Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Northwest Preview: 7-5-3-1

By Benji B’Shalom

With the season starting to intensify, teams around the country are looking to understand individual players and competing teams in their region. With many new and experienced players to watch, five important storylines to look out for, and three crucial questions to examine, the Northwest region has a lot to consider this season, especially in regards to predicting the victor at the Northwest Regional Championship in February 2016.

7 Players to Watch:

1. Brenden Bixler/Hannah Johnson: These first year additions to the Boise State Abraxans (BSA) are living in some big shadows: Brenden Bixler is the brother of the hard-hitting BSA player Bryan Bixler, and Hannah Johnson is following in the footsteps of her brothers, Joel and Ezra Johnson, who play for BSA and the Boise State Thestrals (BST), respectively. This pedigree comes with high expectations, and the fact that both young players were placed directly on Boise’s A team roster indicates that they are ready to live up to them.                        

Photo Courtesy of Sofia De La Vega
2. Emily Rodway: Rodway is the captain of a Northwest newcomer, the Big Sky Flyers at Montana State University. Leadership goes a long way toward determining the fate of first-year teams, so a lot rests on her shoulders. If she excels at captaining the team, the Flyers could assert themselves as contenders in their first year.

Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson
3. Jess Robertson: Robertson is the oldest player in the Northwest, and suffers from Fibromyalgia, which makes it all the more impressive that they even play quidditch, let alone play it well. Over the summer, Robertson has made the switch from beating to chasing as a chaser for the Portland Augureys (PDX). Having practiced with them over the summer, I can say firsthand that it is a real task stopping Robertson around the hoops without a bludger, and their passing and catching are excellent. They have put in a lot of hard work, and it is paying off.
Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson
4. Stew Driflot: Driflot is almost certainly the best-known Northwest player around the league, having won the Flyest Snitch award at USQ World Cup 8, and stolen the show during the finals match. The reason he is a player to watch is that because he is so versatile, and makes such an impact at any position, it’s always worth seeing what the Abraxans will do with him next. And to be honest, watching him play is just plain fun.

Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson
5. Nicole Jackson: Jackson’s leadership has been instrumental in the success of the Western Washington University Wyverns (WWU), as has her ability to control the bludger game. She now looks to bring those qualities with her to the Rain City Raptors when they take to the field for the first time as a new community team. However, a shoulder injury sustained at Northwest Fantasy II in August could linger, keeping her off the field or at less than 100 percent as the season starts. Her status early in the season could affect how the Raptors take off for their inaugural campaign.
Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson
6. Cody Spoelstra/Mitchell Hatfield: Spoelstra and Hatfield are both players on the move. After contributing at chaser and seeker for the Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho (MMUI) last season, Spoelstra now finds himself in the Bellingham, Washington area. He was a standout for the second-place Red Team at Northwest Fantasy II, and if he decides to join one of the teams in that area, he could be an impactful addition. In a similar vein, Hatfield is a talented keeper and a great personality. He will not be returning to the Wyverns this year, and reportedly plans to attend tryouts for UBC. Whatever team he ends up on will get a boost to their keeping game, and a great personality to keep team hype levels high.

Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson
7. Cameron Cutler/Brandon Rivas: Cutler and Rivas both played a big part in UBC’s success last season. Cutler’s elite speed and pinpoint aim, as well as Rivas’s physicality and command of the field proved advantageous for UBC. This time around, they step up into leadership roles as chaser captain and beater captain, respectively. They have been consistently fierce on the field, as well as providing leadership. Overall, their passion and skill could be very helpful for integrating new recruits and maintaining the Thunderbirds’ culture of hard work and goal of dominance.
Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson
5 Northwest Storylines:

1. Boise’s redemption: The Abraxans’ run to the first ever Northwest Regional Championship title was dominant, and they looked poised to change a lot of opinions about the Northwest at World Cup 8. It was therefore devastating for the entire region when the team failed to acquire the funding to attend the tournament. After working hard and proving that it deserved to be there, the region’s best team was stuck in Idaho while the league gathered to crown a champion. This season, Boise will be back with more determination than ever. This storyline will carry over into US Quidditch Cup 9 as the chip on the Abraxans’ shoulder will drive them to make up for a lost opportunity.

2. The Rain City/Western Washington split: While two of the Northwest’s three bid-winners of last year return largely intact, one had major shakeups. WWU lost a large number of its core players, most of whom will play this upcoming season for the Rain City Raptors. This creates some question marks at the top of the standings, as we wonder how much of the Wyverns’ success last year came from those graduates, and how well the new generation will fare without them. 

3. University of British Columbia’s Swan Song: There are a lot of opinions out there regarding the decision by USQ to work with Quidditch Canada in separating the two leagues, but the overall opinion in the Northwest is resounding protest. The impact that the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (UBC) have had on the region cannot be overstated. UBC has provided the Northwest with a team that has never wavered in its passion, and whose all-out playing style has pushed every team who has played it to be better, to hit harder, to run faster, and to yell louder. UBC will not be allowed to play in its home region next year, as USQ builds a border wall between us and our poutine-loving brethren that would make Donald Trump smile. The 2015-16 season will serve as a bit of a lame duck session for UBC, but I expect it to put nothing short of the team’s very best effort into making it an amazing season and showing the league that UBC is the real deal, no matter who it is playing against.

Photo Courtesy of Nikki Smith Photos
4. Status in flux for lower-tiered teams: For all the success that the upper-tier teams managed to find last season, there was a large gap between them and the lesser teams. This year, there could be big changes in the bottom of the standings. The Boise State Thestrals have a year under their belt, and a steady organization around them, and could easily take a step out of the shadows. The Moscow Manticores have a small school and a small town, but a lot of passion for the game. The Portland Augureys, having struggled with player retention,  just barely managed to pool the resources to register the team for the season. Add to the mix several potential new teams, and there could be a lot more intrigue amongst the region’s less-glamorous clubs this year.

5. The training wheels come off: The Northwest had a lot to prove going into last year as a new region, but, in a way, there is more to prove now. Having had a year to figure things out, the expectations will be higher, and the excuses will no longer be there. The time is now for this region to impress the rest of the country.

3 Burning Questions:

1. How much has the Northwest grown? A lot of effort from a lot of people has gone into developing the Northwest as a region. With a season and an offseason under our belt, the question of how much that has paid off is a big one. I think we will know pretty quickly how much the teams in this corner of the league have grown, and I think the answer will be a very positive one. 

2. How many US Quidditch Cup 9 bids will the region have? The pool of teams being selected for the championship tournament is shrinking from 80 last season, to 60 at US Quidditch Cup 9 in 2016. In such a small region, the teams teetering on the edge of official status could determine the US Quidditch Cup fate of one of the top teams. Depending how many teams in the area do go USQ-official, the Northwest could send anywhere between one and three teams to South Carolina. 

3. Can anyone shake up last season’s tier system? I do not think I have ever seen a division in sports fall so neatly into tiers as the 2014-15 Northwest region. There was a top tier consisting of BSA, UBC and WWU, all of which proved themselves capable of beating each other. The bottom tier had BST, which beat MMUI, which beat PDX, which beat BST. And then there was UBC’s B team, British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC), which without fail beat the bottom-tier teams and fell to the top-tier ones. This season, something is bound to give, as new teams appear and previous teams change. Will one of those bottom tier teams join BCQC in the middle? Will a top team show weakness? Where will the new teams fit in? Sorting out the natural order of things will be exciting in the Northwest this year.

1 Regional Champion:

Boise State Abraxans:
It might not exactly be groundbreaking to predict last year’s Northwest champions to win it again, but Boise has earned the benefit of the doubt. With most of its core talent returning, and some promising new faces as well, BSA will be the measuring stick for the rest of the region. This is not to say that none of the other teams have a shot against the reigning champions, but they will have to work hard to prove that the top dog can be taken down.
Photo Courtesy of Tasha Kiri Robertson

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