Friday, February 6, 2015

Eastern Canada Regional Preview

By Jamie Lafrance and Laura Lepine

This weekend, Feb. 7-8, 16 teams will descend on Kingston, Ontario for Canada’s Eastern Regional Championship. Based on the Quidditch Canada ranking formula, these teams have been divided into four pools. Three teams from each pool will advance to bracket play, with the first team in every pool receiving a bye to begin Day Two.

Pool A

1. North Star Quidditch Team
2. Valhalla Quidditch
3. Ottawa Maple Rush
4. University of Toronto Quidditch

Pool A, featuring the first place North Star, promises to be rather straightforward. Led by keeper Jamie Lafrance, North Star should easily outstrip Valhalla, Maple Rush, and the University of Toronto. Lafrance runs a powerful, drive-based offence, leaving defence to veteran beaters Mathew Mcveigh and Erin McCrady. This pairknown especially for their seeker beatingis sure to receive the most playing time of the beaters in rotation. Rounding out the all-star lineup is utility player Adam Robillard, who boasts an aggressive seeking style that overpowers snitches less inclined to wrestle. With a near-full roster of 20 attending the regional championship, North Star should be able to overcome its most persistent problem of this season: players who lose steam by the end of day. However, North Star’s reliance on its brightest stars could lead to some interesting upsets. The team’s low turnout to most tournaments thus far means many of its players will not be used to playing together, but if raw talent isn’t enough to overpower its opponents, the team’s tendency to draw the wrath of the refs could see lower-ranked Valhalla pull a fast break over the heavy favourites.

Valhalla, while unlikely to beat North Star on skill alone, should easily defeat both Maple Rush and the University of Toronto. Valhalla’s chasing game promises to be one of the best to watch at the tournament. Team Canada Coach Hugh Podmore, joined by Simon Marsello and Devin Dutt, champions a pass-heavy offence. The speed and agility of this attack can only be countered by extremely tight beating, which is something only North Star should be able to offer in pool play. Defensively, Valhalla is less dominant; one of its standout beaters, Andrew Nguyen, will not be playing, leaving the remaining beater line sluggish by comparison. Against teams offering strong, driving offence, keepers Podmore and Ittaana Krow are likely to find themselves outmatched.

The fight for third placeand for the last advancement to bracket playwill likely be the closest match of the pool. Maple Rush (the University of Ottawa’s B team) has not had a very successful season thus far. In fact, it does not have any official wins to its name. However, the teams Maple Rush has fallen to are clustered heavily on the higher end of Quidditch Canada’s rankings; the team has spent the season testing its strength against proven teams. By contrast, although the University of Toronto has a more balanced record, all of its wins so far have been against significantly weaker teams.

When they meet, Maple Rush Captain Wesley Mackie will have to rely on strength to beat the smaller Toronto Centaurs. Keepers Mackie and Trevor Primett will have the advantage of size, and the University of Toronto may find itself overpowered on size alone. Lacking speedy chaser Matt Korda, who in the past has carried the Centaurs on his agility, the team will need to quickly adjust to a new offence. In the battle for bludger control, neither side boasts a particularly aggressive beating style. Team Canada beater Sarah Basciano will have a pivotal role to play in controlling the field for the University of Toronto. If she can organize her rookie linemates effectively, the Centaurs could pull an upset. However, matching Basciano will be Maple Rush’s own veteran beaters Marisa Sauret and Katie Sharpe, whose considerable experience will play a significant determining role on the pitch.

Pool B

1. McGill University Quidditch
2. Université de Montréal (UdeM)
3. Guelph University Quidditch Team
4. York University Aurors

Consisting of three of Canada’s most talented teams, Pool B may very well be this Championship’s Pool of Death. McGill has had an excellent season thus far and will have to prove once again that it is one of the top teams in the league by facing off against Rithy Min’s UdeM squad, Adam Palmer’s York team, and Wesley Burbidge and Laura Brown’s Guelph squad. McGill has so far proved up to the challenge this season; boasting a 12-3 record, it is an easy favourite in this pool. McGill has plenty of offensive threats led by Robyn Fortune, Patrick Wang, and Andrew “Wiz” Ajisebutu, but keeper and chasers Charles Belanger and Michael Fishman often slide under the radar. Both have great instincts that they pair with good athleticism to really fit in well with the team’s fast, pass-oriented offence. Not only does McGill have a great offence, it also has a strong beater corps. Part of this success can be attributed to Corey Collier, who has one the strongest and most accurate arms in the league. McGill has faced off against both Guelph and UdeM this season. It topped Guelph by a score of 120*-50 at the Tricolour Challenge Cup, but took a jaw-dropping loss against UdeM 130*-110 at Through the Fire and Flames. Although McGill is considered the stronger team, it will have to show that its loss to UdeM was a fluke. If McGill is able to do that, it should have no problem locking up the top spot in the pool.

Universite de Montreal has risen to become a powerhouse team this season. What was always considered the third best team in Montreal is now making a strong case to be considered the best team in town. After having a strong recruiting class from many of the CEGEP colleges in town, it has finally given veterans Min and Cynthia Loutfi a chance to show what their leadership can do. Pulling together a 9-4 record thus far has taken many teams by surprise. UdeM has shown a bit more diversity this season with new players making a case as to why UdeM might have one of the best futures in the league. The female chasers are talented across the board, and they all have amazing positioning behind the hoops. Keeper Guillaume Hamelin has the scoring and passing ability to really highlight his female chasers’ skills. Chaser/seeker Félix Tremblay has also been stringing along a good season, including a clutch grab to secure a win over crosstown rivals McGill. If he is able to do so again, his team should come up with a win. The team has not only given McGill a run for its money, though; it also won a tournament in the Toronto area in the fall and had a great showing at Through the Fire and Flames. UdeM nearly beat Northstar Quidditch at that tournament, but fell just short by a last-second goal with a score of 150-140*, and it lost to the uOttawa Gee-Gees by a snitch grab, 100*-60. While it definitely is not the popular opinion, there is a strong chance that UdeM could upset McGill for that No. 1 spot in the pool to earn the coveted bye in the playoffs.

Guelph University has a tough road ahead if it is looking to get out of the pool in a good position. Unfortunately, it is matched up with two of the toughest teams in the league; however, Guelph is a very resilient team, as shown by Captain Laura Brown who leads by example and is always willing to grind out tough games. Guelph is a physical team that can play against the best of them but always seems to come up short. Wesley Burbidge, who played on Team Canada this summer at Global Games, will be sure to have a good tournament as we have all come to expect of him. However, we will need to see more out of his team if Guelph wants to steal the second place spot in this pool. The team had a bit of a roster issue earlier this season at the Frozen Cup at Fleming College, and if that is not solved then we might not get to see much out of this squad. If its number problems have been fixed, it should be able to give teams a good game. This season, it has played close games against UdeM and Northstar, and it defeated the higher-ranked Valhalla Quidditch to give it a record of 6-5.

York is reliant upon Adam Palmer. This team has struggled all season to field a competitive roster but has improved since we first saw it earlier this year. Unfortunately, it has been placed in a pool where the chance of it moving on is slim to none. If it wants to move on, we will have to see someone other than Palmer step up and help this team move forward. The offence barely gets by on Palmer’s talents, so against teams like McGill and UdeM, we might not see the best showing. A big upset against Guelph is likely its only chance of advancement. With a 3-8 record and no notable wins, this team should find its way into the consolation bracket where it stands a much better chance against the other teams.

Pool C

1. Queens University Quidditch
2. UWaterloo Ridgebacks
3. Canada’s Finest Quidditch Club (CFQC)
4. Ryerson University Quidditch

Pool C promises at least one excellent fight. The two top teams—third-ranked Waterloo and sixth-ranked Queenshave faced each other several times this season. While Waterloo has bested Queens in its last three meetings (two unofficial, one official), its margin over Queens has ranged wildly from 90 points up to winning only by a snitch catch. What has surprised most teams this season is the Waterloo offence; in short, it exceeds expectations. While most teams follow the typical pattern of a stronger quaffle-carrier, two quick wings, and one dunker at the hoops, the Waterloo chasers run a strange attacking formation that doesn’t seem to be a formation at all. This may come from the fact that the team began as a very small force; many players have played or currently play utility roles. With such varied levels of experience, there aren’t any star power players on the Waterloo squad. While John Fehrman and Mark Fehrman are both physical assetsJohn Fehrman as a chaser, and Mark Fehrman as a chaser and beaterany team that focuses solely on these stars will see itself worn out by the remaining players. Every member of Waterloo is a threat, and with Kai Koponen stepping up as a very capable seeker, Waterloo will certainly present a challenge.

The strongest contender to Waterloo’s dominance in this pool will be Queens University Quidditch. Due at least in part to some late-season losses, Queens seems to be entering this tournament rather underrated. However, this is another team that has put together a roster with incredible depth. Led by keeper Andrew Kusters of Team Canada, the Queens offence combines speed and strength to great effect. Each wave of attacking chasers is virtually indistinguishable. Queens has managed to establish relatively equal lines that can be devastating, particularly against the second and third lines of more hierarchically organized teams. On the beating line, the presence of Ema Shiroma-Chao has led to a definite improvement for Queens, particularly with her skill at chaser-beater integrated plays. She also follows the Queens mould of heavy hitting. Despite the fact that she is only five feet tall, she plays a physical game that is sure to confuse the opposition. To round out the roster, Queens is bringing stealth seeker Ian Ip in the hopes of upsetting the team’s Waterloo rivals. However, Ip is more adept to off-pitch seeking, and the use of USQ rules (owing to the indoor facility) could see his talent left wasted. Ultimately, the team shouldn’t have much difficulty with either Canada’s Finest or Ryerson: its size defeating the former, while its speed should easily outstrip the latter. However, Waterloo is a different beast.

What will be likely carry Queens just over the finish line for this pool is, in a word, hunger. Facing Waterloo again after several disheartening losses is sure to rev up the Queens roster for an intense physical match. Furthermore, the team has had ample time to adjust its defence to Waterloo’s less than predictable attack. When the two faced each other in November, the Queens beaters were caught thoroughly off-guard, allowing easy dunks for Waterloo while they attempted to sort out the mess of players surrounding the hoops. It would be too much for Waterloo to expect that the Queens beaters will fall prey to their haphazard style again. Queens should be ablewith great effortto turn the match to its advantage by slowing the pace of its attacks and by relying on its force over its prettier plays. Strong leadership on the field will also be of major importance. As Waterloo plays less like a unit than many other teams, Queens will have to be extremely tight on defence in order to combat multiple points of attack.

In third place is Canada’s Finest, McGill’s B team. While CFQC finds itself in a rather difficult poolQueens has beaten CFQC handily, and Waterloo should be challengingthe team should definitely not be written off. Captains Julien Baliozian and Nathan Pierce have built a very capable team, relying on McGill’s signature beater control while incorporating a unique offensive style. On offence, the team functions very much as a single unit. While Baliozian offers the big drives, beaters Pierce and Sierra Miller play the aggressive supporting role. Characterized also by impressive female players, opponents had best not underestimate chasers Laura Saunders and Avery Michels, who can do serious damage when left unattended. Capping off the offence are new finds, Vincent Blondin and Justin Do Couto, who can be expected to breathe new life into CFQC’s plays. Unfortunately, compared to Queens, CFQC lacks the physicality to be a real contender for the top spot in Pool C. Waterloo versus CFQC should be more interesting because while Waterloo has made short work of many of its opponents lately, losses to Carleton University Quidditch, McGill, and the Gee-Gees show how Waterloo is uncertain when faced with highly-organized teams. Against CFQC’s tightly controlled attacks, Waterloo may find itself out of position. Ultimately, this battle will come down to bludger control. Both sides boast impressive beaters; however, Waterloo has an edge in seeking over CFQC. The first moments after the 18-minute mark in this matchup will be extremely tense.

Ryerson, the final team in Pool C, is one of the older clubs in Canada. However, with an active roster of 12 players and a season record of 3-13, it seems unlikely that it will put up much of a fight for Queens, Waterloo, or CFQC. While Waterloo and Ryerson have yet to match up, Queens and CFQC have both beaten Ryerson handily this past season. Though it is unlikely Ryerson will see bracket play, the possibility of consolation matches could see the team eke out a win on Day Two. The team has seen some success against other Toronto-area teams, and a favourable consolation matchup could see it repeat this.

Pool D
1. University of Ottawa Gee-Gees
2. Carleton University Quidditch
3. UTSC Phoenix
4. McMaster University

Pool D is a one-horse show, and that horse is definitely the Gee-Gees. Although they are ranked No. 4 in the league, they seemed to be one of the chart toppers in the most recent coaches poll with their 10-5 record. The Gee-Gees had a rough start to the season in Montreal, losing to Carleton and getting eliminated by Northstar Quidditch. Following that tournament, the Gee-Gees went on to beat McGill in an overtime thriller but still lost two more consecutive matchups with Northstar on snitch grabs. However, at the Frozen Cup at Fleming College, we saw a new Gee-Gees squad in terms of skill. The Gee-Gees were by far the best team of the day, and despite having a smaller than normal roster, they defeated every team and took out crosstown rivals Northstar Quidditch 80*-30 for the first time. Finishing the fall season strong has put the Gee-Gees as the favourite for this tournament, but they still have a lot to prove with only two notable wins on the season and a handful of losses. The team is bringing only one dedicated female beater to the regional championship, but with that beater being the talented Alex Illing, the Gee-Gees should be all right. The Gee-Gees are finally going to be able to use second-year keeper and co-coach Mike Makula to bring even more athleticism and power to a team that isn’t lacking any. Although they have lost plenty of notable chasers from last season, many new ones have stepped up to the plate. Jon Parent has taken a bigger part of the offence and has found lots of success as the team’s main offensive player, keeper Alex Goudreault and chaser Danny Walsh have found themselves as main contributors and key players in the team’s success thus far, and chaser Karen Douglas is doing a fantastic job at filling in the big shoes Michelle Ferguson left when she moved on from the uOttawa program. If this team is going to win this pool, or even the tournament, we will need to see big plays coming from the beating and seeker corps. Many of the Gee-Gees’ losses have come down to the fact that they no longer have the talented seeker-beating combination of Robillard, Mcveigh, and McCrady, who bolted for Northstar this season. This has cost the Gee-Gees some losses earlier in the season, and if they are going to meet their expectations of a regional title, they will need to fix this.

Carleton Quidditch, one of the few teams to hand the Gee-Gees a loss, was dealt into this pool as well. It has had its most unfortunate season so far; injuries have prevented it from playing as many games as it would have liked. However, the team still impressed with a win in its sole matchup with the Gee-Gees and has an 8-4 record despite the injuries. With a relatively healthy squad going into the regional championship, Carleton cannot afford to lose games like the ones it has thus far. The veteran team needs to pull out some new tricks due to the loss of Team Canada keeper Matt Stone (out for the season with a knee injury) and several other players coming off injuries. Carleton will need Team Canada member Matt Bourassa to really take over the offense like he has shown he can. On the defensive end, Bourassa is a tough matchup for chasers. However, with beater Colin Wallace sitting the season out, Carleton will need a new answer. That answer could be in the form of Martin Massie, who has been logging minutes at beater and seeker successfully all season. If this team can find a way to keep itself healthy, particularly its low number of females, it will be able to not only challenge for the pools top spot, but possibly a title run as well.

The McMaster team has found itself at the unfortunate end of the pool-making process. A team that has had one of its most successful runs in the programs history is matched up with two powerhouses, but in the race for the final playoff spot in the pool, it is the favourite. With a 4-4 record on the season, McMaster also had a 60*-10 win over the UTSC Phoenix. This team has had a bit of a rough go against more talented teams, losing 180-70* to Valhalla. The score should likely be similar against the likes of the Gee-Gees and Carleton. In bracket play, McMaster should hope for a good matchup to possibly upset someone from moving on.

The UTSC Phoenix has also had one of its best years to date. It may not seem like the case with a 3-9 record, but captain Cody Mulholland has done an excellent job to make this team a serious threat. UTSC surprised with a 110*-80 win over the University of Toronto and has improved drastically over the season. Despite this improvement, it is still going to be overwhelmed by the Gee-Gees and Carleton; however, it does have a fair shot of sneaking a game off McMaster to advance. Should UTSC go into the consolation bracket, it will likely emerge the winners.

In the end, it will be tough to call a winner. Although the favourites are the Gee-Gees, Northstar, McGill, and Queens, all it takes is one bracket-play upset by the many talented teams in the league to end the dream for these squads.

Cole Li contributed reporting.

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