By Kyle Epsteen
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 West region has a lot to consider this season, especially in regards to predicting the victor at the West Regional Championship in February 2016.
7 Players to Watch:
1. George Williams/Dakota Briggs: Williams and Briggs bring athleticism, leadership, competitive fire, extensive experience, and cheeky attitude to the already solid Crimson Elite lineup. These two spent last season building Utah State Quidditch Club, spreading the good word of quidditch to a new university. This season, they join a talented and successful Crimson Elite squad, and another community team grows stronger in the West. This duo has great chemistry on fast-break offense. Will George and Dakota give the Crimson Elite the boost to a gold medal finish in the West?
|The popular duo put on an impressive performance at West Regionals last season with Utah State | Photo Credit: Monica Wheeler Photography|
2. Alyssa Burton: Burton was the best in the West at her position last season. With quiet confidence, she was consistent, durable, and smart – elite in every aspect of the beating game. She kept an all-star line up of offensive weapons happy and anchored an elite defense with grace and precision. Burton was all fire, as she took every game personally and grew tremendously during each tough match up. This season, Burton returns to the Los Angeles Gambits having lost fellow beater Tanna Helm to the Fighting Farmers of America (FFA). The pressure of holding down the beating game for the Gambits falls more heavily on her shoulders this time around. Can Burton maintain her poise in the big games without the reliable Helm as her pressure valve? The pressure just might bring out the best of Burton, perhaps to an unprecedented level.
3. Michael Richardson: Richardson will be the breakout star of this season, playing for the Gambits. Richardson joined quidditch after being coaxed by his older brother, Alex Richardson. An early concussion injury at the Lumberjack tournament kept Michael Richardson from playing much in the first half of last season, but since then he has only become stronger, faster, and more confident. His southpaw rocket arm, acrobatic dunking, and elite speed are matched up with an experience base from soccer and lacrosse, high-level field awareness, willingness to sacrifice his body, and the passionate competitiveness of a champion. He showed flashes of greatness in the West Fantasy Tournament, delivering a crowd-pleasing, hoop-busting dunk over two defenders in the final match. Playing with an elite beating line and assist king Tony Rodriguez will put him in a perfect place to take his game to the stratosphere, and he will not even be 20 by US Quidditch Cup 9.
|Michael Richardson seeking against AZQC at last season’s LA Open | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography|
4. Tye Rush: Rush has always had the talent to be elite in the West region. By joining the Fighting Farmers of America, he finds himself surrounded by high-caliber players like never before. He has the speed, strength, and experience to deliver in big games. What has kept Rush from the big stage? There have always been two big questions about Rush: his hands and his willingness to fight through fatigue. Will Rush develop his quaffle receiving ability, and will the depth of the FFA support him enough to reach the finals of grueling two-day tournaments? After all of the near misses at regionals, it will be exciting to see Rush bring his talent to the National tournament this season with the FFA.
5. Ricardo Arreola: Arreola is a brand new face in the West region, previously playing for the Mexico-based Qwertyrians Tijuana. After an MVP performance at West Fantasy, Arreola joins the Gambits’ already elite beater line, adding depth, speed, athleticism, and experience. He also rejoins his teammate from West Fantasy, Kelby Brooks. Brooks and Arreola developed a quick rapport at West Fantasy, creating seamless substitutions as they both play a very aggressive, high-energy style. Arreola also pulled clutch snitch grabs at West Fantasy, bolstering the seeker line of the Gambits’ roster following Alex Richardson’s departure to FFA. Arreola’s game instincts are superb. With solid mentoring from captains Steve DiCarlo and Tony Rodriguez, Arreola is set to carve up lanes for an explosive offense, and grab a few snitches for a reloaded Gambit squad.
|After winning West Fantasy this summer, Arreola will be joining the LA Gambits for this season | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography|
6. Tanna Helm: Helm has managed to elude the quidditch spotlight throughout her first two seasons, but her involvement in successful teams is finally starting to give her talent away. Helm has been immensely successful in fantasy tournaments. She has played in the championship of every fantasy tournament she has attended, including two finals appearances at Snow Cup IV and the inaugural West Fantasy Tournament in 2014, as well being a part of championship teams at Firemercs in 2013 and at the West Fantasy Tournament in 2015. Helm’s victories do not end there; the second-year beater also won the West Regional Championship in 2015. While some players are lucky enough to fall into a championship team out of luck, it is highly unlikely that Helm – or anyone else – managed to be part of five finalist teams by coincidence. While Helm is not gifted with physically dominant traits, she also does not have much in the way of noticeable weaknesses, and in two short years she has become one of the more tactically successful players at her position. Helm knows how to maximize her defensive power without throwing away her bludger, and when she does choose to heave one, she has the reliable aim and force to support her team. If she continues to play this season, and demonstrates chemistry with a good partner, expect Helm to attract more attention than in previous years.
7. Zach Holley: Holley is a sturdy keeper for the Crimson Elite. While the pole of a center hoop may actually be taller than Holley, the second-year keeper provided one of the largest pound-for-pound impacts last season. Holley makes well-timed hits and is a perpetual driving force. Stopping him inside the keeper zone is like crossing the path of an irritated grizzly bear. While it would not be accurate to say Holley’s talent is a secret, Crimson Elite’s isolation has not given him ample opportunity for exposure. Hopefully the third-year player will continue to impress.
|Crimson Elite’s Zach Holley takes on UTSA at World Cup 8 | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography|
5 West Story Lines:
1. The shuffle of LA Gambits’ players: The Los Angeles Gambits experienced a major turnover in their lineup for this season. West Fantasy Tournament MVP Ricardo Arreola, recently of Qwertyrians Tijuana, joins the LA Gambits, bolstering an already impressive beating line. The team’s first line remains strong, even in the wake of Ren Bettendorf’s retirement and Tanna Helm’s departure to the FFA. Can Steve DiCarlo and Tony Rodriguez once again recruit and entice players to join them in their quest for quidditch glory?
2. The dispersal of Arizona players: The dissolution of the very successful one-year squad, Arizona Quidditch Club (AZQC), will undoubtedly impact other teams in the West region. Amanda Nagy, Margo Aleman, and Sean Pretti have all found new teams. Where will the rest of one of USQ’s most chaotic teams end up? Who will entice Nate Cortazzo, Duncan Lewis, and the rest of the successful group to join them? Will players rejoin their former teams? Will a new Arizona community team rise from the ashes?
3. The rise of Arizona teams: Arizona State University (ASU) advanced the furthest out of any Arizona team at the 2015 West Regional Championship, finally bowing out against the Lost Boys Quidditch Club in the semifinals, marking its third consecutive elimination by the team at a regional championship. However, to reach the semifinals, the young ASU squad was forced to pull off two upsets over teams it had fallen to earlier in the season. Head-to-head matches among the Arizona teams also illustrated parity between Northern Arizona University (NAU), AZQC, and ASU. With AZQC dissolving, ASU appears to be the clear favorite for the title of best team in Arizona. It will be interesting to see how well its young core continues to develop this season, and whether the team’s semifinal appearance was the result of a squad playing above its ceiling at the right time or if it foreshadowed more consistent success this season.
|NAU and ASU attended World Cup 8 last April | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography|
4. More chances for Quidditch Cup 9: The West made a big splash at USQ World Cup 8, sending five teams into bracket play. Is this the year that a West region contender takes the ultimate prize by winning a national championship? How do the elite teams in the West stack up against the best in other regions? The answer may be clear soon as the Gambits are rumored to travel to the Northeast for a high-profile tournament this season, and the Lost Boys are considering entering Diamond Cup in Texas. Will any out-of-region powerhouse teams make the journey west to play in a big tournament? Can they be convinced?
5. Triumph after injury: Maddy Wojdak, Missy Sponagle, and Vanessa Goh are all elite female players returning from knee surgery this season. How are they approaching rehabilitation? Will they return to elite form before the West Regional Championship? How will their playing style change in the wake of their injuries? Goh is leading the way, having already played in the West and Northwest fantasy tournaments this season. Goh's mobility may have slowed, but her leadership, competitive fire, game instincts, and elite hands are all as sharp as ever. She could be firing on all cylinders for the FFA’s regional and national tournament run. Hopefully all three come back strong and healthy, and stay that way permanently.
|Vanessa Goh made an appearance at this summer’s West Fantasy donning a knee brace after a season off from quidditch | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography|
3 Burning Questions:
1. Is the era of college team dominance over? University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has been the college team to beat in the West for several years, followed by ASU and NAU. Can any of these teams recruit, train, and compete with the elite community teams in the West? Which university team will place highest at the West Regional Championship? Will that team place in the top three? Top five? Should the divisions split?
2. Who gained the most ground during the offseason? The number of players changing teams this offseason is exceptionally large, including some notable changes. For example, the Fighting Farmers of America formed as Chris Lock left the Silicon Valley Skrewts, drawing an all-star lineup from around the region including former players from the Gambits, the Lost Boys, AZQC, Santa Barbara Blacktips, Riverside Quidditch, and UCLA. Asher King-Abrahamson returns from retirement while Vanessa Goh returns from injury. This team is loaded with big name talent.
3. Will more community teams help or hurt Northern California? The formation of the Silicon Valley Vipers marks the emergence of yet another community team in Northern California. The Vipers were formed by a group of Mission Blues Quidditch rookies who decided that creating their own team would better fit their quidditch interests. Northern California, while boasting one or two strong teams every season, has been a step behind other areas of the West region in previous years. The continuous decomposition of existing teams into new franchises will either hurt or benefit the area. Will more intense local competition help the teams develop more or will repeatedly breaking down teams before they have the chance to improve ensure the area remains behind the rest of the region?
1 Regional Champion:
The region continues to get stronger across the board, but the Lost Boys will most likely win first place in the West Regional Championship. Most elite teams made strong moves to acquire new talent, add depth, and bolster weak spots from last season, and the Lost Boys were no different. By adding Justin Fernandez and Margo Aleman, the Lost Boys made their most glaring weakness into the region’s most fearsome one-two punch at seeker. Both of those players also happen to be high-level chasers, adding speed and depth on the quaffle line. Offense has always been a strength for the Lost Boys and led by elite keeper Alex Browne, the quaffle line is outstanding again. The Lost Boys are still full of Team USA talent, experience, and skill. They remain the top dogs in the west for 2016.
|Lost Boys placed second at last season’s West Regionals but are the favorites to win this season | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography|