Unpopular Opinion: USQ Cup 12


The first year of the Northwest region’s existence has been a long one, and much more eventful than the quidditch world thought it would be for a region that nobody else seemed to want.

PRESEASON PERCEPTIONS
From the moment the Northwest was announced as a region, the general reaction seemed to range somewhere between “this region is not important enough to care about” to “I only care about this region because I want it not to exist.” There were accusations of the Northwest region only being established because the nature of COO Alicia Radford residing in Seattle, and disappointment that it became a region while the Midwest was bursting at the seams with teams that needed to be divided.

The Boise State Abraxans went 0-4 for a dead-last finish at their last West Regional Championship but were expected to win the new Northwest handily. That fact may have been used on its own as justification by most people as to the Northwest’s unworthiness as a region, but the situation shifted when the University of British Columbia confirmed they would play for USQ.

British Columbia had a better reputation than Boise State based on past results: it had only attended the UCLA’s February tournament—the Gold Medal Invitational in terms of USQ tournaments last season, but its showing was much stronger than the Abraxans. The Thunderbirds put up close, competitive losses to the Lost Boys, University of Southern California and Northern Arizona University (all of whom were better on paper last season than this one) and picked up a pair of wins against lower-tier opposition.

The Northwest haters scored their first victory in late September, as Boise State played the Northwest’s first official games at Crimson Cup, hosted by the Utah Crimson Elite. The Abraxans went 1-4 at a tournament in which the teams attending did not have huge expectations. Their one win was a big one, but it was easy for outsiders to discredit a 10-point win over a rookie-heavy Crimson Elite team in which the snitch was caught in seconds. They continued to play impressively in a snitch-range loss to Northern Arizona, which finished second in the tournament to the LA Gambits. Alas, Boise State’s better-than-expected showing was buried in a 1-4 win-loss record.

THREE BIDS
The Northwest had two teams that looked borderline worthy of World Cup, and they were guaranteed to make the tournament. When regional bid allocation was announced in October, the Northwest riled up anger in the other regions once again by earning three bids. People had expected two to be too many, but now three? Which barely competitive team would take the third spot?

Enter Western Washington University: a program that has existed unofficially since the fall of 2011, constantly shrouded in complete obscurity until this year. The Wyverns came out with a bang, topping Boise State 80*-60 in their first official game of the program’s history, then British Columbia 90*-60 in their second.

At least the storylines in the Northwest were getting interesting, but the growing parity at the top of the region did not make these teams look any more deserving of the three spots at World Cup.

KOMRADESHIP IN SPRING
I was able to see Northwest with my own eyes at Komrade Kup, hosted by the University of Idaho on February 6. This easily goes down in history as the worst tournament structure of all time. I make the “of all time” generalization a lot, but I mean it. With the first regional championship a month away, matchups between the clear top three of the Northwest would be as lucrative as it could get for a region desperate for a storyline. However, the nine-team, one-pitch setup pitted the best teams against the worst teams only. Boise State, British Columbia and Western Washington each went 3-0 for a total of zero games even close to snitch range out of the nine they played.

Boise State showed off a flashy, dominant passing game, and its showboating drew the ire of several of the teams in attendance. A Boise State player came up to me after one of the team’s big wins and said, “So what do you think of us now?” It made me feel like I was supposed to learn something about the region, which I suppose I did: There wasn’t a whole lot of regional pride. Sure, QuidSecrets and #IQAForums would often generate Northwest hate which drew responses from Northwest players who generally said the region was better than everybody thought, and nobody who hadn’t seen them play should be saying anything. So much doubt could’ve led to such an opportunity for regional pride, but instead, teams seemed generally annoyed by Boise State’s attitude, and the Abraxans’ rivalry with the Thunderbirds was clearly forged out of something that was definitely not respect.

At least I was treated to an exciting victory by the Portland Augureys over the Boise State Thestrals. Those two teams, who would certainly get blown out by the worst team at World Cup, provided the most interesting game of the tournament. I wanted to be the first outsider who championed the region, but there was no evidence to let me do so.

THE FIRST REGIONAL CHAMPION IS CROWNED
As the final regional to take place, and while the rest of the country quieted down in preparation for World Cup, the Northwest Regional Championship was the main event of the quidditch world on Saturday, March 7.

Regionals never have a tournament format that will provide the best tournament, and this region was perhaps the clearest example of that fact. With three good teams split into two pools and a guarantee of avoiding the seeds next to you in pool play, it was the second-ranked Western Washington that secured the pool without any other contenders, guaranteeing the Wyverns a cakewalk to the tournament finals. No. 1 British Columbia and No. 3 Boise State were stuck with a pool play matchup that would also almost certainly lead to a semifinal matchup.

We missed out on a matchup between Western Washington and British Columbia, but Boise State’s development became the story of the tournament. After a very disappointing fall that ended in a 120*-10 loss to an unofficial short-rostered Crimson Elite team, Boise State figured out that it needed to change. The Abraxans toyed with their leadership as well as their strategy. Stew Driflot moved to beater, his worst position, and Bryan Bixler took the helm of the team’s quaffle players. Suddenly, Boise State looked solid in every phase of the game.

After a quick snitch pull by Driflot won Boise State’s pool play matchup with British Columbia by a score of 100*-40, the team went forward with the mentality that it had to work harder, and that showed. When the Abraxans met the Thunderbirds in the semifinal, they took a decisive 100-10 lead in the first 15 minutes. Driflot subbed out of the beater position to seek, and British Columbia went on an exhilarating 60-point run to put the game back in range. The Thunderbirds’ aggressive and tenacious beating finally gained the physical advantage over Boise State, and breakout star keeper Cameron Cutler led the offensive charge, making careless defense pay mostly by juking around it. Boise State settled down and retook control, able to put the game back safely out of range after a scare that lasted about thirty seconds.

In the final, Ross Schram von Haupt led Western Washington to a quick start, carrying the ball for the Wyverns and creating some early goals that made the final look like it would be a close game. Matt Nagel was able to throw off Boise State’s game from the beater position, but he subbed out early in the game and the Abraxans never looked back. Western Washington’s beater game was too timid and its passing game proved not to be developed enough, and Boise State won the final out of range. I asked Driflot which was the better feeling: Pulling the snitch to win the Northwest Regional Championship or meeting Clint Dempsey at the Seattle Sounders practice on the next field over. Without hesitation, he said pulling the snitch.

It was a crucial tournament for the Northwest as a region, not just because of its obvious place in the region’s history, but for what it did for the region. Each captain delivered a speech at the trophy ceremony, along with a particularly stirring one by Tournament Director Eric Andres. When reflecting upon his own speech, Driflot said, “It felt like the invisible hand was guiding me to talking about the region and not the team.” Regional pride had prevailed over team pride, and the growing pains of the Northwest were turning into something productive.

The qualifying teams were gearing up for their first opportunity to shut people up and prove themselves at World Cup 8. Mitchell Hatfield of Western Washington said, “The Northwest stands together and we want to show the world that, despite rivalries, we support each other and the community that we’ve built in the Northwest.”

Erica Milley of British Columbia added, “The Northwest wants the respect of other regions, but I really think a lot of people (most of my team at least) have moved past that. There’s always going to be someone out there who thinks we don’t deserve a region because we’re too few or too weak. So more than that, I think the Northwest wants playing experience at World Cup. Being so isolated, we have really few opportunities to play anyone but each other. I know Western Washington University has never played anyone out of region. World Cup is just going to be such a great opportunity to advance our own games by playing against teams and adapting to strategies we’ve never experienced before.”

THE NATIONAL STAGE
The positive momentum the Northwest had created was derailed when Boise State had to drop from World Cup, unable to come up with the funds to make the trip. The farthest region and the latest regional made for a fatal recipe. Western Washington and British Columbia managed to pay their way to Rock Hill, but the region had lost its best hope for success with no Boise State. And so the Northwest entered World Cup 8 with the odds stacked against them—and how could it have gone any other way?

Credit: Kevin Freeman

Credit: Kevin Freeman

Western Washington gave the performance that was expected of the region. The team finished with a 1-4 record, with an out-of-range win over Ohio University and only one out-of-range loss. Meanwhile, Driflot was able to represent the region as a snitch and did so admirably. He put on an absolute show in the Lost Boys Quidditch Club vs. Gambits rivalry game, toying with the seekers, pumping up a big Field One crowd, and lasting 29 minutes. He then snitched the historic Gambits vs. Lone Star Quidditch Club game, where another great performance as the snitch allowed for Lone Star to make an epic 70-point snitch-on-pitch comeback.

But it was British Columbia that really turned heads for the region. The Thunderbirds won their first game, although it was a favorable draw against Wizengamot Quidditch Club of VCU. In their second game, they made the Northwest’s greatest statement, taking a consensus Top 20 team in Arkansas to overtime. They secured the biggest win of the season for their region with another overtime game, this time against UTSA. UTSA had a bad World Cup, but the Roadrunners are an athletic Southwest team that put up good results all season. In its final game, British Columbia suffered a snitch-range loss to the Midwest Regional champion. The Thunderbirds ended up with one of the strongest 2-3 records of the tournament, and they accomplished the greatest goal the region could have had at World Cup: They stuck it to the haters.

British Columbia’s results made the anti-Northwest sentiments from throughout the year look absolutely foolish. The Northwest is still a weak region, but next year people will know that its teams are capable of winning big games. The region’s season did not have much in the way of high points until the very end, but those were the only results it needed. This will mean a very different tone and perspective around the Northwest next season, and Boise State will hope to show more of what it’s capable of. With the region on a trajectory of improvement, next year it will face a new challenge: expectations. Boise State, British Columbia and even Western Washington are all hoping to not just win one big game at World Cup and show off their snitch: They will be expected to win some games.

Like it or not, one of the major historical takeaways from this quidditch season will be the creation of this new region. Unlike the Mid-Atlantic’s first year in 2012 and the forthcoming creation of the Great Lakes region out of the Midwest next year, with the Northwest, we get to watch the creation of a new region essentially from scratch. Chapter one was a difficult one for the Northwest until the very end, and it set up a lot of hope for chapter two. Next year will have quite a good deal more in the way of storylines, and the stakes will be high.







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