Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Surprise Shootaround

It was Saturday, September 27th and a new season of quidditch was upon us. Immersed in Keystone Cup planning and fretting about logistics, I had convinced my dad to drive me to College Park, MD for Turtle Cup IV. As the first scores popped up on my Twitter feed around the Delaware-Maryland border, storylines and questions began to abound. Villanova had survived a snitch range scare from VCU, UNC had defeated Rutgers 160*-70 and NYU had needed overtime to dispose of a perceivedly weak Capital Madness team, 140^-130*.

Naturally, I bumped into Ethan Sturm, Managing Editor of the Eighth Man, almost immediately after walking through the gates of Maryland's renowned turf fields. I brought up the NYU-Capital Madness result.

"NYU was playing Kyle Jeon at chaser," Ethan remarked.

"It's that bad?" I responded. "Wow. That shows a huge lack of confidence in their chaser game."

We nodded. An hour later, I watched UNC dismantle NYU 160-30* and seemingly confirm my doubts about 2014-15 NYU. I had written NYU off my list. 

Could I have been any more wrong? 

Shifting Balance of Power
Turns out you don't have to be in a European History class to discuss balance of power. Let's examine our current season. Today's balance of power, region by region, bears little resemblance to what we have been accustomed to in the past. Storied programs have faded, community teams have gained actual relevance and historically strong geographic areas have disappeared. Although a strong argument could be made that today's balance of power was predictable, simply comparing today's upper tier to the elite of yesteryear is dumbfounding. Let's look at the developments in each region.

The Mid-Atlantic has seen Pennsylvania fall off a cliff and North Carolina and Virginia emerge into the limelight. In an ironic twist, now it seems that Pennsylvania is hopelessly isolated, doomed to watch the success of its southern neighbors. 

The Northeast watched graduation gut its pride and joy, Boston University and Emerson College (respectively?). Simultaneously, the Big Apple Quidditch Conference has transformed from Boston's ugly stepsister to a real contender, producing two regional semifinalists that, I believe, still hold untapped potential. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the rise of New York has occurred within the framework of unexpected success from Tufts University and solid rebuilding efforts at BU and Emerson.

The West has witnessed the greatest and most dangerous change of all. College teams have been reduced to minimal relevance as community teams swap and poach key players from each other. The West lacks a super community team like Lone Star QC. A super team would be better! Instead, the West features 5-8 competitive community squads that nearly shut out all college representation in the West's quarterfinals. With greater recruiting capacity, better name recognition, more available funding and facilities for tournaments, college teams always need to compose the foundation of the sport. Having only three different Western universities represented at World Cup 8 should be unacceptable.

Whether its due to the strategic advancement of quidditch or the growth of successful programs, quidditch has rarely seen such a dedicated, smart and experienced corps of captains and leaders. Kyle Jeon's accomplishments at NYU are unrivaled. Jeon disassembled NYU and rebuilt it stronger, embarking on a vigorous schedule of tournaments and seizing every opportunity to improve. Jeon's behind-the-scene work overshadows his fantastic play on the field. Jeon's new duel-threat role has showcased his increased speed and strength and highlighted his multi-faceted understanding of the game. Further down I-95, the University of Maryland's senior leadership of Erin Mallory, Bryan Barrows and Harry Greenhouse collectively delivered a regional title and held off a strong bid from UNC. In addition, Maryland's leadership has developed a highly advanced offense. For an in-depth explanation of the ingenuity of Maryland's offense, check out an excellent and thorough review of the Mid-Atlantic champions from Boston Quidditch Scene. Boston Quidditch Scene did a fascinating job of noticing and articulating the contrasts between "linear" Northeast offenses and Maryland's dynamic machine. I believe over-reliance on offensive beating and linear offenses can become a death trap come April and incessant snowstorms certainly aren't helping the Northeast's chances.

Off-Ball Giants
In basketball, big men dominate the list of all-time top scorers. Monstrous defenders in ice hockey and soccer inspire fear in the hearts of goalkeepers. However, in the early years of quidditch, height was often treated as a ticket to a green headband and tall players were locked in as ballhandlers. History is history, but limiting height to solely ballhandling roles is an antiquated and foolish approach for today's best offenses. In fact, several teams have begun using big men exclusively as effective off-ball weapons. 

Exhibit A can be found with Lone Star QC and chaser Josh Tates. The nation's top-ranked team recently reaffirmed Tates' place on the roster, proceeding with its terrifying plan to create an unstoppable force in the paint. With raw athleticism, Tates can perfect the art of high-flying alley-oops much more quickly than learning how to pick out smart passes and take care of the ball as a ballhandling keeper.

Exhibit B lies with Maryland's Eric King. Teaming with Harry Greenhouse on Maryland's starting line, King has harnessed Greenhouse's overlooked passing ability and point guard skills. With consistent positioning behind the hoops and a quick catch and release, King relieves the burden of scoring from Greenhouse and presents an opportunity for high-percentage shots. As a former fantasy GM/coach of Greenhouse, it is no coincidence that King plays alongside the 2014 Northeast Fantasy Champion.

More to Come
No promises for more blogging, but I'm hoping an exciting announcement is in the works! Stay tuned!

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