USQ Cup 11 Wrap Up: Underrated Players

Nationals is over, Team USA has been announced (congratulations, bring home the gold, I can’t believe (insert player here) didn’t make the team, this is an outrage, how dare you USQ), and MLQ rosters are finalized. Nationals had some of the most exciting, competitive play we’ve seen since our sport came into existence, and we’re fully expecting that to continue throughout the summer season.

Before we turn our attention to the star players flying to Italy to compete in the World Cup, we feel the need to look at some of the constantly overlooked and more unheralded players that fill out rosters across the country. A constant refrain in posts, comments sections, muttered behind livestream commentators, etc. is that it’s always the same names populating every “who to look out for” list. Great quidditch teams are more than just a handful of top-tier stars who make all the boy moose go waaaa, they’re stacked top to bottom with players who will burn you on the pitch.

Editor’s note: We broke down our writers by section so you know who to blame. Also so we could show off some of our new staff headshots, courtesy of the incredible Marissa Hondros.

Ali Markus

Marisa Enos, Lake Erie Elite (beater)

Lake Eerie Elite beater Marisa Enos

Photo credit: Cara Marassa

On a Central Michigan team dominated by a never ending line of people named David (Prueter, Wilber, Wier, Banas…) and Crashley’s infamous bionic beating, Marisa Enos logged minutes for years, but never grabbed a headline. On a Lake Erie Elite squad with a miles-deep beating corps helmed by Team USA’s Tyler Walker and staffed by pairs like Ball State’s Matt Brown & Erin Moreno, Michigan State’s Jim Richert & Brandon Ollio, and Indianapolis Intensity’s Jeremy Hoffman & Alyssa Marassa, it’s a crowded roster full of names even the casual Great Lakes spectator knows off hand. Enos is a damn good beater in her own right, but the firepower surrounding her required her to carve her own niche and demand a seat at the table this season and she worked her ass off to earn it. When she wasn’t playing actual quidditch, either in games or at practice, she was in the gym absolutely crushing it so the next game or practice would be even better. That kind of commitment is a trait sorely underrespected in this sport, but the payoff has been sweet in Round Rock she stepped into exactly the roles that LEE needed her to fill, regardless of how fluidly the demands changed throughout the weekend.

Emily Hickmott, Lone Star Quidditch Club (chaser, beater)

LSQC chaser Emily Hickmott

Photo credit: Shirley Lu Photography

When you play on teams surrounded by sick talent, two things happen: you get really freaking good at quidditch, and the fickle beast of name recognition passes over you for your teammates. Four years on a Tufts team that famously missed day 2 of Nationals consistently, despite strong regular seasons that would suggest otherwise, another year on QCB, fresh of a national title, and two years on the Boston Night Riders and a pair of medals to show for it, Hickmott has played with her fair share of big names casting long shadows. She spent those past six seasons putting in the work and becoming an experienced chasing threat before moving to Austin and joining Lone Star, yet another team with a few names the casual quidditch observer likely knows. Not only did she continue to pose a threat in the quaffle game, Hickmott stepped into a beating role this season, taking on an even greater role in the community finals when Mollie Lensing’s hand injury created a vacuum in LSQC’s beating corps. Resumes like this define “underrated” and make performances like Hickmott’s in Round Rock entirely expected if you know what you’re watching.

Nadja Melby, Minnesota Quidditch (beater)

Minnesota Quidditch beater Nadja Melby

Photo credit: Ali Markus

Nadja Melby is the Alexander Hamilton of quidditch: young, scrappy, and hungry. We’re talking about a junior who’s been playing for Minnesota Quidditch for just two years with one summer on the Minnesota Voyageurs, and she is already being relied upon to train up new beaters. She’s quick as hell, which allows her partners to play aggressively while she cleans up. This flexibility allows Minnesota to use her in so many ways, because she can fill in gaps or take the lead while someone else does the caulking. Melby doesn’t look like she should match up against other beaters as well as she does because she’s not physically imposing, but she’s a tiny target who blocks incoming bludgers well, so when opponents try to actually beat her, either she deflects it, or they miss her entirely. Not only is she underrated, she’s underestimated.

Ryan Smythe

Ryan Smythe

Brentlee Cass, Arizona State University (keeper)

ASU Keeper Brentlee Cass

Photo credit: Phoebe VanGelder

ASU’s beater squad is among the most celebrated in the West, but this team has sported a top-tier quaffle game to back it up for years. Just this season, ASU scored at least 200 points in six separate games – not counting Nationals because those scores aren’t publicly available at the time of publishing. That’s more 200+ point games than the Lost Boys and Los Angeles Gambits combined (four) this season. Brentlee Cass is frequently overshadowed, in more ways than one, by fellow keeper Dylan Bryant, but in the team’s matchup against Collegiate Division Champions the University of Rochester Thestrals, he was pushed into the spotlight after a seriously questionable red card took Bryant out of the game. ASU secured a win after pulling the snitch while 20 points ahead, and a huge part of that victory belongs to the team’s quaffle game, especially Cass’ willingness to push the pace and his ability to hit teammates with excellent passes.

Maxine Gutierrez, SJSU Quidditch, (chaser/beater)

SJSU player Maxine Gutierrez

Photo credit: Ra Hopkins/KimChe Photography

FBI has been beating the SJSU drum as hard as any member of the school’s marching band all season, but this team is about to look very different with about half of their roster graduating. The younger Spartans need to get ready to carry a heavy load after the team’s most successful season in history, and rising junior Maxine Gutierrez has the skillset necessary to help fill that void. She put in meaningful minutes at both chaser and beater this season, more than carrying her weight when subbing in for either role. She has large shoes to fill, especially with beaters Anna Huang and Elsa Lem both graduating by December, but her unrelenting effort fighting for loose balls and fearlessness in challenging anyone who steps in her way will go a long way towards keeping SJSU competitive in the West for years to come.

Kieran Collier, Quidditch Club Boston (beater)

QCB beater Kieran Collier

Photo credit: Shirley Lu Photography

Boston has a storied history of producing some of the most highly-regarded beaters in the country – shout-out to Team USA’s Max Havlin and Lulu Xu – which makes it incredibly difficult to stand out both alongside the already established elite and ahead of the rising collegiate stars turning heads and forcing spectators to ask, “Who is that?” Kieran Collier, playing behind Havlin on QCB’s depth chart, had the opportunity to make a name for himself with the team’s limited roster at Nationals. As the latest chaser-turned-beater-after-graduating-from-Emerson, Collier stepped into his role as a cog in the QCB machine last season and has grown into a key member of the team that gave eventual Community Division Champions Texas Cavalry a serious scare on day one. QCB may have bowed out of National earlier than many expected this season, but their future prospects remain as bright as any with a deep pool of graduating talent to draw from in Boston and reload for another run at the cup next year. Expect to see Collier’s name high on the team’s depth chart as they fight to remain one of the premier quidditch dynasties in the nation.

Sierra Bumgarner, Nomads Quidditch (chaser)

Nomads Quidditch chaser Sierra Bumgarner

Photo credit: Katelyn Rae

While Nomads Quidditch had a tough time at Nationals, this Mid-Atlantic team still showed off some offensive potential by putting up the second most quaffle points against Pool D winners the Ohio Glory all weekend. A huge part of that success came from the hands of Sierra Bumgarner’s tireless play attacking from behind the hoops. Very few photos, let alone film, of this team even exists so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that basically the entire Nomads’ roster is underrated, but Bumgarner’s ability to juke away from contact and consistently find the open hoop helped keep this team within snitch range of the Fighting Farmers of America. Nomads Quidditch has a lot of ground to cover before they can be considered a regional contender, but it has a few pieces in place that make it a team to watch out for in the future.

Elizabeth Barcelos

Dane Johnson, University of Rochester (chaser)

Photo credit: Shirley Lu Photography

The combination of Thestral beaters Perry Wang, Steven Beltizky, and Tim Kwan with keeper Basem Ashkar’s ability to truck through defenses has gotten a lot of well deserved credit for the University of Rochester’s first national championship. However, a closer look reveals a supporting cast of talented freshmen who stepped up to get their seniors a medal in Texas. Foremost of these was Dane Johnson, though you might know him as Tobin from the jersey he wore last weekend. “Dude balled out,” according to Coach Ethan Warren, but that’s an understatement. In addition to making scoring drives of his own, this freshman was a lockdown point defender, tying up incoming quaffle players so that his beaters could more easily pick them off.

Amber Zehner, Utah State (chaser)

Utah State chaser Amber Zehner

Photo credit: Elizabeth Barcelos Photography

As I was editing my film of Utah State from the tournament, I kept saying to myself, “Who is that?” whenever #27 came into my shots, which was pretty damn often considering that she didn’t sub very often. That ended up being Amber Zehner, a second year player for Utah State. According to Coach Cameron Vom Baur, Zehner’s background as a cross country athlete allows her to go long stretches without subbing out, including taking no subs at all in Utah State’s final game at West Regionals, where the Aggies secured the last in-person bid in a tight rematch with SJSU Quidditch. However, she doesn’t just have endurance – Zehner is tenacious as well. In addition to fighting to make dunks at the hoops, Zehner took on multiple Minnesota players to wrest the quaffle away in Utah State’s last game at US Quidditch Cup 11. With two more years on Utah State ahead of her, Zehner’s play will only continue to improve.

Connie Henderson, Lost Boys (chaser)

Lost Boys chaser Connie Henderson

Photo Credit: Brian Parker

Last photographer story, promise. When Connie was on Anteater Quidditch during their Cinderella run to their first US Quidditch Cup 10, I got some great shots of her running up to get a goal on NAU in the match to determine which of the two squads would go to nationals. She was shocked that someone had caught a picture of her handling the ball. Well, what was surprising now is just par for the course as she’s transitioned from Zot Zot to Never Grow Up. Henderson is a dangerous option to leave open, meshes well with fellow UCI alum Princeton Ngyuen, and has a fresh intensity that an old team like Lost Boys needs. With the whole sport watching, Henderson also stepped to seek for the first time ever against Lone Star in a Final Four matchup. Some people question the depth of the Lost Boys, but with players like Connie deep in the Lost Boys depth chart, I don’t.

Jorge Bugarin-Tello, Cal (beater)

Cal beater Jorge Bugarin-Tello

Photo credit: Seabass Photography

Once upon a time, I loved Cal because they just shut up and played good quidditch. They might not be so hot at shutting up anymore, but as a mouthy observer of the sport myself, I can’t complain too much. Jorge, however, has kept that shut up and play good quidditch attitude going strong for four years. From his freshman year on the Golden Snitches (Cal’s unofficial B team) to being on the team one snitch grab away from a final four finish as a senior, Jorge’s growth has mirrored his team’s meteoric rise from nonqualifier to regional champion. His speed and convincing pump fakes make him a pain in the ass to beat against (the highest compliment one beater can pay another) but he never loses his cool or make make trigger happy bad decisions. Any team that picks him up after graduation will be lucky to have him.

Bruce Donnelly

Anna Dannecker, Emerson College Quidditch (chaser)

Emerson College Quidditch chaser Anna Dannecker

Photo credit: profile picture/unlisted

It’s not a secret that I’ve spent the season in a contributing role, helping Kieran Collier coach Emerson College Quidditch; because of that, I was eager to write about an underrated player from this lovable, underdog team that made day two at US Quidditch Cup (!!!!). Then I was hit with the difficult decision: who?

While nearly every member of this team is underrated, the one who deserves the spotlight is the one who holds it all together the glue (gal), if you will Anna Dannecker. A key component to ECQ’s dual-male beating lineup, Dannecker is also a coach’s dream. Not only is she a tough-nosed defender who isn’t afraid to guard any player on the field, she will also provide you with all of the hustle plays, often being the first person diving on any and all loose quaffles. Along with her intangibles, Dannecker displayed a willingness to improve on the offensive side of the field, providing the team with yet another female chaser unafraid to carry a quaffle — and take longer shots, at times. The glue guy is often the most overlooked player on a team and Dannecker epitomises all of those attributes; and you should remember her name.

Emma Wolfe, Tufts University Tufflepuffs (beater)

Tufts University beater Emma Wolfe

Photo credit: Isabella Gong

A lot of the country at least those who watched any Tufts game just learned the name Andrew Bittles. While Bittles captivates crowds with his long beats and fiery attitude, his ability to play that game depends on a single player: Emma Wolfe.

The unsung hero of the Tuft’s beating duo, Wolfe is the calm to Bittles’ chaos. Her athletic ability and field presence allow her to hold down the middle of the field, control the defense, and often times clean up Bittles’ messes. Don’t let her connection to Bittles fool you however Wolfe is a fantastic beater on her own. She rarely makes a mistake and has grown into one of the most consistent and dependable beaters in the Northeast.

Ashley Dolan, BosNYan Bearsharks (seeker, beater)

Bosnyan Bearsharks seeker Ashley Dolan

Photo credit: Vowels Photography

Yes. That says seeker. Don’t mind that Ashley Dolan is naturally a beater who saw minutes at the position during brackets at US Quidditch Cup. For a minute, also ignore the fact that her versatility allows her to spend time also playing chaser on a team with Julia Baer and Carli Haggerty. What people may not have known until her performance during BosNY’s game against Warriors is that Dolan is also possibly one of the best female seekers in the country.

From as early as her time at Skidmore, she has been making appearances at seeker. Her tenacity and physicality at the position make her a consistent threat to catch. Even in the neverending snitch-on-pitch time of the Warriors game (thanks, Anthony Hawkins), Dolan found herself going head-to-head with a snitch that had been frustrating every seeker in that game. Rather than backing down, Dolan took multiple shots at Hawkins and nearly catching him multiple times. In a game where few had even a decent chance at catching the snitch, she was nearly able to get close looks more than once.

 

Mitch Hatfield

Natalie Pollard, Silicon Valley Skrewts, (beater)

Silicon Valley Skrewts beater Natalie Pollard

Photo credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography

Hot take out of NorCal is that Natalie Pollard is an unsung hero, and that’s hard to argue with. After starting her quidditch career with the Richmond Spiders, Pollard became a Skrewt in the USQ Cup 9 season. Since then, she has spent her time with the team growing into one of the Skrewts most dependable (and flexible) players. Given her usual beating partner’s propensity for injury, Pollard played with a variety of partners this season. Pollard played with consistency and ease with Skrewt veteran Andrew Covel, as well as with newer beaters like Steven Solomon. The general feeling I got from talking with the Skrewts was that when Natalie went in, they knew things were going to be fine. “Having Natalie at the top of my sub line is a very comforting feeling,” said fellow beater Elizabeth Barcelos. Her consistent play style might not be as showy as some, but that consistency helped lead the Skrewts to a seventh trip to US Nationals. Although the Skrewts may have thought a hole would be left by departing Kyrie Timbrook (Team USA 2014), Natalie Pollard has done, and will continue to do, amazing work filling that gap. I look forward to seeing her continue to improve with the coming seasons.

Jessie Gibson, Nomads (NW) (chaser)

Nomads chaser Jessie Gibson

Photo credit: Monica Wheeler Photography

The Northwest Regional Champion Nomads squad is full of big personalities and extremely athletic players like Brendan Bixler and Matthew McCracken, so its understandably easy to overlook some of the more reserved players on this team. One player that should not be forgotten on that team is Jessie Gibson. Gibson put in serious minutes with Nomads this season, playing full time for each game at regionals. Not only that that, she played a little over half of the Nomads total play time at USQ Cup 11. Despite the fact that she only scored a handful goals at Nationals, she was consistently involved in creating Nomads scoring opportunities away from the ball. Whether she is setting a screen for the ball carrier or getting into position for a well timed assist, Gibson’s calm on pitch presence helped Nomads remain a threat all weekend.

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