Monday, February 8, 2016

Boise State Takes Truncated Northwest Regional Championship

By Benji B’Shalom

This past weekend, Salem, Oregon hosted the second Northwest Regional Championship, a tournament that harkened back to the good old days of quidditch and highlighted many of the current struggles of both the Northwest region specifically and the entirety of USQ. 
Throughout the weekend, teams struggled with difficult field conditions. Although Salem has received 10 percent more rainfall this season than it historically averages, it should have been entirely foreseeable that an outside field in Oregon would turn into a wallowing pit of mud and goose droppings. One must question whether USQ could have found a better option, despite Salem being the only bid.

The other main struggle of this tournament highlights a problem that exists throughout the league. A natural Division I/Division II split was made especially clear as the top three teams dominated against everyone else, even when they were resting some of their best players. After just a couple of games, it was obvious that especially in deep, effort-multiplying mud, multiple teams would be pushed to forfeit before any team’s eighth game. This tournament may serve as one of the best arguments for a Division I/Division II split to date.

Benji B’Shalom and Cody Spoelstra catch their breath as referees confer | Photo credit: Tasha Kiri Robertson
After a few rounds of play, the decision was made by tournament staff, which was working with the captains of all teams, to allow teams to either choose to opt into a separate pool with no US Quidditch Cup 9 implications on the line or to remain in a pool contending for bids and a title. 

“In order to ensure the highest possible field quality for the teams who still wanted to compete for the championship, the tournament structure was adjusted to accommodate those games that are relevant to the championship first, followed by additional official matches in order to allow all teams to play additional quidditch,” USQ posted on Saturday. “This change in structure was unanimously agreed upon by all coaches.”

In the end, four teams chose to play for bids: Boise State Thestrals (BST), University of British Columbia Quidditch (UBC), Boise State Abraxans (BSA), and Rain City Raptors (RCR). The rest of the teams opted to play still-official games that would allow them to develop, learn, and have fun, without decimating their small rosters with injuries in hopeless games. This allowed the only playable field to be used to determine the US Quidditch Cup 9 bids and the regional champion.

The results of the lower bracket were not of national relevance, but they did reveal a lower tier rife with parity: several games featured flipped results from earlier matchups, and the two teams that entered on Saturday without any wins on the season  – Western Washington Wyverns (WWU) and British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC) left knowing they did not get shut out of the win column for 2015-16; WWU defeated the Portland Augureys 110-30* and BCQC defeated Big Sky Flyers Quidditch 140*-20 as well as the Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho (MMUI) 90*-50. Both teams had much deeper rosters than at previous tournaments and showed an encouraging amount of development.

In the championship pool, parity largely prevailed again, though BST was clearly outmatched by UBC (150*-30), BSA (170*-40), and RCR (170*-0). By entering the championship pool, BST was guaranteed fourth place in the region, and therefore the first opportunity to receive a US Quidditch Cup 9 bid should another team be unable to make it.

UBC lost to both RCR and BSA but proved that it is still among the top teams by leading for roughly half of the total game time and staying in range for all but the last couple minutes of the game againt BSA. RCR vs. UBC 120*-70 and BSA vs. UBC 110*-40. However, as expected, the game with a trophy on the line came down to RCR and BSA.

In the end, BSA prevailed (140*-80), repeating as champions and giving RCR its first-ever loss. RCR kept the game in snitch range, but only barely, as BSA turned a slight edge in the passing game into more goals.

Jacob Keith and Molly Bocian gain bludger control | Photo credit: Tasha Kiri Robertson
Day Two of the tournament was essentially a formality, giving the teams that wanted it a chance to get more gameplay out of their trip. WWU was able to beat BCQC after a competitive snitch-range game before losing out of range to both RCR and UBC. With only seven players left standing, BSF played only one game, an outofrange loss against MMUI. 

After WWU played two games in a row, they were allowed a break before playing their third game, which was against UBC. In the meantime, UBC and RCR mixed up teams in a schoolyard-pick game that was both hilarious and competitive. It is inconceivable that two top teams from any other region would show this level of camaraderie, love, and fun at a regional championship; while it might be derided by some, the Northwest cherishes that it can both play the sport at a high level and still be a family.

In the end, the messages of the Northwest Regional Championship are clear:

1) The Northwest is sending three teams that are not to be underestimated to US Quidditch Cup 9: BSA, RCR, and UBC.

2) If lower-tier teams can generate more competition amongst themselves, as opposed to against the untouchable top tier, they will grow more and quidditch will thrive.

3) With all due respect to the USQ gameplay department and Travel Salem - all of whom did an excellent job adjusting to a disastrous scenario - the Northwest belongs on artificial turf. You may not like the turf burn or the ubiquitous pellets I sure don’t but it is definitely better than trying to catch a snitch blind because you can’t get the mud out of your eyes.

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