Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 West Regional Preview

By Chris Lock, Chris Manghane, and George Williams

Editor’s Note: Chris Lock is a player for the Fighting Farmers of America (FFA), Chris Manghane is a player for Skyfighters Quidditch Club, and George Williams is a player for Crimson Elite

It is the time of year everyone has been waiting for: playoffs (or the closest thing quidditch has to them.) On Feb. 27-28, the 2016 West Regional Championship will take place at the UCLA intramural fields. Twenty-five teams will be in attendance, vying for 11 US Quidditch Cup 9 bids and post-game snuggles from one another.

The 25 teams were split into five pots of skill based on USQ standings, and five pools were composed by randomly selecting one team from each pot for each pool. The format is roughly as follows: the top four teams after pool play on Day One advance to bracket play, and the five fifth place teams are eliminated. After pool play, the top 12 seeds receive a first round bye, and the 13-20th seeds begin bracket play on Sunday morning with elimination games. The winners of that round advance to the Round of 16, while the losers are eliminated. The eight teams that win in the Round of 16 each earn a bid to US Quidditch Cup 9 and will continue playing in the single elimination bracket to determine the 2016 West region champion. The eight teams that lose in the Round of 16 will be reseeded into a consolation bracket, and the top three finishing teams in the consolation bracket will receive the final three bids from the West region for US Quidditch Cup 9.

The pools were distributed as follows:

Pool A:
Cal Quidditch
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
California Dobbys
The Long Beach Funky Quaffles (LBFQ)
San Jose State University Spartans (SJSU)

This pool may be the most balanced one in the entire tournament, making it nearly as exciting as the “Pool Of Death” (Pool E). Additionally, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are from rival universities, University of California, Berkeley and UCLA, adding an extra level of excitement to their first meeting this season.

Cal Quidditch has drastically rebuilt its program since last season, as Captains Jake Stanton and Alexandra Idso recruited a bevy of athletes, such as lanky keeper Ryan Pfenning and his burly backup Steven Olujić. Though these players will still need to learn the finer points of strategy, Cal has played well so far this season, posting a 9-1 record, including a match where it erased a 50-point deficit to upset the Fighting Farmers of America (FFA) 100*-80 and a 140*^-90 overtime victory against the established Silicon Valley Skrewts. However, Cal has not left Northern California even once this season, so it has not faced the tougher competition in other parts of the region that has helped other teams improve. Cal’s success may hit an obstacle when the team faces tough competition from other areas. This is further highlighted by the team’s lone loss this season, a 110*-80 defeat against the upstart Silicon Valley Vipers. While the surging Vipers are no team to take lightly, they have not defeated any of the true finalist contenders.

UCLA may be Cal’s toughest competition in the pool, and the match between them looks to be an exciting one. UCLA was formerly one of the most prolific powerhouses in the West region, but every year its roster changes just enough that outside observers doubt it can continue to compete. Still, every season, UCLA’s team-oriented play style always ensures the team is on the competitive end of the team spectrum no matter what prestigious players have departed. However, UCLA’s performance at Next Best West 3 seems to indicate that it finally is truly a rung below the most competitive teams in the region after significant losses to both the Santa Barbara Blacktips and the Los Angeles Gambits. Still, the pool is winnable for UCLA, which could set it up with a high seed in bracket play and ensure a strong chance for qualification for US Quidditch Cup 9.

The Long Beach Funky Quaffles carry an extremely deceptive 6-13 record that placed them in the fourth pot. Their low winning percentage does not reflect the fact that they were a snitch catch away from some jaw-dropping upsets against some of the top five seeds. LBFQ has snitch-range losses to FFA, Arizona State University (ASU), and even an overtime loss against the fearsome Los Angeles Gambits. This implies LBFQ has huge potential and could be a dark horse to win its pool. The team is led primarily by the beating of Andrew Burger, the physicality of quaffle players Anthony Hawkins and Michael Aguilera, and surprise contributions from Josh Ishizaki and Shea Hillinger.

The California Dobbys have some impressive physical athletes, including quaffle carriers Sean Booker, Sal Sanchez, Daniel Bellini, and beater Laura D’Asaro. However, the team is split into Southern and Northern California factions, and it has not been able to play as a complete team all season. The full team may be much more competitive than the Dobbys have ever been, or the lack of chemistry could cause the team to fall flat at the wrong time. Still, if the Dobbys bring intense competition with a full roster, the pool could be even more interesting.

San Jose State University is in a heavy rebuilding season after most of its starting line departed the team and joined the South Bay Blazers. SJSU hasn’t managed a win this season, posting an 0-12 record. It will need to find a way to beat one of its opponents in order to even advance to bracket play. Even if SJSU is eliminated, young players Carlos Cuevas and Sebastian Lam indicate a bright future for the program.

Sean Booker of the California Dobbys will be crucial to his team's success in a highly competitive pool. | Photo Credit: Sebastian Lam
Pool B
The Lost Boys
Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC)
South Bay Blazers
Provo Quidditch
Sun Devil Quidditch 

With their only losses coming at the hands of top ranked Los Angeles Gambits and Lone Star Quidditch Club this season, there is no reason to predict anybody besides the Lost Boys to win this pool. It would not, however, be a surprise to see the Lost Boys play a close game or two in pool play, most particularly against Utah State Quidditch Club or perhaps the South Bay Blazers. Although USQC’s small-rostered showing at the Dan Hanson Invitational III wasn’t entirely convincing, and despite struggling against top-ranked opponents throughout the season, an inexperienced USQC squad held the Lost Boys in snitch range until near the seeker floor at the 4th Annual Lumberjack Invitational in November before falling 110*-20.

The South Bay Blazers will be coming into this tournament as a big question mark, having only played in two tournaments, both exclusively against North Californian opponents. While it’s possible the Blazers could keep the Lost Boys close, their game with USQC should be much more interesting and will more than likely decide the pool. While USQC is considered the favorite in the matchup, it would be surprising to see the USQC vs. Blazers game significantly out of range either way.

Similar to the Blazers, little is known about the first year Provo Quidditch squad. With a team composed mostly of rookies, Provo started its season with a 240*-10 loss to the Northern Arizona University Narwhals (NAU), only to turn around and play them in snitch range at the Lumberjack Invitational just a few months later. If nothing else, Provo seems to clearly be the most improved team in the region and quite possibly the most improved in all of US Quidditch this season. Interestingly enough, out of its four matchups against in-state rival USQC this year, Provo managed to pull out a win in its one snitch range game, losing the other three out of range. Expect rookie star seeker Trent Anderson to be a deciding factor in any games Provo can keep in range, especially after his breakout performance at the Utah Snow Cup VI, where he carried Team Night Chat to the finals on five straight game winning snitch catches.

Although there are a lot of questions left to be answered about these teams, it is conceivable that USQC, South Bay, or Provo could possibly come away with second place in Pool B. It is hard to see Sun Devil Quidditch come up with any wins after a relatively tough pool draw and a 1-12 record so far this season.

Provo will count on rookie seeker Trent Anderson for any victories it can pull out. | Photo Credit: Lang Truong
Pool C:
The Fighting Farmers of America
Silicon Valley Skrewts
Wizards of Westwood
University of Southern California (USC)
Anteater Quidditch

Pool C features two of the strongest teams in Northern California: the Silicon Valley Skrewts and the Fighting Farmers of America. The Fighting Farmers of America (18-4 record) are a new team with veteran players spread across the region, and their tournament performances make them a top contender for this pool and a US Quidditch Cup 9 spot. The Skrewts (6-2 record) have proven themselves several years in a row with their high placement at West Regional Championships; this season, however, they have suffered from a short-handed roster. These two teams met earlier this season, where the Farmers were victorious in a close, snitch-range game (120*-70). The rematch should make for an interesting battle for the top two spots in the pool. 

The Wizards of Westwood (6-7 record) have been successful this season and should be the favorite for third place in this pool. Despite difficult competition against some of the top regional teams such as the Lost Boys, Gambits, and Crimson Elite, Westwood has solid performances against University of Southern California and Anteater Quidditch, winning 110*-70 and 130*-50, respectively. The University of Southern California (1-5 record) has struggled this season, but its tournament roster resembles the original team that was anticipated to be strong at the beginning of this season. USC’s loss against Westwood was also a snitch-range game, and it has the potential to be a wild card in this pool; Westwood is going to have a tough game against USC

Anteater Quidditch (1-13 record) has also had a difficult season, but the point differentials across its games have been steadily decreasing from tournament to tournament, even against strong teams such as the University of Arizona and the Santa Barbara Blacktips. Anteater is a physical team with a strong understanding of the game and it will be leveraging all the experience it has gained this season as it fights for a victory in this pool.

Pool D:
Arizona State University (ASU)
Northern Arizona University Narwhals (NAU)
Silicon Valley Vipers
Stanford Quidditch
Crimson Fliers

Based on performance against higher-ranked teams, ASU is the clear favorite in this pool. Fresh off winning the Dan Hanson Invitational III, ASU is looking to repeat its magical run at last year’s regional championship, where the team took the No. 11 seed on Day One and rode a pair of upset victories to the semifinals. However, this year ASU comes in as a strong favorite to advance deep into the tournament. Led by its strategic and aggressive beating corps, with players such as Ryan McGonagle, Vicky Sanford, Caleb Ragatz, and Amani Burton, ASU capitalizes by first setting up no-bludger situations and then letting its physical chasers rush to the hoops. Jarrod Bailey has shown great reliability at seeker in snitch range games when his beaters set him up for clear looks at the snitch, so ASU may have an edge in close games. ASU probably is not the favorite to reach the finals, but the physical, young squad certainly has the potential.

Despite ASU’s impressive 13-3 record, it is not assured of victory in its pool. In fact, ASU will be playing rematches against NAU and the Vipers, teams that both played ASU within snitch range.

NAU finished in third place at the Dan Hanson Invitational and nearly beat ASU at the Lumberjack Invitational where Porter Marsh caught the snitch just a moment after being knocked out by an ASU beater. NAU is a highly physical team, as evidenced by players such as beater Adam Beller and chaser Olivia Odell. However, the team is extremely undisciplined in its physicality, resulting in a high number of cards. Experience should be on ASU’s side in the rematch, but NAU has great odds to qualify for US Quidditch Cup 9.

The Vipers are intriguing going into the regional championship. At the beginning of the year, qualification would have been a long shot. However, the team has grown remarkably and is tearing through the region. The Vipers have impressive recent victories over Cal and Utah State, as well as an overtime loss to the Santa Barbara Blacktips and a snitch range loss to ASU. The Vipers are the dark horse of the tournament; they could miss qualification by a mile, realistically qualify in consolation or make the quarterfinals, or they could shock everyone with a little luck and make a semifinals run. Led by chaser/seeker Nate Stender and chaser Mostafa Fothy, the Vipers will undoubtedly be looking forward to a rematch against ASU after their previous meeting nearly resulted in a brawl just before the snitch grab.

Stanford Quidditch is in a rebuilding year, but the team can stay within range early thanks to the beating duo of David Saltzman and Hailey Clonts. The team is probably outmatched in this pool, but it may be able to sneak into qualification for US Quidditch Cup 9 on Sunday in the consolation bracket.

The Crimson Fliers will likely not qualify for bracket play, but they do have a win this season, so they could upset Stanford and make a little noise during the final regional tournament for their coach,  Sequoia Thomas.

Vicky Sanford and Caleb Ragatz are key parts of ASU's beating lineup | Photo Credit: Phoebe VanGelder
Pool E:
Los Angeles Gambits
Santa Barbara Blacktips
Crimson Elite
Skyfighter Quidditch Club
University of Arizona Quidditch

Many are labeling this formidable pool as the “Pool of Death,” a predicament the Blacktips are familiar with after the inaugural West Regional Championship and World Cup VII. However, this pool could be more accurately referred to as the “Pool of Idiocy.

This pool came to be, in part, when the Crimson Elite forfeited eight matches retroactively after failing to fulfill the USQ coaching requirements. As per USQ policy, Crimson Elite was punished, hurting its regional ranking. While USQ felt it was appropriate to enforce the rules, their ruling didn’t just affect Crimson Elite. Every team in its pool is impacted, and the effect of having three top-tier teams in one pool is going to skew point differentials and the bracket. 

Even with the USQ standings’ susceptibility to scheduling differences, neither the Gambits, Blacktips, nor Crimson Elite should have been below a Pot 2. Most probably should be a Pot 1 team. Even though the Gambits have enough talent to still be heavy favorites to win the pool without any losses, Crimson Elite and the Blacktips have shown they can stay within reasonable point differentials of the Gambits. While other top seeds are pushing near a maximum point differential against No. 3 seeds, the Gambits’ ranking will probably be hurt by a close point differential. 

The Blacktips are 0-4 against top five-seeded teams, but one of those losses was a 10-point quaffle differential at Next Best West against the Gambits. The regional championship could be the perfect opportunity for the Blacktips to pull off an upset. The Blacktips will be aided by Jeremy McIntyre, who will be returning to the field after missing the Dan Hanson Invitational III, which may have hindered the team’s performance at that tournament.

The Crimson Elite should have an optimistic outlook, as it is 2-2 against top five-ranked teams. Do not be surprised if George Williams and Dan Howland lead the Crimson Elite to the semifinals, or further, again this season.

The Skyfighters have increased their athleticism and physicality, and keeper Ryan Burton has played sensationally all season. If the Skyfighters can defeat the University of Arizona, then they should be able to get the franchise’s first taste of regional bracket play.

The University of Arizona displayed a high emphasis on physicality at the Dan Hanson Invitational III, but it has not managed to keep scores competitive against decent teams. While Arizona will surely demonstrate some athleticism, qualification for US Quidditch Cup 9 will be a long shot for this squad.

Crimson Elite keeper George Williams is a veteran of the game. | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up, keep it up. Good luck to all the teams in the Western Regionals!