Saturday, November 28, 2015

LA Gambits Claim Title at Lumberjack Despite Early Upset

By Chris Lock Northern Arizona University (NAU) hosted the first major tournament in the West region this season. In attendance were numerous projected contenders, such as Arizona State University (ASU), University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Crimson Elite (CE), the Fighting Farmers of America (FFA), and two regional favorites, the Los Angeles Gambits and the Lost Boys. Coming into the tournament, only ASU and the Lost Boys had met in official gameplay this season. Thus the 4th Annual Lumberjack Invitational – held on Nov. 7th – provided the first look at how the West region looks this year, and to the delight of many, the best descriptive word for this region after this tournament has to be parity. 
Pool Play UCLA knocked off the host Northern Arizona University Narwhals with a 110*-50 victory and a rare snitch-range victory against NAU’s Porter Marsh. This victory ensured that UCLA finished its pool 3-0, while the Narwhals took the second seed. The Lost Boys cruised through their pool, even with a reduced roster that did not include star beater Chris Seto. Their closest match in pool play was a 90*-20 victory over the Crimson Elite. The Fighting Farmers played slow and conservative matches throughout the day and went undefeated in their pool. When they played University of Southern California (USC), the tournament’s teams with the smallest rosters faced off, with FFA’s 12-player squad edging USC’s nine-player team in a 110*-40 victory.
Fighting Farmers versus USC | Photo Credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography
The most exciting pool featured exciting games involving the Gambits, ASU, and the Long Beach Funky Quaffles (LBFQ). LBFQ played an impressive opening match against the Gambits, building a small early lead that awed spectators. About eight minutes into the game, though, the Gambits regained their footing and took a commanding lead to close out their predicted victory, leaving the Gambits’ match against ASU to determine the pool winner. Gambits vs. ASU While the Gambits feature a new, younger roster, ASU boasts plenty of returners from last season and few new faces. As such, the Gambits were in a strategically reconstructive phase, while ASU did not have to fret about any chemistry changes. Still, these differences did not prevent the Gambits from maintaining a small lead throughout the game. The teams’ play styles were markedly different: while the Gambits clearly have standout contributors, such as Michael Richardson and new recruit Noah Maack, the offense in this match was characterized by Tony Rodriguez carrying the Gambits on his back and anchored by consistent beating. In contrast, ASU does not have any clear star players; it is a team comprised entirely of strong athletes who play at a consistently high level, making a stronger overall team than one would expect looking at individual pieces. ASU has the luxury of cycling Brentlee Cass, Paolo Peńa, and Jared Moreda without giving up a competitive advantage. Additionally, there are numerous players who can be relied on as a defensive nuisance even when they do not bring their opponents to the ground, such as Tori Kaiser, Tyler Ortiz, Allaina Honda, and Sam Peterson. The Gambits built up a 30-point lead, but ASU seeker Jarrod Bailey shocked the entire West region by pulling the snitch and sending the game into overtime. In overtime, ASU pulled the snitch again, but the grab was called invalid due to a prior beater foul. Nonetheless, shortly after, ASU ended up with the snitch in its third straight pull to defeat the Gambits 150*^-120, becoming the first team in the West region besides the Lost Boys to do so in an official game. The victory allowed ASU to win and match up against NAU in bracket play, while the Gambits were matched against UCLA. Bracket Play Round of 12 Nothing terribly interesting happened in this round. NAU advanced on virtue of USC’s forfeit, the Gambits dispatched the Wizards of Westwood, UCLA’s B team, 150*-40, Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC) beat Provo Quidditch 130*-30, and the Crimson Elite easily defeated LBFQ.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Taylor
Quarterfinals The Gambits convincingly beat UCLA 160*-20 and the Lost Boys eventually beat USQC 110*-20 after USQC managed to stay in snitch range for the first half of the game, which featured impressive defense, particularly from USQC keeper Cameron VomBaur. After surprising many with its victory over the Gambits, ASU found itself in the midst of another thriller against host NAU. NAU’s seeker, Porter Marsh, was beat just before pulling the snitch, which allowed ASU to eventually win the match 80*-50 and advance to the semifinals.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Taylor
Crimson Elite vs. Fighting Farmers The Fighting Farmers can be succinctly described as a wild card, as plenty of talented players and well-known names fill out the roster, but no one can determine either the amount of chemistry the Fighting Farmers will have or if they can contend with the established top teams. This question is furthered blurred by the team’s lack of top-tier opponents, with its closest match occurring against an undermanned USC. The Fighting Farmers’ first major test occurred in the quarterfinals against the Crimson Elite, a team that is undeniably one of the top five teams in the West after its rapid ascent last season and its performance this current season. CE benefits from having the best pair of non-male chasers in the region in Kristin Jakus and Gina Allyn, allowing the team to use two male beaters, both of whom are particularly talented, simultaneously. Though CE was missing monstrous ball carriers Erik Tita and Zach Holley, keeper George Williams knows how to capitalize on driving opportunities. With protection from a strong beater corps and two reliable passing options in Jakus and Allyn, Williams and chaser Jensen Morgan could maintain a slow pace on offense and choose to either drive at opportune moments or make the Farmers choose which reliable passing option to leave wide open. The game started as a slow beater battle, with both teams taking a slow, balanced approach. The game held scoreless in the opening minutes, foreshadowing the defensive battle to come. Vanessa Goh and Evan Batzer played outstanding chaser defense at point for the Farmers, repeatedly managing to slow Williams down long enough for him to be beat or forcing him to pass or drop the quaffle. The Crimson Elite responded with its beaters, rotating between Dakota Briggs, Paul Chaus, and Andrew Tita, continuously holding or regaining control and stymieing the Farmers’ offensive attempts.
Goh finally broke the scoring open with a mid-range goal, but Williams responded shortly after in a fast break opportunity where he ran the length of the field against no bludgers and finished with a dunk. Nate Cortazzo added points from behind the hoops for the Farmers, while Crimson Elite benefited from some mid range goals from Williams and Nate Western. Overall, though, the game was a slow, defensive battle that resulted in a 50-50 deadlock when the snitch ran onto the pitch. The seekers had not even been released for a full minute when Dan Howland, CE’s long-armed seeker, pulled the snitch at the edge of the field directly in front of a throng of screaming fans to send CE into the semifinals with an 80*-50 victory. Semifinals The Gambits and Lost Boys met for the fifth time in the past two seasons. Each match between the two West juggernauts has always been close, so the final result was not surprising, but the fact that the Gambits won handily with a 140*-70 victory may be eye-opening to some. Crimson Elite vs. ASU This semifinal match, pitting two semifinalists from last year’s West Regional Championship, was nothing short of thrilling. ASU seemed to have the advantage early on in the game, gaining a small early lead thanks in part to an aggressive beating game fueled by Ryan McGonagle’s athletic gambles and, contrastingly, a more composed style led by Caleb Ragatz. Still, Crimson Elite again exhibited the same relentless defense that had pushed it to the semifinals, with an especially exciting stop where ASU’s Tori Kaiser was beat just before slamming home a dunk on the small hoop. ASU’s pesky chaser defense and its beating game also kept the Crimson Elite’s scoring low. However, CE broke through eventually and capitalized on several power plays resulting from ASU chaser fouls. CE found ways to get close shots and dunks on the hoops, slowly building a 50-20 lead during the first 18 minutes, but it suffered greatly when it lost Williams to injury. When the snitch came on pitch, ASU was barely in snitch range, and CE seemed to have control of the game. However, an astonishing beater game restricted the seekers, elongating that match. The quaffle play was essentially without beaters, and ASU capitalized. Cass threw in multiple dunks against plenty of illegal contact, drawing clutch penalties. In one scenario, CE’s Jensen Morgan was sent to the penalty box after starting a tackle against ASU from behind, and on the succeeding advantage play, Cass drove in to dunk on the center hoop while drawing a wrap around his neck from CE’s keeper, Western. With Morgan already in the penalty box and unable to take the keeper headband, as he could not restart play without tagging back in first, Allyn was forced to play in the keeper position. Though tenacious, Allyn is undersized for the position and that fact was only emphasized by the lack of beaters on defense. ASU capitalized on this mismatch with more goals before CE could correct. Aside from outstanding performances from Cass and Ortiz late in the game, ASU demonstrated a clear advantage in the chaser game as it outscored CE 70-20 while the snitch was on pitch to take a 90-70 lead. However, Howland again propelled CE further into the bracket by pulling the snitch before CE fell out range, giving his team the upper hand in a back-and-forth affair. CE eliminated ASU with a 100*-90 victory, sending it to the finals against the Gambits. The Championship In anticlimactic fashion, the Gambits methodically stamped out the Crimson Elite’s exciting run through the bracket. Los Angeles showed much more composure, focus, and chemistry than during its pool play matchups. The Gambits were crowned tournament champions after a 150*-50 victory, and convincing victories in such a competitive tournament probably make the Gambits the early favorite to win the West Regional Championship. What Can We Say About The West? There is much more parity in the region than in recent memory. In the past three years, only one or two teams had a realistic chance of winning the West region, but now there are somewhere between five and seven teams that could be the best team in the region come February. The results of the Lumberjack Invitational seem to indicate that the Gambits and the Lost Boys are still the top two teams in the region, but ASU’s upset victory against the Gambits shows that the top echelon is beatable. After the Gambits and Lost Boys, everything seems murky as the Crimson Elite, ASU, and the Farmers all seem to be on a similar quaffle point level, and perhaps UCLA and NAU have claims to join that rung. Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara Blacktips are completely unknown this season, so no one can reasonably ascertain where they belong in the West.

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