Friday, October 4, 2013

Who's Gonna Come and Take It?

"Getting involved in any rivalry is fun," said Baylor captain David Gilbert, "but there's something special about when [Baylor, Texas, or Texas A&M] line up to play each other."
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
From the University of Texas winning World Cup VI, to THE Fantasy, to all the buzz around Lone Star QC, Texas has been the been place to be in the quidditch world this summer. Texas' top four teams are arguably the top four in the nation and certainly cannot be thrown from World Cup VII title contention. Between the four, there is no clear favorite either. The reigning champion Longhorns were essentially split in two, with many of UT's experienced stars joining Lone Star. The half staying with UT includes several of the game's rising stars plus keeper Augie Monroe. Baylor, who proved their victory at Southwest Regionals was not a fluke with a Final Four appearance at World Cup VI, will be charging into the season, but without Paul Williard. And then, there's Texas A&M. A&M has suffered greatly at the past two World Cups and I really don't believe any team wants it more. The winner of World Cup VII is going to be one of these four teams and unless the bracket doesn't allow it, the other finalist will also be one of these four teams. On the eve of the first Southwest tournament, here are some detailed previews for each team and my picks for the winner of World Cup VII.

Baylor University 
"We've got a lot of experience and chemistry," said Baylor president David Gilbert, "and in the end we play for each other and because we love the game. We're looking forward to playing against the highest caliber of competition quidditch has ever experienced, and as we say at Baylor, 'The hotter the heat, the harder the steel. No pressure, no diamonds...'"
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
We all know the story. Baylor comes out of nowhere and week in and week out, puts up competitive scores against strong Southwestern teams. Finally, when they get their shot against number one, Texas A&M, the Aggies are bounced from Southwest Regionals in the semifinals. Then, Baylor defeats UT to win the Southwest crown. After their shocking Southwest Regionals win, Baylor goes to the Final Four at World Cup VI.

Following an encouraging season and losing no players to graduation, Baylor was an easy choice as favorite for the upcoming season. They were my pick for World Cup VII winner all summer. However, star chaser Paul Williard, will likely not be playing at all this year due to chronic back problems. Williard, an outstanding athlete, was his team's leading scorer. Baylor's signature hoop defending defense and stretch-the-pitch-with-passing offense was perfect for him. Without Paul Williard, these signature strategies are going to be less effective and are in danger of falling apart. For me, it's very clear that someone needs to fill the shoes of Paul Williard. Someone needs to be on the end of all of those Jacob Bruner lobs from the point. Whether it's on the wing or directly behind the keepers, chasers Mark Williard (who will miss the beginning of the season with a broken wrist) and Trent Miller have the athleticism to jump up and retrieve passes. I could see either one of them becoming the Bears' leading scorer, but not a perfect replacement for Williard.
Photo by Monica Wheeler
If Baylor wins World Cup VII, it will be because of their beaters. Baylor has the best beater lineup in the Southwest. Led by Brittany Ripperger, Chris Rhodes and David Gilbert, the Baylor beaters are smart, strategic and accurate. In my opinion, Baylor's hoop defense strategy only works so well because of their beater strategy and especially the talents of Ripperger. Pouncing on loose quaffles with extraordinary quickness, Ripperger has a suffocating effect that destroys rhythm and is extremely frustrating for opposing chasers. Like a great rebounder in basketball, Ripperger is often the first to a missed shot and shuts down all opportunities for second chance points. Possibly creating a tough fall season for Baylor, Ripperger will be out for the next few months with a broken hand. Assuming Ripperger's hand heals well and she is 100% by April, the three have what it takes to lead their team on a deep run in World Cup. Ripperger, Rhodes and Gilbert always seem to be on the same page and because of this, Baylor should be able to edge their rivals in time with bludger control creating tough games, but not necessarily wins.

Texas A&M University
"I do believe Texas A&M will be hoisting that trophy come April," said Texas A&M captain Drew Wasikowski. "Returning players are hungrier than ever.  After our humiliation at WCVI, we are more fueled than ever.  We have determined all the flaws and faults we had at WC last season, and adjusted to fill those gaps.  We really only had 2 people graduate, but we've got far more new players that made the team. We've restructured the team to focus more on athletic ability and potential growth so that come April, we will have the strongest team possible.  This time, we'll have the depth, the skill, and the athletic ability and drive to actually go all the way."

Many do not remember Texas A&M's autumn dominance in the Southwest or their flawless seeking game or Drew Wasikowski's tournament leading 21 total goals at Southwest Regionals. Scarred into the quidditch community's mind is the 200*-40 drubbing the Aggies took to Texas in the quarterfinals in Kissimmee. Texas A&M ended a second straight World Cup with complete and utter disappointment. Losing only a couple players, Texas A&M is ready for yet another shot at the title under the veteran leadership of Drew Wasikowski. Said Wasikowski, "We aren't in the spotlight right now, and that's okay. That's actually how I prefer [to be] going into a season."

With Wasikowski running the offense, Texas A&M can put a variety of pieces around him to create one of the best half court offenses in the IQA. Using a lot of penetration, perimeter passing and playing to the strengths of each individual player, the Aggies have really figured the half court attack out. They are excellent at keeping possession and not forcing the quaffle, as they will often swing it around to the other side of the pitch to change the point of attack. Terrific ball handlers like Becca DuPont, Kifer Gregorie and Sean Fry make this offense happen.

Defensively, I don't think Texas A&M uses the skills of it's players as well as they could. Drew Wasikowski and Kifer Gregorie could create a killer point defense rotation, but one of the two often plays regular off ball defense. When the point defender gets beat, there isn't a second A&M player rushing to meet the ball carrier. There's no doubt that Wasikowski and Gregorie are amazing point defenders. I just don't think they are used to their full potential all the time. At the back, sometimes the keeper defense is a little weak. With many athletes and physical presences, it comes down to training and positioning. Sometimes, I don't see the same defensive fight or passion from Texas A&M as their counterparts. We all know the phrase "defense wins championships." If I were a Texas A&M captain, I'd be telling my team before each game to not allow a single goal.
Photo by Lauren Carter
The continued issues at beater, made worse by the loss of Savannah Allison, are going to start to interfere with the greatest strength of Texas A&M. The Aggies have three amazing seekers that will throw all kinds of different styles and moves at a snitch. It's only going to take one or two snatches in bracket play of a tournament for Dirk Hyrekewicz and Luke Wigley to start to be compared to Steve DiCarlo and Porter Marsh. However, if Texas A&M doesn't figure out their beater problems, teams are going to be able to shut down their seekers. Besides Matthieu Gregorie, Texas A&M's beating corps was incredibly inconsistent and often outplayed. They need to become more disciplined as a whole, as well as having a beater who can go give a hit and regain bludger control.

University of Texas
"We are not the team that dominated back in April," said Texas captain Augustine Monroe. "We are a new team with a long way to go. Only time will tell where we stand."

After losing many of their star players to Lone Star QC, Texas is beginning their title defense modestly. The Longhorns know that MVP-type players like Marshall, Arends, Holub, Bell, Morris, Adlis and Machala will not be lining up with them for brooms up this weekend. Monroe is very correct in saying that Texas is a "fresh new team." Some fresh air in Austin is pretty exciting though. The same dominance from the same guys and girls wouldn't have been nearly as fun to watch or write about!
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
UT's up and coming players excelled at fantasy tournaments this summer. Although they won't be able to duplicate the amazing chaser depth they had in their championship campaign, the group they will have this year is pretty fantastic too. Aryan Ghoddossy, Cody Tadlock and Kenny Chilton showed they can carry a team without any of their former teammates when they won THE Fantasy. Charging into the debate of best female chaser in quidditch is the duo of Audrey Wright and Kaci Erwin. Wright, who displays great positioning and will love the increase in pitch size, will surely be a top scorer for the Longhorns this season. With several goals in critical moments of the World Cup, she handles pressure well and plays with enthusiasm. Then, there's Kaci Erwin. Erwin, a defensive specialist, has been throwing bigger guys on the ground from Austin to New York. I see Erwin developing into a terrific offensive player who can do lots of different things. When you add in back up keeper Ryan Davis and any AQ call ups, Texas' chasing corps turns out pretty good. 
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
Suddenly, out of the big four, Texas is the youngest and has a lot of uncertainty at beater. Hope Machala is playing for Lone Star, Lauren Carter graduated, Jacob Adlis is in New York and Colin Capello is not playing. This leaves Evan Carr to train a new generation of Texas beaters. With same deadly, conservative, patience and quick attacks, I expect Carr to lead a pretty good beating squad. Many of the new beaters will have had experience playing with AQ, so on the A team, it's really a matter of training them to be more disciplined. Either way, at least the first half of the season, Augie Monroe is going to be looked upon to carry Texas more than ever before. He's the anchor of the team on both ends of the pitch as well as the general who's going to keep his troops in line. Monroe is the writer of the screenplay and the lead actor.

Lone Star QC
"Our team is experienced and skilled," said Lone Star's Beto Natera, "but above all we love playing with one another. It's a treat every time we get to step out on that pitch together and that team unity will hopefully aid us in mixing together all this talent into a victory stew."

After all of the summer hype and three big days of roster announcements, Lone Star QC made their debut last weekend in a scrimmage against Baylor. Despite a thunderstorm, the new community team defeated the Bears 70*-0. Hype plus a ten minute scrimmage win does not equal over-confidence for Lone Star, though. Said Natera, "We have work to do if we want to be able to compete at a championship level. Hopefully these upcoming tournaments will give us an opportunity to develop chemistry and gain a better feel for the tendencies of our teammates."
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
Assuming chemistry will develop among the LSQC players, let's look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of Lone Star. Tough, technical chaser defense is probably Lone Star's greatest strength. Chasers like Simon Arends and Kody Marshall were essential to stopping Texas A&M's half court offense and embarrassing them 200*-40. After it getting by the point, Lone Star's defense doesn't get any easier. With more great defenders like Chris Morris, Sarah Holub and Ronell Sharp, goals aren't going to come easily to opposing teams. At the back, Stephen Bell's insane hops and agility create a situation where long shots are certain to be blocked and turned into ten points for Lone Star. Connor Drake, Brian Stevens and Beto Natera are physical presences in the keeper zone who will not be afraid to come out and give a hit or stand their ground.
Photo by Monica Wheeler
To go with the chaser defense, Lone Star has Hope Machala, Mollie Lensing and Savannah Allison. I trust that those three alone will outplay and shutdown other teams. When you add in Reed Duncan, Lone Star should be able to beat most elite teams. Rounding out Lone Star's beating corps is Bo Roth and Jared Apilado. Neither has a ton of experience and if neither can mature into a solid option on the depth chart, Lone Star will not win World Cup VII. One of these guys has to be what Colin Capello was to UT last season for Lone Star to go all the way. Although the road to become a disciplined, strategic, elite beater is long, I have confidence that under the guidance of Lensing, one or both of these guys will be putting in quality minutes and taking important shifts by the end of the season.

World Cup VII Finals Prediction
Lone Star QC 140--Texas A&M 110*
Why Lone Star QC? Lone Star has a core group of players that are talented, motivated and love playing together. Their defense will be rock solid. They have the best defenders (at chaser and beater) in quidditch and I think they will mesh easily. By the end of the season, Simon Arends will be regarded as the best player in quidditch and a lock for All-American teams. His five goals against Texas A&M in the quarterfinals were only a preview. Factoring in Bell, Holub, Marshall and Morris creates an all star first chaser line. Beating will be shaky at first, but expect great maturation from Lone Star's lesser known beaters. In some ways, this is a rebuilding year for Texas and UCLA and the loss of Paul Williard is going to be felt enormously for Baylor. This leaves Texas A&M in perfect position to advance to finals. The Aggies have implemented a system that doesn't cut the team down to 21, so that they will have many options when April comes. With Drew Wasikowski and their underrated seekers (why isn't Dirk Hryekewicz in the conversation of the best seekers in the game?), A&M has the talent and they certainly have the desire to finally win. But, the former UT players seem to really have Texas A&M's normally terrific half court offense figured out. Texas A&M, who is always careful with the quaffle, was ripped apart by Arends, Marshall and Machala. It won't be a blowout, but I'll give the edge to Lone Star QC. With the potential to reload with experienced stars every summer, this could be the first championship in a dynasty for Lone Star QC.

*an incorrect earlier version of this article stated that Colin Capello and Lauren Carter will both be playing with UT this season. Capello is not playing and Carter graduated. Also, it was mentioned that Andrew Dinwoodie, Casey Ortiz and Colin Tseng will be playing for Texas A&M. This is inaccurate.

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