Friday, March 6, 2015

Northwest Regional Championship Preview

By Kym Couch and Mitchell Hatfield As the 2014-15 USQ season begins to wind down, most teams are turning their eyes to the roughly 80 Indiegogo projects which are quickly raising funds for the teams who have already qualified for World Cup 8, but three of these bids have not yet been earned. On March 7, 2015, the eyes of the Northwest and the rest of the quidditch world will turn toward Tukwila, Washington, where the teams of the Northwest Region will come together to play for the first-ever Northwest Regional Championship. The Northwest Region’s teams have been eagerly awaiting this regional championship since Komrade Kup one month ago and have put in many hours of practice in preparation for the tournament. Kym Couch and Mitchell Hatfield partnered together to bring you an analysis of the region as we approach the regional championship.

University of British Columbia Quidditch (UBC)
The University of British Columbia arguably plays with the most physicality of any team in the Northwest Region and is one of the so-called “big three” in the Northwest along with the Boise State Abraxans and the Western Washington University Wyverns. It isn’t difficult to see why physicality is one of the team’s strong points with former football player Lendl Magsipoc leading the charge. Magsipoc is difficult to stop without a bludger in hand, as are the other chasers on the team, each of them playing with a level of physicality rarely seen in Northwest play. Another strength of UBC is found in its keeper Cameron Cutler. Cutler is an aficionado of his position; his head bobs and weaves more than a butterfly, and his shots are sharper and more on target than the most determined bee. Rounding out this team’s leadership is beater Erica Milley. Milley is a Canadian sniper with her beats, and you never need the referee to tell you you’ve been beat. Trust me, you’ll know if she hit you. UBC’s late game is almost always assured by Austin Wallace, one of the slyest seekers in the region, and who makes each snitch grab smooth as silk.  Among these team leaders is an entire team of tenacious and tough players who take pride in their team and in their individual skill.

All photos not otherwise credited by Tasha Kiri Robertson
The main weakness I have seen within this team is the temper of a few players bringing down the team’s morale. More than once, I have seen a player drop a pass or make another innocent mistake. As a result, more than one teammate gets distracted from the game and loses their head. This not only causes a distraction, allowing opponents an easy chance to score, it also mentally pulls at least one player from the game. Another weakness I have seen, which may be the root cause of the above, is the team seems to have certain rotations that trust one another implicitly and have great chemistry, but if those rotations are broken up, or if certain players are on the pitch at the same time, that chemistry falls apart. Tensions will rise, tempers flair, and one or two players try to Rambo through and carry the team on their shoulders. If instead these players relaxed and trusted each other across the entire roster, I see no reason why UBC can’t be the first ever Northwest Regional Champions.

This team is tough, and is considered by many the favorite going into the regional championship. It has its eyes ever on the prize and having placed highly (within the top two) at each tournament this season, it certainly has the skill to claim the crown if it plays its game, trusts one another, and keeps playing with that physical style that has served it well thus far.
Portland: Augureys (PDX)
As the Northwest’s first and, to date, only official community team, the Augureys have made some big waves this season, despite tending to place on the lower at tournaments. I’d consider the Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho, Portland’s biggest rivals in the region and games between these two teams are consistently my favorite to watch for two reasons. First, it is awesome to see the progress they have made, and second they are so evenly matched in skill that they generally turn out to be just great quidditch matches for spectators. Part of the reason for this is team coach, founder, chaser, seeker, keeper, beater and all-around great guy Benji B’Shalom. B’Shalom may be small, but you definitely wouldn’t know it given his activity level while playing. B’Shalom is like the energizer bunny of PDX; he’s the heart and soul of the team. He excels at each position and is never afraid to sacrifice his body if it means bringing his team one step closer to victory. Alongside B’Shalom are his faithful teammates James Robertson and Jeff Chatterton, who support him with play styles that are exceptionally complimentary to their team leader. Robertson is an accurate shooter from range and also isn’t afraid to fight right in close, and Chatterton is generally willing to play whatever he is asked to.
A major weakness for PDX that has been consistent throughout their season is roster size. This is difficult for any new team in an area where quidditch is relatively unknown (most of the Northwest understands this struggle), but it has been especially hard for PDX to have consistent numbers given that it doesn’t have a university giving some measure of continuity to its player base. Other than lack of numbers, though, it has good strategies and tends to hold its own quite well against teams of comparable skill level.

Unfortunately for this season, PDX does not seem to be in range of upsetting any of the so called “top three” Northwest teams. In future seasons, I would be wary of PDX. Its players, though small in number, are large in spirit and passion. That kind of passion is infectious and if this team can get a consistent roster to practices and to tournaments, then it could be a real threat next season and for many seasons to come.

Boise State Thestrals (BST)
As the Junior Varsity team for Boise State, the Thestrals have typically flown under the radar this season in the Northwest. This incognito theme, aided by the fact that the Thestrals have only attended one regional tournament, has led some people to doubt the skill level of this team. To set the record straight, BST has definitely been undersold. Yes, they are relatively unknown, but what I can say is that this team has a lot of heart and a lot of skill. which, if refined and focused, could cause an upset. BST is definitely in the race for that third place bid to the World Cup; though if they want it, they are going to have to work exceptionally hard to earn that spot.

The Thestrals’ strength lies in their keeper’s skill and their beater team’s offensive firepower. In the games I saw him play in, Ezra Johnson (one of the “Magic” Johnson brothers), made a huge impact for his team both on the offensive and defensive end as a strong keeper. He made more than a few saves and more than a few goals across the day; his athleticism was what stood out to me in each and every BST game. Ultimately, though, every player under team leader Harrison Baucom is a force to be reckoned with, and I believe this team can go far in the next season if their season ends at the Northwest Regional Championship.

The only real weakness I can safely say the Thestrals suffer from is a lack of experience, which is where I think the stigma of JV team comes from. But, as most of the Northwest understands, lack of experience does not mean you aren’t deserving of respect. We can’t all be Middlebury College or Lone Star Quidditch Club right off the bat, and every one of us started somewhere. Get another few tournaments under these players’ belts and this team will also be a force to be reckoned with.

Boise State: Abraxans (BSA)
The Boise State Abraxans are considered third of the big three according to the Northwest Coaches poll this past January, and this team certainly deserves a spot at the top. The coaching of Regional Coordinator Kym Couch, the keeping skills of Joel “Magic” Johnson, the beating skills of Sally Matlock, a chaser team led by Bryan Bixler and Casey Thompson, and the jack-of-all-trades play style of seeker Stew Driflot help to make this a team that I would say has the best shot at winning the first Northwest Regional Championship. Matlock, who missed playing time at Komrade Kup, is reported to be back at full strength, and her skills will help this team on both the offensive and defensive end of the pitch. Bixler’s slow, methodical chasing, balanced by Thompson’s quick and maneuverable style, paid off big for the team at both Komrade Kup and at Clash in the Cascades last November. Driflot’s all-around antics are always a treat; whether he is scoring a trick-shot goal as a beater (hitting the quaffle through with his bludger) as he did at Komrade or icing out a team with a timely snitch grab, he is a force all his own. Bringing all of this together is Johnson, whose head for the game allows him to lead this team from the field like a general leading his troops. All said, this team showed a marked improvement at Komrade Kup, and I would say that my assessment for the Komrade preview, while fair, is now null and void. The BSA star is back on the rise and as I said this team is my favorite for Regional Champions.

Photo by Lang Truong

Something to work on for BSA would be communication between the beater team and chaser team. This is something I felt the team was missing at Komrade, and whether that was due to the loss of Matlock as a player or due to something else, it is something this team will need to improve on if they hope to do even moderately well at World Cup 8 should they qualify. I hope that it was just an off-day, and that the team doesn’t just focus on one person to make that communication happen, but if they do, that needs to be changed quickly. Another thing that could use work is their patience on the offensive end. They have a lot of players who are very skilled, and they often can run the pitch and score, however if they took a leaf out of Bixler’s book and slowed down and ran their offense fully, I feel that BSA would get more open looks and more high percentage shots than they do when they try to force shots or passes inside. More often than not, I feel that when they forced it in, they got beat and lost control of the quaffle without garnering either bludger control or getting a score. It is okay to lose the quaffle if you can regain bludger control because of the loss. It is not okay to come up without a goal and without bludger control.


All in all, I would say this team has some monster chemistry; they trust each other, they self coach, and they encourage each other to be better after every single play. This team is shooting for the top of the Northwest. I think they are probably the most likely to win this regional championship despite low standings going into the tournament, and, despite having done poorly at Clash and Crimson Cup and overall reccord-wise this season, they bounced back with a victory over Crimson Elite and a stellar performance at Komrade with their new roster and strategy. All in all, I think the chips just haven’t fallen their way this season, but if the Abraxans can pull it together, put their rumored new strategies into practice, and get just a bit of luck, this team very well could be the first Northwest Regional Champions.

Western Washington University (WWUW)
Western Washington University Wyverns were listed second of the big three in the Northwest Region Coaches Poll in January, but they are definitely going to have to work hard this weekend if they want to keep that title. Although they have been playing for a long time, WWUW has not been able to travel out of region often, which definitely hurts them in their ability to adapt to different play styles.


That being said, their roster has a lot of really strong players who stand out on the pitch and their biggest advantage over the other teams is probably their size, both in roster and physicality. They have a few players whose height and size allow them to easily blow through other teams’ chaser defense such as keeper Ross Schram von Haupt, and they have enough people on their roster to consider a possible split into two official teams for next season.

Their beater game is not quite as advanced as that of BSA and UBC, but there is some depth there, especially with their new players. Molly Bocian and Alex Ramsey work together very well as a team, and Megan Boice and Bryan Walker are both brand new beaters with quite the future in the position.

Assuming that chaser Robert Stolzberg and keeper Mitchell Hatfield are able to hold the game within snitch range, the seeker game will always be a nail biter for this team. Sam Seid has been called by some the best seeker in the region having only missed a few snitch catches in his time as WWUW’s seeker against Stew Driflot and Dan Howland of Crimson Elite last season.

Although I don’t predict them to be the winners of this tournament, you can bet they’ll be putting up a fight.

British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC)
British Columbia Quidditch Club is currently ranked fourth in the region and I think that ranking reflects its placement fairly well. It is the most consistent of the bottom four teams, having a fairly regular roster and strong leadership. This sets it apart from BST and PDX, who often have different players on their roster that they have never brought before. BCQC’s biggest disadvantage at Komrade Kup was its injured players. Although it brought 12 players, which is a pretty good roster size, four more BCQC players were injured, which pulled the team out of the rest of the tournament after having a tough schedule against the top teams. These injuries led BCQC to request a forfeit from its final game, which BSA opposed, since it hadn’t played a game for five hours, so the final game was played.

Photo by Siri Adrianne Rigsby

Although BCQC did poorly against the “big three” at Komrade, the team is bringing approximately 16 players to the regional championship and is expected to perform much stronger, so the bottom four teams will definitely need to watch out. However, some injuries from Komrade are still affecting BCQC. Cameron Drury is out for the season, Coach Courtney Markin is not intending to play unless she is needed, and Katie Olfert will play through an injury. Captain Taylor Attrill has made a full recovery and will definitely be of use in leading this team, presuming he is not reinjured.

BCQC has a lot of experienced players as well as a lot of new players, and that disconnect does not help them on the pitch. When it comes down to it, it’s all about how its leadership pulls those two groups together; Markin and Attrill have been doing a great job communicating with their players, and they have the advantage of all of UBC’s leaders and players to help them out. Although British Columbia Quidditch Club does not have much of a chance against the top three teams, the games between BCQC and the bottom three teams will definitely be exciting.

Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho (MMUI)
Moscow Manticores is the third oldest team attending the regional championship this year, but it has not been as consistently active and competitive as the other two oldest teams. Becoming USQ official seems to have really helped the Manticores organize and recruit, as so often is the case when you give a team of casual players a goal.

Although it isn’t part of the big three, MMUI is definitely a team with plans to give the top teams hell and not end the season in last place. At Komrade Kup the only bottom four team they played was BST and the snitch was caught within snitch range. At that tournament they had the home field advantage, which, for new teams in quidditch, often means that you have a few players you generally wouldn’t have playing for your team. In Moscow’s case, they are bringing 13 players to the regional championship, four fewer than they had for Komrade Kup. This could be an upset for their gameplay style, but they are still keeping all of their primary players who we’ve been seeing all season such as keeper, captain, and powerhouse of the team Cody Fairchild, beaters Ariana Gaskin and Tom Parks, and chaser Lauren Blenn. Their seekers, although talented, do not hold as much depth as other teams in the region. Of their three games, those snitch catches are going to mean a lot when it comes to their Portland, BST, and BCQC games, which are predicted to be very close. If you can only watch one Moscow game, make it one of those three games because they are guaranteed to be exciting. Coaches Poll
Northwest voters were asked to pick their top seven teams from the fall season. Ten voters participated in the poll. Points were allocated in the following manner: seven points for a first place vote, six points for a second place vote, five points for a third place vote, etc. The votes have been tabulated and listed below in order of total votes. The numbers 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.
NW Coaches Poll Results
1. University of British Columbia (UBC) – (2) 37 (X)
2. Western Washington University (WWU)  – (2) 36 (X)
3. Boise State University Abraxans (BSA) – (2) 35 (X)
4. British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC) – 24 (X)
5. Moscow Manticores of the University of Idaho – 14
6. Portland Augureys Quidditch –  13
7. Boise State Thestrals – 9 Voters Explain Their Decisions “The NW is pretty clearly divided. There is very little debate regarding the top three. The order of the top three can and does change. I think UBC and WWU are the top two, but which team is the better of the two often depends on the day. The bottom four of the league is interesting as well. I think when BCQC shows up with a full uninjured roster they can securely hold the fourth place spot. The last three teams are pretty evenly matched; they all have their strengths, and, depending on how the games play out, they all have a chance to win their games against each other.”
Observations The Northwest was clearly divided into two tiers, with three teams on either side and BCQC in the middle. Voters seemingly couldn’t differentiate the top three from one another and the bottom three as the split was very even. Our representative voter above pretty clearly outlined voters’ thoughts.

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