Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Building a Safety Net: Team USA

safety net
a large net rigged between a person, as a trapeze performer, and the ground as protection in a fall.
something that provides a margin of protection or security: the safety net of federal credit for financial institutions.

Because of the nature of the knockout effect and tackling rules, possession in quidditch can be difficult to maintain. Beginning teams can be so determined to prevent turnovers that offensive strategy takes the backseat. However, if a team is able to consistently keep possession after beats and tackles, it creates a hypothetical "safety net" for that team's offense. Hustle, field awareness, positioning, anticipation and athleticism are several factors that determine the strength of a team's safety net. With the support of a safety net, a team can suddenly take more risks on offense. Chasers and keepers supported by strong safety nets can attempt more drives in a half-court offense and more fast breaks. Without a strong safety net, many teams have to resort to turnover-prone hero-ball or pass-reliant offenses. 

Whether it was the practices in Seattle or the common bond of wearing the USA jersey,  Team USA created one of the strongest offensive safety nets I have ever seen. Team USA's hustle for loose balls, anticipation, positioning and field awareness on offense was truly the difference between the United States and the other competing nations at the Global Games. Although wet weather and a lack of chemistry slowed Team USA's passing game down, the United States made up for it with a lethal combination of a drive-first offense and a strong safety net. Because chasers wearing the USA jersey knew that a teammate always had their backs, the United States could push the pace of games and notch easy, fast break goals. More than anything else, the combination of relentless driving and consistent recovery of loose balls must have made the United States feel like an unstoppable juggernaut. Here are three examples of the United States' safety net that led to goals:

United States vs. United Kingdom (7:04) -- USA chaser Kody Marshall starts a fast break, but is met near midfield by UK beater James Burnett. USA chaser Eric Reyes, who is running next to Marshall in support, mishandles Marshall's pass and the quaffle rolls behind the hoops. Luckily for Team USA, keeper Alex Browne had been streaking down the far side of the field and Browne recovers the quaffle and scores.

United States vs. Australia (12:35) -- USA chaser Brandon Scapa tackles Australia ball carrier Raj Kapoor, who tosses the quaffle into the arms of USA chaser Kenny Chilton. Chilton is beat quickly by Australia beater James Williams, but Scapa springs up from the ground to retrieve the loose ball and dash towards the hoops for a goal.

United States vs. Australia (21:00) -- After receiving a pass from his Lone Star QC teammate Stephen Bell, USA chaser Kody Marshall curls around the wing on a drive. Marshall is beat by Australia beater Katelyn Stubbenfield, but he sees his former University of Texas teammate Audrey Wright, who is positioned in front of the hoops, and throws the ball in her direction. Wright beats Australia's Hannah Monty and Minh Diep to the quaffle and scores for the United States.

The strength of Team USA's safety net was most obvious when compared to the other podium contenders. Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom were strong sides, but each struggled to score on the United States in part because of weak, inconsistent or non-existent safety nets. Here are a a few examples:

United States vs. Australia (18:05) -- Australia keeper James Hyder drifts to the far side of the field with USA chaser Drew Wasikowski point defending. As Wasikowski closes in on the tackle, Hyder is looking to get rid of the quaffle. Australia chaser Hannah Monty seems to be the best option, but Monty streaks toward the near side of the field, in the opposite direction as Hyder. Wasikowski executes the tackle on Hyder and the Australians lose possession.

United States vs. United Kingdom (3:44) -- United Kingdom chaser Warren McFayden, a Global Games standout, takes the quaffle near midfield. McFayden plows over USA point defender Kedzie Teller and then evades both USA beaters before being stopped by an illegal challenge from Stephen Bell and a beat from USA beater Max Havlin. Bell is yellow carded, but Team USA is rightfully given possession, because there are no UK chasers in the area. If another UK chaser had followed the fearless McFayden into the heart of the United States defense, Team UK could have scored on the restart. 

United States vs. United Kingdom (5:03) -- USA chaser Kody Marshall mishandles a pass from USA chaser Drew Wasikowski, and is beat. UK chaser Warren McFayden recovers the quaffle in the American half of the field, but is tackled at the hoops by Marshall. UK chaser Robbie Young had also joined McFeydan's fast break, but had drifted towards the far hoops and was out of position to recover the loose ball.

As you may be thinking, building a strong safety net sometimes goes against conventional pass-minded quidditch. If a team wants a reliable safety net, it can be better to bunch up than spread out. Even if I'm using fancy language, safety nets are the backbone of smash-mouth Southwest quidditch. Safety nets trumped "the beautiful game" at World Cup VII, with the University of Texas and Texas State making the finals. "Kansasing" is basically having a inpenetrable safety net without showing attacking intent. Until more teams adjust and develop better support systems for their offenses, scoring against physical, organized defenses will be nearly impossible. Just ask Australia and the United Kingdom. 

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