Thursday, February 12, 2015

West Regional Championship Preview

We asked four experts on West Region quidditch to give their takes on every team heading to the West Regional Championship. Kaylee Buchholtz covered the Arizona teams, Steve DiCarlo the southern California squads, Chris Lock the northern California teams, and George Williams the Utah teams (DiCarlo and Lock covered each other’s teams). We also have the results of the pre-regional championship Coaches Poll, and our writers give their predictions for the regional championship. Teams are arranged alphabetically by pool.



Pool 4A


Lost Boys
Despite losing a few starters from last year, the Lost Boys still run on the same principles that brought them so much success—controlling the pace of the game, using dominant beaters to stifle opposing offenses and scare defending beaters back into their hoops, and using a large keeper to drive the ball in to score. Everyone knows how the Lost Boys play defense—beaters stay by the keeper zone to maintain control, and two to three players guard hoops in a semi-Baylor University fashion—but no one in the West seems to be able to figure out how to get through it. Their offense is just as frustratingly familiar but hard to counter, with their beaters flanking Alex Browne and letting him “Sloelze” the ball up the pitch. They’ve developed strategies that have worked throughout the country for years and fine-tuned them to fit their roster. The system aint broke, so they really don’t need to fix it... it’s on the rest of the West to fix how they train. If everything stays the same, count on the Lost Boys to be repeat West Regional Champions.


Mission Blues Quidditch
Mission Blues has taken huge strides toward becoming a more competitive team in the past two weeks by playing a strong Sunshine Bowl. They impressed with a 120*-50 win over Stanford Quidditch, a 70*-60 win over the University of California Berkeley, and a defense-oriented 50-30* loss to San Jose State University Spartans (SJSU).  While Mission Blues has struggled to stay in range all season, this recent improvement should be a positive sign for the first-year program. The team will likely rely on its strength in beating, specifically Josh Vinson and Ra Hopkins, as well as Sam Fischgrund’s seeking abilities to try to pull off enough victories to make it to a qualifying match. Unfortunately for Mission Blues, their opponents will be tougher than those they faced at Sunshine Bowl. Wins against the NAU Narwhals or the Lost Boys are unrealistic, but Mission Blues may have a chance at finishing 1-2 in the pool and getting an easier play-in game if they can defeat the brand new Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC). However, USQC’s keeper George Williams is probably capable of single-handedly scoring at will against Mission Blues, and the aid of physical rookies Devon Anderson and Mohammad Faraji will make that goal difficult.


NAU Narwhals
Although perhaps not the powerhouse they have been in recent years, the NAU Narwhals are still a team to be reckoned with on the pitch. Despite recently losing chaser Greg Leininger to Arizona Quidditch Club, the Narwhals maintain a strong, aggressive chaser line with players like Justine Taylor who are comfortable making the necessary hits.  This is especially helpful on defense where the extra help is needed as the Narwhal’s strength does not lie in their beater line.  However, it is NAU’s seeking game that, as always, is the team’s biggest asset.  With Porter Marsh still serving as their main seeker, the Narwhals remain a significant threat while in snitch range.  When it comes down to it, with this team it’s either sink or SWIM.  While not expected to come out at the top of their pool, if the Narwhals chaser line is able to keep the score close and let Marsh do what he does best, this team can easily snatch one of the bids for World Cup.  


Utah State Quidditch Club
As one of the few first-year teams at the regional championship this year, the Murderbirds are a fairly inexperienced team led by veteran captains George Williams and Dakota Briggs. The team has brought small rosters to its two tournaments this year, and so far its yielded a balanced 5-5 record. Its only wins have been out-of-range wins over lower-ranked opponents, such as Boggarts Quidditch Club at Colorado State University, Wizards of Westwood, and the Silicon Valley Skyfighters. Although in some of its more impressive games it was able to stay in snitch range with more experienced opponents such as the University of Northern Colorado and the Silicon Valley Skrewts, its out-of-range losses against the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Gambits at the L.A. Open exposed weaknesses in a shallow roster and general inexperience. But with Briggs making his first tournament appearance this season at this weekend, we should see a deeper and more experienced squad from the Murderburds than we’ve seen so far this season. Its beaters are well-trained for a first-year squad, led by Brandon Handy and utility players Devon Anderson and Tya Johnson. Its chaser corps will be anchored by Williams and Briggs with support from first-year players Mohammadreza Faraji and Cameron VomBaur. Although it’s only favored against a few lower-ranked opponents, it’s not wise to rule out the 12th ranked team in the West when there are 11 World Cup bid allocations. If the team is able to make some lucky snitch grabs and is seeded favorably in the bracket, I expect it to cause an upset or two and possibly pull off a World Cup qualification.


Pool 4B


Arizona Quidditch Club (AZQC)
Although not always known for playing nice with others, AZQC is arguably one of the strongest teams in the tournament. With hard-hitting chasers like Nate Cortazzo and Ethan Kapke and a defense led by keepers Duncan Lewis and Nate Olsen, putting points on the board will not be an issue for this team. With a solid beater line anchored and sometimes only manned by Amanda Nagy, as her partners can frequently be found pounding their chests in the penalty box, this team’s biggest weakness is its ability to draw cards. The bulk of the responsibility for AZQC is placed on the shoulders of Margo Aleman, who is both the teams strongest offensive presence and its seeker. While his record this season doesn't match the hype he earned for himself during World Cup in the summer fantasy season, his resume is enough to keep beaters focused on him in the snitch game and give his teammates a chance to pull out of range. If AZQC can manage not to foul itself out of the game, it easily has a chance to make it to the finals.


Cal Quidditch
The UC Berkeley team received almost a complete overhaul this season, but it managed to retain captain Nicolas Mertz, beaters Sergio Quinones and Anne Goodman, and keeper Jake Stanton, giving the team a stable and competitive presence. Cal has looked impressive at times this season, defeating the likes of the Long Beach Funky Quaffles and the California Dobbys, but it also clearly won’t be a title contender with definitive losses to SJSU and the Skrewts. Additionally, Cal’s usually stellar seeking faltered in a 70*-60 loss to Mission Blues at Sunshine Bowl, raising questions about consistency. Still, Cal has demonstrated a knack for repeated snitch grabs and could sneak a win in Pool Play, especially against rival Stanford, or in bracket play. Overall, Cal is an unlikely qualifier due to its inexperienced nature, but it still has a realistic chance to earn a bid to World Cup.


Silicon Valley Skrewts
No one can accurately analyze the Skrewts that will be at the regional championship because no one has seen their best quaffle player play all season. If Alex Makk can play to the top of his potential, the Skrewts have it in them to be a SLIGHTLY lesser version of the Lost Boys. Keep Willis Miles IV and Kyrie Timbrook by Makk and let him work his magic on offense, play their typical impressive man-D on the other side of the ball, and count on their beaters to keep people from driving. However, who knows if the chemistry will still be there with Makk being out all season. How far they go at the regional championship largely depends on when they face the Gambits or the Lost Boys, the only two teams that will likely pull them out of range eight out of 10 games. Seeker Forrest Stone is having his hottest season yet, and when you combine him with one of the West’s top beating pairs... all other teams have reason to be nervous.


Stanford Quidditch
Stanford Quidditch has been revitalized by the return of star beater David Saltzman. Salztman and Hailey Clonts will combine to form an intimidating beater threat that makes Stanford reminiscent of the days that future Hall of Famer Natalie Stottler ruled the pitch with an iron dodgeball. Most impressively, the Stanford beater corps held Arizona State University (ASU) to a 10-0 score through 17 minutes at L.A. Open and reached overtime against the Skrewts at Sunshine Bowl, something that no other Bay Area team has managed this season. However, outside of keeper Nicholas Freybler and chaser Dylan Liu, who has been hampered by injury this season, Stanford doesn’t have a lot of offense, and depth is a huge issue. Stanford becomes weaker as the day wears on, and Saltzman’s ability to be an iron man for the squad lessens. If Stanford hopes to qualify, it must do it on Day One by playing well enough to secure a high enough seed that it can qualify early on Sunday morning instead of dragging out a day of competitive matches that will cripple its stamina. To do this, Stanford will either have to take advantage of playing AZQC early on and control the beating game to have any chance of staging an upset, or improve upon its earlier performance against the Skrewts. Additionally, Stanford must defeat Cal, which it has done twice this season so far. If Stanford manages to pull a 2-1 record, it will have a chance of getting a favorable bracket seed and nabbing a precious World Cup bid. However, a full-strength Skrewts roster and the physical AZQC roster will both be hurdles that are probably too large.


Pool 5A


California Dobbys
The California Dobbys have earned a reputation for being aggressive and physical, but they appeared to struggle with defense throughout L.A. Open. They have a few strong quaffle players who have benefitted from practicing with Long Beach over the past year, but their fairly nonexistent beating game will keep them from providing any of the West’s Top Eight with a close game. They’ll have to pull out several miracle snitch catches to qualify; it’s happened before in the West, but those teams had better snitch-game beaters than the Dobbys have.


Long Beach Funky Quaffles
Long Beach is far from the team of last season, after losing most of its starters to the Gambits. However, Long Beach has still managed to be in about the same place it was going into last year’s regional championship...it can qualify, but it’ll have to work its asses off for the final spot and will likely need a big snitch grab to seal the deal. Captain Anthony Hawkins has improved immensely this year, becoming a smarter passer, a better defender, and a stronger driver. Chaser Alessandra PisaƱo has done work to prove she’s one of the top female chasers in the region, and she has both great hands and a willingness to drive through people to score, something most female chasers on teams on the same tier as Long Beach sadly lack. Long Beach proved in its game against Arizona State at L.A. Open that even if the opposing beaters have an advantage in the bludger game, its athleticism in the quaffle game can keep games amongst similar-tiered opponents in range, and ultimately, whether or not Long Beach qualifies will depend on its seekers and beaters in the snitch game.


San Jose State University Spartans (SJSU)
Spartan Quidditch is in the midst of an astounding breakout season, and the upcoming weekend is the first time it can be labeled as a clear favorite to qualify. Cody Gradone has excelled at chaser, using his speed to get to the goals and his lacrosse background to play physically despite his thin frame. Kyle Campbell anchors the team’s beater line, and his steady improvement over the past seasons is starting to pay dividends. Strong point defense from chaser Jacob Schekman and the physically intimidating keeper Dan Marovich typify the gritty presence opponents can expect on the pitch. Having played surprisingly close games against both the Skrewts and the Gambits, SJSU has shown it has the potential to make a Cinderella run deep into bracket play. However, it has a closely contested pool that features absolutely no pushover teams, save for maybe the University of Arizona Quidditch. While SJSU has repeatedly shown it can convincingly beat Long Beach and the Dobbys, its point differential will likely suffer from having more difficult opponents and could lead to a tougher first round match in bracket play. On the flip side, fans will finally be treated to what will be one of the most exciting matches all season when SJSU faces off against the Santa Barbara Blacktips, a team that has struggled against aggressively physical teams. Still, the Blacktips are probably favored in that match due to an edge in cohesive beating and overall athleticism, but SJSU has a legitimate chance to go undefeated in Pool Play.


Santa Barbara Blacktips
Santa Barbara is likely the most confusing team in the West, with wins over the Lost Boys (who otherwise haven’t lost in the West since losing to University of California Los Angeles at the regional championship two years ago) and an underdog snitch grab victory over AZQC, but a dominant loss to the Gambits at Next Best West. After losing two of their stars—Ren Bettendorf and Chris Lock—few can say they had confidence in the Blacktips going into this season. However, the Santa Barbara darlings managed to keep all of the heart that brought them so much success last year. A lot of that success is thanks to Jeremy McIntyre, a physical defensive stud and excellent co-ballcarrier to Ben Harding. McIntyre and Harding are often left having to do a bit too much on offense, but the Blacktips’ plethora of strong beaters—from the aggressive Brian Vampola and the strategic Cy Torrey to the Energizer Bunny Tommy Brown and crafty Ruthie Stahl—do what they can to lessen their load on both sides of the ball. Their goal is more about staying in range than using all of their energy to pull out of it because they have complete, justified faith in seeker Justin Fernandez. The Blacktips will likely bow out of the tournament whenever they have to come across the Lost Boys, UCLA, or the Gambits during the elimination rounds, but if any team can pull out a miracle win over those teams, it’s these guys.


University of Arizona Quidditch
Arizona is the perpetual underdog that never quite seems to make it over. Now in its third year, this team had a competitive showing at the now unofficial Lumberjack Invitational, but has been relatively inactive since. That being the case, no one is sure what to expect from the Wildcats, although based on the scores from the Arizona Showcase, they may have an uphill battle in front of them when facing off with more experienced teams like the Blacktips.  However, they could easily compete with some of the weaker teams in the tournament.


Pool 4c

Los Angeles Gambits
Star Keeper Tony Rodriguez should continue to offensively drive this physical squad, and the imposing distributing scorer will be flanked by phenomenal defenders Ren Bettendorf and Andrew Murray at chaser. Beaters Steve DiCarlo and Alyssa Burton make a solid beating pair that should allow the Gambits chaser line to flourish. Joining the Gambits for the first time this season will be former Crimson Elite star chaser Edgr Pavlovsky. Peter Reynebeau, Duston Mazzella, Alex Richardson, Kyle Epsteen, Tyler Bryce, Tanna Helm, and one of the most improved players from this season Rich Hatch will provide depth, though the squad will miss the services of  Julie Brietigam. The Gambits have made a living by recognizing their immense advantage at chaser and noticeably sacrificing their beaters. Though this has given some the impression the Gambits have a weakness at beater, it is more indicative that the Gambits know how to utilize their strengths. While the Gambits have yet to play against some of the other top contenders, such as UCLA and the Skrewts, it appears the only real obstacle standing between them and the trophy are the Lost Boys. The team certainly has the physical potential to win that match the third time around, but it will require an ideal strategy as the Lost Boys currently have the upper hand with two prior victories.


Riverside Quidditch
After watching Riverside’s LA Open game against UCLA, it’s easy to see this team’s potential. It has a few decent beaters, and functions really well on offense when Tye Rush is in the right mood. However, the entire team seems to rest on Rush’s shoulders. Should he feel he’s being too tightly guarded or is having a bad game, he’ll make confusing long shots through traffic from mid-pitch, or turn himself into a mere behind-the-hoops would-be alley-ooper, a position he’s practically useless in since none of his teammates seem to be able to make that pass. Riverside came extremely close to qualifying at the last West Regional Championship, but it will need a miracle (or some true brilliance from Rush in its qualifying game) if it wants a repeat or better performance.


University of Southern California (USC)
USC has plenty of the stars that earned it a qualification spot last year, but time hasn’t done good things to these players. It has lost a lot of the drive which used to take it so far, and now finds itself at risk of not qualifying. In its games against the Gambits, the Lost Boys and the Blacktips, USC scored a combined nine goals to its opponents 39. Of all the Top 10-14 teams, USC undoubtedly has the best starters - David Demarest and Ryan Parsons are great quaffle players, Sarah Sherman, Julia Thomas and Nicky Guangorena can get bludger control and keep it, and Demarest has it in him to return to his elite seeking form. If it uses is best players for as long as possible in its qualification game, it’s got it. But if it merely wants to have fun and care more about getting everyone equal playing time, this may be the second year in a row USC is absent from a World Cup.


Wizards of Westwood
The Wizards came into the L.A. Open as a mystery. At that point in the season their only official match had been an out-of-snitch range loss against UCLA. In their first tournament this season, their inexperience showed with blowout losses in their first Pool Play games, against USC and the LA Gambits. The Wizards showed improvement through the rest of Pool Play against teams with similar levels of experience. Their chasing line started to show some formidability, their beaters started playing smarter, and they ended Pool Play 1-3 with a pair of snitch grabs in their last two games against the Utah State Quidditch Club and the Skyfighters. Interestingly, the Wizards have yet to play a snitch range game this season. But unfortunately, they’re slated to rematch USC and the Gambits again in Pool Play. However, they have a chance to prove themselves against Riverside Quidditch in what could optimistically be their first snitch range match of the year. If the Wizards can apply what they learned at LA Open and are able to find a way to upset Riverside, they could earn a better bracket seeding than expected. With a favorable bracket draw, their depth could help them win a game or two against teams with smaller rosters on Day Two and put them in contention to compete for one of the last World Cup qualifying spots. But at this point, it’s a bit of a long shot to say the Wizards are likely to secure a bid, although they are expected to have their first close matches this weekend.


Pool 5B


Anteater Quidditch

Anteater Quidditch is the creation of former UCLA seeker James Luby, a passionate player with several years of experience and a definite drive to push his team filled with newbies to their potential. Unfortunately, they simply haven’t had enough experience as a team to provide the West with legitimate competition just yet. If the Irvine squad is willing to slow games down to a snail’s pace, letting its beaters protect their quaffle carriers for as long as possible to maximize every possession, it can stay in snitch range with the lower tier teams at the regional championship and possibly pull out a win or two.

Arizona State University
Although it is still finding its rhythm after losing the majority of its team to graduation last year, Arizona State has had a good, if not inconsistent, season. Its chaser line is headed by keeper Michael Bernstein, formerly of Florida State University, and features promising players like Jarrod Bailey, Sam Peterson and Tori Kaiser.  Backed by an aggressive beater line lead by Josh Mattison, Arizona State’s biggest strengths lie in its athleticism and individual talent. However a lack of consistency and experience will make it difficult for it to take the top place in its pool.  That being said, ASU certainly has the potential to earn a bid, but it will have to compete for it.

Crimson Elite
Crimson Elite is looking to win a World Cup bid for its second year in a row, but this year it’s with a new team name and a very different roster. Even with only a handful of players returning from last year’s Crimson Flier World Cup team, the new Crimson Elite team is still expected to snag a qualifying spot. The main question people will be asking about Crimson going into this weekend will be about its ability to recover from team-related issues and make last second adjustments. Losing its team captain and Snow Cup standout chaser/seeker Edgar Pavlovsky to the LA Gambits a week before the regional championship will definitely have a significant impact on its starting chaser line. However, expect veteran Zach Holley to step up and lead the chaser line with strong support from the Tita brothers, Erik and Andrew. Despite the low number of male chasers on its roster, Crimson is known for having some of the most impressive females in the region. Gina Allyn, Kristin Jakus, and Sydney Lancaster each bring a lot of experience and confidence to its chasing squad. Allison Froh is one of several impressive female beaters, most notable as she compliments Ben Reuling’s aggressive beating style very well. But what’s ultimately going to decide whether Crimson can pull off a World Cup qualifying run will be the performance of their top players late in the tournament and how effectively its players come off the bench and impact the game. The good news for Crimson is that it should have its deepest roster of the season at this weekend.


Silicon Valley Skyfighters
The Skyfighters are a fun based team that’s starting to look more competitive after recruiting a few players this offseason. However, they haven’t played many close games this season. This will probably remain true when facing the likes of UCLA, ASU, and Utah, but the Skyfighters should look forward to a closer match against Anteater Quidditch. Still, Anteater Quidditch probably has an athletic edged and the Skyfighters look like they are the most likely to miss bracket play. Yet, the Skyfighters’ strength is in their seekers, so if the beating pair of Janos Barbero and Dalia Nahol can help keep the match in snitch range with their experience, then the Skyfighters may sneak into bracket play.


University of California Los Angeles
UCLA made it to the finals of LA Open, but its path there was fairly easy, with most of the region’s top contenders knocking each other out in bracket play. Prior to the finals, UCLA’s LA Open consisted of an overtime win over the Blacktips courtesy of a great snitch, a controversial snitch grab over the Skrewts, and a close game against Riverside. That’s not enough to instill confidence in this team, especially since those are practically the only games it has played. UCLA has returned several great quaffle players such as Zach Luce, Adam Richardson, Corey Osto and Michael Binger and its beating is still led by Ryan Donahue and Sarah Simko... but their lack of real-game experience this season was definitely evident in each one of their big games. UCLA has it in them to make the quarterfinals, but it is definitely the top team that has the highest risk of a surprise loss to a team in a lower tier.


Coaches Poll


The West voters were asked to pick their top 10 teams prior to the Regional Championship. Nine  voters participated in the poll. Points were allocated in the following manner: Ten points for a first place vote, nine points for a second place vote, eight points for a third place vote, etc. The votes have been tabulated and listed below in order of total votes. The number in parentheses indicates how many first place votes a team received. A “+” or “-” indicates a change from the last poll, with a plus indicating if a team is more highly ranked and a minus indicating is a team is lower ranked. An “x” indicates a team’s standing from the last poll is unchanged. unchanged there will be an “x”


W Coaches Poll Results
1. The Lost Boys – (9) 90 (X)
2. Los Angeles Gambits –  79 (X)
3. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) – 73 (X)
4. Santa Barbara Blacktips – 61 (X)
5. Arizona Quidditch Club  –  50 (X)
6. Silicon Valley Skrewts – 46 (X)
7. Tie: Crimson Elite(X); Arizona State University (+1) – 24
9. NAU Narwhals (-1) – 22
10. University of Southern California (USC) (X) 14


Also receiving votes: San Jose State University (SJSU) Spartans 8, Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC) 2, Long Beach Funky Quaffles – 1, California Dobbys – 1


Voters Explain Their Decisions
No voter explained their decision.


Observations
Two tournaments have happened since our last rankings: Sunshine Bowl IV and the Arizona Championship Showcase. Not much happened at either event to shape teams in voters minds. The Skrewts placing in the top six (seven votes) and relative ranking seemed to perplex voters as multiple voters put the Northern California community team fourth, fifth, and sixth.


Predictions


Steve
Qualifying:
Champion: Lost Boys
Runner-up: Gambits
Semifinalists: UCLA, Skrewts
Additional Qualifiers: Blacktips, AZQC, Crimson Elite, SJSU, NAU, USC, ASU


Chris
Champion: Lost Boys
Runner Up: Gambits
Semifinalists: UCLA, Skrewts
Additional Qualifiers: Blacktips, AZQC, NAU, ASU, SJSU, USC, Crimson Elite
George
Champion: Lost Boys
Runner Up: Gambits
Semifinalists: UCLA and Skrewts
Additional Qualifiers: AZQC, Santa Barbara, ASU, NAU, SJSU, Crimson Elite, USC


Kaylee
Champion: Lost Boys
Runner Up: Gambits
Semifinalists: AZQC, UCLA
Additional Qualifiers: Skrewts, Blacktips, NAU, Crimson Elite, USC, ASU, SJSU

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