Friday, November 21, 2014

The Evan Bell Obituary: A Next Best West 2 Preview

By Chris Lock

Editor’s Note: Evan Bell is in fact alive and well or at least we hope he is.
When the Santa Barbara Blacktips hosted Next Best West in Fall 2013, they advertised the tournament as a meeting of the mid-tier teams in Santa Barbara, California, the “next best” teams after the typical juggernauts. However, in 2014, the Blacktips have upped the competition and invited the three major front runners of the region to attend: the Los Angeles Gambits, the Lost Boys, and the Silicon Valley Skrewts. This year will feature a full-sized field of seven official teams and one “mercenary” team. In just a day, Santa Barbara will become the site where we all pay our respects to our dear friend at Next Best West 2: The Evan Bell Memorial.

In addition to the aforementioned teams, Mission Blues Quidditch, San Jose State University (SJSU), and the Long Beach Funky Quaffles will be in attendance. Friends, families, and spectators are invited to attend a tournament that celebrates Bell’s passion and love for the sport of quidditch. The tournament will be formatted in the same way as the Riverside Rumble: two round robin pools of four teams each will determine seeding for bracket play in which all attending teams will qualify in a single elimination setting. One pool will be a brutal tribute to Bell’s departure, while the other pool will be a commemoration of his life that will allow players and fans alike to sit back and relax.

Pool of Death
Pool One features two of quidditch’s most well-known rivalries: the Northern California-based Silicon Valley Skrewts and the Southern California-based Lost Boys. The Lost Boys won two out of three meetings in 2012-13, and after a one-year hiatus, the rivalry is finally ready to resume as a match between the West’s final two active and undefeated teams. Unfortunately, neither team will be close to top form. Skrewts Coach Kevin Oelze confirmed that his roster will be at less than full strength, while Lost Boys Coach Chris Seto noted that his team will be without Jake Tieman, Michael Mohlman, Missy Sponagle, Tiffany Chow, Brandon Scapa, Misty Gray, and Andrew Waldschmidt. Although neither team will enter this rivalry game at full strength, the contest should nonetheless be a heated one. Whether the Skrewts prevail will likely depend on the team’s absences. The Lost Boys still have star beaters Chris Seto and Peter Lee, as well as star keeper Alex Browne, so they’re likely favored over the Skrewts, but this rivalry contest could go either way.

Fittingly, the host Blacktips will be in the pool that is honoring Bell’s absence, and they will seek to avenge their former captain. Bell was known for bringing this up-and-coming squad to life two seasons ago and will be forever remembered for instilling an aggressive pass-based offense in his team. While Bell left the world of Santa Barbara quidditch with unfinished business, his protégé Kelsey Allen has done a commendable job so far running the sorrow-ridden squad. The Blacktips are now a much more complete squad, boasting above-average players at every position for the first time ever in program history. Ben Harding continued his sensational scoring at Riverside Rumble while rookies Jeremy McIntyre and Austin Goodheart both exceeded their initial expectations. Goodheart has established himself as a quick and effective point defender while McIntyre has demonstrated he is an all-around terrific and aggressive athlete. After making a run to the Riverside Rumble Championship a week ago, the Blacktips should be more than ready for a rematch against the Lost Boys. Mission Blues Quidditch, featuring plenty of former Skrewts such as Jason Winerip and Josh Vinson, rounds out the pool.

The Blacktips will enter play with momentum and adrenaline, while the Skrewts will be operating at a fraction of their potential. Santa Barbara is poised to cause an upset to improve its 3-1 lifetime record against Silicon Valley. Such a performance would certainly be a memorable way to honor Bell.

Lost Boys
Mission Blues

Pool of Life
While one pool features three viable title contenders, the other pool is much more predictable. The Gambits are the clear favorites, SJSU is in the middle of its most successful season in program history and has already handily defeated Long Beach, Long Beach is clearly behind the previously mentioned teams but should be able to beat the mercenary team, and the mercenary team has a huge hole in its female depth. Still, when the Gambits play SJSU, it should be interesting to see if SJSU can stay in contention with Los Angeles like it has several times this season against Silicon Valley. Ultimately, SJSU probably isn’t developed enough to legitimately threaten the Gambits, so this pool is the perfect spot for spectators to kick back and reflect about the impact Evan Bell had on their lives.

Long Beach
Mercenary Team

A Match Everyone Wants in Bracket Play
The second best thing that could happen in this tournament, outside of a finals between two of the top three teams, is if SJSU and the Blacktips met in bracket play. SJSU has more depth and physicality than the Blacktips. While Santa Barbara’s new trio is full of individually physical players, they have struggled against teams that play physical defense and have absolutely dominated teams that rely on finesse. However, Santa Barbara has a clear advantage in the beater category. Brian Vampola and Cy Torrey played terrifically a week ago, and the Blacktips have a competent starting female beater in Ruthie Stahl. These two teams both exceeded expectations against preseason regional favorites, and it would be interesting to see how they fare against each other.

Finals Prediction
The finals should feature a highly-anticipated grudge match between the Los Angeles Gambits and the Lost Boys. Steve DiCarlo and Tony Rodriguez would have the opportunity to face their former teammates, while the Lost Boys will desperately want to prove they are still the stronger team without their peers from last season. The Gambits will likely have an advantage in male chasers, general physicality, and seekers, but the Lost Boys will counter with two of the best beaters in the game and an overall stronger snitch-on-pitch performance. The Gambits are fresh off an extremely impressive performance at Lone Star Cup, where the young yet renowned club lost only to the University of Texas, the defending World Champions. In a tournament with many top teams lacking some of their best players, the Gambits should come out on top.

Predicted Champion: Gambits

West Region Power Rankings:
1. Los Angeles Bettendorfs (8-2) (Editor’s Note: We have no idea if Chris intentionally referred to the Gambits as the Bettendorfs or if he can’t think of the Gambits without thinking of Ren) Beating programs like Texas A&M and obliterating Tribe Quidditch solidly puts the Gambits on top this week.
2. Lost Boys Quidditch Club (6-0) The Lost Boys are off to a great championship start, but they haven’t faced the same level of competition as the Gambits.
3. Silicon Valley Skrewts (8-0)
4. Utah Crimson Elite (8-5) Perhaps overshadowed by the Gambits’ performance, the Crimson Elite did nearly as well at Lone Star Cup, picking up the seventh seed heading into bracket play.
5. UCLA (0-0)
6. Northern Arizona University (5-3)
7. Santa Barbara Blacktips (5-1) The current male chaser line probably isn’t quite at the talent level of last year’s “OT3,” but the squad is certainly more well-rounded this season.
8. AZQC (0-0)
9. San Jose State University (5-4)
10. Arizona State University (2-2) ASU looks more vulnerable this season than expected, especially after being upset in the Riverside Rumble quarterfinals. However, the Sun Devils still look like a World Cup qualifier.

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