By Cameron VomBaur
The last of USQ’s regional championships, the 2018 West Regional Championship in Dublin, CA will see five of the 12 competing college teams earn a bid to US Quidditch Cup 11. Without powerhouse community teams in the mix, West college teams will play only against one another, aiming to win a title, put themselves in a good position to get a national bid, or simply make a statement on a regional stage. In this preview, we will examine four players to keep an eye on, three teams on the bubble of securing one of the five bids, two burning questions for the competition, and make a prediction for the one 2018 West Regional college champion.
4 Players to watch
Tyler Hodges, Anteater Quidditch (AQ)
After last year’s storybook run to secure AQ’s first-ever national bid, the Anteaters graduated a huge chunk of their quaffle line. Key players like Austin Sharp, Joe Robles, Connie Henderson, Jacob Ellis, Miguel Villa, and Princeton Nguyen are playing elsewhere in the 2017-18 season. Despite these losses, Anteater Quidditch has hopes to again qualify for US Quidditch Cup, thanks in large part to Hodges’ play. An athletic presence as an on-ball defender, Hodges can make stops by himself when offenses make it through the less experienced players around him. He is also the Anteaters’ most potent driving threat; however, his selfless passing to teammates when he has the opportunity to dunk by himself can result in missed opportunities.
Anna Huang, San José State University (SJSU)
Half of SJSU’s vaunted “Anna and Elsa” beating pair with teammate Elsa Lem, Huang has not always had the opportunity to raise her profile with a San José squad that has not been on the national stage since World Cup VII. However, she did make a strong impression during each of the past two summers with MLQ’s San Francisco Argonauts. Although SJSU, like many Northern California teams, runs a conservative, bludger control-focused defense, Huang can often be seen sniping quaffle carriers with her considerable range. Her playmaking style will be a boon to San José’s chances to qualify, especially during snitch–on–pitch.
Justin Van Ligten, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
Much has been made of UCLA’s massive graduating class and the success the team has had with less-experienced players. One of these returners is Van Ligten, a highly physical beating presence. Though he was a rookie only last season, Van Ligten has already stepped into a position of leadership with the young Bruins. As part of a scrappy, highly active beating rotation, he has good chemistry with an array of partners, including in split-gender beating duos with Dani Clarke and Vannica Phorn, and also with UCLA’s less commonly utilized double-male sets.
Maddi Erdall, Cal Quidditch
Somehow flying a little under the radar among Cal’s talented group of physical quaffle players, Maddi Erdall’s talents jump out during Cal’s matches. While her steady hands allow her to be a dependable option on a drive-and-dish plays, she is also more than capable of creating opportunities herself. Her soccer midfielder background lends to her nifty offensive footwork in jukes and cuts and she has the strength to finish through physical keepers. She also possesses the field vision to find her teammates cutting to the hoops. Defensively, Erdall will step up to point if called upon, and bring a similar brand of fast feet and toughness.
3 Teams on the Bubble of Qualifying
Anteater Quidditch (AQ)
After a phenomenal Day Two run in the qualification brackets at last year’s West Regional Championship, AQ will look to take a rebuilding team back to US Quidditch Cup in an expanded, 64-team field. Despite the team’s losses, veterans such as Tyler Hodges, Clare Brosnan, and Phillip Arroyo Long have yielded some decent results, but no signature wins like last year’s regional performances against Northern Arizona University (NAU) and UCLA, or AQ’s historic upset over the Lost Boys. The Anteaters’ best win is likely a 130*-90 victory against San José State University in December, which was avenged by SJSU 50-130* in February at AQ’s home tournament. The Anteaters are inconsistent in SWIM games, which they will certainly run into if they hope to qualify, going 3-4 with losses to likely non-qualifiers in California Dobbys, Arizona Jackalopes, and Stanford. Utility player Long will hope to improve on that record after recovering from a concussion earlier in the year.
San José State University Quidditch (SJSU)
San José has earned a respectable 7-7 record on the season, built largely on the backs of veterans of MLQ’s San Francisco Argonauts. Players like Anna Huang, Elsa Lem, Kim Cheng, Derek Zeng, and Hugo Quiroz made an impression, and undoubtedly picked up skills from the diverse group of USQ teams that compose the Argonauts. While Quiroz and his lanky arms have caught many snitches, the team’s 3-4 SWIM record is surprisingly middling (although two of those losses came in overtime following a SJSU catch in regulation). Encouragingly, SJSU’s results seem to be trending up, with the aforementioned out-of-range rematch win over Anteater Quidditch, a victory over the Silicon Valley Vipers, and an overtime loss to Cal Quidditch all coming within the last month. SJSU will aim to maintain their positive momentum to earn a bid.
Utah State Quidditch Club (USQC)
Like Anteater Quidditch, Utah State lost a massive chunk of last year’s nationally-qualifying roster. Three-year starters Brandon Handy and Devon Anderson have graduated and been coaxed out of soft retirements to play for the Los Angeles Gambits, and a wealth of other talented players have graduated or transferred. The most glaring lack of experience is at beater, where second-year players Dru Smith and Hadley Kirk lead a group of developing rookies. At times, the squad leans too much on its veteran-heavy front line, which may be cause for concern during the key qualifying matches late in Day Two, when depth is key. In snitch-range games, USQC is 5-2 (including two wins over NAU and one overtime victory over the Silicon Valley Skrewts), thanks largely to the efforts of stellar seeker Kellan Huber. Utah State will intend to suspend any doubts that they belong in the West with a third consecutive national bid.
2 Burning Questions
Can anybody stop Arizona State University?
The competition for the regional championship seems to be a three-horse race between favorites Arizona State (ASU) and upset hopefuls and poolmates Cal and UCLA. The structure of Day Two’s double-elimination bracket means that ASU will likely have to be upset twice, and it would likely need to come from Cal and/or UCLA. Cal’s 4-8 record will only fool those who are not familiar with their opponents; Cal has played an immensely difficult schedule, only playing lower-tier teams within the past month. And while Cal has suffered a few out-of-range losses to more established programs, the team also had impressive losses, including falling in-range to ASU at Heroes vs Villains Invitational. Ryan Pfenning, Owen Egger, and Ardin Lo will look to set the tone against UCLA in the final match of Day One. UCLA, however, may be considered the favorites, after a resurgent season. While there are not many true UCLA returners, there is a strong contingent of former Wizards of Westwood (UCLA’s second squad), as well as a pair of former Gambits returning to collegiate play in Christian Krieger and captain Badal Chandra. UCLA utilizes a great deal of crisp passing and team-oriented play, in contrast to ASU’s and Cal’s drive- and star-heavy styles. UCLA has played in 27 games across six tournaments, more than any other team in the West, including a strong showing at Wolf Pack Classic in New Orleans. At UCLA’s unofficial home tournament Chandra Cup, UCLA went 1-1 with ASU, although both rosters had some players that have not been participating with the teams during the official season. Though ASU seems to be primed to run roughshod through the tournament, Cal and UCLA will be hungry to show that the West has not been won yet.
Which NAU will show up?
Northern Arizona University Narwhals has also had a resurgent season after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them fail to secure a national bid for the first time in several years. The team’s unique defense typically features two quaffle players at the hoops, two beaters in front of them, and two extremely aggressive point defenders looking to secure turnovers and generate lightning-quick fast break offenses. Chaser captain and keeper Colin Statt is the team’s primary offensive force, using speed and quick steps to score uncontested goals. The beaters are led by coach and four-year veteran Adam Beller, and bring a mean, physical element to their games. Chasers like Sophie Collier and Jacob Davis excel at off-ball movement on offense and constant, unrelenting pressure at point defense. Until recently, the Narwhal’s season was looking excellent, scoring out-of-range wins over the Fighting Farmers of America, beating Utah State in a close match, and twice keeping ASU in snitch range. They also swept the competition at Dust Bowl, a field that demonstrated NAU is very capable of dominantly putting away teams that are not at its level. However, a substandard performance at Tempe Brawl 3.0 three weeks ago is cause for some concern. Two in-range losses to a scrappy Utah State and a disappointing 140*-20 defeat at the hands of ASU indicate that NAU may not be the dark horse for an upper bracket contender that they appeared to be in the fall. The Narwhals will certainly get a national bid, and they will certainly look to bring a different gameplan than they had in Tempe. But it remains to be seen whether they can translate their talents into a win over the top tier of college teams.
1 2018 West Regional Champion
Arizona State University (ASU)
The undeniable favorite for the tournament is Arizona State University. Last year, the team went undefeated through March en route to a regional championship, with impressive snitch-range wins at WRC 2017 over Long Beach Funky Quaffles, Crimson Elite, Lost Boys, and the Los Angeles Gambits. This season, very few major pieces from that squad are missing, and there is a massive core of returning talent. Arizona State boasts an incredibly deep stable of beaters, and while Team USA hopefuls Ryan McGonagle and Vicky Sanford are probably the most recognizable pair, names like Amani Burton and Kasandra Rascon are also supremely talented, and will rarely be outplayed by even the top lines of other teams. ASU’s quaffle players have a blend of size (Dylan Bryant, Tommy McGonagle, Thomas Frampton) and speed (Josh Lovato, Brentlee Cass) that will also be difficult to match. And if any competitors manage to keep ASU in range, they will be faced with a formidable rotation of snitch-on-pitch beaters and seekers, led by longtime program standout and captain Jarrod Bailey. The team is 4-0 in snitch-range games on the season, and has only lost to community giants Lake Erie Elite, Lost Boys, and Gambits, all at an injury-plagued Heroes vs Villains Invitational in January, where they also managed to hand Nomads their only loss of the season. ASU’s resume is undeniable, and it will likely take two major upsets on Day Two to stop the team from heading back to Tempe with another set of gold medals.