian squads. However, with limited chaser depth, I think Capital Madness is prone to lapses against lower level teams. While its pool lacks a legitimate upset threat, the first round of bracket play is dangerous for Capital Madness. I fully expect Capital Madness to qualify for World Cup VIII through the consolation bracket.
5. Can the Philadelphia Honey Badgers do the unthinkable? The City of Brotherly Love's historically notorious community team has been the feel good story of the fall in the Mid-Atlantic. The Honey Badgers made bracket play at Turtle Cup IV, upset Macaulay and the New York Badassilisks at their inaugural BAQC event and enter MARC with a respectable 4-5 record. The key to the Honey Badgers newfound success has been seeking. The Honey Badgers have only missed three snitches this year, with a 70% snitch catch percentage and a 60% SWIM. If the Philadelphia Honey Badgers qualify for World Cup VIII, I will find a way to mention my hometown Badgers in every article I write from now until April.