Monday, November 30, 2015

Rochester United and QCB Together at the Top

By Kyle Carey It wasn’t hard to predict that this year’s Northeast Regional Championship (NERC) would feature Rochester United (RU) and Quidditch Club Boston (QCB). QCB came into the tournament undefeated with every game ending out of snitch range. RU entered the weekend with just one loss, dealt to it by Maryland Quidditch at a tournament where RU was missing nearly half its roster. Their dominance throughout the season made the two teams’ final runs an inevitability.

Rochester United didn’t play a single close game until the final, and QCB only allowed the Tufts University Tufflepuffs to play in snitch range.  Though both teams were at full force during the final match, QCB prevailed by merit of its superior beating and Harry Greenhouse’s hard hits on defense. The matchup had exciting moments, but QCB appeared to emerge the victor throughout. Neither team did anything that spectators hadn’t seen already this season: RU relied on its athleticism to produce goals, while QCB used its beaters to create favorable situations by the hoops that led to successful offensive drives. Both teams have the potential to shake things up at US Quidditch Cup 9 if they can refine their styles further. RPI Remembralls and Tufts: College Champions The Halloween weekend date gave college teams little time to prepare for such an important competition, which was evident by the rust that was visible on most teams when they stepped on the pitch. The two notable exceptions were the RPI Remembralls and Tufts, the only two college teams that looked like they could potentially make a finals run. In a world without community teams, the Tufts and RPI quarterfinal could have easily been the final matchup. Both teams showed excellent passing skills, as they had throughout the tournament. RPI managed to pull away in the first part of the game, but Tufts slowly bridged the gap after the snitch entered the pitch.  The return of David Stack, along with the strong play of Breandan Haley, fueled Tufts and kept the team in contention. RPI looked dangerous on every attack as players worked the ball up the field quickly and systematically. Each and every one of its chasers was capable of scoring, making it difficult to guard against the offense. Greg Bento caught the snitch to make it 160*-140 in favor of Tufts. Even though Tufts may have fallen to QCB in its second matchup, the team had the wherewithal not to panic in the way others did when facing QCB or RU. The community teams other opponents were not able to play their own style under the pressure RU and QBC put on their competitors. However, Tufts and RPI were able to stick to their own style, and they excelled doing so. While these teams may not have been the finalists, they were by the far the most interesting to watch.
Photo Credit: Sandi Jackson

The Other Qualifiers

New York Quidditch Club (NYQC), formerly known as the NYU Thunder and NYU Nundu, struggled throughout the tournament. On Day One it played University of Massachusetts Amherst Crabs (UMass) and Syracuse University Quidditch Club in range; it scored a decent number of points against both teams. However, NYQC’s beaters weren’t able to make some of the key stops they usually do, which resulted in closer-than-average matches. The team went into the second day with a renewed energy, coming up with big wins against Macaulay Honors College Marauders and Boston University Quidditch. Against RU, however, NYQC was shut down. RU’s beaters and chasers dominated NYQC until the decision was made for the seeker to make a suicide catch. NYQC often lacked the composure and cleverness that defined it last year. The team still looks as though it were trying to play the same style as it did under former captain Kyle Jeon, even though it boasts a vastly different roster. BU fell in the quarterfinals against NYQC, despite the fact that its starting line was among the best at the tournament. Peter Cho, Amanda Varnauskas, and Kohl Thorlakson stood out the most among the starters. Thorlakson proved to be one of the best point defenders in the entire tournament. His play was reminiscent of former BU star Kedzie Teller, making pounding stops before his opponents could even reach the keeper zone. Varnauskas established herself as one of the best chasers in the Northeast with her ability to break away from her mark and score. Cho anchored the defense, playing with the patience and intelligence of a mature beater. BU is far from hitting its peak; if it continues to develop and establish more roster depth, it will be a dangerous team come spring. The Warriors were crushed 160*-20 in their match against QCB in the Elite Eight. The Warriors are the same team they have always been: they have excellent quaffle players, but their beating is often a big question mark. Ricky Nelson and Alex Leitch should have solved that problem and for the most part they did but the two had not played enough with the team to have the cohesion they needed with their chasers. The blame for this has to be put on the Warriors lack of tournament play this season. Their only tournament experience up until the regional championship was at Keystone Cup, three weeks prior to NERC When facing lower-tier teams, the Warriors appeared dangerous. However, they fell apart against teams that should have been considered their equals.  A suggested prescription for the Warriors is a lot more tournament play with elite teams if they want to be in the conversation as one of the best teams in the Northeast. The RIT Dark Marks qualified in a controversial overtime match against UMass. RIT was by no means the most athletic team in the tournament, but it utilized strong and organized defenses to produce fast break opportunities for the offense. Matthew Niederberger was its main driving force, consistently barreling through defenses in no-bludger situations. RIT was a victim of RU’s war path to the finals but still would have more than likely succumbed to any of the other qualifiers. RIT played up to its potential at the regional championship by winning every match that it was favored to win and losing every match in which it was the underdog. Syracuse and Emerson College Quidditch made it through a competitive losers bracket in order to qualify. Syracuse was an incredibly inconsistent team: At times, everything flowed, and it managed to make good drives and stops but other times, its defense and offense would break down completely. It managed to keep NYQC in range but lost by large margins to BU and UMass. The losers’ bracket showed Syracuse struggling to pull away, but it did eventually manage to come out on top. Emerson emerged third from a tough pool with losses to the Warriors and RPI, only to face RPI again in the qualifying round. Emerson’s offense was stagnant against the Warriors and RPI: it was only able to score 100 points over three games against these opponents, while the defense did little to aid the situation, conceding 520 points. Emerson found its groove in the losers bracket, first coming from behind to beat University of Rochester Thestrals and then going on to beat Hofstra University Flying Dutchmen 140*-30 in a game that was assumed to be more evenly matched. Emerson and Syracuse looked better coming out of the tournament than they did going in. The regional championship was a growing experience for both teams, complete with many ups and downs that in the end they will be better for.
Photo Credit: Emily Valante
The Teams on the Bubble The Harvard Horntails, University of Rochester, Macaulay, and Hofstra left the regional championship without bids for US Quidditch Cup 9, despite being recurrent qualifiers. University of Rochester faced unlucky draws on Day Two because it finished third in its pool. The team lost to Tufts 120*-50 in the qualifying round. Afterward, University of Rochester lost to Emerson who managed to make a remarkable snitch catch from behind to win and knock the team out of the losers bracket. University of Rochester was an offensive powerhouse against weak beater defenses but faltered when facing better beating talents. Macaulay’s use of a zone defense yielded a lot of success against less experienced teams but punished the team against Syracuse and NYQC. Macaulay was unable to stop the drive against either team. Without Jon Jackson, Harvard was an unrecognizable team. It came in fourth in a pool of four teams and dropped every game in the tournament except one. The Harvard program needs to do some serious rebuilding if it wants to be a relevant team in the future. Hofstra looked poised to make a deep run after the first day of the tournament but dropped its qualifying game against the Warriors. In the losers bracket, Hofstra was overtaken by fatigue, which caused its defeat to Emerson. What’s next for the Northeast? The one good thing about having an early regional championship is that it gives qualifiers time to prepare before US Quidditch Cup 9. There is no doubt that teams in the Northeast have issues to fix even QCB and Rochester United. The main problem that plagued teams at NERC was an overreliance on their starting line or core. The short season made it difficult to integrate new players during the regional championship. BU only played a small core of players in its close matches, with some starters remaining in for the entirety of the game. Beater Mario Nasta of RPI played almost every second of the tournament. QCB had its own issues with depth. It excelled with Julia Baer as the behind-the-hoops chaser but saw its level of play drop off when she had to sub. QCB also seemed to struggle when Lulu Xu subbed out of the game at beater. Any program that wants to make a deep run in South Carolina has to develop talent beyond a couple of star players. It is easy to compete with a small core of players during the fall in Rochester, but once teams are faced with the heat, they need a solid reserve that they can rely on. Given that teams fix their depth issues and barring another disastrous winter the Northeast should develop nicely over the next couple of months. The region has already made strides to improve and compete with the rest of the country. The Northeast region has finally become comfortable making hits and running drive and dish offenses. One only has to look at the finals to see that the region’s best can get physical: fast breaks were stopped by big tackles, beaters wrapped up beaters, point defenders looked comfortable with or without bludger control. The level of athleticism in the Northeast has grown noticeably as well. Among all the teams, qualifiers and non-qualifiers alike, there were few instances of easy dropped passes or awkward throwing form, while more games featured dunks and alley oops. The Northeast as a whole should have a strong showing at US Quidditch Cup 9 with the clear increase in talent and athleticism in the region. But how far can a Northeast team really go in the tournament? Rochester and QCB have the potential to be a part of the Elite Eight, but can they break into the Final Four or sneak into the final itself? If US Quidditch Cup 9 were tomorrow, QCB would be on the short list of potential champions and Rochester United might be considered a dark horse. At this moment, QCB could hold its own against any team in the country. Its beating gives it an edge in any match up it could face. Rochester United is a tier below QCB but can still be considered one of the best teams outside of the Southwest region. However, US Quidditch Cup 9 is months away, and winter can brutally stunt development. The worst thing for either team would be to plateau before April, but neither team has shown signs of peaking in its ascension to the top. On the contrary, veteran players on both teams have developed new tricks and skills over the course this season. If QCB or Rochester United can continue to reach new heights, maybe they can bring a national championship back to the birthplace of quidditch.

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