Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Meet Number One

"There is no possible scenario as of RIGHT NOW where [World Cup VII] is not TAMU's to lose."  --Mitch Cavender

As we anxiously wait for Diamond Cup and Texas A&M's first test of the spring, I dove into the A&M film available on YouTube. As I watched each individual player one-by-one, I became more and more impressed. Like UT, each chaser is incredibly versatile and can take on any role in the offense or defense. The Aggies are the clear favorite to win April's World Cup VII title, and unlike last year, I see them only getting stronger this spring. Let's meet our number one team in the country and the only team playing as strong on both ends of the field as last year's championship UT team.

The Familiar Names
Holdovers from last year's roster, chasers Drew Wasikowski, Kifer Gregorie and Becca DuPont have gotten 99% of attention for A&M this fall, much like the UT trio of Augustine Montoe, Kody Marshall and Sarah Holub last year. Wasikowski can be inserted anywhere in the quaffle game from keeper to behind the hoops. Gregoire brings physicality and hard hits--something that Texas A&M could use more of, even if it means an occasional yellow card. DuPont has proved that she can jump dunk like Sarah Holub and can handle the ball like Vanessa Goh. Wasikowski, Gregorie and DuPont have played outstanding quidditch, but perhaps more importantly, they have helped a group of new recruits turn into vital parts of the Aggies efficient offensive machine. 

Other familiar names include chaser Sam Keegan Adlis, who starred last season for Texas A&M's B team, the Silver Phoenixes. Like Wasikowski, Adlis' size and experience allows him to do many different things for Texas A&M in the quaffle game. Seeker Andrew "Dirk" Hryekewicz had a monster tournament at Lone Star Cup catching five snitches. Players in the Southwest might know a few more names, but I'd say the rest of the country needs a nice, formal introduction to the players who have made Texas A&M's number one ranking possible.

Photo by Sue Decker
Brandon Laures, C
Brandon Laures is the first new member of Texas A&M's team this season that I noticed. Laures has started every major game Texas A&M has played at the Wolf Pack Classic and the Lone Star Cup. Using his speed to reach the center of the field quickly on "brooms up," Laures typically tries to use his body to allow Wasikowski to get the quaffle and beater Sean Fry to retrieve a bludger. While gaining the first possession and a bludger can be important, it's what Laures does during the remainder of his shift that has been so impressive. His off-ball movement near the hoops is superb and he is always looking to move into the open space or provide an outlet for the ball carrier. Like the rest of the new recruits, Laures is comfortable in transition and has the ability to make "the extra pass," two trademarks of the 2012-13 UT team. 

On defense, I could argue that he's been the Aggies' most important player. On a team with two of the best point defenders in quidditch, Laures has been delegated to defend the point in incredibly important situations, including the finals of both Wolf Pack Classic and Lone Star Cup against Stephen Bell and Chris Morris, respectively. Before the season began, I knew Wasikowski was determined to make more of his chasers comfortable defending the point, and watching Laures is a sure sign that he has succeeded. 

During Lone Star QC's first possession in the finals of Lone Star Cup II, watch as Laures goes up against LSQC's Chris Morris. With every burst of speed and hard cut that Morris makes, Laures is never more than a half a step behind him. Morris cuts back towards the middle with Laures hustling to get himself in position for a tackle. As Morris is releasing a pass, Laures dives in for a tackle and disrupts the LSQC keeper's follow-through.
Photo by Sue Decker
Sam Haimowitz, C
In the NBA, the sixth-man of the year award typically goes to a two-guard or forward that is a fantastic all-around player who happens to come off the bench. The sixth-man of the year will often end up playing many minutes alongside the starters in close games or the playoffs. I kind of imagine Texas A&M's Sam Haimowitz as my leading candidate for fifth-man of the year on a chasing corps. When there's a loose ball, missed shot or poor pass, Haimowitz always tracks it down and immediately has his head up looking to shoot or pass. He stretches the defense by extending possessions and with smart positioning.

Defensively, I don't think he's quite at the point defending level of Brandon Laures yet, but he's improving. When opposing teams try to run a dual point guard offense, Laures and Haimowitz can combine to form an elite point defending duo. With great communication, they execute perfect switches and quickly come to each other's assistance to cut off driving lines. Most importantly, they can keep opposing keepers in front of them. Overall, Sam Haimowitz strikes me as a very smart player who seems like he has years of quidditch experience under his belt.
Photo by Sue Decker
Wyatt Keller, Tyler Sessions, Mark Wigley, K
While I was reviewing Texas A&M's game film from this season, I began to notice just how many different players were playing keeper and running the offense. In addition to Wasikowski and Adlis, new recruits Wyatt Keller, Tyler Sessions and Mark Wigley have all played well with the green headband. When, at the beginning of the season, I heard that Texas A&M was losing two of their best keepers from 2012-13, I began to have second thoughts about whether the Aggies would compete with the other Southwest powerhouses. Although Keller, Sessions and Wigley aren't built for trucking through defenders, they will use their agility and quickness to find a lane (if one opens up). The three keepers are primarily passers though, and have a team-first mentality. 

I'm grouping these three keepers together because with their similar styles, strengths and weaknesses, the Aggies have gotten a lot of consistency from the keeper position. Their gameplan or strategy stays the same (from what I can tell) no matter which keeper is in the game. This is very important because in a tournament like World Cup VII, Texas A&M should be worrying about how to alter their gameplan depending on what their opponents are doing--not depending on their own personnel.
Photo by Sue Decker
Sean Fry, B
Texas A&M's beating corps has jumped to a new level this season, matching and outplaying opposing beaters with discipline, strategy and depth. Continuing the trend of good quaffle players becoming great beaters, former chaser Sean Fry has helped turned beating from a weakness to a strength for Texas A&M. Fry is accurate and he rarely takes himself out of the play with a missed beat. With a bludger in his hand, you can clearly see that Fry commands the respect of his opponents. 

After this fall season, Fry is well known throughout the Southwest and it's time that the rest of the country knows who he is and what he's been doing. Really, it's not just Fry that's brought Texas A&M's beating to a new level. The entire Texas A&M beating corps has held their own against tough opponents. Ruben Polanco and Maddie Franklin have been two hugely important "call ups" from Silver Phoenixes and without the speed of Matthieu Gregorie, A&M wouldn't be able to walk away from "brooms up" with bludger control so often.

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