World Cup VII is only four weeks away, but there are still storylines to follow, especially in the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic. Serving as my preview for the Big Ten vs. MAC Challenge, Capitol Cup, Knights Cup and the Glass City Classic, here are 10 Things To Learn Before World Cup.
1. Maryland vs. NYDC
Thanks to drops from Johns Hopkins and Geneseo, Capitol Cup will have one giant pool of all seven attending teams followed by bracket play, but tomorrow's headlining event at George Mason University is clearly the guaranteed match and possible rematch between Maryland and NYDC. After many long months where the two teams came tantalizingly close to playing, the Mid Atlantic's most hyped rivalry will begin on the field this weekend and there are plenty of reasons to be excited and interested.
Combined, Maryland and NYDC have only four losses and a .911 winning percentage--Maryland is 17-1 and NYDC is 24-3. Neither team has suffered an embarassing loss out of snitch range and has easily beaten down on the East Coast's middle tier.
With World Cup VII less than a month away, it's also interesting to consider what each team represents. Maryland began the season with a few, talented, experienced leaders and a horde of athletic, inexperienced new recruits that quickly filled the holes left by graduates. NYDC's rosters is composed entirely of experienced players and leaders, many of whom know the ins and outs of quidditch. If there are decisive results from the Maryland and NYDC game(s), does that give us a hint about whether college teams that had large, successful recruiting classes like Texas A&M or Miami will perform better than other community teams? A series of two matches against the same team also creates the possibility that Maryland and NYDC will split the games.
2. Can Richmond Hang with the Top Tier?
I'm going to be honest. What I remember of Richmond at World Cup VI is seeing UT blow them out of Austin-Tindall Park during pool play, and at that moment, deciding that UT was going to win World Cup. Anyone who shared my experience at that UT-Richmond game or anyone who saw Richmond at World Cup VI should know that Richmond is a completely different team this year. The Spiders are equipped with more athletic weapons than last year on the wings, and these players have developed under the watchful eye of keeper and point player Jeremy Day. Chaser Paco Darcey has starred, plus, to quote IQA Mid Atlantic Correspondent Erin Mallory, Richmond beating "cornerstone" and Northeast Fantasy 2013 standout Julia Baer is "backkkkk!"
At Capitol Cup, due to the altered format, Richmond will likely get three chances to play NYDC and Maryland (once against each team in pool play and once in the semifinals). That's three chances to stay within snitch range of a regional powerhouse and in doing so, make a huge statement. Way back at Turtle Cup, Richmond defeated Villanova, a team that beat NYDC and gave Maryland a scare at MARC. While the circumstances between Turtle Cup, MARC and Capitol Cup are certainly different, I believe an upset is possible.
3. Best of the Big Apple?
At Rutgers' Knight Cup, the best of the Big Apple heading into World Cup VII will be decided!
With a tournament field mostly composed of non-World Cup qualifiers and the absence of the dominant NYDC Capitalists, Hofstra, Macaulay and NYU will duke it out for a tournament title. Beater Alex Leitch will return for Hofstra after suffering a broken leg at the Northeast Regional Championship. Flanked by Theresa Buchta and Mike Iadevaia, Hofstra should have the strongest beating at the tournament. Keeper Zack Gindes looks to be the best all-around offensive player at Knights Cup. Gindes has athleticism comparable Brendan Stack and unselfish play that allows a potent NYU offense to flourish. Macaulay's strength is seeking, but if star seeker Andrew Zagelbaum is going to be in position to make a tournament winning snatch, Macaulay has to improve on the quaffle points goose egg they laid against Syracuse in their World Cup qualification match (which astonishingly was a 60*^-40 win).
Of the non-World Cup qualifiers, Lock Haven, the New York Badassilisks and Rutgers could be considered the dark horses. Likely, one of those three teams will land the fourth semifinal spot. A solid performance at Knights Cup could be a springboard to any of these three teams, as they look to compete in 2015's addition of the Quidditch World Cup.
4. Can Michigan State Win Tournaments?
The message I've been getting from the Midwest, through threads in my Quidditch Coaches Poll facebook group and articles written like this one, is that MSU are the real kings of the corn. But, until they get on the throne, I'm not convinced at all. The Spartans have a lackluster 8-2 record, with no particularly notable results.
In preparing to write this article, I watched a bit of Michigan State's games against Michigan and Miami at the Midwest Regional Championship on Rogue Sports TV. Truthfully, I wasn't impressed with either game. Jacob Heppe not conserving energy is definitely not Michigan State's "one and only problem," as labeled by Eighth Man writer Luke Changet. MSU struggles to put together a sophisticated offensive possession in the half court, even with beaters coming up to help. With short possessions, Michigan State has to rely on long shots or defensive blunders for goals. Tackling is a concern too, as Michigan State lacks a heavy hitter and a reliable tackler.
However, a tournament victory at either the Big Ten vs. MAC Challenge or the Glass City Classic, with video for proof, would cause me to rethink my assessment of Michigan State pretty quickly. As of right now, I don't think they are a top 20 team and are on the outside looking in at a return trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
5. Is BGSU the Best the Midwest has to Offer?
With Kansas losing two important players, Ball State's defeat to Central Michigan and Michigan State's flaws, I think that BGSU has the chance to rise above the jumbled first tier in the Midwest. If BGSU is going to separate themselves from the pack in the Midwest, I'm looking for a clean sweep of Big Ten vs. MAC Challenge and the Glass City Classic. An incredibly weak pool play schedule at the Big Ten vs. MAC Challenge makes up for BGSU's various absent players. My expectation is still that BGSU's wins. At full strength, as I presume they'll be at Glass City, BGSU truly has all the pieces in place, especially with the addition of beater Joe Pavlik.
6. The Real Ohio State: pre-regionals or regionals?
Prior to the start of the season, I thought OSU could end up as the class of the Midwest by the end of the season. With a 7-0 performance at Phoenix Cup that included 60+ point defeats of Ball State and BGSU, it appeared Ohio State might be on the way to a regional championship and national relevance. The Midwest Regional Championship was a flop for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes fell to Michigan State, Minnesota and BGSU.
What I see from Rogue Sports TV film, is that Ohio State runs complex offensive possessions, with hard cutting and accurate passing around the perimeter. It's the best offense I've seen in the Midwest. The danger for the Buckeyes is that the opposing defense forces turnovers on the perimeter or their offense becomes complaisant and stops penetrating. If that can be remedied, I think Ohio State has a shot at returning to their pre-regionals form, winning tournaments, advancing far in bracket play and cracking the top ten in rankings by the end of the season.
7. Glimpse of Northeast vs. Midwest
There has not been nearly enough interregional play this year, but two Northeast teams, Rochester and SUNY Geneseo will travel to Toledo for the Glass City Classic two weeks before brooms up at World Cup VII. Of the top tier scheuled to play at Glass City, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and BGSU, no team has played a team from the Northeast yet this season. I'm thinking that Rochester will be just barely outside of that top four, especially considering their 50*-20 loss to Syracuse at a Snow Belt meet last weekend, but making the semifinals or finals would be a great omen for the Northeast.
Geneseo's games against teams like Toledo, Eastern Michigan and Ohio will give us a sense of the depth of each region.
8. Canada's fifth qualifier
Regionals are done right? No! Surprise! There's actually one more qualifying match in Eastern Canada between Valhalla and Guelph. It will be a rematch of a 120^-70* overtime win for Guelph back in the fall. Both teams narrowly missed qualification at the Eastern Canadian Regional Championship, but now get a second chance to qualify.
9. More drops from WCVII?
If you haven't been following closely, the IQA has awarded extra World Cup bids due to international and American drops from World Cup. Syracuse, the Wizards of Westwood, Virginia, California, San Jose State, South Carolina, Cougar Quidditch and the winner of the Canadian qualification match have all been invited to North Myrtle Beach. With Johns Hopkins failing to complete game requirements, the next Mid Atlantic qualifier, Duke, should also receive a bid shortly.
10. Who Will Win the Video Challenge??
The most pressing question here! What are the video challenge standings???
Alex Wilson/Arkansas 32
Matt Ziff/Miami 32
Daniel Shapiro/Missouri 20
Matt Ziff/Miami 32
Daniel Shapiro/Missouri 20
Drew Wasikowski/Texas A&M 18
Evan Bell/Blacktips 7
Evan Bell/Blacktips 7
Peter Lee/Lost Boys 6