Thursday, July 14, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Team USA Northwest Representative Stew Driflot

By Benji B’Shalom 

In mid-March, USQ released the roster for Team USA. Players from across the country were chosen by an interregional committee to represent the United States, and these passionate athletes will travel to Frankfurt, Germany for the 2016 IQA World Cup this summer. Out of the 21 rostered players, only one hails from the Northwest Region. In July, the familiar stars of the 2012 and 2014 national teams will be joined by a tall, thin, blond newcomer.
The selection process for Team USA requires that each USQ region is represented by at least one player. Stew Driflot, the 22-year-old utility player who spends the regular USQ season doing the bulk of the work for the two-time Northwest Regional Champions Boise State Abraxans (BSA), was selected as the first and only Northwest player on Team USA. 

Driflot gained recognition nationwide with his memorable snitching at USQ World Cup 8 in April 2015, which culminated in a ‘Flyest Snitch’ award and a show-stealing performance in the SWIM-locked final match between University of Texas at Austin and Lone Star Quidditch Club.

Driflot receiving the “Flyest Snitch” award at USQ World Cup 8. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
At US Quidditch Cup 9, Driflot turned heads once again, this time with his skills as a keeper and seeker in BSA’s surprising quarterfinal run, including a five-second catch to win a game on the edge of snitch range against New York Quidditch Club (130*-70) and an overtime grab to knock out District of Columbia Quidditch Club in the Round of 16 (130^-100*). In the end, he caught seven out of eight possible snitches at the tournament, four of those in SWIM situations.

Although Driflot may have gained widespread recognition only recently through his performances at World Cup 8, US Quidditch Cup 9, and his MVP honors at Snow Cup V in 2015, his excellence is nothing new to those in his region. Driflot has been known as an outstanding athlete in the Northwest region since before the region’s independence from the West in 2014, and he even had a hand in shaping the origin of the Northwest quidditch scene. In fact, he was named the MVP of Northwest Fantasy I in 2014 and was a member of the winning teams at both Northwest Fantasy I and II. 

In addition to being BSA’s star player, Driflot is also its progenitor, having founded the team in Oct. 2012 along with BSA coach Kym Couch

“I stuck with it and I don’t regret a second of it,” said Driflot. “I might not get as much visibility in quidditch as I could in other sports, but I think I get some of the most visibility that quidditch can offer, no doubt about that. [BSA teammate] Joel [Johnson] says it’s because I’m so flashy, and you’re damn right I work hard on that.”

Couch spoke of Driflot’s impact both on and off the pitch.

Stew has always been a driving force for rounding the team culture because he is a clear leader,” said Couch. “Stew’s greatest strength on the pitch is analyzing situations to see where he will be most useful.”

But despite all his success in quidditch, Driflot couldn’t even play sports as a kid.

“I never played sports before quidditch,” Driflot said. “Growing up, I suffered from poor health and the short end of the stick of freak injuries. I couldn’t run a mile or play a game of basketball until I had a surgery that allowed my ribcage to finally expand and allow me to pursue athletics.”

Perhaps that context helps explain Driflot’s jovial and rambunctious nature when he plays. His opponents might decry his cockiness, but for him, it’s all in good fun.

“It’s about enjoying the game, and having a smile on [your] face when you’re playing,” said Driflot. “Too many people play too seriously, and it becomes predictable. It’s not about being cocky, it’s about taking chances and enjoying yourself.”

Driflot celebrating during a play stoppage against Texas Tech Quidditch. | Photo Credit: Monica Wheeler Photography
The fun has its place, but Driflot is also working hard on preparations for World Cup.

I’m running 45+ miles a week, working out for at least two hours every day, and working on my fitness for after [US Quidditch Cup], World Cup, and beyond,” said Driflot. “I’ll be chasing for Team USA, which I haven’t really done for over a year now. [This] will take some extra work since I’m so used to guarding the hoops that don’t move quite as much as a person. I think my weakness is that I’m not the biggest guy on the pitch, so I get blown out of the water on drives. I don’t make the best point defender. But I’m working on that.”

“I don’t expect him to have the most play time,” said Couch. “But he is definitely going to be out there scoring goals and showing up.”

Driflot has added pressure going into World Cup representing a region that has been mocked and maligned by some who feel that the quality of play by the region’s teams precludes them from meriting a separate region. 

I'm excited to be the Northwest ambassador, essentially,” said Driflot. I feel if anybody should shoulder the weight, it’s an honor for me to do it. The Northwest is a new region. There might be weaker gameplay, but lets see any other blokes who started their own teams be any better than where we were within two years. The Northwest will grow and eventually people will stop whining about us, but until then, it’s an incredibly welcoming region to all kinds of players, and the spirit of St. Quidditch lives here, no doubt.”

“I’m not sure how he plays will reflect on the Northwest as a whole as much as it does on him as an individual,” said Couch. “When Stew started, he was this lanky, awkward guy without much athletic background. That’s not 2016 Stew.”

Stew Driflot at the Second Annual Cinco de Mayo Cup in 2013. | Photo Credit: JH Photography
Driflot believes there are a handful of Team USA-caliber players in the Northwest, including BSA’s Joel Johnson and Bryan Bixler, as well as Rain City Raptors chaser Ross Schram van Haupt. Couch, who served on the selection committee for the Team USA roster, said that for the Northwest to have more players in future World Cups, players will need to play more games outside their region. 

“Individuals, travel to every event you can, especially fantasy events with high-caliber players you can learn from,” said Couch. “Teams, do extra fundraising so you can play teams in the West, Midwest, Southwest and take that experience and knowledge gained and bring it back to put into your play style here.”

More applicants will certainly be needed from the Northwest in 2018 because Driflot’s time in the region is coming to a close. He will reportedly leave the Northwest in August to join the Army.

“I’ll be near the Appalachian team during my two years of training, so I might chill with them,” said Driflot. “But I might also fly out to [the Northwest Regional Championship] and go to [US Quidditch Cup] to root for Boise.

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to representing the USA in international sports.

To play for the USA has literally always been a dream of mine,” said Driflot. “I remember watching US soccer in World Cup 2014, wishing it was me. I got mad USA fever, and since the first time I found out USA had a [national quidditch] team I knew someday that was the ultimate goal to be on that stage. And now that it’s finally come and I graduat[ed]in May, it’s the perfect way to end my quidditch career, representing the red, white, and blue and to end up (hopefully) with the gold for my nation.”

World Cup 2016 is being held in Frankfurt, Germany on July 23-24. Team USA is entering the competition as two-time defending champions.

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