By Arjun Patel
Going into its fifth year, UTSC Phoenix is not a newcomer on the quidditch scene in Canada. As part of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Quidditch Club, Phoenix had a rocky past as it fluctuated between IQA membership and drop-in, inter-campus play. It was not until two years ago that the team finally emerged as a serious league team.
Early last season, the team found itself near the bottom of the Greater Toronto Area team cluster. Phoenix started with a very small core of less than ten returning players. Lacking a razor sharp bite, the chaser lines relied on short passes and its beater lines for both fast breaks and defense. The team saw little communication early into the season, and thanks to a lack of strategic play, Phoenix chasers mostly improvised on offense. Phoenix failed to score against top-tier teams like Valhalla Quidditch and Guelph Quidditch during the Guelph Tournament in Oct. 2015.
During the 2016 Eastern Canada Regional Championship, Phoenix played a more defensive game due to a lack of substitutes. The chaser lines once again relied mostly on short passes and improvisation, scoring an average of only 20 points per game. Its defense was relatively better, but because the team adapted a more conservative playstyle and focused on maintaining beater superiority, the beater line was unable to reach its full supportive potential and had zero impact on offense. As a result, the team found itself relying on its strong seeker line towards the end game to minimize the point deficit; seeker Tim Lee, Phoenix’s new captain for the new season, contributed to a perfect snitch catch record in all five matches. Overall, Phoenix placed second to last in the Eastern Regional Championship, just above Ryerson Quidditch.
The team once again entered the 2016 Quidditch Canada National Championship without a full roster as many experienced players were unable to attend due to exam season. Unfortunately, Phoenix was still haunted by the same problems it faced during the Eastern Regional Championship. The chasers scored an average of 20 points in pool play, and its defense was crippled due to weakened beater lines; as a result, the team was unable to make it to bracket play. Due to a lack of change in overall playstyle, Phoenix came third from last at nationals, despite improvement in individual skills throughout the year.
The troubles of UTSC Phoenix on the pitch last year were mainly due to a “lack of dedication… lack of athleticism, and probably a lack of effective strategy and training in said strategies,” according to Cody Mulholland, the ex-captain and ex-chaser of UTSC Phoenix – a statement many of the players agreed with. The recruitment problems that came with being part of a small campus of no more than 12,000 students did not help either. With two-thirds of the team being rookies, Phoenix had a slow start last year, spending the first half of the season trying to establish a baseline and good chemistry between the players. Furthermore, a lack of physical conditioning and aggressiveness further contributed to Phoenix’s dampened offensive and defensive capabilities.
How UTSC Phoenix will perform this coming season depends entirely on whether it can solve the last season’s problems. The team is likely to see a greater number of returning veteran players, bringing with them a cumulative total of 25 years of experience. Spearheading an aggressive recruitment campaign, the Marketing and Social Outreach Executive, Zakia Fahmida Taj, is “confident for a more packed roster than last year.” The team is also hosting an official tournament on Oct. 8 to give its new players a taste of their first official game. With a head start, hopefully Phoenix will be able to avoid the lack of communication and chemistry it faced early last season.
As for the lack of physical conditioning and training, the team hopes to overcome it under the new leadership of Tim Lee. Phoenix remains quite optimistic that, with Lee’s army background and orientation to physical training, he will shepherd them towards a more aggressive play style. Lee has discussed his plans to tailor drills and training regimes specifically to quidditch and that his martial arts background can “give [Phoenix] the edge in training.”
“I want our members to know that even with our smaller size, we can stand toe-to-toe with our competitors if need be”, said Lee.
As for the issues of personal dedication, only time will tell whether the new training regime and team efforts translate into victories and keep the players coming back for more.
With physical conditioning, a full roster, and enough substitute players, Phoenix’s chaser line has the potential to pack a punch this year. How well Phoenix improves its offense this season will depend on the chaser chemistry with the rookies of this year. With some of the veteran beaters starting to branch out into other positions, one can hope that Phoenix will be a better-rounded team. If Phoenix beaters choose to adapt to a more offensively-supportive beating style, they will be able to contribute towards sharper, more strategic drives. Lastly, Phoenix is optimistic that its new seeker potential will be ready by this season’s Eastern Regional Championship. Thus, with some experience under its belt, one can hope the players will adapt a more strategic play style, leading to an improvement in the both offensive and defensive capabilities. Provided everything goes right, the team can be expected to perform much better than last year.
With the YorkU Aurors’ full return to quidditch this year, and with possible entries of University of Toronto Mississauga and McMaster Quidditch Team to the league competition, one can expect greater competition than last year around the Greater Toronto Area, with community team Valhalla still being the dominant force. Phoenix seem to have the potential to break into the middle of the pack if it hits the ground running. Lee expects the team to place in the “low-medium tier” in this season’s Eastern Regional Championship, depending on the potential of the new recruits. Furthermore, he believes that the team will see continuous growth throughout the season like last year; Lee plans to capitalize on possible early victories to break into the upper-medium tier by the end of the year, hoping to “at least challenge [medium-tier] teams and make them work for their positions” by the time the National Championship rolls around.
After a rough year, it seems that Phoenix is systematically rooting out its weaknesses. With a stronger chaser line, a more supportive beater line, physical conditioning, and more experience under its belt, the team is definitely in a position to do well. How well Phoenix can capitalize on this chance it have been waiting for so long will remain to be seen.