Friday, February 19, 2016

The Fight for Southwest Champion

By TJ Goaley

The Southwest has continuously produced some of the top teams in USQ including three-time defending national champions Texas Quidditch (UT). Although UT has proven its dominance on the national stage, it has never won a regional championship, with Lone Star Quidditch Club (LSQC), Texas A&M, and Baylor University capturing regional titles instead. All of this is to say that the Southwest has a bevy of top teams, and this is without even accounting for newcomers Texas Cavalry, and World Cup VII runner-ups Texas State University - San Marcos. While Baylor has declined in recent years, five teams have a chance to hoist the championship trophy, making a dramatic and interesting tournament as some of the world’s top teams battle for regional supremacy. On top of the fight for the title, nine spots at US Quidditch Cup 9 and six at Consolation Cup are on the line, as the Southwest’s teams meet in San Marcos, Texas the weekend of Feb. 20 and 21.

Pool 1
Texas State University - San Marcos
University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)
Tribe Quidditch
Oklahoma State University (OSU)
Lumberjack Quidditch

Most people will look at this pool and think that Texas State is the hands down favorite, and while they are not wrong, two teams could be poised to challenge the hosts for the top spot. At the 4th Annual Diamond Cup, Texas State overcame a quaffle-point deficit to defeat OSU 140*-120, while a few weeks ago at Brooms on the Brazos, UTSA hung with Texas State throughout, ultimately falling 140*-70. Texas State is a complete and cohesive team, relying on the hyper-aggressive play of beater Jackson Johnson to clear space on the offensive end for Tyrell Williams, and the long arms of seeker Steven Gralinski to end games. In particular, the snitch-range abilities of Johnson and Gralinski have been crucial this year, leading Texas State to a 7-1 record in SWIM games. Second in the pool should come down to an exciting game between OSU and UTSA: when the two last met in November, OSU pulled the snitch during overtime to earn the victory, though if that indicates anything, it is the narrow margin between the two programs. Both have established themselves solidly in the Southwest’s mid-tier and should contend for US Quidditch Cup berths. And while both have been fixtures at the event in past years, with just nine Southwest programs qualifying this year, the competition for bids will be tight. Oklahoma State has long relied on the tank-like abilities of Hayden Applebee, and his performance will be crucial to the team’s success. Tribe looks slated for fourth in the pool, but with two snitch-range losses at the Bat City Showcase against highly-regarded opposition – plus added experience in its contest against some of the nation’s strongest teams it could turn in a surprise performance. Lumberjack will almost assuredly go winless in pool play and fail to make the bracket. The team got its first win of the year in overtime against West Texas Rebels Quidditch Club at Alamo Cup on Feb. 6, but will be outmatched by its formidable pool opponents. 

Pool 2:
Texas Quidditch (UT)
University of Arkansas Quidditch Club
SHSU Quidditch
Louisiana State University (LSU)
Death Row Quidditch

The reigning national champions have yet to play anyone from this pool, but it is hard to think they will face much of a challenge. Although this year’s UT squad has lost three times, it has only lost to Cavalry and Texas State, with four wins by snitch catch, and has yet to take on Lone Star still. UT is still a great team led by lanky keeper David Acker, who shows the ability to both score and create chances for his teammates, and versatile beater Michael Duquette. If any team can hope to depose UT it will be Arkansas, keyed by seeker Eric Dreggors clutch play. However, Arkansas may struggle to make it past SHSU as the two teams traded out-of-range victories in the fall. While both have long found safety in the relative comforts of the Southwest’s mid-tier, the emergence of new teams, combined with fewer bids this season, could endanger both teams’ qualification aspirations. LSU looks poised to take the brackets final spot, as Death Row is winless this season and lists just 10 players on its tournament roster. LSU’s size and experience should give it the victory.

Texas Quidditch’s David Acker | Photo Credit: Sana Sadiq Photography

Pool 3:
Texas Cavalry
Baylor University
Texas Tech Quidditch
Tulane University
The Silver Phoenix

Pool 3 is headlined by a pair of three-loss teams, as Cavalry enters with a 16-3 record compared to Baylor’s 11-3. The two teams have faced off twice this year, with Cavalry winning a snitch range game and an out-of-range game, and there is no reason to think that the two contests from Diamond Cup will come out any differently. Although Baylor is not as strong as in past years, it can still challenge Cavalry for pool supremacy and handle the rest of the games in its pool. The game between the two should be especially interesting as Cavalry has shown an aptitude for creating scoring opportunities, while Baylor’s zone traditionally stymies strong attacks. Baylor has surrendered more than five goals in just four games this year, while Cavalry has failed to hit 100 quaffle points in just five games this year. While Cavalry has gutted out low-scoring victories over Lone Star and Baylor, 120*-90 and 80*-60 respectively, this matchup likely turns on the Cavalry offense’s matchup against the Baylor defense. Although Silver Phoenix recently knocked out Texas Tech in overtime at Alamo Cup, the latter should be considered the favorite for third. Texas Tech has suffered from short-handed rosters at many tournaments, but with more players slated for the regional championship, its depth should be enough to carry the day. Tulane has managed just three wins on the year, albeit against strong opposition, and the Silver Phoenix’s resume appears similar. The fourth bracket spot from this pool is a toss-up, but Tulane seems to have an upper hand.

Pool 4:
Lone Star Quidditch Club (LSQC)
Texas A&M Quidditch
Gulf Coast Gumbeaux (GCG)
Austin Quidditch (AQ)
San Marcos Sharknados

The Pool of Death will feature incredibly challenging games, and ultimately little in the way of surprises. While Lone Star is the presumptive favorite, A&M fresh off an Alamo Cup championship offers a legitimate challenge to the defending regional champions. Remarkably, these two teams have not met in official competition this year, but given the talent of both squads as well as the close bonds that naturally exist when a college team faces alumni from its program a closely contested match can be expected. Lone Star has been a paragon of consistency, and its powerful style of play will be a great test for the aggressive beating and defensive style of Texas A&M. GCG is unlikely to take the win against the top two teams in the pool, but should have no problem beating AQ and Sharknados to earn a spot in bracket play. As for the battle of the B teams, AQ has shown a bit more this season. While the Sharknados’ size and aggression could challenge Austin Quidditch, the Austin team’s ability to control the pace will likely prove enough. However, if the Sharknados can impose their pace on the game or control the bludger play, that could prove enough for them to punch a bracket ticket.

Lone Star’s Kody Marshall | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

The battle for qualification to US Quidditch Cup 9 should be intense. Lone Star, Cavalry, Texas State, UT, Texas A&M, and Baylor are all likely locks for qualification, with the former five also contending for the championship title. And though Lone Star and Cavalry must be considered the favorites, Texas State also has a compelling chance. With six spots all but locked up, the region’s mid-tier must battle over the remaining three spots. OSU, GCG, and Arkansas are probably the favorites, but no one would be surprised if any of UTSA, Texas Tech, and SHSU crash the party. The three of those teams that do not qualify will probably join Tulane, Austin Quidditch, and Tribe as qualifiers for Consolation Cup.

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