By Christopher Dewing
1. Arizona State University (ASU) surprised many by winning the title this year, but perhaps the team’s victory shouldn’t come as a surprise. ASU’s lack of play outside of Arizona this year made it hard to ascertain just how competitive the team would be coming into the tournament. That question has decisively been answered, but ASU certainly didn’t make it easy on itself. Over the two days, ASU had four in-range games and caught the snitch for the victory in all of them to continue its run and its undefeated record.
ASU’s title-winning campaign was certainly not a dominating romp to victory. Instead, it relied on strong beating, an excellent group of seekers, and a tenacious defense to make up for some sloppy play on offense. The team’s competitive dedication showed in the final when it was able to turn a 40-point deficit into a 20-point lead before catching the snitch. ASU deserved its title, beating the other three semifinalists at some point over the weekend and bringing its best game when it mattered the most. However, ASU’s close victory over the Long Beach Funky Quaffles in the quarterfinals – a pool play game the Los Angeles Gambits won by 130 points the day before – shows there is still room for growth. ASU will certainly bring a lot of confidence to US Quidditch Cup 10, but how far the team is able to go will depend on how long it can maintain its perfect SWIM record. One thing remains certain: ASU should never be counted out.
2. The finals loss for the Gambits is a tough one, considering the domination they showed throughout the tournament. The Gambits’ first snitch-range game was the final, and perhaps the lack of multiple competitive games hurt them. There is no doubting the talent on this team. Comprehensive victories over the Long Beach Funky Quaffles, Cal Quidditch, and a controlled win over Crimson Elite show the gap that much of the West faces in comparison to the Gambits. Even in the final, the Gambits were up 40 on ASU at one point before starting to fade. A regional title was very close, but ultimately beyond their grasp.
The question remains as we head toward USQ Cup about just how ready the Gambits are to face other national title contending teams. Just like last year, it seems these questions revolve around snitch-on-pitch times. In the final, the Gambits struggled to score when players other than Tony Rodriguez were leading the attack. Gambit seekers also struggled to get clear attempts at the snitch as ASU maintained bludger control for much of the period, especially in the later stages of the game. Whether the Gambits can continue to score and maintain control during extended snitch periods will likely decide their fate at USQ Cup.
3. It is fair to say expectations were low for Northern California going into this West Regional Championship. Cal Quidditch was considered the best chance for a bid, closely followed by the Silicon Valley Skrewts. Outside of those two teams, the rest of the sub-region was mostly written off. Day One quickly turned many of those expectations upside down. Cal fell to 2-2 in pool play despite high expectations, while the California Dobbys and Silicon Valley Vipers surprised with upsets over the Arizona Jackalopes and Funky Quaffles, respectively. Though neither the Vipers nor the Dobbys secured a USQ Cup bid while Cal did, their play showcases a competitive depth that few believed to exist. The Skrewts remained competitive all weekend long, ultimately losing to the Lost Boys in-range during their quarterfinal match before convincingly securing a bid with a second victory over the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Narwhals. None of the Northern California teams are elite enough to challenge for the West title, but ignoring them appears to no longer be an option.
Southern California had a bumper run at the West Regional Championship despite not bringing home the title. Five of the nine bids for the region were taken by Southern California teams, none more unexpected than that of Anteater Quidditch. Fighting for the final bid in the tertiary bracket, Anteater Quidditch played to its strength all weekend long with slow offensive play, backed up by power drives, and a stout defense. Other teams also put in strong performances as Long Beach was tied with ASU in the quarterfinal match when the snitch was caught, and Lost Boys were within range for the entire snitch period in their ASU semifinal. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) experienced a good weekend that is likely soured by the team’s upset loss to Anteater Quidditch in bracket play, but this only continues to highlight the fierce competition Southern California brought across the two days. Despite ASU winning, Southern California remains the standard against which other teams will be measured going forward.
Arizona experienced a mix between euphoria and a letdown at the West Regional Championship. Despite ASU’s title, the lack of a second bid is undoubtedly a disappointment. NAU struggled to elevate its game all weekend against better teams, while the Arizona Jackalopes never seemed to get their run started. Both teams have strong rosters that suggest potential, but ultimately seemed to be lacking the edge to punch above their weight that seemed present in the performances by many California teams. The University of Arizona had several competitive matches, but never was able to get the final catch or finish to claim the victory against higher-seeded teams. There remains strong physical play and good beater depth in Arizona, but the teams’ performances leave room for future growth.
Utah was only represented by the family of Crimson Elite and Crimson Fliers after Utah State Quidditch Club and Provo Quidditch transferred to the Northwest Regional Championship. Crimson Elite was a deserving semifinalist and had a hard-fought, in-range loss to ASU on Day One. Missing throughout the weekend was George Williams, the heart of Elite’s offense. Despite this, other players stepped up admirably and Elite continued to play its brand of tenacious and team-oriented quidditch. The team’s loss to the Gambits in the semifinals ultimately highlighted the talent gap that existed as Elite’s offense failed to really make an impression against a stout defense. In the end, Crimson Elite finished with a solid performance that buttresses its reputation as a team, but still lacked the final edge to knock off teams competing for the title.
4. The biggest upset – or upsets – of the weekend undoubtedly belong to Anteater Quidditch. Despite a 1-3 record on Day One, Anteaters stuck to their game and pulled off a stunning upset over UCLA to advance in the primary bracket. A quick snitch catch brought home the spoils after a tenacious fight over the previous 18 minutes to never lose control of the game. Anteaters followed up this game with an in-range loss to Crimson Elite, where they slowballed to perfection before Elite’s seeking talent won out.
The Anteaters’ run through the tertiary bracket to claim a bid few anticipated was a nail-biting experience. Seemingly in control against the Vipers, they couldn’t find enough offense to overcome a stout defense and were dragged to overtime before a final quaffle score with 15 seconds remaining gave them their razor thin margin of victory. It was the same stout defense that overcame the Vipers that carried the Anteaters to victory against NAU. An early deficit was overturned with sound play once they were again able to stop NAU’s offensive threats and Jacob Ellis drove and juked for multiple scores to gain the lead. The Anteaters’ final catch and victory was a well-deserved reward for committed team play over the weekend.
The biggest surprise of a team to not get a bid was the Fighting Farmers of Arizona. A collection of strong talent from throughout the West, the Farmers’ lack of chemistry prevented them from raising their game all weekend. Each individual player would definitely be a contributor on any team in the region, but single-player drives to hoops could only take the Farmers’ offense so far. A predictable offensive strategy allowed opposing teams to adjust during and between games prepare for the Farmers. The lack of a star seeker also held them back as close losses on Day Two to Cal and NAU stopped their progression to USQ Cup. It is worth noting that Day One was filled with solid performances for the Farmers, including a victory over Cal and comprehensive victories over the San Jose State University Spartans and Sun Devil Quidditch. Ultimately, however, when the Farmers ran up against teams that could match their talent and had been able to practice and train together all year long, their reliance on individual play was not enough to claim the final victories that would have led them to Florida.