Friday, March 17, 2017

Rocky Mountain Fever: How the (North)west Was Won

By Cameron VomBaur
Editor’s Note: The author is a captain of Utah State Quidditch Club

For the most part, the USQ Northwest Regional Championship held very few surprises. Going in, the favorites to earn the region’s two bids to US Quidditch Cup 10 were the Boise State Abraxans and Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC). Of the remaining four teams, the Rain City Raptors and Provo Quidditch were expected to be the most likely to present the top two contenders with any sort of challenge. And while Western Washington Wyverns (WWU) and Emerald City Admirals had some impressive upsets on the season, their status as legitimate contenders existed another tier lower. The tournament’s final standings wouldn’t appear to clash with this narrative; however, there were a handful of very surprising results, chiefly involving Provo Quidditch.

Final Standings:
1. Boise State Abraxans
3. Provo Quidditch
4. Rain City Raptors
5. WWU
6. Emerald City Admirals

Utah State Quidditch Club winning second at the Northwest Regional Championship | Photo Credit: Utah State Quidditch Club
After a winter of dedicated training and a wealth of talented players new to quidditch in the spring semester – including Naomi Hutchins, Brooke Rohrbaugh, and Brennan Leininger – Provo proved to be the tournament’s most thrilling story. Following an early 190*-130 scare at the hands of Western Washington (the Wyverns’ only snitch-range game against a team that finished above them), Provo went on to upset its fellow out-of-region competitors in USQC 140*-100, the second time in eight meetings between the rivals, and certainly the match with the most powerful consequences. Provo utilized a side-to-side, double-male beater set for much of the game, with the aggressive style of Trey Novak checked by more conservative play from the likes of Justus Berg. While the double-male lineup may have been the most productive strategy, especially with the team’s strength and depth in female chasing, Provo maintained bludger control for the vast majority of the match, regardless of which beaters were on the field. To close the game, Fred Cannon caught the second of Provo’s three SWIM-catch victories at the 18:45 mark, with the snitch on USQC’s half of the field. In one of few games expected to be in snitch range, Provo bested Rain City 150*-120 in an offense-heavy slugfest, leaving Provo with a 3-0 SWIM record and one blowout loss to Boise State in the first game of the day, 180*-50. Following that match, Provo was in an excellent position to qualify for its first-ever national tournament, needing Boise to beat USQC in the tournament’s final game, which no longer served as a de facto tournament final.

For Boise, the day had gone as planned. Despite a knee injury to captain Bryan Bixler early into the team’s first match against Provo that kept him out of action for the day, Boise rolled through all of its competition. Though they incurred several yellow cards throughout the tournament, especially from beater play, the Abraxans managed to keep almost all of their games far out of range while maximizing the point differential cap. While Utah State largely did the same, its loss to Provo suddenly found it in a win-or-go-home situation in the final match against Boise, who took three of four games against USQC during three fall tournaments, including each of the past three.

USQC utilized a double-male beater set the entire game, with veterans Brandon Handy and Paul Davis playing the first 15 minutes before Dru Smith replaced Davis (Handy would finish the game without a substitute). As with any of Boise’s competitive games, play was extremely physical, with each Utah State goal requiring grueling drives through a host of Boise defenders, including Jessie Gibson, Matt McCracken, and Nicholas Hall. Conversely, Boise needed very little physicality to score its goals, the majority of which came on fast breaks and quick shots at the hands of Skeeter Thomas in his official USQ debut, after excellent beater elimination from Brenden Bixler and Dylan Schilling. Utah State seemed to lack the energy or speed necessary to contest these no-bludger situations, while Boise was typically able to set up enough of a defense from its quaffle players to either force a turnover or delay the possession long enough to get beater support. By the 18th minute, USQC was clinging to an 80-60 deficit, largely due to its drawn-out offensive possessions once it became clear that only Boise would be capable of putting the game out of range. After each team’s seeker took a beat before reaching the snitch, it was Utah State’s Davis who got the first crack at ending the game, and managed to do so at 18:22 following a spirited effort off of the ground, between the snitch runner’s legs.

After a valiant and impressive effort, Provo will look to continue its surge into the 2017-18 season. After a 2016 season that saw none of its members play for Major League Quidditch’s Salt Lake City Hive, Provo will aim to have players develop in the summer league, achieving representation from all three of Utah’s quidditch cities. Since the 2018 Northwest Regional Championship will likely be another one-day tournament, and the majority of Provo players do not play on Sundays due to their religious beliefs, Provo will most likely return to the Northwest next year aiming to secure its first-ever US Quidditch Cup bid.

Provo Quidditch at the USQ Northwest Regional Championship. | Photo Credit: Provo Quidditch
As was the case last year, Utah State will make the trip to US Quidditch Cup 10 with a bare-bones squad, compared to its more robust rosters in the fall. Likely to enter the tournament as a Pot 3 or Pot 4 team, USQC will probably find itself needing to make the snitch catches that eluded the team in Columbia, South Carolina last year en route to a 1-3 (0-3 SWIM) pool play record. Davis has demonstrated the capacity to make clutch grabs at a few points during the season, giving hope that a debut run at the bracket could be in play. However, though the team would only have needed one catch to advance to bracket play last year, one may not be enough in Kissimmee, Florida, particularly if Utah State wants to do more than simply advance past pool play.

While a few familiar faces are still with the Abraxans, there is no denying that this year’s Boise State squad is an entirely different team than the one that advanced to the quarterfinals at US Quidditch Cup 9 a year ago. While the losses of many of the program’s stars are well-documented, the new Abraxans could make similar noise on the national stage. Even with small rosters and a host of new players getting accustomed to the sport, Boise has not lost a game out of range all season. Even without the luxury of a Pot 1 placement this year, Boise will probably manage to be a Pot 2 team, allowing it to play lower-quality teams that won’t exhaust its short numbers on Day One. Few teams will be able to match the Abraxans’ dazzling speed, with players like McCracken, Thomas, and Bixler being capable of playmaking displays other teams can only dream of. All in all, despite the major changes to its roster, Boise State is more than able to make another deep run and further cement itself as one of the nation’s top collegiate programs.

As for the three Washington teams in attendance, they will look ahead to the QCON Championships later this month, and in subsequent seasons they will aim to prevent the power base in the region from moving further south and east, as surely they must be disappointed with the way the region has moved away from Cascadia to Boise and Utah in the Mountain West.

No comments:

Post a Comment