By Paul Dvoracek
On a beautiful fall weekend, 13 teams traveled to Nevada, Iowa to participate in the second USQ Midwest Regional Championship (MWRC) since the Midwest/Great Lakes regional split. After a weekend of tough competition and some surprising upsets, Mizzou Quidditch came away with its first regional championship, defeating Kansas Quidditch 190*-110. Illinois State University Firebirds, Minnesota Quidditch, and Marquette University Quidditch also qualified for the 2017 USQ Quidditch Cup.
Big Dogs Have Big Weekends
One of the most intriguing storylines of the USQ season so far has been the rise of Mizzou to the top echelon of US teams. While Mizzou has consistently been a strong program, this offseason it took its game to the next level, and this showed as the team dominated all weekend on its way to its first regional championship title. While Mizzou has been the hottest story line in the Midwest this fall, Kansas remains the regional powerhouse it has always been. Dominating its pool going 4-0 with a point differential of 650 points and a perfect snitch catch percentage, Kansas easily earned the top spot in Sunday’s bracket. Kansas continued its strong play on Day Two with out-of-range wins against Marquette and Creighton only to fall to Mizzou out of range. The championship was the second time Mizzou and Kansas have played this season and cemented Mizzou’s place on top of the region.
While the order may have shifted, the same set of teams comprise the elite core of the region. The only team to earn a bid this year that did not last year was Marquette University Quidditch, the team that was the final team eliminated last year. TC Frost and the University of Northern Colorado were the strongest teams that did not qualify.
Cold Snap and Big Thaw
Coming into the tournament, many eyes were on the reinvented TC FROST. Combining the experienced beating and seeking corps from the now defunct Minnesota Nice with Frost’s physical quaffle game, TC Frost seemed poised to make a run at a regional title, carrying the number three seed into the tournament. Two days later Frost went home without a bid. So what happened?
The Good: As one of four community teams in the Midwest (three of which attended), Frost has the most experience in the region, and it showed. Matt Bessard and Alex Obanor have been playing the best quidditch of their careers as they lead a drive-happy, ground-and-pound quaffle game.
The Bad: Frost was unable to finish games. On Sunday, Frost played Minnesota twice and was up out of range both games when the snitch came on the pitch. In both games Minnesota caught two snitches to force overtime and eventually win. Even with one of the better seekers in the region in Max Meier, Frost was unable to make catches when it needed them.
And the Ugly: While Frost has the most collective experience of any team in the region, this season is the first after the TC Frost/Minnesota Nice merger and it showed. In the consolation semifinals, the Minnesota beaters controlled the seeker game almost uncontested. Against Marquette in the consolation finals, the chemistry between Frost’s beaters and chasers broke down, leading to uncharacteristic giveaways that allowed Marquette to remain in a position to pull the snitch for the win. TC Frost has an excellent base and has the potential to do extremely well at Consolation Cup if it irons out its issues, but unfortunately it did not play to its potential at the Midwest Regional Championship.
Illinois State Firebirds
Relatively new to the top tier in the Midwest, the Illinois State Firebirds have shown that they are not a team to be taken lightly. While they were highly ranked in the preseason, injuries and departures left them ranked sixth in the region going into the tournament and poised to make an early exit. Instead, they defeated Marquette 110*-90 to earn a bid and end up tied for third overall, riding their veteran leadership and Jeff Siwek snitch catches to victory.
One of the most celebrated programs in the post-split Midwest, Kansas played like an elite team, reaching the finals. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the program, Kansas improved on its performance from last year’s regional championship, finishing second. While it did not have enough players to field a B team this year, Kansas remains one of if not the deepest teams in the region. As is a common theme throughout USQ this year, Kansas was helped along by a cadre of veteran leaders from MLQ. Rachel Heald, Austin Pitts, and Paris Nichols all showed how a summer of major league caliber competition with the Kansas City Stampede can improve a player as they led their team to a strong showing
Marquette has historically been a tale of two teams: one that is an on-again/off-again regional favorite and the one we saw at the last MWRC that failed to qualify for the national championship. A season with the Indianapolis Intensity of MLQ helped some of the veterans give their team the consistency they have lacked in the past. It is no surprise to see the Marquette squad being led by captain and primary ball handler Nathan Digmann. Digmann’s ball handling and leadership improve the team around him and solidify his position as the lynchpin of the Marquette squad. One of the breakout players of the season for Marquette has been Cammy Lang, who also played on the Intensity. Lang’s ability to recognize holes in the opposing defense and to be where she is least expected have turned her into one of the best female chasers in the Midwest.
Graduation took its toll on the defending champions, as the team lost much of its veteran leadership. However, the young team (nine rookies, 10 veterans) showed a maturity beyond its years as it defeated TC Frost and Anarchs Quidditch Alliance twice each to secure its bid. Much of the credit goes to Minnesota’s second-year players who have shown maturity and leadership in their sophomore season. In only his second season, Peter Nieman has helped anchor the Minnesota quaffle game by stepping in to help fill the leadership void left by the departing seniors. In his second season as a beater, Joe Reis has developed into a dynamic beater with a gift for highlight reel plays (when he hits his target) and has provided much needed coaching and leadership to a young Minnesota beater corps.
With a dominant performance all weekend, Mizzou showed why it deserves all the hype it has received so far this year, playing one snitch range game all weekend (a 120*-70 win over Minnesota in pool play). Jacob Parker and Gabi Pollard have put their season with the Kansas City Stampede to good use, Parker leading a physical quaffle attack, and Pollard punishing keepers who lose track of her around the hoops. As good as the Mizzou quaffle game has been, it has been David Becker’s beating that has been the most talked about reason for the team’s success. During Becker’s time with the Stampede, he developed into a dynamic beater with a sniper’s eye and a marksman’s aim. Becker’s long beats allow the Mizzou chasers the opportunity to play a lot of no-bludger counterattacking quidditch. In a year with additional challenges for college teams due to the college/community split, Mizzou has defied expectations and shown what a solid team work ethic and commitment to improvement can do for a team.
Mizzou is the Midwest’s best chance to go deep at US Quidditch Cup 10
Mizzou is the most well-rounded team in the region, and its early season success in out-of-region tournament bodes well for its chances at nationals. The key for Mizzou will be to develop a suitable back up for David Becker. In Mizzou’s two losses this year (against Texas State at Cowboy Cup VI and against Minnesota at Kansas Cup V), Becker either carded out or was mostly ineffective. If Mizzou can develop good beaters to support him, it will have a beater corps that can compete on the national stage. If not, it might struggle when it goes against teams with beaters that can match Becker’s aggressiveness and have greater depth and experience. While Mizzou’s beating looks impressive against college teams with limited experience, it might be a different story when it plays teams like QC Boston, the L.A. Gambits, or the Lost Boys, whose beaters have been playing together for years.
MWRC might be a preview of a college/community split
The Midwest is a very sparsely populated region; 13 teams represented seven states at MWRC, and only Illinois sent more than two teams to the tournament. As a result of the lack of clusters of teams, the post-split Midwest has traditionally been dominated by college teams, as community teams struggle to recruit enough players to be competitive. As the first region to not send a single community team to nationals, the MWRC provides a glimpse of what a future college league might look like, with physical games, more conservative beating, and a constant turnover of players and teams.