Sunday, November 23, 2014

The New Guys: A Clash In The Cascades Recap

By Benji B’Shalom, captain and founder, Portland Augureys Quidditch Club

The Clash in the Cascades tournament, hosted by the Western Washington University (WWU) Wyverns, was the first ever tournament to feature play between members of USQ’s new Northwest region; it’s a big deal. The creation of the region itself has been questioned by those who feel there are areas more deserving of a region, like the Great Lakes Midwest and the Great Plains Midwest. There are a lot of people out there who consider the quality of Northwest quidditch undeserving of a region; furthermore, the quidditch media barely mentioned Clash the week before it happened. I recognize that there was a regional championship that weekend, but that this event was completely ignored felt weird. In short, we’ve got a lot to prove.

Six of the region’s seven registered teams attended, along with Canada’s Simon Fraser University (SFU) and two merc teams. Joining Boise State Abraxan, (BSA), University of British Columbia (UBC), WWU, the mercs, and SFU, were UBC’s B-team, British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC), the University of Idaho Moscow Manticores, and the Northwest’s only registered community team, my Portland Augureys. As we all gathered to kick off the day, there was a historical feeling in the air; everyone was ready to shed some light on Northwest quidditch.

I think the first takeaway from the tournament is that it’s pretty easy to tier this region: the top-tier consists of UBC, WWU, and BSA, as anyone with any awareness of the region would have predicted before the tournament anyway. The second tier is made up of BCQC (and probably BST as well). The bottom tier is Moscow and Portland. The second takeaway is that whatever the rest of USQ may think about us, the Northwest region plays hard and plays well.

On the surface level, the day was about the Northwest’s big three, so let’s talk about them first.
WWU went undefeated in pool play, beating Boise and UBC on snitch grabs and Orange Merc and the Augureys far out of range. The Wyverns have an amazing seeker and a really great person in Sam Seid, and a spectacular beater corps anchored by Molly Bocian. They’ve got a very deep supply of athletic scoring threats at chaser as well, and a keeper in Mitchell Hatfield whose physical skill is almost overshadowed by how well he directs the defense. As I mentioned, they almost shut us out, and they made amazing plays against the Abraxans and Thunderbirds to save what seemed like surefire goals.They’re vastly underestimated, and I’ve never heard anyone outside the Northwest say a single thing about them. They work hard and play well.

UBC… where to start? I think UBC has a different mentality than most of the Northwest. A lot of us up here are old-school; it’s not that we don’t take quidditch seriously, but the community is almost as important to us as the competition is. The British Columbia quidditch scene seems rife with drama, and UBC is about as competitive as they come. UBC utilized an extremely physical style of play all day. Physical play isn’t a bad thing, and it clearly worked well for UBC. But it also resulted in the Northwest’s first official bit of quidditch controversy. I did not personally see anything unsavory happen, but there were many complaints about hits on defenseless receivers, contact from behind, and even a claim that a UBC player spat in someone’s face. The Thunderbirds played intensely all day, and I think they should get accolades for that, but every opponent they faced thought there were a lot of missed calls. Since this region is even more understaffed than most in terms of referees, I’m inclined to believe that. From here on out, though, I think this team has to be considered favorites to win the Northwest. No disrespect is meant to WWU or Boise, who I think could each probably just as easily take it, but the ability to stay at that level through a long, cold tournament will be invaluable at the regional championship.

Boise’s tournament has to be considered a disappointment. It was considered by most to be the favorites coming into Clash. It is still the only team to play out-of-region quidditch, and it impressed when it did that, even beating a Crimson Elite team that a few days ago made the Elite Eight at a tournament in Texas. It was efficient on defense and passed well, but I saw more missed shots than I expected from the team. It also seemed to lack finishing power, something I never thought I’d say with Stew Driflot at seeker. Maybe he had an off day, and a shoulder injury definitely hampered him at times. This team is far from lacking in talent, and there’s a lot of names people should get to know if they’re interested in Northwest quidditch: Casey Thompson and Ezra Johnson who handle the quaffle well, and Sally Matlock who threw some cold-hearted beats, as well as six or seven other people I could single out as great players. I’m honestly not sure what happened to land BSA with a 1-2 record at this tournament, but I can say that it was not representative of how good the team is. The chips just didn’t fall its way.

In a region that has three spots at World Cup this year, there are three teams that stand out, and everyone else in the Northwest should be thinking that what they need to do to get to South Carolina is beat one of these teams. There are three more teams that competed, and I think they’re just as intriguing:

BCQC is not just a clone of UBC, but it is built on the same principles of tough play, hard hits, hard throws, and never giving up on the play. I honestly enjoyed playing in the beatdown it laid on my team (even though I got kicked in the face. It was an accident and I forgive the team completely). It’s hard to tell from this tournament where BCQC is, though. It won big against Moscow and Portland, but as will be discussed below, those teams are not a great measuring stick. The only top-tier team it played was UBC, who kicked it to the curb twice. It beat Green Merc by 70 quaffle points but wasn’t exactly dominant. I think we’ll have to see about BCQC later in the season, but based on this tournament, it must bridge the gap. It seems unlikely that it’ll lose to the bottom teams or beat the top teams.

The Moscow Manticores brought only 10 people to the tournament. I have great respect and admiration for their captains, Lauren Blenn and Cody Fairchild. I think that along with Portland, the Manticores were mostly just testing the waters. One of the best games of the day was actually between the bottom-tier teams. It was the first USQ game for both teams, and Moscow deserve so much credit for pulling ahead late and claiming victory. They lost to Green Merc and were blown out by Boise and BCQC, allowing 200 points to the latter, but that was with seeker Cody Spoelstra out with a concussion suffered on the dive that ended the Moscow vs. Portland match. The Manticores have the potential for solid gameplay and have some good athletes on this squad, and with more people they can easily start moving up.

That leaves us with my team, the Portland Augureys. I don’t know if anyone out there has any experience with this problem, but it is extremely difficult to start a community team in a town where everyone is a lazy hipster and there’s no previous quidditch presence, college or otherwise, as a foundation. We brought nine people to this tournament. To even meet that number, we had to sign two free agents, Wanru Zhang and Marielle Ong, to one-tournament trial memberships even though they go to UBC, and we also had to bring Andy Indigo Rambo, despite the fact that he partially tore his meniscus less than a month prior. We also brought the woman who actually runs this show, GM/photographer Tasha Robertson, and her father Jess Robertson, the oldest player attending at 41 years old, who suffers from fibromyalgia and still led the team with three goals. Oh, and then there’s Jeff Chatterton, who literally didn’t get a break all day as he worked hard to get certified as a head referee. We also brought Jaine Torres, Boji Lazov, and Copper Myers. Between the nine of us, we had never played in an official USQ match. I couldn’t be prouder of how we played, and I wouldn’t change a thing except for just barely missing on a dive for a snitch that would have forced overtime against Moscow. I was so close. We’ll be back with more experience and more players down the road.

SFU quietly had a good run on the unofficial side. Green Merc almost made the bracket, and Orange Merc got swept. Orange was mostly made up of the former Vancouver Storm community team, now the Vancouver Stormers, a team in transition lead by Justine Bouma and Scott Muxlow.

Simon Fraser made the bracket and got beat by BCQC after SFU was thinned by penalties. I snitch reffed that game in Captain America socks. On the other field, UBC played hard against Western and took the upset. UBC won virtually, if not literally, every NW tournament held before the official region was created, and the teams that have been around longer are pretty frustrated by it. I didn’t stick around for the final, which might make me a bad person, but I was basically dead by then.

I think those who judge the Northwest harshly have forgotten the region’s roots. It very well might be a few years before Northwest teams become a threat outside of the region, but even if it is, so what? Quidditch isn’t about being Lone Star QC right off the bat. It wasn’t that long ago that this sport was just some kids fooling around with the concept of making a game out of a concept in a fantasy novel. Someone rode a lamp instead of a broom at the first World Cup. Just because we’re not likely to send anyone to the bracket round at World Cup doesn’t mean that we’re not learning or that developing this region is a bad idea. If this tournament proved anything, it’s that we love quidditch, we work hard to make it happen, and we’ve earned the right to be a region. So go ahead, keep ignoring us, but Northwest quidditch is coming whether you pay attention or not.

No comments:

Post a Comment