Monday, September 14, 2015

The Organizational X-Factor

What if I told you, the players didn't determine the outcome of the game?

With the 2015-16 season on the horizon, the time has come to identify favorites, contenders and dark horses for each region. For the past few years, I've settled into a tired routine, examining graduations and rosters to predict the future. I've weighed the effects of losing players and adding players for countless teams. I've tried to imagine whether chasers can outscore opponents or beaters can command bludger control. I've looked into my crystal ball, wondering about styles of play and matchups. I've guessed about what will happen on the pitch.

I think it's time to take a step back and consider quidditch happenings off the pitch. Beyond chasers, beaters, keepers and seekers, there's an x-factor that determines wins and losses in quidditch. It's not referees. It's not snitches. It's not match-fixers. It's the captains, presidents, coaches, treasurers and executive boards that operate quidditch programs across the country. While bad organization can spoil great opportunities, good organization can open exciting, new possibilities. Without a doubt, well-organized quidditch programs will be the best prepared to navigate the yearlong quidditch season and keep improving throughout the season. Quidditch success is a function of the players and the organization.
Photo by Nicole Harrig
The organizational x-factor is not a secret or a new phenomenon. The three-time defending champions at the University of Texas have enjoyed outstanding leadership and organization. Ain't No Ho in Me provided a behind-the-scenes look at how Augustine Monroe and company recruited, trained and guided new players to an improbable World Cup VII title. Last year, New York University shot into the upper tier of quidditch thanks to a rigorous tournament schedule. The early years of all-star community teams were littered with off-field and on-field problems. Lack of cohesion or coordination off the pitch often translated into losses and disappointment. In recent years, poorly-organized college programs have underachieved and experienced persistent roster issues.

I believe off-field organization impacts the success of quidditch programs in three ways. Good organization...

1. Improves recruitment by maintaining an active presence in the local community. From college campuses to communities, quidditch programs work hard to craft a positive reputation. Social media accounts present the best face of the team for potential recruits. When Twitter, Facebook and Instagram depict a close-knit, competitive and talented team, teams are more likely to attract friendly, competitive and talented new players. As teams become more successful, social media accounts begin to look like self-fulfilling prophecies.

2. Provides more opportunities to get better by scheduling more practices and tournaments. Intuitively, highly-organized programs will utilize their organizational skills and load up the calendar. It's no coincidence that the best programs research tournaments months in advance. However, well-organized programs are also highly selective, knowing that excessive travel can overwhelm the team. For great presidents and executive boards, the calendar is a precise recipe that must be meticulously planned. Thinking long and hard about tryouts, practices and tournament schedules is the hallmark of a well-organized program. 
Photo by Nicole Harrig 
3. Inspires confidence and purpose in rank-and-file players. The best quidditch presidents, captains and executive boards are hard-working, dedicated and impressive people. With ambitious, attainable goals, quidditch organizers captivate new recruits and set the tone for the season. As the season progresses, the microscope only tightens on quidditch organizers. Will team leadership stay determined and focused despite the challenges of life and school? Rank-and-file players will be watching closely. Without a doubt, the actions of team organizers rub off on the players. For example, rank-and-file players will be more willing to make sacrifices of time and money for captains and coaches that make similar sacrifices. The difference between overachieving and underachieving begins at the top.

The Organizational X-Factor and the 2015-16 Season 
The organization x-factor matters more than ever. As the 2015-16 season kicks off, the organizational edge has swung decisively towards community teams. Until recently, college teams enjoyed an organizational advantage thanks to financial support, easier recruiting and more motivated leadership. First-year community teams could not compete with the organizational machines of Texas, Texas A&M, Emerson and Maryland. However, today's community teams have never been more sophisticated. Community teams have secured sponsorships to finance travel, uniforms and more. The leaders of many community teams appear determined and confident. Operating popular social media accounts, community teams advertise tryouts and fundraisers to the quidditch community. Most impressively, community teams have created B teams and practice squads to accommodate high levels of interest.

Fresh off 2014-15 season victories, the losses of World Cup VII have faded into the history books for community teams. Last year, community teams placed seven teams in the Sweet Sixteen and won regional championships in the Southwest, South and West. Lone Star, Florida's Finest and the Lost Boys are the early favorites to retain their regional titles. And Blue Mountain, QC Boston, the Warriors, Rochester United and DCQC will challenge for regional championships in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes. Community teams won't be invincible. Nevertheless, only highly-organized college programs will stand a chance against today's sophisticated, all-star community squads.
Photo by Nicole Harrig 
College programs with the organizational x-factor and identity, postgraduates or history will pose the most dangerous threats to community teams. Here's why and which college squads to watch for.

First, community teams should watch out for college programs with strong identities. Identity describes a unique and distinctive style of play that has been mastered by a quidditch team. Shaped by a team's strategies, personnel and temperament, identity should be tweaked throughout the season, but should not be changed. The middle of the season is not the time for an identity crisis. Historically, the strongest identities have become engrained in quidditch vocabulary (the Baylor zone, Kansas-ing). Ball State has perhaps the most recognizable identity today. Easing into a patient, methodical rhythm, Ball State's chasers circulate the quaffle with short, high-percentage passes. When an opening appears, Ball State pounces and collects ten points. If Blue Mountain falters, Ball State will be ready to spring an upset and claim the top spot in the Great Lakes. 

Staring down Lone Star and QC Boston, Texas State and Tufts should also benefit from strong identities. With chaser Tyrell Williams and beater Jackson Johnson stepping into larger shoes, Texas State will probably stay loyal handoffs and one-and-half beating. And Tufts will most likely return to the winning combination of Andrew Miller's smart, calculated beating and David Stack's direct, efficient ballhandling. Both Texas State and Tufts know who they want to be. Therefore, both teams can focus on integrating new players into their system.

Second, college programs with postgraduate coaches and players will also be more prepared to defeat community teams. Providing experience and maturity, postgraduates stabilize reloading processes for college programs. From tryouts to practices to tournaments, postgraduates understand that slow and steady wins the race. Last season, Augustine Monroe secured eligibility to play the entire season for Texas and guided the Longhorns to a third consecutive title. Although Monroe has since departed and formed the Texas Cavalry, other high-profile players are planning extended stays with their alma mater for the 2015-16 season. 
Photo by Nicole Harrig
Opening a new(-ish) chapter of his career, Dan Daugherty has rostered as a beater for BGSU. Whether Daugherty can transition to beater is unimportant. Daugherty's reassuring presence alone makes BGSU more threatening to Blue Mountain. In the Northeast, Kyle Jeon has confirmed that he will return to NYU as a player and unofficial coach. As NYU soared up the rankings last fall, Jeon's on- and off-field impact was almost unmatched in the quidditch world. Jeon will ensure that NYU keeps opponents guessing and remains a major obstacle for QC Boston. Finally, after a season-long hiatus, chaser Sean Beloff and keeper Stephen Ralph will be back with the University of Miami to give Florida's Finest a run for their money.

When lacking identity or postgraduates, college squads will fall back on the historical strength of the program. The most successful college programs are often well-prepared for the future. B teams and well-trained senior leadership can weather the storm of graduations and manufacture respectable tournament performances. For example, the three-time defending champions are not going anywhere. Under the leadership of breakout keeper David Acker and Michael Duquette, who has evolved into the Southwest's best beater, Texas will never be an easy matchup for Lone Star. In the Great Lakes, Ohio State could easily avenge World Cup 8's losses with chaser Jeremy Boettner slashing across pitches and beater Julie Fritz securing the defense. Even Maryland, who lost Harry Greenhouse, Erin Mallory and Bryan Barrows to graduations, will stay relevant in the weaker Mid-Atlantic.

Happy new season! And remember the organizational x-factor!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Interview with MLQ Creator Ethan Sturm

On August 22nd, Major League Quidditch wrapped up its first season with MLQ Championship Weekend in Toledo, Ohio. I talked with MLQ creator Ethan Sturm about the past, present and future of MLQ. Enjoy!

What was the greatest success of the inaugural Major League Quidditch season? As the founder and the visionary, what made you proudest?

The greatest success, was, by far, the comprehensiveness of the coverage. The fact that we have video and stats of every game for the entire season, and live stream of most of the season and all of the championships, is a place that quidditch has never been before, and it's really exciting to be there. We no longer have to base assessments on anecdotal account of teams or players, it's finally all out in the open.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
During the 2014-15 season, MLQ was brainstormed, planned and brought to life. What was the most important behind-the-scenes decision that contributed to the success of MLQ?

My personal most important decision was bringing on Amanda Dallas. Her logistical acumen is basically unmatched in quidditch, and she turned what almost definitely would have just been an idea into a smooth-running [reality]. The most important thing we did as a league was bring on Savage as a sponsor. Being able to provide all of our teams with high-quality apparel for a low price went a long way in proving the legitimacy of our league.

As a highly respected referee, how would you evaluate the officiating throughout MLQ's inaugural season?  

Refereeing turned out to be the single biggest challenge of our inaugural season. Needing to put referee crews of purely non-playing referees, week in and week out, was an incredibly tall task, and simply highlighted the severe officiating shortage our sport was having long before Major League Quidditch started. All of that said, we had a group of referees that were extremely committed and consistent in their performance, and we would not have been able to pull the season off without them. Still, we are going to need to redouble our efforts going into next season if we hope to continue to deliver a high-quality product.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
MLQ's Gameplay Department introduced timeouts and eliminated the snitch from overtime this season. Will MLQ's rule changes carry over to next season? What rule changes would you like to be considered for next season and beyond?

Based on feedback from our player base, timeouts were incredibly popular. And I can’t help but to agree: allowing teams to take a breather, step back from the game, and reassess strategy is a great thing to have in the often chaotic world of quidditch. Overtime without a snitch, on the other hand, was more of a mixed bag. On one hand, it reduced the singular effect a seeker could have on the game. On the other, the overtime period often devolved into one team getting out to a 10-point lead and then just killing the clock. If either would be changed come next season, I think it’d be the overtime one. As for more changes, I think we’ll have a better idea once we assess how playing under Rulebook 9 goes for USQ.

In 2016, MLQ will expand with new divisions centered in Texas and California. How will MLQ determine which cities to award franchises to?

It will be similar to the formula we used to choose our first eight cities: a combination of size of the quidditch playing population in the area, our trust of potential leadership in the area, and travel times that won’t be over the top for other teams in the division.

Quidditch talent is not evenly divided between cities. Will MLQ ever take steps to impose parity across divisions and/or the entire league?

If we ever got to a point of being truly semi-pro, where there was no cost to players and even some amount of a stipend involved, we could consider having teams truly draft their team. But for now, there’s no getting around teams being location based.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area each support multiple professional sports franchises in the same league. Would MLQ considering awarding any city two franchises? 

There would definitely be consideration for a two-team city, potentially as early as a 2017 expansion. But two-team cities will not be considered in the 2016 expansion.
Photo by Hannah Huddle 
MLQ presents the sport of quidditch in an aesthetically-pleasing way. How would you evaluate the spectator experience at MLQ regular season and playoff events? 

Spectator numbers were definitely hit or miss throughout the season, often connected to location and how well a match was advertised. The Boston vs. New York series had by far the best spectator turnout of the regular season, and I know a few people that attended have even come to pick-up quidditch since. The finals also had sizable attendance numbers, and all over Toledo  people were aware of the sport. That said, quidditch, even MLQ, has a long way to go to be truly presentable. Better live streams, more serious media coverage, and game video with announcers and graphics would go a long way in getting us there.

MLQ's original eight franchises will all return next season. Can MLQ teams attract more spectators and build fanbases? How?

It’s all about getting the word out there. Boston drew a big crowd simply by posting on the Boston events calendar, which then got picked up by Boston Magazine. The finals got attention thanks to radio and TV station coverage. We need to keep pushing our way into the media in order to build up fan bases.

The quidditch community has been unhappy with several USQ decisions this summer. Does MLQ depend on USQ in any way? If so, will MLQ try to lobby or work with USQ in the future?

If college quidditch dies, MLQ can only survive for so many years following. We won’t be imposing ourselves on USQ, but we will be counting on them to hold up their end of the deal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Boston's Time to Shine

Thousands of miles away from Texas, there is a shining city on a hill. And it's called Boston.

Last Saturday, the Boston Night Riders claimed the first Major League Quidditch Championship, completing a 13-0 perfect season. After out-of-snitch range blowouts throughout the regular season, the Night Riders faced a surging and determined New York Titans squad in the finals. During the regular season, the Night Riders had swept the Titans in Brookline, Massachusetts. Two weeks later and 750 miles away, the Titans were playing their best quidditch of the summer. With reinforcements Kyle Jeon, Michael Parada and Jaime Colon, the Titans commanded the field for portions of the championship best-of-three series. Without a doubt, the Titans' growth was remarkable. But thanks to timely snitch catches from Harry Greenhouse and Tyler Trudeau, the first Major League Quidditch Championship was the Boston Night Riders' time to shine.
Photo by Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
The Boston Night Riders were not your everyday quidditch team. That was clear from the beginning. In mid-July, I was attending a pre-college program at Brown University. I had been following MLQ scores, but I hadn't watched any MLQ film except the sleep-inducing opening series. But I had just played quidditch for the first time. It was a beautiful day and I had some free time. I found a spot on the quad and opened YouTube on my iPad. I decided to watch the Boston Night Riders take on the Washington Admirals.

After traveling to the nation's capital, the Night Riders exploded out of the gate with a dazzling display of high-energy, high-quality quidditch. It was electric. As a part-time quidditch blogger, I'm supposed to stay impartial. Unfortunately, I like watching great quidditch. I like fastbreaks, alley-oops and hyper-aggressive beating. I like teams and athletes that blow the competition out of the water. Right away, I felt that the Night Riders were something special.

A couple weeks later, I traveled to Brookline, Massachusetts and watched the Night Riders dispatch the Titans. Once again, I was extremely impressed by the Night Riders. I began searching for an explanation. Why had the Night Riders overwhelmed the MLQ East Division? How did the Night Riders make world-class quidditch look so easy? I found an answer within Boston's quidditch history. Let's go back to the beginning.
A History Lesson
In the rolling hills of Vermont, Boston produced the first challengers to Middlebury's dynasty. With a burgeoning quidditch program, Emerson College advanced to the finals of World Cup III and battled Middlebury tooth and nail. Boston University's Kedzie Teller dashed around pitches, foreshadowing his illustrious, two-time Team USA career. When World Cup IV brought quidditch to New York City, Tufts University stole the show with a miraculous run to the finals. While Tufts garnered national media coverage, Emerson and BU were reaffirming their place among the quidditch elite with pool play blowouts and bracket play runs. Back in Boston, Emerson and BU settled into an intense cross-city rivalry.

Soon enough, World Cup V arrived and Boston's quidditch teams drove down I-95 en route to Randall's Island. With new challengers from Florida, Texas, California and the Midwest, the city of Boston was overshadowed at World Cup V. Although Emerson and BU breezed through pool play, the Boston rivals were stopped abruptly in the Sweet Sixteen. In the Florida heat and humidity, World Cup VI also felt pedestrian for Boston. Once again, Emerson and BU advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but both rivals wanted more. The quiet showings at World Cup V and VI belied the bright future of the Boston quidditch scene. Emerson's intramural league was thriving, BU was racking up regional championships and Tufts was rebuilding for the future. The Massachusetts Quidditch Conference provided regular competition between Boston's powerhouses and kept smaller programs like Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts engaged.

Culminating with World Cup VII, the 2013-14 season saw the Boston quidditch scene rise above the rest. BU's trio of keeper Brendan Stack, chaser Michael Powell and beater Max Havlin proved 
unstoppable for most of the season. Meanwhile, Emerson and Tufts traveled to the University of Maryland's Turtle Cup III and took the gold and the silver back to Boston. David Fox romped over the competition for Emerson and the new-look Tufts introduced the quidditch world to David Stack, Hannah DeBaets and Noah Schwartz. Neither Emerson or Tufts had to make the nine hour trip to College Park, Maryland. Historically, Boston's quidditch programs don't travel much. Turtle Cup III signified that Emerson and Tufts were talented, eager to improve and hungry for World Cup success.

In North Myrtle Beach, Emerson's trip to Turtle Cup III paid off. After falling short to BU all season, Emerson made a dramatic run through bracket play and dispatched BU in the quarterfinals of World Cup VII. Although Emerson and BU's Elite Eight clash was overshadowed by Texas A&M versus Lone Star QC, an all-Boston quarterfinal was not insignificant. Only three cities have ever produced two or more quarterfinalists at the same World Cup: Austin, Los Angeles and Boston. With Emerson carrying the flag, Boston's World Cup VII showed that the city would not fade away like Middlebury and capes. Boston could handle springtime World Cups and compete with warm-weather teams. 

With new confidence, Boston capitalized on the momentum and enjoyed a terrific summer of 2014. Everyday Boston summer quidditch practices generated unending hype about new players and brought the Boston quidditch community closer together. Hannah DeBaets, Harry Greenhouse, Max Havlin and Kedzie Teller represented Boston for Team USA at the Global Games. Most importantly, QC Boston underwent a momentous transformation under the leadership of Jayke Archibald. Hitting the reset button, QC Boston became less antagonistic towards local college quidditch programs. QC Boston's shift helped diffuse cross-city tensions and made the Boston Night Riders possible.

The 2014-15 season came next and produced new surprises. Graduations had exacted a toll on long-time powerhouses Emerson and BU. Ready for the challenge, Tufts and QCB quickly stepped into the spotlight. Yet, while Tufts and QCB revolutionized beating and claimed tournament titles, Emerson and (especially) BU began inspiring rebuilding efforts. For college quidditch programs, successful rebuilding efforts have been increasingly rare thanks to the heavy hand of community teams. However, BU began to do the unthinkable, regrouping and recruiting new athletes to replace
quidditch legends. With the 2015-16 season on the horizon, BU's rebuilding effort will attempt to progress further. 

Although Tufts and QCB flunked out of bracket play at World Cup 8, Boston's top quidditch players improved and matured throughout the 2014-15 season. When Ethan Sturm and Amanda Dallas unveiled Major League Quidditch, Boston was ready. 

From the beginning, Boston had all the parts to build a champion. Old teammates reunited. New teammates fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces. By the end of the season, the Night Riders' success could be explained by four key cogs. Each cog represents an aspect of the city of Boston's championship formula. Without a doubt, Boston's recipe for success will not be easy to replicate. Nevertheless, the four ingredients for the 2015 MLQ Champions are listed below.

Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Blue Bloods exemplify Boston's storied quidditch history. Over the years, the Blue Bloods have led Boston's most successful quidditch programs, drawing eyes nationwide to Boston. Like great musical artists, the Blue Bloods have reinvented their style and adapted to the times. The Blue Bloods have kept Boston ahead of the curve.

David Fox's illustrious four-year career for Emerson began in the bygone era of World Cup V. Indeed, Fox's stardom has spanned monumental changes in quidditch. Evolving from an unstoppable power keeper to a fearsome defensive stopper, Fox's trophy case includes the Champions Series, Turtle Cup III and World Cup VII's Final Four. After showcasing mind-boggling athleticism throughout the summer, Fox's resume now boasts the Benepe Cup. 

Max Havlin was not always a beater. However, Havlin's lasting imprint on Boston quidditch has been made with bludgers. For BU, Havlin cleared out defenders and allowed Stack and Powell to wreak havoc on defenses. After claiming gold at the Global Games, Havlin and QC Boston forced the entire
Northeast to practice and develop two male beater sets. Facing stiffer competition like NYU's Kyle Jeon and Tufts' Andrew Miller, Havlin refined his craft during the 2014-15 season. With the Night Riders, Havlin rightfully earned the MLQ East MVP.

Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Born and Breds found opportunities to develop and improve over the years thanks to Boston's unique quidditch scene. The Born and Breds entered the quidditch world without fanfare and set to work. Allowing their skills to speak for themselves, the Born and Breds eventually joined the company of the Blue Bloods. The Born and Breds show that great quidditch cities must provide competitive opportunities for all levels. B teams and lower-level college teams can produce unlikely superstars and help make quidditch cities more vibrant. In the age of community teams, quidditch cities must redouble their efforts to sustain lower-level quidditch teams.

Away from the spotlight, Harvard's Carli Haggerty quietly scored goal after goal for Boston's smallest quidditch program. Yet over time, Haggerty gained experience against national powerhouses in the MQC and participated in Boston's summer quidditch scene. This summer, Haggerty brought her scoring and passing ability to the Night Riders' deep and talented female chasing corps.

Tyler Trudeau began his quidditch career on the Boston Riot, Emerson's off-and-on B team. By the 2013-14 season, Trudeau lifted Emerson to Turtle Cup III and World Cup VII glory. Since North Myrtle Beach, Trudeau has matured as an on-pitch leader and improved his playmaking abilities. With Trudeau dishing out assists, Greenhouse-Fox-Trudeau-Baer was the Night Riders' most dependable chasing line.

Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Homecoming Kings and Queens played college quidditch outside of New England, but quickly joined the thriving Boston summer quidditch scene. For years, Boston summer quidditch practices have been a laboratory for position changes, all-star scrimmages and new strategies. Seeking fresh ideas and renewed energy, Boston's summer quidditch scene has enthusiastically welcomed the Homecoming Kings and Queens. When MLQ was unveiled, the Homecoming Kings and Queens had already built strong chemistry with the Blue Bloods and the Born and Breds from past summers. As 
MLQ expands, quidditch cities with strong summer quidditch scenes will enjoy a considerable advantage.

No one brings more energy than Harry Greenhouse. From his pregame hype routine to his snitch catches, Greenhouse exudes confidence and determination. As a leader, Greenhouse sets the tone of high intensity and high expectations. With years of Boston summer quidditch practices, Greenhouse reached new heights as a player on the Greenhouse-Fox-Trudeau-Baer line. When Greenhouse was clicking, the Night Riders truly approached the level of World Cup VI's legendary University of Texas squad.
Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Transplants came to Boston as college graduates and infused Boston's quidditch scene with life. Helping to maintain the city of Boston's national profile, the Transplants have steered Boston's premier community team, QC Boston: The Massacre, away from disaster. When the new season arrives, QC Boston will be prepared to compete for championships thanks to the Transplants. As a Mecca for young professionals, Boston will always have advantages over Detroit or Cleveland. However, Boston's Transplants have taken enormous strides and seized big opportunities to improve the prospects of tomorrow for Boston's quidditch scene.

At Hofstra University, Jayke Archibald and company always flew under the radar. Why? Hofstra couldn't beat Emerson or BU on the big stage. When Archibald ventured to Boston, QCB promised an invincible superteam, but couldn't deliver in the first year. Meanwhile, relations between QCB and Emerson worsened and the future of community quidditch in Boston was unclear. In the summer of 2014, Archibald captained a sinking ship to safety, embarking on a multi-year plan to claim the top spot in the Northeast. Indeed, the Night Riders, MLQ and the Benepe Cup might only be the beginning. When rosters are unveiled, QCB could be the best team outside of Texas.