Monday, January 4, 2016

Five Teams That Could Surprise at USQ Cup

By Andy Marmer

Every year at the United States national championship, a team seemingly comes out of nowhere and makes a run that no one expected. Back in the days of World Cup IV, before there was much available analysis, few knew the name Tufts University Tufflepuffs until they faced the three-time champion Middlebury College in a final game surrounded by thousands hoping for an upset. A year later at World Cup V, Dre Clements led an insurgent University of Florida team into the finals against that same Middlebury squad. At World Cup VI, few were surprised that Texas Quidditch (UT) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) faced off in the finals, but Bowling Green State University’s run to the semifinals caught many off-guard, and at World Cup VII it was Texas State University - San Marcos that took advantage of the way the bracket fell to surprise everyone with a finals appearance. Last year at USQ World Cup 8, the top teams largely fell as predicted, but almost no one saw Virginia Quidditch Club making the Round of 16 or that Arizona Quidditch Club and Blue Mountain Quidditch Club would make the quarterfinals. Every year, a team comes out of the woodwork with an unpredictably strong charge at the national cup. So who are the contenders to launch a surprise this year in Columbia, South Carolina as US Quidditch Cup 9?

Bowling Green State University semifinal run at World Cup VI | Photo Credit: Monica Wheeler Photography
1. Texas A&M Quidditch 

It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Texas A&M was looking to complete an undefeated season and was the agreed-upon favorite to win entering World Cup VII. Now, the two-time national semifinalists are, at best, considered the fifth-best team in their own region behind UT, Texas State University, Texas Cavalry, and Lone Star Quidditch Club. So far this season, A&M has competed at just one official tournament, and the results are inconclusive. Three blowout wins and then a snitch-range victory over Tulane University tell us almost nothing about A&M, but an overtime loss to Texas State and a 160*-90 loss to UT, two of the top teams in the country, seem to indicate that maybe A&M has its mojo back. Chaser Keegan Adlis is a talented player and a strong leader, and the return of beater Sean Fry from his sojourn with Lone Star strengthens the team considerably. The Silver Phoenix, A&M’s pseudo-B team, had a strong season last year, indicating the level of talent remaining in the program. Now with another year under its belt, A&M might just have the ability to make it back to the top of the sport. If nothing else, it is an odd-numbered Cup so that probably means A&M will make the semifinals like it did for World Cups V and VII.

2. Penn State University Nittany Lions

There is a saying in many sports: defense wins championships. How do you win in April? Beating and seeking. At the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship (MARC) in November, Penn State rattled off a string of three straight snitch-catch wins to advance to a surprise finals, and there is no reason it couldn’t channel that formula to earn a surprise bracket spot at US Quidditch Cup 9 in Columbia, South Carolina. The Nittany Lions key to success is no secret: Scott Axel is one of the best beaters that absolutely no one talks about. A semester abroad last season and a lack of participation in the MLQ season cost Axel some notoriety on the east coast, but his on-seeker beating skill is crucial to Penn State’s success. Beating is only half of the recipe, though, and seeker Michael Eccker proved he has the goods with a series of clutch catches at MARC. Add on a physical chaser line led by Thomas Jaworski, and Penn State has the ability to surprise some folks.
Penn State at the 2015-16 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography

3. The Fighting Farmers of America (FFA)

Geography could pose a challenge to the first-year community team that may also lack chemistry and practice time, but the effects of these factors are overstated. Last year, Arizona Quidditch Club surprised many with its run to the quarterfinals, showing that high-quality, veteran players with motivated leadership can come together with minimal practice time and still perform. Plus, the Fighting Farmers should have gained plenty of experience competing as part of the Northern California Quidditch Conference this year. The team went 4-1 at its most recent tournament, Next Best West 3, with a snitch-range victory over the Santa Barbara Blacktips, an overtime loss to the Lost Boys, and three out-of-range wins. The fact that no one is talking about this team aside from scrutinizing from their attention-grabbing uniformsis incredibly surprising. With names like Vanessa Goh and Tye Rush, the Farmers do not lack for star power. Players like Evan Batzer, Sean Pretti, Cy Torrey, and Alex Pisaño are not far behind either, and if I kept listing players, I’d name basically the whole roster. FFA is a talented team and could absolutely make a deep run at USQ Cup. The key question though might be to what extent beater Asher King Abramson can recapture his peak form, which helped lead UCLA to a finals appearance at World Cup VI.
Fighting Farmers at Next Best West | Photo Credit: Kean Goh

4. University of Miami

With four tournaments under its belt so far, the University of Miami is making opportunities for itself this year. One of the few teams to travel completely out of region as opposed to traveling to a bordering state Miami faced off against some of the Northeast’s best at the Oktoberfest Invitational in October. Although the Canes have fallen to many of the stronger teams they’ve faced, behind beater Shannon Moorhead and chaser Bernie Berges they have the talent to improve next semester. While Moorhead and Berges provide crucial leadership, players such as freshman beater Marcos Serur, and chasers Daniel Calkins and Jack Adcock will be key to the team’s success. Of course, Miami’s season will largely be defined by how it can perform relative to rival Florida’s Finest. At the moment, Miami is 0-3 with two snitch-range losses against the community squad and 8-0 against the remainder of the South. If Miami can figure out Finest prior to the regional championship in February the two will likely meet at the Highland Games in January and continue to improve, it could earn a high seed entering USQ Cup and turn a favorable pool into a strong bracket position. Whether or not Miami can pull this off may rest on seeker Daniel Cantrelle. Presently the team is just 2-4 in SWIM games and it will need to improve upon this to turn its season around.
University of Miami at USQ World Cup 8 | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography

5. Boise State Abraxans

Aside from Quidditch Club Boston, who has absolutely dominated the Northeast this season, no team controls its region like Boise State controls the Northwest. A pair of snitch-range losses to Crimson Elite are the only blemishes on Boise’s record, and it is possible that these will remain the Abraxans only losses until they inevitably make their Cup-debut in April after disappointingly missing out on the trip last year. Its dominance over the Northwest assures Boise State of a Pot One placement at USQ Cup and presumably a favorable pool. Many reading this might be tempted to write Boise State off since it competes in the Northwest, which is widely regarded as one of the weaker US regions. A word to the wise: Write off Boise State at your own peril. Utility player Stew Driflot is the truth and a strong contender to earn a spot on Team USA this summer. If Driflot doesn’t, the hype train for rookie Brenden Bixler may already have left the station. Boise State will almost definitely win the Northwest Regional Championship in February on its path to a top seed at USQ Cup 9.

Photo Credit: Lang Truong

Honorable Mentions

6. New York Quidditch Club — The loss of beaters Kyle Jeon and Leeanne Dillmann did not deter the still-strong team during an excellent fall season.

7. District of Columbia Quidditch Club It feels a bit disingenuous to put a regional champion on this list, especially one with the talent that DCQC has, but this team is simply not getting the love it deserves based on both its talents and its performance.

8. Marquette University Quidditch A disappointing regional championship where the team failed to qualify for USQ Cup overshadowed a very strong fall season, which included winning their Marquette Fall Classic, and wins over Regional Champions Minnesota Quidditch, runners-up Illinois State University Firebirds, and USQ Cup qualifier Mizzou Quidditch. Look out for Marquette if it attends the Consolation Cup and at USQ Cup if another spot opens for the Midwest.

9. Arizona State Quidditch A program that has never gotten the attention it seemingly deserves. An overtime win over the Los Angeles Gambits is the team’s highlight so far this year, but this is a squad that could make waves in a very deep West region.

10. Ball State Cardinals Beating and seeking? Meet Tyler Walker and Jason Bowling, two of the best in the world. While Ball State’s beating may have dropped off a bit from last year, this is a team that could keep nearly anyone in range at USQ Cup and then pull for the dramatic win.

Did we miss anybody? Let us know in the comments who you think this year’s sleeper team is.

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