Sunday, July 24, 2016

The World Turned Upside Down

By Andy Marmer

Dameon Osborn lunged for the snitch and then lay on his back for minutes hardly believing what he held in his hand. With his single moment of brilliance, Osborn grabbed Australia’s first gold medal in international play with a 150*-130 win over the United States, marking the United States’ first loss in international play.

World champions Team Australia after their expo match against Germany | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

The Australian team, also known as the “Dropbears,” jumped out to an early lead, shocking pretty much everyone watching be it live, through the live stream, or on Twitter and galvanized the partisan crowd who were hoping to see the United States lose their first match. Although Australia quickly gained a 30-10 lead, the United States’ counterattack looked as though it would prove too much for the eventual champions. Australia continued to stay firmly in the game through their displays of beautiful passing, standing toe-to-toe with the favorites, and taking every punch that was thrown at them. The United States consistently displayed a tenacious fastbreak that looked like it would prove too much for Australia to handle

The first game-changing moment seemed to come with the US up 20 as the seeker floor wound down, when the United States’ Andrew Axtell had the quaffle and an unimpeded path toward the goal; a Deni Tasman beat found Axtell second before he could score, thus preserving Australia’s snitch-range margin. 

As the seeker floor expired, the United States’ Jason Bowling faced off against Australia’s Neil Kemister, with both side's beaters turning their attention fully towards snitch play. Michael Duquette showed off his patented seeker-beating skills in a catch-dodge sequence that rivals some of his best work for the University of Texas and looked like it might win the game for the United States. 

Shortly thereafter, Margo Aleman found himself alone with the snitch and soon found a sock in hand. This catch was called no good, and he was sent back to hoops for charging.

Luke Derrick led an Australian beater corps that changed the momentum of the game for his side as the team executed a series of bludger steals, catches, and dodges that gained his team bludger control. It was soon thereafter that Osborn found himself lying on his back on the grass as the refs engaged in a lengthy debate. Although Osborn was beat before his catch, the beat was called no good as the United States beater was beat prior to releasing

In the victory against the United States, Australia topped a number of teams that were hoping to lay claim to the title of best in the world. Although starting the day as the No. 5 seed with arguably the toughest road to the finals ahead, Australia showed themselves up to every challenge. In the Round of 16, the hosts proved no match for Australia in a 150*-20 game, but the quarterfinals against current European champions France proved a more difficult challenge. Although France tried to match the Australians physicality, jumping out to a 50-20 lead, they were unable to fully contain the Dropbears, as Australia pulled out a 110*-60 win. Things did not get easier for Australia in the semifinals, as they drew Canada for an intense game; while the game remained in snitch range throughout, Kemister left little doubt as to who was the better team, pulling for Australia within 15 seconds of the end of the seeker floor, sending his team to the finals with a final score of 90*-40.

The United States advanced to the finals with a tougher road than expected. After missing out on the No. 1 seed by failing to catch the snitch in pool play against Germany, the No. 2 - seeded American squad struggled more than their generally over-confident fans may have hoped. While a 270*-10 drumming of Catalonia in the Round of 16 did not indicate any cracks, a 130*-50 quarterfinal win over Belgium and a 140*-40 win over the UK a match that was within 40 with the snitch on pitch gave the first inklings that the United States international armor had started to crack and would later splinter. 

Team UK did well to earn their bronze medal, starting bracket play off with a 220*-20 win against Slovenia in the Round of 16. The UK proceeded to win a pool play rematch over Turkey in the quarterfinals 180*-40, before falling to the US in the semifinals. However, in a nearly 40-minute game that saw Canada defend the snitch for an extensive period of time, the UK took bronze with a 190*-60 win, avenging a loss at Global Games 2014 and in the first expo match of World Cup. 

Canada had a wildly successful tournament until their semifinals downfall, surprising many by grabbing the top seed with a perfect first day, maximizing the point differential against every opponent and catching every snitch. In the Round of 16, Canada cruised over Spain 170*-30. In the quarterfinal, Canada thoroughly defeated Mexico 140*-30 before their loss to Australia in the semifinals. After that, it seemed like Canada ran out of gas midway through their bronze medal rematch against the UK, and never seemed to recover. They defended the snitch for what seemed like forever and ultimately fell to the UK and into fourth place. 

The tournament started off slow without an upset in pool play and just two snitch-range games on the first day of the tournament. While the top teams in each pool jockeyed for seeding position, it was France who failed to max out their point differential in one game by just a single goal that fell to the fourth seed. Australia, who had what many considered the toughest matchup of the top teams, only beat Belgium by 60, who fell into the fourth and fifth spots respectively and thus more difficult quarterfinal matches. 

The results will no doubt result in an inquest into the United States who just two years ago defeated Australia 210*-0 in the Global Games final. Australia will undoubtedly be thrilled with their gold, and after disappointments on the world stage in 2014 and in Europe in 2015, the UK will be very pleased with their bronze. France, who like to think themselves the best team in Europe will be disappointed to have finished fifth, though there’s certainly no shame in losing just once on the weekend, to the eventual champions. 

Viewers were deprived of another matchup in the rivalry that has formed between France and the UK. Though with their only snitch-range game being a loss to the world champions, France can look fondly on this tournament even if their results do not show it. Similarly, Belgium can take solace in the fact that of their three losses, two came at the hands of the eventual finalists, and the third against a strong Turkey team. Overall, Belgium had perhaps the toughest schedule and presumably no one had a better growing experience than Belgium’s.

One must think that this tournament marks a huge transition in international quidditch. The United States is no longer unbeatable, or even unbeaten; three European powerhouses have emerged in France, the UK, and Belgium; Turkey and Norway also show massive potential. Mexico, who finished eighth with bracket losses to Canada, France, and Belgium after an exciting win over Norway lurks dangerously, and Canada has shown no drop-off over the past two years. It remains to be seen how much international quidditch will continue to grow, but if this tournament is any indication, we are in for a growth spurt. 

This World Cup season also marked the beginning of standing national teams, and one could imagine the trend continuing, especially in European nations with more favorable geography. We might also see the beginning of international friendlies. Teams in Belgium, the UK, and France all could benefit from matches against one another due to the similar level of play, and the geography is such that this is not insurmountable. This is all speculation though; that will be hashed out later after the glow from World Cup has faded. 

Right now, for the first time ever, the center of the quidditch universe is no longer in the US or even the western hemisphere. Australia are champions of the world. 

The world turned upside down.

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