Wednesday, June 8, 2016

MLQ Week One Review

The second season of Major League Quidditch is underway! Despite the rescheduling of the series in League City, the opening weekend of Major League Quidditch proceeded in Kansas City and San Francisco, introducing the quidditch community to four of the league's newest franchises. The road teams finished 6-0, mostly affirming preseason season predictions. But the matches were not without drama, highlighted by the Kansas City Stampede's accidental snitch catch in the second game against the Austin Outlaws. On the West Coast, the San Francisco Argonauts outscored the Salt Lake City Hive in average quaffle points per game, but thanks to two game-winning snitch catches, walked away with three losses.

Entering the season, I was not sure whether Major League Quidditch would deliver competitive matches every weekend. The best teams in the league are experienced, athletic and cohesive units, capable of running away with games. With many expansion teams in new cities, I was watching carefully to see what teams like Kansas City and San Francisco produced on the field. I am a strong believer that a league is only as strong as its weakest link and any semblance of rising inequality between teams could become a problem for Major League Quidditch going forward. After the opening weekend, I am encouraged. Even Austin, a South division favorite and title-contender, faced a scare in their second game of the season. As the season marches on, I can only hope for more weekends with close calls for the favorites.
Ginger Snaps Photography
Kansas City Stampede vs. Austin Outlaws
Despite an undefeated record, Austin and its all-star cast of former World Cup champions and Team USA veterans have some adjustments to make. At times during the second game especially, Austin's half-court offense looked cautious and uninspiring. I would like to see a quicker pace from the South favorites with more fast breaks. Sure, Austin might commit a couple more turnovers, but more often than not, their experience, athleticism and chemistry will put ten points on the scoreboard.

Speeding the game up and getting into the open field is only part of the answer. A perfect fast break provides an adrenaline rush beyond the satisfaction of a successful half-court possession. It's a way to assert dominance and demoralize opponents. All the greatest teams have done it. Sometimes, moments from fast breaks live forever in the memory of the quidditch community, as when Stephen Bell lobbed a half-court pass to an airborne Simon Arends for an alley-oop at World Cup 8. While Bell can rush up and down the field, Michael Duquette and the beaters bear most of the responsibility for the pace of gameplay. In the past, Duquette has thrived in chaos, freeing up space for his chasers and keepers to show off their talents. I think Austin could benefit from being less surgical and more free-flowing, having confidence that a chaotic environment will separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Ginger Snaps Photgraphy
Additionally, Austin has to integrate new faces into the lineup. Nothing energizes a group of quidditch veterans like a younger phenom. Last year, breakout stars like Teddy Costa and Lindsay Marella boosted their teams to the finals at MLQ Championship Weekend. I saw too many of the same old faces on the field at the same time for Austin. For example, Stephen Bell and Augustine Monroe should rarely, if ever, play on the same line. Like last year's Boston Night Riders, Austin ought to spread the veterans out and mix and match them with the younger players. At tryouts, the captains and coaches of Austin saw at least something from every single player on the roster today. If they experiment, the team's leaders will eventually find a place where the lesser known players can show their hidden talents. Please, give me some new names to write about!

On to Kansas City now, where there are some newer names to write about. At this point, Adam Heald should be a household name in the quidditch community. Heald, a tall, lanky keeper in the mold of former Team USA keeper Zach Luce, has clocked many minutes for the University of Kansas over the past few years. As a ballhandler, Heald is a patient, skilled passer and a slippery driver. However, for Kansas City, Heald's best moments happened around the hoops. When he jogs into the keeper zone, Heald becomes a weapon, giving his team a large target for alley-oops. Like Washington Admirals chaser Darren Creary, Heald enjoys a height advantage and good hands. In the blink of an eye, a Hail Mary pass can turn into ten points. If better all-around teams like Austin ease into a half-court game against Kansas City, Heald will be ready to make something out of nothing.
Ginger Snaps Photography
Otherwise, Kansas City also benefits from a speed advantage over similar middle-of-the-table teams. Whether it's Hai Nguyen or Hayden Applebee, Kansas City can catch better teams off guard with a quick cut and pass to the goal. In the first series of the season, Kansas City only showed glimpses of their offensive potential. Mostly, Austin's defense clogged up the middle and out-muscled Kansas City's chasers on the perimeter. But as they run more drills and develop more plays, Kansas City's offense will become more crisp and more dangerous.

San Francisco Argonauts vs. Salt Lake City Hive
I hate to disappoint but I do not feel comfortable analyzing the West's first series at this point. I will return to both San Francisco and Salt Lake City once I have more time and video.

Jack McGovern is the Media Outreach Coordinator for Major League Quidditch.

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