Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Crimson Elite Undefeated in Tree City Tournament III

By Benji B’Shalom On an overcast Saturday, Oct. 24, 10 teams took to the intramural field at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho for the third Tree City Tournament (TCTIII). Following the Boise State program’s previous tournaments Brooms on the Blue in April 2013, and Tree City Tournament in March of 2014, this iteration of Tree City was a two-tiered tournament that provided high levels of competition, furthered relations between the West and Northwest, and wrote a new chapter in a thrilling rivalry.

Champions Crimson Elite | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Photography

TCTIII was the first official quidditch tournament on Northwest soil for the 2015-16 season, and it raised the bar for Northwest tournaments. Little details, such as painted-on pitch lines as opposed to lots of cones, provided seating for spectating on the edge of the player areas, and the presence of well-respected referees Dan Hanson, Sequoia Thomas, and Martin Pyne, went a long way towards making this the most professional Northwest tournament yet. The structure of the tournament was an original format designed by Boise State Abraxans (BSA) coach and TCTIII Tournament Director Kym Couch, based on input from the participating captains. The two pools were separated according to which teams the participants felt were similar in their capabilities, creating essentially an upper-tier Pool A and a lower-tier Pool B. The pools each played their own round robin, and then the top two seeds from each pool played a rematch of their pool play game as a final to determine two champions, one for Pool A and one for Pool B. All in all, this format should be considered a success, as it ended up limiting boring and counterproductive blowouts. Out of 22 total games, 10 were played in range and only seven were decided by 100 points or more. The lack of breaks in the schedule did lead to fatigue for some teams, and the fact that there was just about always a game in progress on both pitches made it difficult to keep track of both pools, but there are flaws in every tournament format. Overall, the schedule produced productive and useful games for every team. One interesting result of this tournament is the record between the regions. With the Northwest and West each represented by five teams, there were 11 inter-region matches including the Pool A final. Of those 11 games, the Northwest won five and the West won six. This result would seem to indicate that the gap between the Northwest and the West is closing, but it speaks more, I think, towards the Northwest’s top-heavy talent distribution; all but one of the Northwest’s wins over the West came either in Pool B or from the Abraxans. In the end, the standings in the pools were: POOL A:
  1. Crimson Elite (4-0)
  2. Boise State Abraxans (3-1)
  3. Utah State Quidditch Club (1-3)
  4. University of British Columbia (1-3)
  5. Provo Quidditch (1-3)
  1. Boise State Thestrals (4-0)
  2. Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho (3-1)
  3. Big Sky Flyers (2-2)
  4. Crimson Fliers (1-3)
  5. Portland Augureys (0-4)
The only team to walk away from the tournament winless were the Portland Augureys, who almost put the whole tournament in jeopardy when a drop by one of their players on Thursday night put their roster at seven players, causing them to consider dropping out of the tournament. The Augureys ended up bringing a nine-player roster, with two players having never practiced with the team before, three never having played USQ-official games before, and two being one year or more removed from their last gameplay of any sort.

Portland Augureys | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Photography
Considering the lack of depth, chemistry, and experience on the Augureys roster, it’s no wonder they came out of the gate slowly. Were it not for a miraculous ending against the Crimson Fliers (CF) wherein the Fliers scored a goal to cut Portland’s lead to 20 and caught the snitch for the win within seconds, the Augureys would have pulled off a win. It must be frustrating for the Augureys and for the Northwest as a whole for circumstances to continually limit this team. The Crimson Fliers certainly caught a bit of a break in their only win, but they fought hard to stay in games. A lack of size holds the team back, but it certainly did not falter in tactics or communication. CF captain Sequoia Thomas played significantly better on the pitch than the rest of the team, and her leadership has a clear positive effect on her teammates. Another team with a small roster and limited experience was the Big Sky Flyers (BSF), a first-year team out of Montana State University. While BSF has played unofficially at two tournaments already (Octobear Tournament and Top of Utah), TCTIII served as their USQ debut, and they should be happy with the results. With two wins and some very passionate play, BSF set themselves on course for a promising first year, especially if they can make the trip to Oregon for the Northwest Regional Championship in February. When it comes to the top of Pool B, however, two teams clearly dominated. In their two games against each other, the Moscow Manticores and Boise State Thestrals (BST) played close, with BST gaining only a 20 quaffle point differential, meaning the Manticores were merely a better seeker game away from dominating Pool B.
Boise State Thestrals | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Photography
Both of these teams were clearly significantly better than they were last season. BST relied on the tactical advantage they gain from practicing with the Abraxans, as well as the speed of players like keeper Ezra Johnson and chaser Harry Penate. The Manticores’ keeper rotation of Cody Fairchild and Junghune Nam meant they always had someone on the field capable of taking down the opposing ball carrier at the hoops. These juxtaposing styles worked well against each other, and in the end it was BST’s seekers who made grabs in both matchups against the Manticores, giving BST an unbeaten 5-0 record and their first ever tournament win. “I’m so proud of the Thestrals,” said BSA beater Sally Matlock.They keep getting better every year, and that’s something you can’t say about every quidditch team.” Pool A provided a more intriguing pattern. Two teams clearly rose to the top in that pool as well, but the three other teams each beat each other: University of British Columbia (UBC) over Provo Quidditch over Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC) over UBC. UBC in particular seemed very frustrated with the tournament, and it’s easy to see why, as it was UBC’s worst tournament result since joining USQ. The majority of the chasers last season have returned for this season, but only two beaters from UBC’s USQ World Cup 8 team played at TCTIII. It’s possible the new players that have joined the team were part of why UBC came out of the gate slowly. It’s worth remembering that UBC has not played any official quidditch this season, while its opponents had all faced each other at least once since the summer ended. The other two one-win teams, Provo and Utah State, had their moments. Provo’s win over Utah State was an emotional one, as Utah State has been just out of Provo’s reach thus far this season. Utah State played almost every game within snitch range, meaning if it can up its seeking and snitch-on-pitch quaffle play, it could start stealing games from the likes of the Boise State Abraxans (BSA) and Crimson Elite (CE). As things stand, though, neither Provo nor USQC is well-rounded enough to be in the same class as the two teams that ended up playing the Pool A final.
Provo versus Utah State | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Photography
The BSA and CE have a rivalry that dates back to last season, when a less-developed BSA took a surprise victory over CE at the Crimson Cup. Later in the season, CE blew out BSA to even the score. Fast-forward to this year when BSA lost to CE in the pool stage of the Crimson Cup, only to beat the team in the finals of that same tournament, and at Top of Utah not long after. To add insult to injury, the Crimson Elite were forced to retroactively forfeit all of their games this season when it was discovered that they did not have a certified coach on the team. That negated CE’s win over BSA, making the official record between the team 3-0 on the season in favor of BSA. Tree City’s entry into this rivalry’s history book was certainly an enthralling one, with both games coming down to snitch grabs. The final match, in particular, was a spectacular back-and-forth, with the action punctuated only by a brief pause as a loose dog attempted to join in the fun and had to be apprehended. CE capitalized on the chemistry between Dakota Briggs and George Williams and seemingly always had unofficial tournament MVP Gina Allyn open in a scoring position. BSA relied on their usual core players, with Joel Johnson’s athleticism, Bryan Bixler’s size, and Stew Driflot’s ineffable talent leading the way. Once the snitch was on pitch, tension could be felt in the air. Talented seekers Dan Donnelly of BSA and Dan Howland of CE fought an intense battle for the snitch. After two catches were called no good, one for CE because the snitch was impeded and one for BSA because there was a delayed penalty in the beater game at the time, a good catch was finally made. While this game ended on a Crimson catch, both teams feel that they are evenly matched in all aspects of the game.
Crimson Elite versus Boise State Abraxans | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Photography

“I don’t think there’s anything we did especially better than them, I think we’re extremely evenly matched teams.” said Dan Howland of CE. “It came down to a snitch catch, which is really a fifty-fifty [chance].” In the end, this rivalry was the centerpiece for an all-around dramatic tournament in Boise, which set up many questions for the future. How will the Abraxans fare against some of the top teams from other regions? Will the Crimson Elite recover from their forfeited games? How long will it take UBC to get their swagger back? Is it possible that the BST and the Manticores can compete with some of the better Northwest teams, and maybe even challenge them for a US Quidditch Cup 9 bid? Perhaps it’s too early to be considering questions like that, but after finally seeing these teams in action, we now know that we are set up for a very competitive year of quidditch in the Northwest.

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