Saturday, December 20, 2014

Browne’s Boys Take NBW2 Championship in Dramatic Fashion Over Gambits

By Chris Lock, West Editor

The Santa Barbara Blacktips hosted Next Best West 2: The Evan Bell Memorial on a flawless November day where players were drenched in sunshine while much of the rest of the country was soaked in rain or snow. Those who were not too busy basking in the atmosphere of a place that can only be called “Heaven on Earth” were treated to some outstanding quidditch that featured some of the best teams the West Coast has to offer. The muddled West became even murkier after many matches were unexpectedly close, and one even featured a historic upset.

One pool ran exactly as predicted: Dan Hanson’s mercenary squad didn’t knock off any of its talented opponents, the Long Beach Funky Quaffles displayed physical tenacity and promising rookies but couldn’t beat either San Jose State University (SJSU) or the Los Angeles Gambits, and SJSU finished runner up in the pool to the Gambits. Tony Rodriguez effortlessly ran his team’s offense, and while he had solid support from many of his fellow chasers, the Team USA selection was the offensive star in pool play. From his opening match against Long Beach to the finals, Rodriguez mixed long-range accuracy, emphatic dunks, textbook assists, and hard defensive tackles in the keeper zone. The Gambits were in a pool featuring physical teams, but that matched their style perfectly as all of the beaters and chasers in black and purple were ready to engage physically with any opponent. Chasers Ren Bettendorf, Kyle Epsteen, and Andrew Murray offered consistent support and physically intimidating presences while beaters Steve DiCarlo and Alyssa Burton frustrated opponents by distracting opposing beaters and shifting focus away from the Gambits’ multitude of talented chasers. However, SJSU surprised many onlookers when it faced the Gambits.
SJSU has been making a name for itself this season by handily beating many Bay Area teams and playing three snitch-range games with the Silicon Valley Skrewts. Spartan Quidditch has benefited from an increase in physicality this season, and a quasi “Baylor Defense” has helped limit even the most talented teams’ scoring output. While SJSU is benefiting from unprecedented cohesion as a team, several players’ skills have stood out, particularly Cody Gradone’s aggressive offense and lanky Jacob Schekman’s fundamental tackling style. Kyle Campbell also played well at beater in several games. Many onlookers were impressed with the team’s spirited pool play contest against the illustrious Gambits, where SJSU managed to match Los Angeles’ physicality and play within 40 quaffle points. Dan Marovich opened the scoring with two goals on impressive drives through numerous Gambit defenders. Had Gradone’s brooms-up drive not resulted in the quaffle barely rimming out on the goal as it fell after Bettendorf prevented an outright dunk on goal with a vicious tackle, SJSU would have started with a 30-point advantage. Rodriguez immediately responded to Marovich’s second goal by shooting a mid-range shot while being tackled that soared through the middle goal. From that point, Los Angeles regained control of the game and managed to stay just out of range at a score of a 90-50. The Gambits eventually pulled the snitch to finish the game with a 120*-50 victory and remain undefeated in pool play, but this may be the most encouraging game in SJSU’s season thus far, including its string of snitch-range matches against the Skrewts.
The other pool featured unpredictable chaos. Mission Blues didn’t manage to stay within contention against its three impressive opponents, but other than that, the pool was a confusing affair that finished with a three-way tie for first and two broken undefeated records. Not long into pool play, the Blacktips had the chance to rematch the Riverside Rumble champions, the Lost Boys. Despite the Lost Boys missing numerous effective players, the match was highly competitive. The Blacktip beaters played phenomenally as a group; while individually they were outmatched against the likes of Peter Lee and Chris Seto, Santa Barbara’s black headband gang decided to play the role of the pests. If they couldn’t regain control from their experienced opponents, they just constantly bombarded Lee and forced him to throw his bludger back to hoops to retain possession. Santa Barbara did a great job of distracting the Lost Boys’ beaters enough that while they didn’t necessarily win the beater battle, it allowed the Blacktips’ chaser trio to impose their combination of passing and height to get passes off to open players and stay within range of the Lost Boys throughout the game. While the Lost Boys seemed to have a clear quaffle point advantage, they could never build up a large lead like they did in the Riverside Rumble Championship, and it was soon apparent that the Blacktips could be capable of an upset. Facing a 20-point upset, the Blacktips had a clear seeking advantage, and Justin Fernandez grabbed the snitch to forever immortalize Evan Bell’s franchise as they became the first team in the Western Region to defeat the Lost Boys since the 2012-2013 season by a score of 130*-120. Furthermore, in six matches, it was Santa Barbara’s first victory over the Lost Boys in franchise history.

The Lost Boys soon rebounded from their loss when they faced their longtime rivals, the Silicon Valley Skrewts. Both teams were considerably undermanned, but the Lost Boys proved to remain more cohesive. Lee affected quaffle play much more frequently in this match, keeper Alex Bowne provided more than enough offense through assists and dunks, and Seto and Joanne Lam contributed offensively from the chaser position. To their credit, the Skrewts played competitively in the first half of the game and stayed within snitch range, but the Lost Boys took advantage of their depth to capitalize against Silicon Valley’s substitutes. Once the snitch was on pitch, the Lost Boys continued applying pressure and eventually built up a 110-40 lead before the Skrewts discontinued seeker-blocking and caught the snitch to end the game at 110-70*.

The final match in the pool pitted the Skrewts against the host Blacktips. The Skrewts had a distinct beater advantage from the perennially impressive performances by Willis Miles IV and Kyrie Timbrook, but Santa Barbara had a significant advantage in athleticism thanks to their three-headed monster of Ben Harding, Austin Goodheart, and Jeremy McIntyre. The match was scoreless for a significant amount of time due to the Skrewts failing to convert close-range goals and the Blacktips throwing numerous errant passes for turnovers. Chris Lock finally broke the game’s scoreless drought when he scored a mid-range goal in traffic. Harding immediately responded with a fast break goal, and as if someone had flipped a light switch, both teams began to score with a much higher frequency. The tempo shifted in favor of the fast breaking Blacktips, and Goodheart found himself receiving passes in the keeper zone on consecutive possessions that the chaser converted into goals. Despite strong beater play from the Skrewts and a strong showing by Andrew Covel, the Blacktips pulled out of range as the game progressed. However, when the snitch was on pitch, the Skrewts knew how to strategically take advantage of the seeker game and mounted a comeback when the offense faced several no-bludger situations. Eventually, the Skrewts pulled within 20 points, and Forrest Stone immediately caught the snitch, winning the game by 10 and preserving his perfect SWIM record. The outcome resulted in a three-way tie for first place in the pool, and the Lost Boys-Skrewts margin ultimately determined the ordered seeding of the three competitors as Lost Boys, Blacktips, Skrewts.
The quarterfinals didn’t have much in the way of close games. The Gambits blanked Mission Blues 170*-0, Lost Boys defeated the unofficial Mandalorians 250*-40, and the Skrewts shook off a string of three consecutive close-range games against SJSU by defeating the Spartans 150*-30. However, Long Beach and Santa Barbara met for the third time this season and played an extremely exciting match. Led by the hulking mass that is Troy Roomes, a rookie who opted to play in only his underwear and jersey, and keeper/chaser Anthony Hawkins, Long Beach took an early lead. Beaters Michael Aguilera and Alexia Barnes aggressively focused on Harding, limiting the Blacktip’s scoring opportunities. Eventually, the tenacious trio of the Blacktips and Sara Weman broke through the Long Beach defense and managed to tie the game at 80. Seeker Kevin Hayes quickly caught the snitch to bring Long Beach to the brink of pandemonium, but Hayes was deemed to have been beat after a long referee conference that negated the chance. Just as quickly, Fernandez struck again and grabbed his second SWIM of the day to prevent an upset and advance to the semifinals. Long Beach appeared to get stronger throughout the tournament, and as a testament to Aguilera’s and Hawkin’s leadership, the team replaced its strong quaffle players with a much more team-oriented passing game that it greatly lacked in its inaugural season. Most noticeably, female players such as Alessandra Pisano and Jessica Ward scored multiple goals off passes throughout the tournament, which is a sharp contrast to the 2013-14 Funky Quaffles who didn’t utilize their female chasers nearly often enough.
The semifinals weren’t particularly close. The Gambits clearly had an advantage over the Blacktips in quaffle play, as Los Angeles won 120-70*. The Skrewts and Lost Boys rematched in the semifinal game, and the Lost Boys took advantage of an early 60-10 lead to win 150*-30. Browne absolutely dominated the game from start to finish, stopping numerous Skrewt drives and providing more than half his team’s goals. The Skrewts’ defense did not have an answer for the keeper, and the Lost Boys’ beater play stymied the Silicon Valley offense. The Skrewts fell victim to some early bad luck such as hoops falling and missed close shots, but it was not enough to account for the total margin.
The finals featured an anticipated storyline: Rodriguez and DiCarlo facing their former team for the first time. For the sake of accuracy, both teams were missing significant contributors. The Gambits lacked male beater Duston Mazzella and female beater Tanna Helm (leaving Burton without a female substitute) among others, and Murray was still recovering from an hand injury. Meanwhile, the Lost Boys missed standouts Jake Tiemann and Missy Sponagle in addition to other role players. Still, what followed was an extremely close and exciting match. While one would expect that a game featuring Browne, Rodriguez, Murray, and Bettendorf would have been chaser-centric, the real show was at the beater play. The Lost Boys started the phenomenal duo of Lee and Seto while the Gambits countered with DiCarlo. DiCarlo has been known to be a competent male beater, but in the championship match he asserted himself as a standout beater purely by sticking to fundamentals. DiCarlo showed great poise by consistently waiting for a Lost Boy beater to attempt to beat him, block the opposing bludger, and then aggressively attack the Lost Boy ball carrier to force a bad pass. Seto and Lee also played spectacularly and were seemingly everywhere on the pitch, which ultimately resulted in some high-level beater play between both teams.The Gambits employed a strategy to try to negate the beating game for both teams by attacking the Lost Boys beaters on offense regardless of control, but the Lost Boys were able to consistently rebuff the Gambits attempts while still slowing down their opponents’ offense. There seemed to be a give-and-take of when the Gambits’ strategy would work versus when Seto and Lee thwarted the Gambits’ offense. Rodriguez and Bettendorf stood out on offense for the Gambits, including one beautiful play where Rodriguez threw an alley pass over the tall hoop and Bettendorf jumped, cocked his hand back to make a single-handed catch, and slam dunked the quaffle through the hoop. Browne, again, was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. He did his usual performance of scoring and passing, but the keeper took his offense to the next level when he jumped a foot in the air to evade a Gambit bludger that went between his legs before driving through the remaining Gambit defenders for a goal. Browne additionally made numerous great plays on defense where he stopped Rodriguez, Bettendorf, or other Gambit scoring threats in his own keeper zone. The Lost Boys seemed to have a slight advantage midway through the game after an early Gambit lead, but the Gambits came back and began to pull away when the snitch entered the pitch. The Gambits enjoyed a 20-point lead and seemed like they were ready to push out of snitch range when seeker Alex Richardson made a strong attempt at the snitch. While the snitch was preoccupied with Richardson, who had fallen inches short of a catch on several earlier occasions, Lost Boys seeker Austin Izquierdo snuck behind the snitch and put the nail in the coffin of the Evan Bell Memorial when he grabbed the snitch ball to give the Lost Boys a 90*-80 championship victory.
NBW2 All-Tournament team
Author’s Note: Due to a lack of captain responses in All-Tournament voting, these teams were decided by the author. Keepers were eligible for the chaser position only if they played a significant amount of time at that position in the tournament and vice versa. Both All-Tournament teams are bound by gender requirements.
First Team
C- Cody Gradone (San Jose State University Spartans)
C- Ren Bettendorf (Los Angeles Gambits)
C- Joanne Lam (Lost Boys Quidditch Club)
B- Peter Lee (Lost Boys Quidditch Club)
B- Kyrie Timbrook (Silicon Valley Skrewts)
K- Alex Browne* (Lost Boys Quidditch Club)
S/C- Justin Fernandez (Santa Barbara Blacktips)
Second Team
C- Alessandra Pisano (Long Beach Funky Quaffles)
C- Kyle Epsteen (Los Angeles Gambits),
C- Sara Weman (Santa Barbara Blacktips)
B- Steve DiCarlo (Los Angeles Gambits)
B- Willis Miles IV (Silicon Valley Skrewts)
K- Tony Rodriguez (Los Angeles Gambits)
S/B- Austin Izquierdo (Lost Boys Quidditch Club)
Honorable Mention: Chris Seto (Lost Boys Quidditch Club), Ben Harding (Santa Barbara Blacktips), Alyssa Burton (Los Angeles Gambits), Cory Roomes (Long Beach Funky Quaffles), Andrew Covel (Silicon Valley Skrewts)
West Region Power Rankings:
1. Lost Boys Quidditch Club (10-1) Lost Boys’ missing players may have hurt more than Gambits’.
2. Los Angeles Gambits (12-3) Finals show that Bettendorf needs more touches. On a serious note, the presence of Duston Mazzella and Peter Reynebeau will make this team even more formidable.
3. Silicon Valley Skrewts (11-2) Skrewts didn’t beat anyone ranked above them but didn’t lose to anyone ranked below them.
4. Santa Barbara Blacktips (8-3) Chaser/seeker Austin Goodheart hurt his spleen and his status for L.A. Open is questionable
5. Utah Crimson Elite (8-5)
6. UCLA (0-0)
7. Northern Arizona University (5-3)
8. AZQC (0-0)
9. San Jose State University (6-6) Great game against Gambits should be a big confidence boost.
10. Arizona State University (2-2)

No comments:

Post a Comment