Saturday, April 18, 2015

East Reigns Supreme at Canada Nationals

By Gillian Manley

With the Canadian Nationals a few weeks in the books, it’s important to take a look back at some of the key lessons and see what the squads took away from the country’s first ever national tournament.

The records after round robin play were as follows:
Toronto: 6-0
McGill: 5-1
Vancouver: 4-2
SFU: 3-3
Alberta: 2-4
Winnipeg: 1-5
UVic: 0-6

Final: Toronto over McGill 40*-30
Consolation: Vancouver over SFU 80*-30

East vs. West
Unsurprisingly, the East came out ahead of the West. It is hard to compare regional styles of play when there are so many other variables, but the game between the top-finishing teams in each region sheds a bit of light. The Toronto-Vancouver matchup (110*-40) was a fight between Vancouver’s physical drives and long shots and Toronto’s confusingly good passing and positioning. McGill overall showed much better chaser teamwork, use of set plays and handoffs, and frequent use of the 1.5 bludger offense better than any of the Western teams. However, this seems to speak less to fundamental strategy differences between the regions and more to the Eastern players’ greater experience (with the exception of UVic, who seemed too overmatched to be able to draw on its team’s long quidditch history). As more intra-regional play happens in the West, it will be interesting to see if these teams develop their own flavour of play.

The East: Mercs vs. McGill
The East dominated the tournament, but the fact that it was Toronto rather than McGill taking home the gold was obviously surprising and a little confusing. However, Toronto did not look like a mercenary team. It played steady, well-positioned beater defense, and its passing was the crispest at the tournament, setting up quick goals at the hoops against teams with poor man-on-man defense. The other teams might have figured out Toronto’s passing strategies given another few games—McGill might have figured it out given a final match longer than thirteen minutes—but Toronto didn’t need to keep winning. It has its medals and should be proud.

McGill is surely disappointed over its inability to dispatch Toronto, but credit has to go to some of the raw talent on Toronto, not just McGill’s failures. McGill has its Eastern Championship as consolation and the knowledge that it travelled the farthest and arguably put the most on the line for Canadian quidditch out of any team present.

The West: Vancouver Victory
The Vancouver-area teams, Vancouver and SFU, have reason for satisfaction. The Vancouver Vipertooths can celebrate coming out of their first foray into competitive Canadian quidditch with a bronze medal, a respectable showing against Toronto, a pair of wins over SFU, and a win against first-time opponents Alberta (70*-30). SFU can celebrate a top four finish and a 50*-30 upset over Alberta. SFU is not necessarily happy with its losses to Vancouver, but it is an improvement over the lopsided scores of its unofficial loss to Vancouver at November’s Dobby Cup. The close scores and intense but friendly atmosphere of the two matches hopefully hint at the development of a cross-town rivalry that would benefit both teams—Vancouver needs to gain more experience in general, particularly for its new chasers, and SFU needs to learn how to counter Vancouver’s bludger control and physical play.

Vancouver Island’s UVic, short-rostered and injured, did not win a game, but seeker Hayley Charnock caught the snitch in all of its final four games, an impressive feat for a tired team without bludger control.

The Rest of the West
Winnipeg had the worst of both regions: a long flight, a tiny roster, and inexperienced players still learning the rules of quidditch. The team also (for some reason) had all-star Ontarian Adam Robillard, but even that was not enough to scrape more than one win over UVic. Winnipeg’s best asset is its willingness to travel—this still-new team has travelled to Moose Jaw, Minneapolis, and now Burnaby, which can only lead to future improvement. In fact, improvement was visible even over the course of the weekend.

The team that might be the most disappointed with their weekend, aside from UVic, was the Alberta Clippers. Alberta drew from local clubs in Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer (Central Alberta), and team-less players in Saskatchewan, and it arrived at Nationals with a deep roster and some skilled, experienced chasers. It looked much more impressive than the 120*-30 loss to McGill, and it was forced to swallow tough snitch-range losses to Vancouver and SFU and miss a chance at medalling.

There are two possible lessons that Alberta could take from this weekend. The first is that, seeing the strength of other Canadian teams, Alberta should focus on the future, holding tryouts or making cuts in order to make its mark on the outside world. The second is that the province (and Saskatchewan) needs to focus on growing its university or city teams as independent entities in order to get even more people playing and traveling. A goal of the Clippers was to get Albertans on the pitch and out of the province. It worked for this tournament, but the future could go two very different ways.

Looking Forward
The Canadian National Championship was good for Canadian quidditch. As a standalone tournament, although exciting and smoothly-run, it was not the definitive event of the year. However, it helped ensure that future championships would be. In one weekend, the West saw players hit the pitch for the first time in a competitive environment, develop rivalries, and foster a feeling of connectivity with the rest of the quidditch-playing country. Some of this could have been done in the East, but it will be much easier for Western teams to fundraise and motivate themselves to attend next year, now that all of their players have gotten a taste of what national-level quidditch is like, feel less isolated from other programs, and have generally caught the quidditch bug. Eastern rookies got this experience at Eastern Regional Championship, but the West needed the national push.

It might be too early to say, but the Vancouver Vipertooths stand to benefit the most from this tournament and the associated publicity and recruitment opportunities. In addition to the National Championship buzz, they are in an area of good year-round quidditch weather close to the improving USQ Northwest Region. The Alberta Clippers and the Winnipeg Willows will benefit as well from the experience and attention. Strong community teams will allow the sport to grow even faster in the West, especially as players graduate from the University of British Columbia and SFU and look for a program to join—and the West needs to grow fast to catch up to the East. It might be a lot to take away from one tiny tournament with a merc team winner, but the tournament was building toward a future of Canadian quidditch in which teams from East and West can be competitive together, and the National Championship can crown a definitive champion.

Disclaimer: The author of this article is a member of the Vancouver Vipertooths.

All scores from @QCScores.

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