Friday, November 22, 2013

Seven Super Matchups on Nov. 23-24

This article is nowhere near as professional as I would like, but I figured I had most of it done and wanted to get one last preview out. Also, uncertain rosters, venue switches and tournament cancellations had me going back to this article to edit each time I was about to publish it. After I finish my Weekend that Was column on the IQA website after this weekend, I'm intending to shift far away from previews and recaps on this blog. I've been brainstorming a lot and have ten or so cool articles in the planning stages. While The QuidKid in November can be characterized by late Friday night previews, December's QuidKid is going to be packed. Enjoy these final thoughts and predictions. 

7. Thundercats vs. World Cup VII Qualification
With only a couple games under their belt, Thundercats Quidditch will enter their first Western Cup with a decent shot at nabbing one of the eleven slots allotted to the West and qualifying for World Cup VII. Two weeks ago, at Next Best West Invitational, the Thundercats improved greatly as the tournament went on, finally beating a depleted, but favored Santa Barbara Blacktips squad on a snitch catch. With athletic beaters Logan Trudell and Brandon Rylee gunning bludgers all over the pitch, space is cleared for the Thundercats' offensive playmakers to, well, make plays. And Austin Carmouche and Nebraska Huggins don't just make regular, old, boring plays, the Thundercats' star quaffle players make exciting, flashy, fire-the-crowd-up plays!

Keeping the energy level high will be key for the Thundercats as they work through a pool play schedule of Riverside, USC, California and Stanford. A dominant win over Riverside would be a great way to launch the Northern California community team into a tough game against USC, but most likely, the Riverside match will come down to a snitch catch. Following that game, regardless of the outcome, the Thundercats will have to prepare mentally for USC. Trudell and Rylee have to know that the Trojans will capitalize on every single errant beat or lapse of focus. Unless the Thundercats can pull off an upset of the ages, they will face a vital game against Cal a little bruised and down. 

Player(s) to Watch Carmouche and Huggins' attendance is up in the air right now. I wrote what is above right after pools were drawn because I was so excited in hoping that the Thundercats would qualify. What was written above assumes that the two players will be at the Arizona Sports Complex tomorrow and Sunday. Finding out that Carmouche and Huggins could miss the tournament was a real bummer, but I still think I might get see them in Myrtle Beach. If one of the two is able to go to the fifth Western Cup, the Thundercats are still in good place to fight for qualification, especially if they keep Trudell and Rylee anchoring the beating corps. From Facebook, it looks like at least Huggins is in Arizona for the tournament.

6. Villanova vs. Penn State
Villanova and Penn State, two storied Pennsylvania teams, always seem to meet in major tournaments, so it was no surprise when Nova and PSU were drawn into the same regional pool for the second year in a row. Penn State started the season with a terrific performance at their own Nittany Lion Cup, finishing second to Maryland, and looked to be the clear third best team in the region. But, a broken foot suffered by star chaser Jason Rosenberg set the Nittany Lions back a few steps. At Turtle Cup III, Penn State was blown out 160*-80 by Villanova in the quarterfinals. Lacking the finishing presence to punch goals in at the offensive end, Penn State looked like a completely different team.

But now, after a few weeks to figure out how to strategize and make their offense function without Rosenberg, Penn State will be back and eager to avenge the Turtle Cup loss in pool play at MARC. Villanova comes into MARC as not only the defending champions, but also a team that looked very good at Turtle Cup. 

Player(s) to Watch Villanova chaser Julia Fillman is key to the Wildcats' matchup against Penn State. I expect aggressive Penn State beaters Scott Axel and Folahan Akinyemi to apply heavy pressure against Villanova's point players. With potentially distressed point players, Fillman needs to have good positioning and be prepared to receive inaccurate passes. In addition, Penn State's female chasers are not as strong as some of the other female chasers in the region, so Fillman has the ability to expose that weakness and score some decisive goals.

5. Paris Phénix vs. Paris Frog
One of the big pluses of writing the Monday Snitch and the Weekend that Was for the IQA website over the past few months is the fact that I've had to cover European tournaments that otherwise I wouldn't have heard about. I've gotten to talk with people from France, Italy and Belgium about the hierarchy of teams in Europe and their unique strategies. The bracket at the Brussels Muscles Invitational sets up a potential rivalry match between the Phénix and the Frogs early in the tournament and later in the final if both teams should defeat foes from France, Belgium and Spain. So, while a high-stakes Paris derby might go unnoticed in the United States, I'm pretty interested to see the results!

Paris Phénix were the fan favorite team at World Cup VI, awing with athletic play and exciting antics. Chances are most people who were in Kissimmee checked out at least one of the Phénix's games. They will remember a team with lots of height and good chemistry between the star players. However, the Phénix only earned World Cup VI qualification with a 50*-20 over the Frogs at European Regionals early last year. Since then, the Frogs have improved greatly. Showcasing their big, athletic, hard-hitting style of play at an Italian tournament in May, the Frogs rolled over the competition playing stout defense and holding bludger control. With a majority of their players also playing rugby and a captain who plays professional ice hockey in France's second female league, foul trouble and a lack of understanding of some contact rules seemed to be the Frogs biggest weakness. The Frogs have shown, slow, but steady improvement in that area too.

Player(s) to Watch I'm not certain that he is still on the team (I also don't have any reason to doubt that he isn't), but one of Paris Phénix's most impressive players that I saw was chaser/seeker Maurice Ghazi. Ghazi wore "Tarzan" on the back of his jersey and recorded snatches to defeat Oklahoma State 80*-70, to send the match against Rochester to overtime, and mistakenly suicided against Bowling Green State when confused about the score. Ghazi's physical grappling, strength and bursts of energy make him a huge asset to the Phénix if the game is in snitch range.

4. NYDC Capitalists vs. Pool of "Unfinished Business"
Many top teams contending for a regional title would have been a little annoyed to draw a pool with three World Cup VI qualifiers and solid second tier team in the region. An even higher percentage of teams contending for a regional title (especially teams that are recovering from injuries) would have been annoyed to find out that one of the teams is Johns Hopkins, a team that has garnered a reputation for playing dirty. The NYDC Capitalists, a favorite to win the Mid Atlantic Regional, are not one of those teams. Capitalist keeper James Hicks thanked the "Mid Atlantic Regional Gods" after the pool drawing in a Facebook status update. 

NYDC seems very eager to work through a schedule that includes UNC, Johns Hopkins, VCU and QC Carolinas. While UNC will probably be the Capitalists' only challenge, games against Johns Hopkins and VCU could get pretty chippy. With some lesser known players that can definitely deliver a big hit, the Capitalists pool play schedule will get them playing physically and tenaciously. If they can carry that extra physicality all the way through the brackets and into a finals matchup versus Maryland, NYDC could have a valuable edge over the Terps.
Player(s) to Watch This is definitely cheating here, but in this matchup, I'm going to be watching UNC's defense very closely. The Tar Heels function excellently on offense when all of their pieces are in place, and are able to trade goals with the Mid Atlantic's tier one teams. Right now, their defense is what's preventing them from becoming a tier one team. It's not physical enough and doesn't apply pressure quick enough, allowing opposing offenses to ease into a nice rhythm. Maybe playing in the physical pool of death will have the Tar Heels playing better defense for their 10:00 Sunday game against NYDC and crucial qualification games later in the day. 

3. Texas vs. UTSA
Even though we only got a snippet of the Texas-UTSA game at Lone Star Cup, all six minutes were amazing. Only one game that I've seen this year (in person or on video), exceeded the level of intensity of those short six minutes. Two weeks later, we are going to be treated to another matchup between the Longhorns and the Roadrunners--and hopefully someone will capture it on video! Texas is getting it together, and I'm seeing less, although still some, bad decisions from their beaters on defense. The heart of the team has gotten used to playing in a bigger leadership role and staying out on the field for more minutes.

Moving on to UTSA. I often define "potential" as how many players there are on a team whose names are not currently known, but are going to be known across the nation by the end of World Cup VII. Right now, UTSA leads the world in "potential." I've heard great things about their players, and watching the gamefilm against Texas showed me that UTSA is the real deal. To me, many of the names are familiar, but I can't necessarily match names to the player. What is very clear though, is the fact that UTSA has the talent to win World Cup VII and are just strategically behind a team like Texas. Which leads me to...

Player(s) to Watch I hope Texas will give some of their new players more significant minutes against UTSA this weekend. If the UT recruits can't keep improving at a high rate, UTSA is going eventually pass Texas. With terrific competition at a small conference meet, this weekend could be a great chance for the Texas captains to throw the newbies into big-game situations as a preview for what will be expected of them in the spring.

2. Lost Boys vs. UCLA vs. NAU
In Western Cup's Pool D, the Lost Boys, UCLA and NAU will all meet. Still undefeated after withstanding tests from both teams, the Lost Boys head into Western Cup V as the clear favorites to win on the back of physical, smart, impenetrable beater play. Former UCLA chasers Vanessa Goh and Jake Tieman are playing the best they've ever played for the red and black community team, especially Goh who is now (in my mind) undisputedly the best female chaser in quidditch. UCLA will have their new recruits this weekend, unlike at the SCQC Fall Tournament, where returning B teamers had to fill the Bruins' vacant roster spots. And NAU, predicted to burst into the West's top three at this tournament, will be playing in their home state.

While I had written a few paragraphs about how bad weather could help NAU hand the Lost Boys their first loss, Western Cup V will become the first regional championship to be played indoors. If the Lost Boys were less cocky, I could imagine they breathed a sigh of relief at the news. With turf fields, dry, balmy conditions, and no wind, the Lost Boys are perfectly set up to run the table this weekend.

Player(s) to Watch NAU's heavy hitters, who I hopefully will be able to name by the end of this weekend. While the Lost Boys are adept tacklers and know how to handle physicality, they don't have as many big hard hitting guys as NAU on their chasing lines. An overarching theme for the future of quidditch that I am watching closely is technicality sound, experienced tacklers versus new, big chasers with contact sport backgrounds. The Lost Boys and even UCLA on the technical side versus NAU on the pure physicality side will demonstrate this. UCLA's new players might not be used to physicality NAU offers, so if there is ever a time to use physicality as intimidation, it's when a team is desperate for a win and a decent bracket play seeding at a regional championship.

1. Maryland vs. NYDC Capitalists
For the second weekend in a row, a regional championship on the East Coast looks like it will inevitably come down to a coin flip between two teams. In the Mid-Atlantic, these teams are last year's MARC runner-up Maryland and new community team NYDC. The teams have yet to meet this season and each only have a single loss. They have a few common opponents, most notably Emerson at Turtle Cup. While the Capitalists beat the eventual tournament champions, they needed two snitch snatches to do so. Maryland was leading Emerson by twenty points when Tyler Trudeau sent the Lions on past the Terrapins. 

Both teams looked good and bad in similar ways. Aggressive beating is a common weakness, as the beaters on both teams like to stay in their comfort zone. I see pluses in the half court offense and half court defense. Efficiency and ball movement are demonstrated by UMD and NYDC, with the edge going to UMD. NYDC has a few more single playmakers, which could benefit them in clutch, chaotic, snitch on pitch situations.  Like last year's final between Maryland and Villanova, Maryland-NYDC is predicted to end in snitch range. The finals snitch is going to need to have the game of his life, if he's going to hold off such great seekers.

Player(s) to Watch Harry Greenhouse as a seeker. NYDC's deep, experienced seeking corps should be favored in this game, with Billy Greco going for his second consecutive MARC winning snatch. But, as soon as NYDC forgets about or underestimates Greenhouse, they will turn around and see him with the snitchsock hoisted above his head. If Greenhouse is going to out-duel the combination of Greco, Mo Haggag, Steve Minnich and Freddy Varone, it's going to be on a forceful charge in the first few minutes of snitch on the pitch play. So, when chaos erupts, as much as you might want to watch who's coming in first as a seeker for NYDC, or how the beaters react, keep your eyes glued on Greenhouse.

Western Cup V
Quarterfinals Lost Boys def. Blacktips, ASU def. USC, UCLA def. LBFQ, NAU def. Skrewts
Semifinals Lost Boys def. ASU, UCLA def. NAU
Finals Lost Boys def. UCLA

WCVII Qualifiers Lost Boys, UCLA, USC, NAU, ASU, Skrewts, LBFQ, Blacktips, Crimson Fliers, Cal, Stanford

Quarterfinals Maryland def. Johns Hopkins, Penn State def. Richmond, NYDC def. Pitt, Villanova def. UNC
Semifinals Maryland def. Penn State, NYDC def. Villanova
Finals NYDC def. Maryland

World Cup VII Qualifiers NYDC, Maryland, Villanova, Penn State, Richmond, UNC, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Virginia

Brussels Muscles Invitational
Semifinals Paris Frog def. Belgian Qwaffles
Finals Paris Frog def. Paris Phénix

I-35 San Antonio Conference Opener
UTSA def. Texas

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