Thursday, February 9, 2017

Finest Looks for the Gold at the 2017 South Regional Championship

By Joe Goldberg, Steven Paisley, and Emmanuel Cureton

The South will host US Quidditch Cup for the fifth time, and this year’s tournament will be held in Kissimmee, Florida. This weekend, teams will play in the South Regional Championship to earn one of five bids to US Quidditch Cup 10. The Quidditch Post has taken a look at the players, stories, and teams to watch as regional championships approach.

Seven Players to Watch

1. Kaley Crunk (The Southern Storm) – Chaser/Keeper
Crunk is in her fifth year of playing quidditch. This is her first time playing for the Southern Storm as a full-time chaser. Previously, Crunk played primarily as keeper for the former University of South Carolina Gamecocks. Crunk is a strong player, excelling at defense due to her situational awareness from her time playing goalie in soccer, which is an important quality for a keeper. At the 2014 South Regional Championship in Rock Hill, South Carolina, she took down star University of Miami (UM) chaser Sean Beloff and Florida’s Finest’s keeper Justin Crespo in one-on-one situations. Crunk hasn’t made it to many tournaments this season, so she is still trying to find her way in Southern Storm’s offense. If she can click with her new team during the regional championship, she will become a valuable asset who will help Storm qualify for US Quidditch Cup 10.

Southern Storm Kaley Crunk played with the USC Gamecocks at USQ World Cup 8 | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
2. Kayla Wilson (Florida’s Finest) – Beater
Kayla Wilson has quickly become a lights-out beater in the South. Wilson’s talent has grown rapidly and she is now the anchor of one of the best teams in the region. With the amazing teachings of Tim Derrick during her time playing for the former University of Florida Quidditch, it’s no wonder why Wilson has become so talented. The switch to Florida’s Finest has only benefited her. Learning from the experience of a teammate and arguably the best beater in the South, Sean Pagoada has continued to increase Wilson’s experience and awareness for the game. Experience is the only thing Wilson lacks, but with amazing performances at each tournament this year – most recently at Horns Up For Harambe Memorial Championship, where Wilson solidified Finest as the best in the South – she is up for the challenge at the regional championship. Wilson’s breakout came at Highland Games 2016, where she performed superbly and was awarded MVP of the tournament. Her stamina and powerful arm sets her apart from other beaters in the region.

3. Amy Sullivan (Gainesville Siege) – Chaser
Sullivan is a veteran chaser who has continued to progress throughout her career. Sullivan is skilled at positioning herself and sneaking into open areas to score goals, and is also a lockdown defender. She is not afraid to get physical, or to deny the passes that come her way. Sullivan’s history in quidditch is what made her into the player to watch today. Having been a leader on RCQC’s small roster last year, she has the stamina to play a large role for her team. She demonstrated her capabilities when she played the entire Wolf Pack Classic without any substitutes. Playing in Germany two seasons ago allowed her to acquire different styles of play, which she has shown this season, coupled with signature use of turtling to maintain control of quaffle.

Amy Sullivan playing with RCQC during last year’s What is Winter? Invitational | Photo Credit: Deanna Yates
4. Shaun Gabrielli (Florida State University [FSU]) – Keeper
Gabrielli is a must-watch player at the 2017 South Regional Championship. Alongside Danny Cairo, both of whom guided Florida International University’s 2016 South Regional Championship team, Gabrielli will be tasked with leading FSU’s quidditch team after it failed to make it to bracket play last year. Gabrielli’s biggest skillset is his ability to protect the hoops with his lengthy arms and quick anticipation. He is a good decision-maker and his passing is crucial to the offense; his size also makes him an excellent off-ball target. After starting this season with FIU, now renamed to Flying Panthers Quidditch Club (FPQC), Gabrielli transferred to his university team, FSU. His experience and knowledge has aided the younger players. In his first tournament with the team, he led FSU to a tied second-place finish behind Gainesville Siege. Gabrielli’s presence has drastically improved FSU’s program, taking it from a team that failed to advance to bracket play at last year’s Southern championship, to a legitimate contender to qualify for US Quidditch Cup 10.

Shaun Gabrielli pumping up his team at Horns Up for Harambe Memorial Championship. | Photo Credit: Andrew Salinero Photography
5. Jacob Heuker (Carolina Heat) – Keeper
Heuker is a third year player who played his first two seasons for the University of South Carolina and then took a year off before returning to the sport. In his first year he was a part of a very young Gamecock team where he got a lot of playing time as a chaser to develop his skills. In his second year, he ended up being the Gamecocks’ leading scorer and led them to qualify for USQ World Cup 8. Now, after joining the Carolina Heat, he has made a change from chaser to keeper. Heuker is 6’4” and excellent at intercepting passes as a chaser, but now as a keeper he is using his tall frame to block more shots, while still intercepting passes that are intended to go behind the hoops. Heuker will play a crucial part if Heat wants to make a title run at the South Regional Championship.

6. Daniel Feliciano (College of Charleston [CofC]) – Keeper
Although lengthy and very fast, Feliciano is a player who is often overlooked. Nonetheless, as the heart and soul of the College of Charleston, he is a player who will be in charge of helping his team earn a bid to US Quidditch Cup 10. Last season, he was given the keys to keeper of CofC after the departure of one of the region’s best keepers, Steven Schwark. Feliciano took the challenge head on and led his team to within a game of qualifying for US Quidditch Cup 9. This season, Feliciano has an even bigger challenge as he must coach a team that has lost talented players such as Trevor Faith, Joe Suthers, and Matt Corder. As keeper, Feliciano will be relied upon to continue CofC’s run of overperforming. If he can do that, he might be able to lead the team to US Quidditch Cup, but if he fails, the team might continue to fall into irrelevance. Few players have more resting on their shoulders this spring.

7. Ellen Hinshaw (University of Miami) – Beater
With Shannon Moorhead’s retirement, the University of Miami (UM) has quickly transitioned to a new era of beating – and it is led by Ellen Hinshaw. Hinshaw leads a beating corps that features Daniel Cantrelle, Marcos Serur, Dema Ammar, Briana Earhart, Ethan Palmer, and Elen Edelson. Miami’s strength is its beating. Whenever Hinshaw is on the pitch for the team, the beater corps appears to click seamlessly. Having learned from some of the best beaters in the region – such as Moorhead, Sean Pagoada, and Kashi Anand – Hinshaw’s game is at her strongest during her defensive beating. A softball player in high school, Hinshaw boasts a strong and accurate arm to go with her quick reflexes; however, her best assets are her experience and conditioning. Last season Hinshaw was a key focal point for UM in winning the 2016 South Regional Championship, and she also led UM to a 2-2 record in group play at US Quidditch Cup 9. Playing alongside Moorhead, Hinshaw helped keep Miami in range in its bracket play game against eventual runners-up Rochester United (120*-60 Rochester). Miami is likely to qualify for US Quidditch Cup 10, and Hinshaw, now a year more experienced, will be a big reason why.

Five Storylines to Keep an Eye on

1. Heat’s experience with multiple out-of-state tournaments
Carolina Heat began its quidditch journey by traveling to several out-of-state tournaments early in the season, including Canes Classic, Tar Heel Brawl, Oktoberfest Invitational, and Flagler Cup. While there were some unfortunate weather circumstances that occurred at Canes Classic, the Heat faced top contender Florida’s Finest and learned about the chemistry of its new team. The Heat then attended Tar Heel Brawl and went undefeated in the tournament, facing the Mid-Atlantic style of slowball, zone, play style, and assimilating a deeper sub line of players from outside South Carolina, including Jody Louis and Tyler Goss. With its first tournament win, Carolina Heat traveled to New York to participate in the Oktoberfest Invitational, where Heat was exposed to many teams that the South does not normally meet, such as District of Columbia Quidditch Club, University of Rochester Thestrals, and Maryland Quidditch. The last out-of-state tournament Carolina Heat attended was Flagler Cup, where it again went undefeated, beating College of Charleston, a mercenary team that is mostly Siege players, and beating Florida’s Finest by a snitch catch in the finals. By traveling to three different regions throughout its season, the Heat has gained experience against a large variety of offense, defense, and beating styles, making it a well-rounded group ready for the regional championship.

2. Underdogs’ time to shine
CofC comes into the 2017 South Regional Championship after a rough start to its season, with two out-of-range games (one against the Carolina Heat on Jan. 14 and another against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch at Old Money Classic IV). CofC looks to build from these tough losses while acknowledging that the beating of River Galacia and the support of both Daniel Lange and Feliciano will carry this team to US Quidditch Cup 10. Still, after CofC’s surprising run to the finals two years ago, it is difficult to count CofC out, no matter how dire the situation looks.

FSU could be capable of qualifying for a spot at US Quidditch Cup 10. Although the team lacks experience, it has turned in strong performances at many of its tournaments so far this season. The loss of Zenn Perdomo left a leadership hole that has been capably filled by Gabrielli. But the main factor in whether or not FSU qualifies will be its key players. Rookies Jordan Rains and Brooke Carter lead the beater line, aided by Danny Cairo. For the quaffle game, the likes of Rachel Russell (chaser) and rookie Amber Bardsley (chaser) will help out Gabrielli and Ian Munro.

Ian Munro, playing at the Horns Up for Harambe Memorial Championship, looks to help take FSU to US Quidditch Cup 10 | Photo Credit: Andrew Salinero Photography
FPQC comes into this season’s regional championship after surprising everyone last season by winning its group, which featured strong programs such as the 2016 South Regional Champions University of Miami and University of Florida. The Panthers will be led by beater Steven Paisley (who has improved after playing for Team Spain at the 2016 IQA Quidditch World Cup) and the keeping skills of the Rodriguez brothers, Albert and Roy. The losses of Cairo and Gabrielli to FSU may be the team’s downfall, but the additions of beater/seeker Matt Clevenger (University of South Florida  Quidditch [USF]) and chaser Hao Wang (University of Florida Quidditch) have led FPQC to the same position as last year: uncertain. FPQC has the potential to beat a championship team again at the 2017 South Regional Championship, but the Panthers also have the potential to lose to weaker opponents. The team will be relying on the beating of Julia Pomeroy and Marie McLaughlin’s chasing.

The Nearly Headless Knights, led by keeper Clay Curtis, will aim to show teams why their performance at the 2016 South Regional Championship was no fluke. After a successful first year for the Headless Knights, they come into 2016-17 season with more talent and experience. The Knights have their all-star in Curtis, who gained experience at Tallahassee’s June Fantasy Tournament with a team that included the likes of Pagoada, Andrew Monast, Mark Griffin, and Paisley.

3. The Afterthoughts
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) comes into the 2017 South Regional Championship with a record of 2-5. With wins against Houston Cosmos Quidditch Club and Lumberjack Quidditch, USM has proved it has the potential to surprise teams. With Rebekah Page as USM’s coach, the team has shown promise throughout the season. Page will need to use her experience and leadership for the team to have a chance at the regional championship.

Although a historically successful program, USF has lost many of its talented players, posting disappointing results this season. Sabrina Cotton and Mira Patel will no doubt be providing leadership and experience at the regional championship.

Quidditch Club at the University of Tennessee Knoxville comes to the 2017 South Regional Championship with people not knowing what to expect. Last year the team failed to win a game at the regional championship, and the prognosis is much the same this year. Tennessee will fight in each game and, with more practice and experience, will continue to improve.

4. Tennessee and South Carolina US Quidditch Cup 9 2016 South bid winners
Forgotten Ones Quidditch (FOQ):
Logan Hartman came up with the idea for the Forgotten Ones Quidditch Club. Hartman’s goal was to build another strong community team to compete against inTENNsity and Storm. Sadly, Hartman’s ambition fell short due to a lack of support. Players interested in FOQ during summer break soon left once school started, leaving Hartman with seven to eight players. FOQ had a lot of potential and hopefully the team comes to fruition next season.

inTENNsity came out strong last year as a new community team in Tennessee, earning a bid to US Quidditch Cup 9. Even though inTENNsity failed to make bracket play at USQ Cup 9, the team gained experience on the national level. This season, inTENNsity went to Hub City Cup III where it played USM twice, winning both games out of snitch range. inTENNsity also lost to Louisiana State University Quidditch by 20 points at Hub City Cup III. inTENNsity’s matchup against Gulf Coast Gumbeaux was a highlight of the tournament, although the team lost 170*-50. inTENNsity also lost to Southern Storm 90*-30. With the leadership of Landon Smith and the experience already on inTENNsity, the team is expected to perform well at the regional championship. This team has the potential to surprise and grab a bid once again to USQ Cup.

Southern Storm is another team that successfully managed to earn a bid to USQ Cup 9. Storm is now going into its third season as a community team and it hit the ground running from the beginning of the year. Joey Galtelli, coach and captain of the Storm, took it upon himself to give the team as much experience as possible. In October and November, Storm competed in three tournaments, showing excellent team chemistry and dominating beater play. The additions of Crunk and Suthers, as well as chaser Jalann Little, captain Tanner Morris, and captain Ginny Ostgaard, have Storm thinking of not only taking home the gold at the regional championship, but also a bid for US Quidditch Cup 10. The experience on this team’s roster and its experience this season has only helped to improve its chances of gaining a bid to Kissimmee. It is tough to even consider that Southern Storm may not quality for USQ Cup 10.

5. Predictions to receive bids for USQ Cup 10
Carolina Heat is known to adapt its strategies to the teams it plays. It will be the favorite in any snitch-range game it plays with Ryan Davis boasting a 100 percent snitch catch rate. She is without a doubt one of the best seekers in the south and is arguably one of the top in the country. Utilizing the slowball technique, Heat beat Finest at Flagler Cup without a full roster. Heat’s strong roster and adaptability have led it to a 9-4 record, and for it to lose it might need to fall out of snitch range entirely. As the team gets more experience, it continues to improve, and its performance this year makes it one of the favorites entering the tournament.

Florida’s Finest runs its game well, but at times lacks adaptability. Nonetheless, Finest boasts many of the top players. If it can bring that together and play like a team, then it could even win the regional championship. Either way, any game between Finest and Heat will be very entertaining.

Gainesville Siege had a strong showing early this season. However, it is prone to moments of inconsistency, allowing lesser teams to hang in games. Siege has its strong points as well; it is fundamentally one of the best teams in the south. Most of its players have had three or more years of experience. On top of that, rookie Darius Housey is quickly learning the game, is not afraid to get physical, and has shown a field presence in every game he plays. Siege’s veterans also have good synergy as most of the team’s players were either on the former RCQC team or the former University of Florida team. Siege has the fundamentals and roster size that when all else fails, it can stay fresh and fall back to its basics. If this team plays at the same level as it played at the Horns Up For Harambe Memorial Championship, it should be a strong contender for the No. 3 seed.

Southern Storm earns its spot on this list as it is an experienced team that will be playing in its home state. Last year, the team was the runner up at the regional championship and made it to bracket play at US Quidditch Cup 9.

Despite losing several key players, the University of Miami has won five of the six South Regional Championships. Miami has lost some of its all-star players from last season, such as Moorhead and Bernardo Berges. Still, there’s no doubting the team’s talent, as it was drawn into Pot 1; if it brings a full roster, then it will be a huge threat.

Miami plays Florida’s Finest at last year’s South Regional Championship and hopes to earn a bid to US Quidditch Cup 10 | Photo Credit: Deanna Yates
Two Fun Facts
1. Miami’s Dominance
With all the talk focused around Siege, Finest, Storm, and the Heat as the top picks for bids, and deservedly so, it only brings extra motivation to an established dynasty. The University of Miami with the likes of Shannon Moorhead, Sean Beloff, Berges, German Barrios, and many others have helped UM earn three of the past four South Region gold medals.

The new leadership of Cantrelle and Tony Zhu have UM training harder than ever before. Cantrelle and Zhu both understand the history of UM and are looking to take home another gold. The University of Miami will do what it does best: prepare and train. Players such as Hinshaw, Annika Socha, Serur, and Jacob Baldwin will bring their experience and winning mindset to the pitch every game.

2. Home Field Advantage
Does home field advantage exist in quidditch? Does the distance a team has driven affect it when it arrives to a tournament? In the South region, the answer is no. The fact is, the longer/farther the team is from the tournament location, the better that team has done.

Florida teams were considered strong favorites at last year’s South Regional Championship. However, the opposite came true, with only one bid going to a Florida-based team; the three others went to South Carolina and Tennessee. Perhaps most surprising was that Florida’s Finest failed to qualify for US Quidditch Cup 9, despite many thinking that it was the best team in the region. The 2016 Regional Championship is not a unique case. In 2014, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, no South Carolina team qualified for US Quidditch Cup. Now, two of the top teams hail from the state.

This phenomenon could be caused by teams having more focus and drive when they have to drive long distances and pay more for travel.

Having the regional championship in South Carolina instead of Florida may mean that Florida teams will do better at the tournament. However, South Carolina and Tennessee teams may come out fiercely to protect their home turf.

One Regional Champion

Florida’s Finest
At the end of the day, this is Florida’s Finest’s tournament to win. Just recently becoming the No. 1 team in USQ standings, it is hard to see another team taking the Flamingos down. With two tournaments taken away from them (Wolf Pack and Flagler Cup), Florida’s Finest only has five official wins that came against the Carolina Heat, Florida State University (two games), and Gainesville Siege (two games). However, the experience gained against the out-of-region teams at Wolf Pack only solidifies Florida’s Finest’s shot at the championship.

But life as a Flamingo didn’t always look easy; its success this year comes back to its unsuccessful and disappointing turnout at last year’s regional championship. With a stunning loss in bracket play against University of Miami, it was forced into a win-or-go-home situation. Florida faced FIU, which was an easy 90-50* win that led to a do-or-die bid game with Tennessee Tech University. With the strength of Hartman on TTU’s side, it gave Finest too much to handle and sadly the team was defeated. This sour taste of being left out of USQ Cup 9 only pushed Sean and Eric Pagoada to form a stronger and quicker team for the 2016-17 season. And this they did, with the help of the veteran Crespo. The additions of Kayla Wilson, Rachel Ayella-Silver, Kelsey Franklin, Austin Archie, Austin Webster, Quincy Hildreth, and Pablo Jaramillo have changed the Finest culture. Each individual has brought their winning attitude from their previous teams, and they have shown that winning as a team is more important than individual statistics. Sean Pagoada’s biggest success during the off season was keeping the Florida connection: Dre Clements and Kenny Stowe. These two leaders balance out the experience of the new additions and will help this team earn its bid.

What will we see from Florida Finest at the South Regional Championship? Revenge. Playing for a purpose this year is what will set Florida’s Finest apart from everyone and allow this team to take home the gold.

Florida’s Finest at Flagler Cup | Photo Credit: Deanna Yates

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