Monday, October 19, 2015

Reasons to Care About the Great Plains Invitational

by Cody Narveson

Editor’s Note:  the author of this piece is one of the captains of Minnesota Nice Quidditch Club (MNQC).
To say that very few quidditch fans across the country were paying close attention to the outcome of the First Annual Great Plains Invitational would be an understatement. In a weekend that contained action from the fifth annual Cowboy Cup and the second annual Keystone Cup as well as nearly every top team in the Great Lakes region there was little reason left to care about a modest tournament taking place in the heart of Minnesota, especially after the gathering was forced to become unofficial due to a lack of available certified referees. However, when the dust settled, there were a number of narratives that made this unglamorous meeting of northern Midwest quidditch teams worthy of observation.

1. The Unsung Rivalry of Marquette University Quidditch (MU) and Minnesota Quidditch (UM)

Dating back to October 2011, the quidditch teams from Marquette and Minnesota have played each other 11 times. This may not seem like a substantial figure, but for two teams as isolated as Marquette and Minnesota, 11 games over four years is as storied as a rivalry gets. For comparison, Minnesota Quidditch and TC Frost have only played each other officially three times, and they hold practices on the same campus.

Marquette leads the all-time series 7-4; if we disregard the 2011-12 quidditch season, the advantage swings to Minnesota 4-3. With no quality local competition to rely on, these two teams turned to each other just as quidditch began to experience a fierce wave of strategic evolution. In their first showdown at the 2011 Midwest Regional Championship, Marquette showcased a playstyle anchored by athleticism and aggression that was largely new to the region. A few weekends later, Marquette hosted Minnesota for a three-game set in which the first seeds for the Three Trees Defense also commonly referred to as the Hoop Zone, or the Baylor D were planted. Since then, it has become something of an unofficial tradition that Marquette and Minnesota face each other at least once per season, all while attaining varied levels of success and notoriety.

Minnesota has picked up a handful of regular-season tournament wins over the years, and its World Cup results have steadily improved since WCVI. Across the state line, Marquette donned the Midwest crown in the 2012-13 season and has not attended a World Cup since that same season. This weekend, spectators were not disappointed as they watched these two teams battle it out for an unofficial tournament victory. Marquette has retained much of its talent, getting offensive moderation from Nathan Digmann and solid off-ball production and point defense from Matthew Angel. Minnesota has harvested a crop of promising first-year players that have bought into its defensive setup rather quickly. In the end, Minnesota's veterans overcame a lack of offensive cohesion and ground their way to a championship. It's safe to assume Marquette will get a chance at redemption soon enough.

Minnesota last season post Purdue Spring Invitational | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
2. Minnesota: Reloaded
Coming into this season, Minnesota Quidditch had suffered its biggest roster turnover in years. That fact would not be so obvious if you were watching the Great Plains Invitational championship game. For the second year in a row, Minnesota resolved its roster holes at beater by filling them with experienced quaffle players. Transitioning to the black headband this year are Joe Reis and former TC Frost snowflake Zach Miller. Their move has allowed fresh faces to file into a Minnesota offense that has more than its share of athletic leaders, including co-captain David Pray. The on-field results weren't impressive, but they were enough to squeeze past some Midwest teams that were already loaded with experience. In order to punch one of the four available Midwest tickets to US Quidditch Cup 9, the leadership of Minnesota will have to strike the right balance between integrating new faces and ensuring key returners are given enough time to produce more quality victories.
3. Marquette's Quest For Glory
With the regional split decimating the previous Midwest hierarchy, it wouldn't be ludicrous to think that the most recent Midwest champion remaining in the region has the best chance at replicating previous championship success. Admittedly, any progress that Marquette University Quidditch has been able to make over the past few seasons has been nullified by the fact that no World Cup trips have been made to validate strategies and verify talent. Until the country's regional tournaments take place, the steps Marquette takes to re-establish itself as a Midwest contender will also reveal its new role in the quidditch community. Players like Matt Fiebig are pursuing more opportunities in refereeing, and the team will be hosting its own tournament in November. With every relevant team in the Midwest confirmed to attend, a win at the Marquette Fall Classic would put Marquette on the fast track to a second Midwest regional crown.
4. TC Frost Caught in a Blizzard
After surprising most people with a 3-2 record at World Cup 8 and retaining most of its roster, many expected TC Frost to hover near the head of a region desperate for a clear top dog. Thus far, the third-year community team has yet to take the next step. Frost's roster at Great Plains was quite possibly the deepest it has ever been, but it failed to turn that prospect into a snitch range game in either of its two chances against Marquette. In order for TC Frost to contend at November's Midwest Regional Championship, its players will need to venture out of their comfort and defensive zones. Frost's beaters, who are generally excellent at maintaining dual bludger possession, will likely have to start creating more offensive opportunities for chasers like Alex Obanor and Brandon Hull, who have gotten far too comfortable propelling possessions with flat-footed passing. Changes need to be made, otherwise TC Frost will find it difficult to break into the region's top four.

TC Frost | Photo Credit: Paulina M. Pascual Photography
5. Code Pink: Upset Alert
MNQC produced a 1-3 record at Great Plains, but one could argue that every game was a victory in some way. With a roster of nine players, the first-year community team MNQC took Marquette to an overtime finish and stayed within snitch range of Minnesota Quidditch and TC Frost for the majority of their games, with co-captains Josh Zemke and Cody Narveson leading the beater game and quaffle game, respectively. A team with experienced veterans at its core could prove lethal to teams brimming with athleticism but lacking in chemistry. Any hope MNQC has at swiping a US Quidditch Cup bid lies in the offensive skillset wielded by its full roster. For now, this team's Great Plains results are a nice enough start.
6. Plain and Simple: What We Learned
Consider this: there exists a very slim but intriguing possibility that all of the Midwest bids for the US Quidditch Cup could eventually go to four teams who attended the Great Plains Invitational. At this point, it seems likely that the four teams mentioned so far Minnesota Quidditch, Marquette University Quidditch, TC Frost, and MNQC will all be in contention when Nov. 21 rolls around. Even Iowa State Quidditch (ISQ), whose lack of beating finesse is made up for in the physical presence of its chaser line, will put up a reasonable fight for a bid. Until Minnesota develops its offensive game further, it and Marquette should be kept close together in regional rankings. Meanwhile, TC Frost will need to become more than a team that has barely snuck into the past two World Cups through a region that distributed a comically high number of bids. A similar notion can be shared with MNQC; staying in snitch range with a good team is great, but it means nothing if the teams are not in range by the time the snitch grab occurs.

It's no secret or exaggeration that few people paid attention to the Great Plains Invitational, but those who competed had a lot to prove. Perhaps the takeaway here is that Great Plains served as a representation of the Midwest region as a whole. A regional infant, the Midwest has much to prove. Luckily, there's still a lot of quidditch left to be played and plenty of time left to grow.

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