The Eighth Man

Gold Standard: Bears finally scale Southwest mountain

Baylor keeper Reed Marchman denies a shot from Texas chaser Sarah Holub in the Regional final. Credit: Lauren Carter

Baylor keeper Reed Marchman denies a shot from Texas chaser Sarah Holub in the Regional final. Credit: Lauren Carter

No, Southwest regionals was not a huge tournament. And yes, the majority of the teams who attended walked away with World Cup bids. But, after an entire season of notable absences from the top teams – Texas missed Breakfast Taco, LSU missed Diamond Cup, Texas A&M and Baylor both missed Mardi Gras Cup – the tournament also served as our first chance to see the region’s elite up against each other.

From the outside, there’s very much a “Haters gon hate” vibe about the Southwest.  Thanks to great performance at the last world cup and excellent membership signups, teams were getting geared up for a 16 team tournament to distribute 10 spots. But then, it dropped even further, down to 15, a week before the tournament. Even with the low attrition rate, there was plenty of blood shed for the final spots, as well as the regional title.

The bracket on day two sent LSU out in a quarterfinals loss to A&M, their second of the weekend, and left semifinals of the University of Texas against Texas State University and Baylor University against Texas A&M. On one side of the bracket, the Longhorns rolled, while on the other side, A&M couldn’t find a way to put away the Bears. They attempted to pull away, but Baylor’s held tough, and a pull forced overtime, where a second pull gave Baylor a famous win.

In the finals, the Bears kept rolling, bringing the confidence of an early season win over Texas with them. The Longhorns threatened to pull away with an early 40-10 lead, but Baylor got its bearings, and by the time the snitch arrived, the play and score were fairly level. Once again, it was the Bears making the grab, giving them not only their first regional title, but also their first major tournament title of any kind.
Pool 1: Texas State University, Austin Quidditch, University of Northern Colorado, Denver Dementors

Even at first glance, there’s plenty to glean about the teams in this pool.  Half are from deep in the heart of Texas, while the other hails from the edge of the region in Colorado.  Although Texas State and Austin Quidditch have not yet made it to the highest tier of Southwest teams, neither was invited to Bottom of the Bracket and anyone in that upper tier always has to fight through at least one of them on the way to SW semis and finals.  The University of Northern Colorado and Denver Dementors, however, came in all but unknown to the rest of the region.  Aside from UNC’s appearance at WxSW, these two have an entirely Western resume.

The only real question mark in this pool was how Texas State would show up.  This is a team who gave two very different performances in October that were polar opposites, then played one obscure tournament in November and was done.

The mystery paid off for them, however, as they took down Austin Quidditch, 90*-30, in a match that decided the pool. Denver brought up the bottom, but UNC put up a fight, remaining tied with Austin before a grab by the Texas side gave them a 70*-40 win. They saw each other again in the first round of bracket play, with a World Cup bid on the line, but this time Austin had all of the right answers, winning 170*-90

UNC had a second shot at qualification after the loss when they took on Roadrunner Quidditch. But their defense continued to struggle, and they couldn’t quite close the gap to snitch range. Eventually, they went out, 180*-110. However, they undoubtedly still made waves.

Pool 2: Texas A&M, LSU, Sam Houston State University

There’s always a lot of talk about which is the pool of death for a tournament, and never has the answer been so immediately, and ultimately, tragically, clear.  After Hendrix dropped out, this pool featured the so-far undefeated Texas A&M, Bottom of the Bracket champion Sam Houston State University, and LSU, who despite not having the best season placed first or second at all but Collegiate Cup, where they lost to A&M in the semis.

Texas A&M against LSU has been a familiar story at every tournament since 2009.  The only times it hasn’t happened have been world cups IV and V, and as if to make up for it, this time it happened twice.  Both times, A&M remained cool and collected while a more erratic LSU failed to come together at the necessary level. In pool play, the result was a 100-50* result for the favorite.

The real heartbreak of the tournament was Sam Houston.  Losing to A&M and LSU by significant margins on day one left SHSU with a 1-2 record going into the bracket.  Sunday morning, they faced a confident Silver Phoenix team, and though the managed to get within snitch range, the grab didn’t go their way.  After defeating UNT in the consolation bracket, they faced off against OSU for a second chance at the last world cup spot.  Although SHSU was heavily favored, they missed a few too many scoring opportunities, which proved crucial once the snitch returned to the field rather quickly.  All too soon, OSU had yet another stroke of luck when SHSU thought play was stopped and OSU’s seeker caught the snitch, denying the most deserving unqualified team a world cup slot.

Pool 3: University of Texas-Austin, University of Arkansas, Loyola University, Roadrunner Quidditch

In a surprise to no one, the University of Texas trampled over Arkansas, Loyola, and Roadrunner Quidditch to claim the spot on top of the pool.  The real news here concerns the other three teams.

Arkansas, like every other team outside of Texas and Louisiana, was relatively unknown coming into this tournament.  As their only SW experience aside from Oklahoma State was the rare game against a top team, they were not expected to perform nearly as well as their ranking gave them credit for.  However, their chasing excelled on offense with some powerful drives and their beating locked down defense at the hoops. They qualified for the World Cup through the upper bracket, crushing OSU, 200*-40, and then gave Texas State a run for their money before losing, 90*-30, in the quarterfinals.

Although Loyola’s beating suffered from the absence of Gina Salacki, their chasing game impressed, and the Wolfpack held strong.  When they caught the snitch from behind to defeat RRQ, 100*-80, in the last game slot of the day, it was enough to throw bracket predictions for a loop.  When Loyola faced off against state rivals LSU in the first round of the bracket for a world cup spot, the 140*-30 score doesn’t tell the whole story.  Loyola scored the first goal and their chasing game remained on point throughout, with few missed catches, receivers always in the right place, and keeper Etefia Umana back in action to drive to the hoops.

Roadrunner Quidditch has gotten a lot of hype in their first season, and it’s possible it’s finally caught up to them.  During pool play, although they continued to put up quaffle points, their beating game had trouble holding it together, letting by too many points and allowing opposing seekers too close to the snitch.  After getting the 13 seed thanks to their low median point differential, RRQ was able to turn it up on day two.  Losing to A&M in the first round landed them in the consolation bracket, where they matched up against pool mates Loyola. They torched them, 150*-70, before doing just enough to hold off UNC and earn a World Cup bid.

Pool 4: Baylor University, Silver Phoenix, Oklahoma State University, University of North Texas

This was a sneaky pool.  Baylor was able to just barely out-tiebreaker Texas, earning themselves the top overall seed and becoming the only team to qualify for world cup on day one.  Baylor continued to use their fantastic chaser corps to carry them through the tournament, taking advantage of their long reach for a passing offense and blocking defense.

Silver Phoenix had a magnificent tournament aside from losing to Baylor in pool play and Texas in bracket play.  Their chasers found each other and connected at just the right moments.  Going into their first round game against Sam Houston for a first chance at qualification, they were the underdog, having lost, albeit closely, to SHSU a few weeks previously.  In the time since then, Sam Houston played at another tournament, while Silver stayed home and practiced.  This time, it looks like the work paid off, as a more put together Silver took the victory and world cup spot, 90*-30

Oklahoma State University was an extremely unlikely world cup candidate going into this tournament, and their day one result did little to dissuade this idea.  However, this team, more than any other, had luck on their side.  In addition to being able to edge out SHSU, OSU held on much longer than expected in the consolation final due to the snitch often ending up on their turf.

Although the University of North Texas came out last in the seeding, this is a team who continues to come out and play at every possible tournament, and continues to get better for it.  Their progress has not been as explosive as many of the more prominent teams out there, but their enthusiasm for the sport and continuous efforts to move forward are clear.

All-Tournament Team

There’s a very clear trend here, in that all of the top players come from either Texas A&M or Baylor.  However, these are players that it is impossible to pretend were not the best at their positions over the weekend.  There were excellent team efforts all around, but these seven individuals shone out beyond the rest.

Paul Williard, Chaser, Baylor University: The C on his chest is probably the last way you’ll figure out Paul is a captain on the field.  Don’t get me wrong – Baylor is full of talented chasers always ready to make the smartest play.  However, Paul’s ability to orchestrate his team and not only see the correct option, but carry it out successfully, always shines through.  Unlike many players with clear offensive or defensive leans, Paul is effective on both sides of the quaffle, and doesn’t lag in transition.

Drew Wasikowski, Chaser, Texas A&M: Another tall, smart player like Williard, Wasikowski is also able to surprise with his speed.  Again, Drew has proved himself a powerful force on both offense and defense.  His ability to cover large areas of the field allow him to get by opponents, who are unable to get by him, and his skill at giving and taking hits only enhances his other strengths.

Kifer Gregoire, Chaser, Texas A&M: A defensive powerhouse with speed on his side, Kifer routinely racks up more tackles than anyone else.  Although TAMU got knocked out of the semis by a pair of Baylor snitch catches, setting Kifer at point kept opposing chasers from breaking through and scoring many quaffle points.  Offensive quaffle plays usually get the highlights and viewers, but it’s very difficult not to enjoy watching Kifer play lights out defense.

Beissy Sandoval, Chaser, Baylor University: Although the importance of being in the right place at the right time is undeniable, there are few people who can actually do it so consistently.  Beissy is a perfect component of the passing machine that is Baylor.  If she needs to be behind the hoops in the typical “girl” spot, sure, she can go there.  But it’s not a mindless route she invariably runs every time.  She’ll pop up at any other area of the field just as often, always where you need her most.  Although she’s a small girl, she’s deceptively difficult to cover, with her skills at plucking the ball out of the air.

Mathieu Gregoire, Beater, Texas A&M: The 1.0 to Kifer’s 2.0, it must be mighty difficult to steal anything in the Gregoire household.  While Kifer takes down ball carriers with tackles, Mathieu shoots them down hard and fast with bludgers.  Mathieu is also a master of bludger control, and his ability to swiftly regain possession reduces any qualms about throwing his ball on what for most beaters would be a sacrifice play.

Rachel Harrison, Beater, Texas A&M: One of the best bludger throwing arms in the region grows out of Rachel’s shoulder, and that isn’t even her greatest asset.  Rachel is almost as threatening without a ball as with one, as she catches anything thrown at her and fiercely scrambles for loose balls.

Monty Turner-Little, Seeker, Baylor University: Monty is not strictly a seeker, and spends plenty of time wearing a beater headband on the field.  However, when he comes in to seek, you had best set your own beaters on him.  Monty had a few key grabs this weekend, including the tournament winner itself, and proved beyond a doubt that he will do whatever he needs to get that snitch.


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