MLQ West Preview: The Division Title Is On The Line

Ryan Smythe

By Ryan Smythe

The Salt Lake City Hive enter this weekend sporting an unofficial 6-0 record, but they have one hell of a challenge ahead of them if they want to keep their undefeated record entering Championships.

While the hometown Los Angeles Guardians’ series against the San Francisco Argonauts wasn’t exactly the dominant showing most people expected, they still managed to round into form after a rough first game and at least show glimpses of their potential. If they can avoid a slow start this time around, they have a good shot at sweeping this series. Even if they don’t come out of the gate firing on all cylinders, the Hive are also entering the series with a massive handicap. They’re coming to town with one of the smallest rosters we’ve seen all MLQ season, and we saw just how difficult playing without a full squad can be after this team ran through the exceptionally athletic Boise Grays squad earlier in the year.

Playing a full three-game series with a short roster isn’t easy, no matter the competition. Image credit: MLQ.

Part of the Hive’s roster issues are tied to the cost of travel, with at least a few players needing to choose between traveling to LA and traveling to Wisconsin. Other players won’t be able to make the trek south for a number of reasons, including preseason football in Kansas (Connor Kaegi), moving to a new home in Seattle (Brandon Handy), and a serious finger injury that just won’t seem to heal (Michael Vong). While the players remaining on the roster are key reasons for Salt Lake City’s impressive division-leading start, losing three players of this caliber for what’s turned into the marquee matchup of the 2018 West season isn’t an easy blow to recover from.

Fun fact, the Hive’s team this weekend is almost 27 percent Williams. Photo credit: Tayyeb Mubarik’s Photography.

On the other side of the pitch, LA’s roster looks similar to the one they brought up north to challenge with a few notable additions and subtractions. The biggest loss from the last series is chaser Princeton Nguyen, who is currently dealing with an ankle injury. Luckily for the Guardians, the injury doesn’t appear to be too serious, and he should be back in the lineup for Championships. However, the team will need to find a way to replace his scoring, one of LA’s biggest problems during its first series. While they managed to round into shape for the second and third game of the Argonauts series, their 100 points in game one, which went to overtime, was the lowest point total for the team since its first-ever series in 2016. Losing beater and seeker Kobe Kendall, who is currently off exploring the Canadian wilderness, isn’t exactly ideal either, but LA is far more readily equipped to fill in those gaps with their excellent beater and seeker depth.

One of those people set to replace Kendall’s minutes is UCLA’s Justin Van Lighten, who is making his MLQ debut after helping bring his college team to the Elite Eight at Nationals this year with one fully-working arm. Van Lighten suffered a serious injury to his acromioclavicular (AC) joint in the very first game against the University of Texas. It was knocked almost entirely out of alignment throughout the entire tournament, but that didn’t keep him off the field – while there aren’t any stats available from Nationals, he was easily among UCLA’s leaders in minutes played.

A one-armed Van Lighten can help take his team to the Elite Eight in USQ. What can he pull off with both? Image credit: Muscle and Joint Clinic, Mississauga, Canada.

On the quaffle side, LA is adding UCLA keeper Bretton Ambrose, LA Gambits chaser Elizabeth Allendorf, and UCLA/Guardians veteran chaser Ryan Harris. Harris should bring a much-needed spark to the team’s offense by giving them a new look at ball handler, and both Allendorf and Ambrose should provide additional passing options for some quick goals.

It would be interesting to see whether or not the Hive can clinch the division with a series win here, but given their short roster and the expected 90º highs in Westwood on Saturday, it won’t be an easy task. Even if they don’t win the series, all they need to do is win one out of the three games to (unofficially) tie a franchise record 7-2 season. At the very least, putting on a good showing here will be important morale-wise heading into Championships in August. The Hive’s best bet to pull out an upset victory will likely run through some combination of keeper Cameron VomBaur capitalizing on fast breaks created in part by beater Raymond Taylor II and keeping the game in range to allow their seekers to steal a win.

Series Prediction:

2-1 Guardians

2018 Season Prediction Record:

3-6

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