Friday, February 26, 2016

Tennessee Teams Surprise at South Regional Championship

By Talitha Brys and Karissa Kirsch

This year’s USQ South Regional Championship was held in Auburndale, Florida, on Feb. 13-14. The weather was perfect for a weekend of quidditch: clear blue skies and a cool breeze every now and then made for beautiful conditions. As for the actual playing, there were more than a few unexpected outcomes

Day One started out normal enough, with teams such as Florida’s Finest (FF) and inTENNsity predictably winning the first matches of the day without a problem. University of South Carolina’s (USC) performance throughout the weekend was more than respectable. Keeper Kaley Crunk appeared to be in multiple places at once; she denied goals that seemed inevitable and charged the hoops of USC’s opponents, dropping the quaffle through the hoop herself on more than one occasion. University of Southern Mississippi (USM) showcased the progress it has made this season in its tussle against the Southern Storm (SS), managing to score 70 points against the eventual runners-up. College of Charleston Quidditch (CofC) showed off an impressive passing game that opposing defenses struggled to disrupt. CofC’s beaters were not afraid of bull rushing other players, complementing the tidy passing game of their quaffle-handling counterparts. Playing with very few substitutes available definitely took its toll on University of Florida Quidditch (UF). At the end of Saturday’s matches, UF won its last game against Time Turners Quidditch (TTQ) and qualified for bracket play. Unfortunately, UF had to forfeit due to a possible concussion on the morning of Day Two.

Florida International University’s (FIU) performance was a welcomed surprise this weekend, turning the program’s history of not performing well in tournaments on its head. The team started off its Saturday with a 190*-30 win against the Time Turners and carried that momentum through the rest of the day’s games. The biggest surprise came when FIU defeated University of Miami (UM) at the end of pool play, starting off Sunday at the top of its pool. Like FF, FIU was defeated during its first game of the day in the quarterfinal round of matches. The team was then taken out of the running for a bid in its qualifying play-in match against FF, losing 90-50*. Nonetheless, FIU showed significant improvement, performing exceptionally well over the course of the weekend.

On Day One, FIU defeated the eventual champions UM. | Photo Credit: Deanna Yates

The fate of Florida’s Finest shocked more than a few spectators. Many had Finest down as an easy pick for claiming a bid to US Quidditch Cup 9, and the team was also a favorite to repeat as regional champions. The usual physicality, endurance, and accuracy were all present in the team’s gameplay. When the team made it through Saturday undefeated and earned a bye for the first round of bracket play, it was no surprise. The shock hit when Miami took Florida’s Finest down 100*-50 in their quarterfinal match, shifting FF to the secondary qualifying bracket. FF scored its first victory of Day Two in a close match with FIU, winning 90-50*. Then, Florida’s Finest was defeated by a snitch catch by Tennessee Tech Quidditch (TTU) 130*-120. The match began with a few goals via physical rushes from TTU, but Finest’s chasers soon dug in their heels and started answering TTU’s points. The seekers were released just as Finest started walking away with the quaffle points, and TTU caught quickly, denying the former champions a bid to USQ Cup 9 and sending the program home empty-handed.

Florida’s Finest fell to Tennessee Tech after a very close match. | Photo Credit: Deanna Yates

Tennessee Tech’s 11-person run through the weekend, relegation to the secondary bracket because of the program’s only defeat – at the hands of the eventual victors, nonetheless – and bid-claiming snitch-catch victory over last-season’s champs Florida’s Finest left a few jaws on the ground. The program has historically been unable to beat FF, and it pulled it off this year with a smaller roster than it has brought in years past. Tennessee Tech was definitely viewed with a bit of uncertainty this year after the formation of inTENNsity – a new community team, also located in Cookeville, Tennessee – emptied most of the university program’s old guard from the roster. The team quickly put all apprehension to rest, walking into Sunday with the first seed secured. An aggressive offensive chasing style headed by Logan Hartman and Austin Cathey paired with Austin Lillis and Baley Pease’s ability to beat precisely and accurately allowed the team to grab its fourth consecutive bid to USQ Cup 9.

inTENNsity’s climb to a bid was surprising to few, especially considering the experience brought to the table by veteran players such as  beaters Elisa Tanksley and Joe Stephenson and chasers Kellie Smith and Daniel Brys. The transition this year to a community team in no way impeded the athletes’ ability to play like a well-oiled machine. A characteristic strength of this team is the variety in the heights of their players; this variety, coupled with speed and endurance, allowed the team to set up passing plays, which are difficult to defend against. The team made it look easy to block passes and keep up with speedy opposition. Due to forceful gameplay on both offense and defense, the momentum was almost impossible to stop. The team finished Saturday’s games with an undefeated record. inTENNsity made it to the quarterfinals before being taken down by the Southern Storm in an overtime match. The team went on to earn a bid in the secondary qualifying bracket after games won against USC and CofC.

inTENNsity defeated USC on its way to clinching a USQ Cup bid. | Photo Credit: Hanna Reese

The Southern Storm played phenomenally throughout the weekend. One of the most telling moments for the program was its Day Two rematch against inTENNsity after a defeat at the hands of the Tennessee community team on Day One. After playing one close game late in the afternoon of Day One and having the night to evaluate what went right and wrong, SS came back to the pitch prepared to wear down the Tennessee players that had caused them problems the day before. By forcing shoddy passes with bludger pressure and carefully navigating inTENNsity’s bulky defense by depending on speed rather than force, Storm defeated inTENNsity 130*-110 in overtime. This clever adaptability will be a grenade in the program’s pocket at US Quidditch Cup 9. Southern Storm’s next victory, an emotional 70*-60 SWIM win over College of Charleston, secured its bid and sent it to the championship game. Beater Tanner Morris proved his mettle yet again, and keeper Steven Schwark made his opponents work for each goal. In the end, however, the Storm was quelled by the University of Miami.

Despite finishing Day One second in its pool, UM claimed the regional championship and made it look easy. During pool play, it was defeated only by FIU and rose quickly through bracket play to secure its fifth South Regional Championship. Without key players from the past, such as Sean Beloff, Shannon Moorhead, David Moyer, and Steve Ralph, the team quickly and effectively modified its strategy. The chasers and beaters were both nimble and speedy, making it hard for opposing teams to keep up. The choice to play a double male beater line definitely made a difference, allowing the program’s talented nonmale chasers to shine. During UM’s match against Florida’s Finest, chaser Bridgette Foster made some clutch goals. Annika Socha’s confidence in contact was obvious; she made excellent hits all weekend and was a crucial part of Miami’s defense. However, when TTU’s burly offense started running over UM’s defense, Ellen Hinshaw went in at beater to allow a reshuffling of gender distribution in the team’s chaser lineup. She maintained dominance and helped her team turn a 40-point deficit into a 30-point lead with some sharp beats around the hoops. The team’s quaffle players made good, clean passes all weekend; when a pass did not go as planned, a recovery was not far behind. Captain Bernie Berges led multiple successful charges in the championship match and keeper Tony Zhu proved himself to be a tactical and impressive playmaker.  Indisputably, seeker Daniel Cantrelle was the star of Sunday, making the three snitch grabs that were probably the most important of the tournament: the grab in the team’s game against Florida’s Finest, the grab that secured its bid, and the grab that made him and his teammates South Regional Champions.

Referees discuss UM’s snitch catch by Daniel Cantrelle during the championship match against the Southern Storm. | Photo Credit: Deanna Yates

While every program’s athletes played their hearts out, the tournament’s true MVP was snitch Aaron Shank. The utility player from UNC Greensboro snitched 13 games over the course of the weekend – six on Saturday, seven on Sunday – and did a phenomenal job in all of them. The fact that he has only been snitching since late 2015 speaks volumes for his endurance and skill as a snitch. When asked if he planned on snitching at the national competition in April, he simply replied, “I hope to.” The community hopes so, too. Spectators had nothing but positive things to say about his athleticism and showmanship.

Snitch Aaron Shank and USC’s seeker, Ryan Davis, made a great defensive team against TTU’s Charlie Jordan. | Photo Credit: Alison Meadows

The weekend as a whole went very well. Tournament staff worked extremely hard to keep the schedule on time and running smoothly. Surprise and disbelief was a trademark of this year’s games. Miami’s athletes surprised themselves more than anyone else; it became obvious on Saturday where Sunday was heading. Capping off the unexpected outcomes of the weekend was Tennessee walking away with the most bids of any state present at the tournament. This demonstrates that even though Florida has a dense, talented quidditch community, the other states in the region are more than capable and not afraid to give the stronghold a run for its money. The South region is stepping up its game and rising to the challenges presented within; the question is, will the four teams representing the region rise up at US Quidditch Cup 9 in April?

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