By Cody Narveson This weekend will see teams competing for the right to be called the best team in the Midwest. With the split of the Midwest region taking effect this season, there may seem to be a relative shortage of teams in the region, but this perceived dearth should not take away from the tournament’s intensity. Over half of the 14 squads in attendance have played in at least one World Cup prior to this season. This tournament will hopefully provide some structure for an unproven region with an uncertain hierarchy, and the focus will certainly be on the four available bids to US Quidditch Cup 9.
Minnesota Nice Quidditch Club (MNQC)
Minnesota Quidditch (MNQ)
Iowa State Quidditch
Wichita State University With arguably the most threatening Pod Two and Pod Three teams (Mizzou Quidditch and Minnesota Nice Quidditch Club, respectively) matching up against the likes of Minnesota Quidditch and Iowa State Quidditch, this group of teams is as close to a Pool of Death that the Midwest Regional Championship has. The most important matchup will be between MNQ and Mizzou as they fight to be the number one team in the pool. These squads faced each other recently at the Marquette Fall Classic in a game that saw Minnesota showcase more offensive weapons and a deeper beater bench than Mizzou. A follow-up victory for Minnesota will be more than likely if its co-captains, Tim Ohlert and Hallie Schley, are able to keep Mizzou’s David Becker contained. Alternatively, if Mizzou Quidditch can yet again remain in snitch range and capitalize on more offensive opportunities, then Becker and company may very well find themselves sitting on top of their quasi-Pool of Death.
Mizzou Beater David Becker | Photo Credit: Hannah HuddleThat said, Minnesota Nice Quidditch Club will be sporting a full roster for the first time this weekend and could easily play spoiler to either of the pool’s top two seeded teams. However, there is no guarantee that MNQC has learned how to keep either Minnesota or Mizzou in snitch range, and it is therefore safer to assume that MNQC will remain the number three team in Pool One. Iowa State Quidditch has acquired far more big-game experience than Wichita State University so far this season and will have the edge in making it out of Pool One as the number four team. Pool Two
Illinois State University Firebirds
Marquette University Quidditch
Southern Illinois University Quidditch Compared to Pool One’s matchups, Pool Two’s series of games looks relatively undramatic. Marquette University Quidditch is coming off a home tournament win and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and results from Marquette’s tournament suggest that the Illinois State University Firebirds should be able to outplay the Crimson Warhawks and remain one of the top two teams in this pool. While the Warhawks have some early season games against Southwest teams to go off of, Illinois State’s intelligent, calculated play orchestrated by Colin Richards and Jeffrey Siwek will have the upper hand going into its late-afternoon showdown. If it weren’t for Kansas Quidditch’s Day One schedule, I would say Marquette easily has the best chance of being the overall top seed coming out of pool play. Unfortunately for Illinois State, Marquette University Quidditch has been rapidly improving throughout the semester; look for it to win the pool while earning its second victory over the Firebirds this season. Marquette will be looking to players like Matthew Fiebig, who recently recovered from injury and provided excellent aggressive beating at the Fall Classic, to create a bigger divide between itself and the rest of the tournament’s top teams. Rounding out the pool as the fourth-best team will be Southern Illinois University Quidditch, since Northwestern has dropped from the regional championship. Pool Three
Loyola University Chicago
University of Northern Colorado (UNC)
Webster University Quidditch The Midwest Regional Championship’s overall easiest pool also comes with the most question marks. It starts at the top: as Kansas Quidditch, a perpetual contender for the Midwest crown, did not attend the Marquette Fall Classic, little is known about how it will stack up against the region’s other top teams. Webster University Quidditch arrives as a surprise Pod Two team, and while the scores from its admittedly limited sampling of games indicates its status as a team that is beginning to figure things out, will it ultimately be ready to hold onto its second place spot in the pool? It will have to fend off TC Frost, who was unable to put together a statement win at Marquette’s tournament. The University of Northern Colorado has more games played this season than most teams in the Midwest but has little success to show for it thus far, and Loyola University Chicago continues to compete each year without being able to take the next competitive step forward.
Kansas Quidditch is a favorite to win its pool | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang PhotographyWhen the dust settles, Kansas Quidditch will come out of this pool relatively unchallenged and may even clinch the top overall seed for bracket play. TC Frost should be able to shove past a currently unproven Webster squad and solidify itself as the pool’s second best team. Meanwhile, UNC’s colorful catalogue of 2015-16 games includes respectable performances against the Boise State Abraxans, Northern Arizona University Narwhals, Oklahoma State University, and the University of California Los Angeles. So while Webster and the University of Northern Colorado are the top candidates to win the unglamorous fight for the final two spots out of the pool, Northern Colorado will most likely emerge as the pool’s third best team. Bracket Play Expectations The first intriguing component of bracket play will arrive via the team that earns a bye to the Elite Eight while not placing first in its pool. Any team occupying that slot outside of the region’s predicted Big Four (Marquette, Kansas, Minnesota, Mizzou) should be wary of being usurped by a mid-tier Midwest squad. Though the four bids to US Quidditch Cup 9 could realistically be claimed by any team in Pods One, Two, or Three, Marquette, Kansas, Minnesota, and Mizzou will most likely punch tickets to Columbia, South Carolina. The last game of the tournament will likely bring together two teams familiar with participating in regional championship finals. Marquette is in the midst of experiencing its greatest upward trajectory in years. Though its squad is perhaps not as fearsome as the Marquette University Quidditch lineups of old, this is quite possibly the deepest its talent pool has ever been. On the other side, Kansas Quidditch should ride a high pool play point differential to a trip to the finals. The sheer athleticism that comprises its roster year after year begs the question: when will this team finally manufacture a regional championship? As far as individual matchups go, Fiebig will combat the likes of Shane Bouchard in the beater game; Marquette should experience the advantage here. In the quaffle game, look for Marquette’s offense to flow from chasers Nathan Digmann and Matthew Angel and for Kansas to take cues from Co-Captain Adam Heald and Coach Matt Dwyer. The lines for both squads are filled with talented and athletic quaffle players, though Kansas’ athletes have the competitive edge by far, due to their experience playing on the World Cup stage in recent years. In the end, the final should be a gritty affair that remains in snitch range leading up to the release of the seekers. I anticipate that Marquette’s stronger beating corps coupled with its improved seeking will help it prevail in the Midwest’s first post-split regional championship.