Sunday, October 25, 2015

NTNUI Takes Oslo Open

By Kai Haugen Shaw
On the weekend of Oct. 10 and 11, five teams competed at the second annual Oslo Open. The tournament will be the only quidditch tournament in Norway until the Norwegian Championship in spring 2016, and therefore provides insight to how teams can be expected to perform when they meet again in half a year. The tournament saw a lot of exciting games and the overall skill level of Norwegian quidditch has definitely increased, since there was stiff competition between all participating teams.

Day One – Pool Play

As five teams were present, pool play was set up in a round-robin structure, with each team playing each other once. Each team played three of its four group games on Day One, with the exception of Schnigard Quidditch Club, which played all of its games on Day One.

The pool play results after Day One were unexpected, mostly since NTNUI Rumpeldunk (NTNUI) one of the favourites to win decided to focus on giving its new players playing time. More importantly, however, NTNUI did not give its two best players any playing time. The decision to play its B-lineup was enabled by the round-robin tournament structure, where every team would have the chance to play its way to the final in bracket play. However, as low seeds would meet higher seeds early on, it was a risky tactic.

The other team that stirred expectations was Østlandet, a merged team with players from the high school team WestTown International Quidditch Crew (WIQC) and the university team NMBU Rumpeldunk (NMBU). (Østlandet is the term for the eastern part of Norway.) Both teams participated at last season’s Norwegian Championship, and each had one player on the national team at the European Quidditch Games. However, both WIQC and NMBU were without these players due to injury or illness. The tournament date was also a bad fit for many of Østlandet’s players; even after the merger, the team had issues with getting enough players. The resulting solution was that it was allowed to borrow players from other teams in order to have a few substitutes. In the first games, the players Østlandet borrowed were primarily veteran NTNUI and OSI Quidditch (OSI) players eager to play a lot of games, which gave the team a huge boost early on.

At the end of Day One, OSI and Østlandet both ended 3-0 with the same quaffle point differential and number of snitch catches! and their last round-robin game against each other would determine who got first and second seed in the bracket. Schnigard had played all four games with one victory over NTNUI, while Katta Rumpeldunk had one victory over Schnigard and NTNUI had zero wins. The game between NTNUI and Katta, therefore, became important because if NTNUI won, the three bottom teams would all have one win and bracket seeding would be determined by quaffle point differential. The structure had one quarterfinal game between the fourth and fifth seeds, the winner who would go on to meet the first seed in the semifinal, while the other semifinal game would be played by the second and third seed. The third seed, therefore, was important as it would automatically qualify that team for the semifinal, and it would meet an easier semifinal opponent.

The Battle for Third Seed

Katta had the best quaffle point differential going into the game, so to earn the third seed NTNUI would have to beat Katta by 60 quaffle points before catching the snitch. Therefore NTNUI needed to bring its A-game and put out its star players, beater Amund Storruste and chaser Jørgen Stenløkk, who both seek too. This lineup gave NTNUI the force it needed to take the lead in the game and get out of snitch range. However, NTNUI did not create a big enough lead before the snitch came out on pitch, and NTNUI had to seek defensively to ensure it got that 60-point lead before catching the snitch. Once the score was 40-100, NTNUI had its lead and seeking strategy switched between the teams. But Katta had not given up yet; its chaser lineup gave everything to get back into third seed range, and as NTNUI put more focus on the seeking game, Katta managed to get within 50 points of NTNUI.

In an unstealthy fashion, Katta seeker Vincent Mainardi frantically yelled at the referee to determine whether or not the previous goal was good. Despite the obvious warning that he would be going for the snitch after the referee confirmed the goal was good, he caught the snitch right after the go-ahead. To illustrate how quickly he caught it, the NTNUI captain actually asked if the catch was made before the goal, as the captain was on the other side of the pitch and unable to hear his question earlier on. Due to Katta’s timely snitch grab, the team earned the third seed with a score of 100-80*, while NTNUI would once again face off against Schnigard in the quarterfinal play-in match.

In the last round-robin game, OSI met Østlandet. Østlandet had been bolstered with mercenaries from NTNUI and OSI throughout its round-robin games; however, as games became more important on the second day, Østlandet was not given as highly profiled players as it had on Day One. OSI got a comfortable 120-80* win to secure the first seed going into bracket play.

Katta advancing the quaffle up against the OSI defense. | Photo Credit: Arne Bakk
Bracket Play

In the quarterfinal play-in game, Schnigard and NTNUI kept each other in snitch range for a long time; NTNUI took an early lead, getting ahead by 60 points before Schnigard managed to rally and score three quick consecutive goals to just barely get into snitch range. As the game progressed, however, it became more apparent that NTNUI had control of the game, resulting in some of the Schnigard players losing faith. By the end of the game, the team’s level of play had decreased dramatically.

For the semifinals, NTNUI met OSI and Katta met Østlandet. Both games were really close and came down to the snitch catch.

NTNUI and OSI were the biggest favourites of the tournament and had not played each other since last years Oslo Open, excluding round-robin games, where neither NTNUI’s Jørgen Stenløkk nor Amund Storruste played. Seeing as OSI had won the Norwegian Championship while NTNUI placed higher than OSI at the 2015 European Quidditch Cup, both teams were eager to see which team would win in a head-to-head showdown. Despite the rivalry, the game was not that intense. Both teams had excellent defenses, but both teams opted for slow attacks where they waited for breaches in the other team’s defense; this slowed the game down considerably. NTNUI kept bludger control most of the time due to excellent beating by Amund Storruste, who played for OSI last year. But bludger control did not give NTNUI enough of an edge, and near the end of the game the teams were tied 40-40. And so it came down to the snitch, where spectators saw a repeat of last season’s game where Stenløkk and Anders Storruste both gave it all to catch the snitch. Both were really close at times, but in the end Stenløkk caught it just like he did the year before, and secured a place in the final for NTNUI with a score of 70*-40.

The other semifinal saw two very different teams with Østlandet and Katta. Østlandet’s primary quality was a roster of big athletic players who could break away during no-bludger situations, relying heavily on chasers for both offense and defense. Katta, on the other hand, focused more on beater play both with its defense and offense, mostly due to the fact that Captain Stein Elgethun is one of the more experienced beaters in Norway. The game became quite close; however, Østlandet did manage to take the lead. Much of the credit for this is due to WIQC’s chaser Hans-Kristian Taje, who has one of the most accurate shots in Norway as well as the speed and stamina to create counterattacks after a turnover. Østlandet did not manage to get out of snitch range, and its seekers did not get many opportunities with the snitch since Katta maintained bludger control. In the end, Katta managed to catch the snitch and win the game 90*-80, and thus the third and fourth seeds would meet in the final while first and second seeds would meet in the runner-up match.

The bronze final started out close, but OSI had the better defense and a more controlled attack. This created many scoring opportunities, and before OSI lost the quaffle to the opposition, it slowly built up a lead. Østlandet mainly capitalised on counter attacks, but the chasers also used their size to break through the OSI defense whenever they managed to preoccupy the OSI beaters. OSI learned from the semifinal, shutting down most of Østlandet’s fast breaks, and played a conservative beating game to ensure Østlandet could not break through if any risky beats were missed. This gave OSI the lead, but due to its slow attack the team was not far outside of snitch range when seekers were released. But it also ensured that it would be hard for Østlandet to get the quick consecutive goals the team needed to get back in the game. With the OSI beaters focused mainly on defense and Østlandets large players as defensive seekers, the game dragged on, and it was not until the snitch was double handicapped at 28:26 that Nico Kaarstad Kuijlen managed to catch the snitch for OSI, winning the game 120*-30.

The final match saw Katta face off against NTNUI, which was not what most expected at the tournament’s start. NTNUI was the clear favourite as it had gotten out of snitch range against Katta earlier that day. However, Katta’s 100-80* suicide catch loss secured the team the third seed, which arguably enabled Katta to secure its spot in the final, making it a moral victory for them. It was apparent that NTNUI was the better team, and Katta captain Stein Elgethun had enough tactical sense to realise this. Therefore, Elgethun did not gamble that Katta’s team morale and a can do attitude could guarantee the win, and Katta set out to play a game of slowball that would have made Texas State University proud. As with any slowball game, it was not particularly interesting to watch, even though it could be argued that any SWIM game is more thrilling than a blow away victory.

NTNUI kept bludger control for most of the game, but Katta managed to obtain bludgers a few times and did an admirable job at keeping it when it did. Both teams also made blunders in their gameplay, starting off with NTNUI pressuring Kattas quaffle carriers too high up on the field, enabling Katta to set up its slow offense on its own side of the pitch. Since NTNUI had Amund Storruste arguably one of the best beaters in Europe – as well as a deeper bench with several decent tacklers – NTNUI could have sent a few players up to put pressure on Kattas chasers, which could have resulted in a few turnovers, particularly given the fact that NTNUI was close to some turnovers with only one chaser going up into Kattas half of the pitch.

Katta also made a big tactical blunder after the snitch was on pitch and the game was in snitch range. One of NTNUI’s new beaters made a second illegal tackle from behind while attempting to regain bludger control, giving the beater a second yellow card and leaving NTNUI without a beater for two minutes with the snitch on pitch and the game in range. This should have been an opportunity for Katta to put one beater on snitch for the entire two minutes while the other remained by Katta’s hoops, but instead the team put both on defense, not giving Katta’s seeker any particular assistance. NTNUI, on the other hand, was a lot better at having its beaters on the snitch earlier on when the team had bludger control. And not long after NTNUI got a second beater back into play and recovered bludger control, its seeker caught the snitch and won NTNUI the tournament 70*-20.

This meant NTNUI managed to defend its Oslo Open title from last season. Defending titles at quidditch tournaments seems to happen quite rarely, and it was even stranger that the placement of the Top 3 teams was the exact same as last season’s, with Katta placing second and OSI in third in 2014. Placing third a second time was particularly bitter for OSI, who won its round-robin schedule, but similarly to last year, managed to lose whenever a team held it in snitch range.

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NTNUI posing for a team photo after they secured their second consecutive Oslo Open victory. | Photo credit: Céline Gacon
Predictions for the Norwegian Quidditch Championship

The overall level of competition at the tournament was higher than expected. Both Katta and Schnigard did not get particularly good results at the Norwegian Championship in April 2014, but both teams have improved since then, and managed to give more experienced teams tough games.

Katta managing to get second shows that it is a team that can go far at the next Norwegian Championship if it can continue to develop and grow. Seeing as Katta is a high school team, it is expected to literally grow and develop until the championship.

Schnigard, on the other hand, had decent athletic players already. Seeing as the team does not have regular practices, it’s uncertain if it will manage to improve enough tactically to be one of the trophy contenders.

Østlandet did an impressive job, managing to get second place during the round-robin; that it only managed to get fourth in the end shows how close the skill level of teams was. Even though it got some assistance in pool play, it still gave the other teams tough games in bracket play and did lead 20 points over Katta in the semifinal.

WIQC did well at last season’s Norwegian Championship. It is expected to improve tactically as well since regular practices will soon begin, and it can be expected to be a serious contender for first place if the entire team can attend.

NMBU did not do too well last year; however, the NMBU players who played for Østlandet all did an excellent job. The team will need to improve its beating if it hopes to get a trophy.

OSI has the chance to defend its national championship title, it just needs to improve on its seeking since the team has lost every game it’s played in Norway when another team manages to hold it in snitch range.

Winning Oslo Open clearly positions NTNUI as one of the favourites to win the Norwegian Championship, though it must be said that while the team won Oslo Open last season, it only placed third at the Norwegian Championship. Both NTNUI and OSI tend to recruit a lot of exchange students, so since they’ll have a large turnover in their rosters before the spring semester, it’s hard to say who will be better off then based off of Oslo Open. Both teams do have a solid core of players that will be staying, however, so it’s more of a question of how well the teams will do, not if they will do well.

It is hard to make any kind of solid predictions of how teams will do at the Norwegian Championship this early on. However, what is certain is that the overall skill level of teams has increased. While previous Norwegian tournaments tend to have teams that clearly won’t make it, all teams at this tournament had the ability to cause upsets and make it to the final. While Oslo Open has been small both times it has been held, with five teams now and only three teams last year, having another regular tournament in the season makes it easier to keep quidditch programs going through the year, and thus helps develop the sport in the country.

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