Monday, May 9, 2016

Depth Perception from Home

The weekend of April 16th and 17th was just another busy weekend for me. My AP tests were quickly approaching and I worked hour after hour, reading American history and practicing calculus problems. I was determined and laser-focused, aiming to prove myself to anyone and everyone who stopped and looked. Yet, in the back of my mind, five years of memories floated around. My eye-opening trip to World Cup IV, situated among the skyscrapers and traffic of Manhattan. My thrilling journey as junior reporter for the Florida Quidditch Conference at World Cup V. The optimism of World Cup VI, as the quidditch community celebrated a flawless champion, a likable Cinderella and warm weather. And more recently, teaming up with so many amazing people and flooding the official website with recap articles at World Cups VII and VIII. Five years of airports, hotels, restaurants and parks flashed by as I leafed through textbook pages from my bedroom.

Now eventually, by Sunday night, I tuned into the Livestream and watched Quidditch Club Boston vanquish Lone Star Quidditch Club in the semifinals and squeak past Rochester United for the championship. Without being on the ground in South Carolina, I feel like I have lost my place at the table of quidditch historians, but as the season ended, I had one big takeaway from gamefilm and livestreams.

Three years ago, depth was the key to success. At World Cup VI, Texas' legendary squad was absurdly talented from top to bottom. Since then, Texas A&M, Lone Star Quidditch Club, Texas and Texas State have hurled line after line of athleticism and physicality at each other in an annual war of attrition for the national championship. Non-Southwest teams watched from the sidelines in awe. How could a Northeast or Mid-Atlantic team ever assemble a more complete 21-man roster? The quidditch community largely accepted that the Southwest dominated interregional play because of overwhelmingly greater depth.

A couple weeks ago, QC Boston and Rochester United (and to a lesser degree, Ball State) dismantled the doctrine of depth. Both finalists boasted a skillful supporting cast, but like never before, they both worked with a short bench for the regular season and World Cup 9. Sometimes, two or three superstar players carried them to glory. The Northeast and Great Lakes finally triumphed over the Southwest not with a better second or third line, but with a better first line. While Lone Star recycled through equally talented lines, both Northeast finalists grouped their best players on a single dynamic, cohesive line.

Arguably, the current trend away from depth began last year, when Augustine Monroe and Michael Duquette dispatched the top-to-bottom most skilled team, Lone Star. Either way, depth almost seemed like a competitive disadvantage at World Cup 9. I'm not quite sure yet whether the new star-powered reality is good or bad for the sport. Of course, some professional sports like basketball emphasize superstars over depth and the NBA is doing fine the last time I checked.

But why has depth become less important? Perhaps, the advancement of hyper-aggressive beating has diminished the physicality of the chaser game, enabling star players to stay on the pitch longer. Or maybe the return of pool play allowed star players to rest on Saturday and save energy for bracket play. Or maybe the best players have more and more experience, justifying disproportionate minutes and transforming the lower end of the depth charts into cheerleaders. Maybe community teams, which sometimes struggle to maintain a full roster, are to blame. All of the above?

Anyways, I think that the current climate of quidditch favors short benches and superstars for the foreseeable future. For this and many other reasons, community teams seem the best prepared to fight through close matches and emerge victorious from major tournaments. However, I want to see how quickly the Southwest adapts. I do not honestly know if Southwest college teams have the talent the take down seasoned all-stars from Boston or Rochester or Los Angeles. From where I stand, Southwest community teams have two options. Shift towards Northeast-style hyper-aggressive beating and embrace shorter benches OR double down on depth and physicality.

The fast-approaching Major League Quidditch season will likely give us a better idea about the importance of depth in today's quidditch. As all sixteen teams set their sights on the defending champion Boston Night Riders, I will be watching how teams like the Austin Outlaws and Los Angeles Guardians approach the challenge ahead in League City, Texas.

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