Thursday, February 4, 2016

Northwest Looks to Crown Second Champion

By Benji B’Shalom

Editor’s Note: The author is the captain of the Portland Augureys

The Northwest region will gather in Salem, Oregon this weekend for the second Northwest Regional Championship (NWRC). This tournament will determine the regional champion, along with the second- and third-place teams; all of whom will earn bids to US Quidditch Cup 9.

The tournament will be contested by nine teams in a full round-robin, meaning each team will play eight games over two days, one game against each of the other teams. In the end, the top three teams in the standings (with standard USQ tie-breakers applied) will be the bid-winners.

The Northwest has a three-team top tier that has been untouchable this year, so any deviation from the expected results would be unprecedented. As the teams prepare to make their stand, here is what you need to know about the big three teams looking to earn a regional title and the remaining six looking to shock the world by earning a trip to Columbia, South Carolina.

The Big Three
The consensus top three teams in the Northwest region have set themselves apart from the rest in a big way. This year, no Northwest team outside of the top three has beaten a team in the top three, a pattern that mirrors last year’s top tier. For these three teams, leaving Salem without a bid to US Quidditch Cup 9 would be an immense disappointment.

Boise State Abraxans (BSA) 13-2
As last year’s champion, BSA enters this tournament looking to solidify its dominance over the region by repeating the title. The Abraxans are also considered to be the favorites in the tournament.

While this team did distinguish itself significantly from even the other top teams in the Northwest by the end of last season, it is difficult to measure the Abraxans against those same teams this time around. The only game between top Northwest opponents was a strong BSA victory over the University of British Columbia (UBC) at Tree City Tournament III very early in the season.

BSA has focused mostly on out-of-region play this season, centered around a strong rivalry with the Utah-based teams of the West region. This year’s NWRC will be an excellent chance to see whether the rest of the Northwest has gained or lost ground on BSA.

On the pitch, BSA relies on utility player Stew Driflot, who has the unique ability to be the team’s linchpin at any position he plays. Whatever role Driflot ends up playing, the athletic depth on BSA roster (such as Casey Thompson, Brenden Bixler, Bryan Bixler, and Joel Johnson) will be used to complement Driflot thanks to the superb coaching of Kym Couch. All told, the Abraxans pose a steep challenge for any team they face on their title defense campaign.

Rain City Raptors (RCR) 10-0
Last year’s Western Washington University Wyverns made it to the final match against BSA without having to face either of the other top teams. That Wyverns team consisted mostly of today’s Raptors squad, so it’s up to them to prove that the 2015 finals run was not just a fluke of the schedule.

RCR has been on a tear through the Northwest this season, going undefeated in official games and losing only one game in unofficial play: a short-staffed finals loss to the University of British Columbia on a snitch grab in Kelowna, Canada in their first tournament of the year.

The Raptors’ success is based on several things that work in conjunction: first, a level of chemistry that is unmatched in the region; second, a highly-coordinated corps of beaters led by Molly Bocian; third, a modified Baylor hoop-defense in the quaffle game; and fourth, the inhuman driving ability of their top quaffle players, such as Ross Schram von Haupt, Jake Ronhaar, and Drew Sutorius.

RCR will look to continue its undefeated run, and will not face its toughest challenge until the last match of the weekend, when the team will look to leapfrog to the top against BSA.

University of British Columbia (UBC) 6-5
UBC enters this tournament with a chip on its shoulder: the possibility that this will be its last USQ regional championship. While the status of UBC is still highly contested, USQ has not wavered in its assertion that the program will not be welcome in the league next season. UBC will be determined to give all they have and show America what it will be missing.

Unfortunately, that mission has been hindered by an early-season injury to Cameron Cutler. The highly-talented, speedy keeper has missed the majority of this campaign with a shoulder injury. Cutler’s absence for the regional championship makes it probable that it will be UBC having to fend off the outside challengers for the third bid.

There are still many reasons, however, why UBC is favored to hold onto its spot. Lendl Magsipoc sets the tone for the team with his hard hits, Brandon Rivas tears up the beater game with incredible skill, and the speed and agility of Austin Wallace makes him a threat to score on both goals and snitch grabs. While UBC might not be quite as strong as it was last season, it still has all the pieces in place to dominate the lesser competition, and to have its fair shot against RCR and BSA.

Austin Wallace | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Robertson
The Field
After the three presumptive bid-winners, the Northwest region becomes a slew of teams with less glamorous records looking to raise their game and make a miracle run, or to have fun, develop the growth of their teams, and jockey for position in the final standings.

British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC) 0-5
BCQC, the B team to UBC, comes in without a win, and has not been very competitive in its five losses. Dwindling numbers and a lack of athleticism give this team a very low ceiling. However, with many other teams struggling with the same issues in this tournament, there is no reason BCQC could not notch its first win of the year when it counts most.

Big Sky Flyers Quidditch (BSF) 2-3
The Big Sky Flyers of Montana State University are making an extraordinarily long trek in their first year to play at NWRC. With very little play time this season and a small roster, BSF is focusing on development and experience. If Montana has a strong showing it will be on the efforts of team captain Emily Rodaway, chaser Spencer Shuman, and seeker Sarah McDowell. The team will also have to become more innovative, develop an identity and move past a generic playstyle. This team will aim to come away with a clear direction for the future, and maybe a couple of wins for good measure.

Boise State Thestrals 9-5
While the Thestrals continue to benefit from the overall strength of the Boise program, and feature underrated ball-carrier Ezra Johnson, roster size will likely be an issue for this team, which had to forfeit out of games at the Subdued Excitement Showdown in Washington last month due to a lack of players.

The Thestrals’ match against the Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho will be their sixth in the last two years, and add another chapter in an a rivalry that has yielded many exciting games. This time, that match will likely be the contest for fourth place overall, and the first option for any deferred bids.

Harry Penate sends the Boise State Thestrals and Moscow Manticores to overtime at NWRC in 2015 | Photo credit: Tasha Kiri Robertson

Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho 3-4
Moscow’s depth of under-the-radar quality players makes it one of the more dangerous teams in the Northwest. The keeper rotation of Cody Fairchild and Junghune Nam means that Moscow always has someone on the pitch who can take control of the game on both offense and defense. With quality players and smart tactics, the Manticores have perhaps the best chance of a surprise bid, though that is still a long shot.

Portland Augureys 1-7
With the regional championship in their backyard, the Augureys would have loved to send a strong roster and make a statement. Instead, Portland will have a nine-person roster, with one player playing only Sunday and one playing only Saturday, bringing them down to eight people for every game. This roster will also not include their star captain beater/keeper/chaser Jess Robertson, who will be out with a thumb injury.

With Robertson out, the chemistry between their core will be vital. If Cierra Bolin and Indigo Rambo can click and Portland can take advantage of Conway Cooperson’s experience and Phil Willis’ physicality, there are still opportunities to win, but with all of the things working against the Augureys, expectations will be low for a team that showed a lot of promise early in the season.

Western Washington University Wyverns (WWU) 0-6
WWU is a proud program with a storied past. The team has suffered this season from the mass exodus of its founding player base, but its 0-6 official record is deceiving, as further scrutiny reveals a litany of games in or near-snitch range.

WWU can rise to the occasion of the regional championship if it plays a tighter game, and if ball-carriers Ian Howard, Marcus Toomey, and Abe Nurkiewicz can take advantage of the ability of beaters Siri Rigsby and Megan Boice to clear driving lanes. Even then, it will be important for WWU to figure out its seeking strategy. If it can make minor adjustments, fourth place is not out of reach. If not, a low finish will be expected.

Megan Boice and Abe Nurkiewicz | Photo Credit: Tasha Kiri Robertson


While the gap between the top three and the rest of the pack makes for little drama as to who will be sent to US Quidditch Cup 9 come April, there are a lot of questions to be answered: Can anyone stop BSA from claiming its second consecutive regional title? How will the top teams match up? Who will claim the fourth spot? Who will end up at the bottom of the region? Who will make their case as a potential Team USA player? All things considered, we can expect the NWRC to be a highly-contested battle, with teams fighting through adversity to represent the Northwest well at the culmination of the region’s second year.

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