Bringing the Thunder Home: Western Canada Regional Championship Recap

By Serena Cheong, Austin Wallace, and Nathan Ross

For the first time ever, a British Columbian team took home the western Canada regional championship. In a thrilling matchup between the two top-ranked western Canadian teams, University of British Columbia Thunderbirds Sports Club (UBC) and the Edmonton Aurors, UBC seeker Austin Wallace made the game-winning catch to help his team win its first regional championship title.

To understand the intensity and context for this championship game, one has to look into the events that transpired the day before. The round robin game between Edmonton and UBC was equally close, as UBC caught the snitch to go to overtime, but Edmonton caught in overtime to win the game.

Snitch catch by UBC seeker Austin Wallace | Photo Credit: JYK Photography

With this in mind, UBC went onto the pitch for the championship match looking to avenge its loss from the day before. Edmonton maintained a small lead for most of the game, though UBC was never outside of SWIM range. With his team down 80-60, Wallace made the catch to win the game 90*-80, ending the two-year reign that Edmonton (formerly known as the Alberta Clippers) had on the western Canadian regional championship.

The bronze medal matchup between Simon Fraser University Quidditch (SFU) and the University of British Columbia Quidditch Club (UBCQC), played earlier that day, did not disappoint either. It was another case of win reversal, with UBCQC leaving Day One with a 120*-50 win over SFU. With the disappointing loss fresh in its mind, SFU jumped out to a 90-60 lead in the bronze medal matchup before Gillian Savage of UBCQC made the catch to send the game into overtime. SFU managed two more goals in overtime from Steven Robertson to bring the score up to 110-90*. With about two minutes left in overtime, rookie seeker Ethan D’souza made the catch to end it 140^-90* for his team.

6th Place – University of Victoria Valkyries (UVic) (1-6)
170*-10 loss to Edmonton Aurors
90*-60 loss to UBCQC
70*-20 win against Calgary Mavericks
170*-0 loss to UBC
130*-70 loss to SFU
Play-in round: 80*-50 loss to SFU
5th/6th Place match: 100*-10 loss to Calgary Mavericks

Coming off its second win in the last two and a half seasons, UVic put together easily its strongest tournament of quidditch since its heydays of the old IQA. While it had beaten UBCQC last weekend during QCON play, that was against a vastly reduced UBCQC roster, so keeping UBCQC’s full roster within SWIM range must feel validating for a team that has come so far in the past season. Even more impressively, the Valkyries won outside of SWIM range by a score of 70*-20 against the Calgary Mavericks on Day One.

All of this was on the back of ball-handler Brett Dyck and captain, coach, and driving force behind the program Misha Whittingham. Whittingham has seemingly reached a breakthrough with the Valkyries, even getting them to cycle the offence and create new opportunities instead of a one-and-done attempt at a goal the team so often employed before. Unfortunately, in another massively impressive game against SFU, he suffered an injury after accidentally stepping on the quaffle. What was originally thought to be an ankle injury ended up being a broken fibula, devastating for both the club and Whittingham himself. Without him, the Valkyries fell to both SFU (80*-50) and Calgary (100*-10) in Day Two, but as long as he can still coach, the Valkyries will aim to be competitive against the mid-tier teams at the upcoming national championship.

5th Place – Calgary Mavericks (2-5)
70*-20 loss to UVic
90-50* loss to UBC
80*-70 win against SFU
130*-70 loss to UBCQC
150*-0 loss to Edmonton Aurors (forfeit)
Play-in round: 90*-40 loss to UBCQC
5th/6th Place match: 100*-10 win against UVic

Missing top players from Octobear 2016, Behfar Lotfizadeh and Hasan Ahmad, Calgary lacked the depth to compete with the top contenders. Instead, the Mavericks were led by Michael Wanless and Rachel Malone; Malone’s excellent keeping was made all the more impressive by the fact that she had only one substitution and was a referee for every slot but one that she did not play in. Wei Shen Tan and Colin Crowe provided secondary scoring, but not enough to stay in range of UBC.

Mavericks keeper Rachel Malone gets ready to block a shot | Photo Credit: JYK Photography

The beaters were led by longtime Calgary veterans Alex Lamoreux and Kayla Ross, who do a great job of getting bludger control but are not as adept at utilizing it to influence the quaffle game. The Mavericks’ beaters seemed hesitant to make a beat unless it was on someone holding a bludger or a quaffle, effectively taking themselves out of play on occasion when they were comfortable sitting back. With the skills that the chaser lineup is able to bring for the Mavericks, they need to start incorporating their beaters more into their offence to bring their game to the next level, as this feels like a team that lacks inter-positional communication.

4th Place – University of British Columbia Quidditch Club (UBCQC) (4-4)
150*-0 loss to UBC
90*-60 win against UVic
120*-50 win against SFU
120*-60 loss to Edmonton Aurors
130*-70 win against Calgary Mavericks
Play in round: 90*-40 win against Calgary Mavericks
Semifinal: 150*-40 loss to UBC
Bronze medal game: 140^-90* loss to SFU (OT)

UBCQC is an interesting mix of veteran stars and rookies, but unfortunately, this roster composition and a lack of competitive depth resulted in an inconsistent performance. In the team’s most impressive performances, it kept Edmonton in range for the entire game and also won out of range against SFU on Day One. On the other hand, UBCQC lost 150*-0 and 150*-40 to UBC Thunderbirds, and stayed in range of UVic and Calgary.

Though UBCQC has an abundance of veteran talent and is led by long-time UBC coach Patrick Fuller (also one of the more experienced head referees in the region), it amassed a large collection of cards over the weekend. This came back to bite UBCQC in its bronze medal matchup against SFU, when both Louis Leung and Joey Krahn, the team’s starting seeker, received two yellow cards that were bumped up to red cards. UBCQC has the potential to challenge the top teams in western Canada, but it will need to play more disciplined quidditch.

3rd Place – Simon Fraser University (SFU) (3-5)
130*-40 loss to Edmonton Aurors
120*-50 loss to UBCQC
80*-70 loss to Calgary Mavericks
130*-70 win against UVic
150*-30 loss to UBC
Play in round: 80*-50 win against UVic
Semifinal: 120*-30 loss to Edmonton Aurors
Bronze medal game: 140^-90* win against UBCQC (OT)

SFU was a big question mark heading into the tournament, as noted in the Quidditch Post’s preview for the regional championship. With only five of the 13 chasers and keepers sent by SFU having played quidditch before this season, the team is still growing as much as it is learning the game. SFU’s play over the weekend could be described as all over the place, both in terms of performance and personnel. The team had five different players try and slot in as keepers before relying on Steven Robertson and Danny Ly in the bronze medal match against UBCQC. SFU got timely goals when it needed to and focused on slowing down the pace as much as possible, which paid off. Rookie keeper Montana Goloubef looked strong on Day One, and rookie seeker Jayden Driver was able to step up and make two big catches when SFU started to look lost.

Jayden Driver goes in for the catch | Photo Credit: JYK Photography

However, penalties were an issue for SFU, as they were for all teams, and SFU is lucky that no untimely beater penalties in elimination matches (namely a red before snitch play and an overtime blue card) were disastrous. Fortunately for the team, captain Nathan Ross was able to fend off both situations as the sole beater for SFU – even keeping bludger control down one-on-two to UVic – helping the team avoid being scored against, but that is not a strategy the team will be able to employ if SFU wants to have any success at the national championship in April.

2nd Place – Edmonton Aurors (6-1)
170*-10 win against UVic
130*-40 win against SFU
120*-60 win against UBCQC
150^-90* win against UBC (OT)
150*-0 win against Calgary Mavericks (forfeit)
Semifinal: 120*-30 win against SFU
Final: 90*-80 loss against UBC

Despite winning the past two western regional championships, the addition of UBC meant that Edmonton’s ability to complete the three-peat was called into question. Nonetheless, the Aurors picked up where they left off last season and seamlessly integrated their rookies. They looked cohesive as a team, and played with a lot of pace, but can still look to improve in terms of beater play and creating offense out of a half-pitch offense. The Aurors played an interesting style where all four of their quaffle players often stayed above the keeper zone. Only when they initiated a play or began to drive with beater support did chasers move into the keeper zone or behind the hoops. Edmonton was given a surprising amount of trouble by UBCQC, who stayed in range all game, as the team could not find answers to a beater corps led by Brandon Rivas. The Aurors will need to find answers by the national championship, as eastern Canada’s quality of beating will be far more aggressive and surpass what they have faced so far.

In the finals, Edmonton’s style of offence often led to some missed shots and passes that were easily recovered by UBC. Edmonton’s driving ball-handlers, particularly Indiana Nikel, David Merkosky, and Bryan Cooper, were able to exploit UBC’s most glaring weakness though, which was its inability to stop driving chasers at speed. UBC relied on bludgers to stop the Aurors, who were adept at driving and finishing at the hoops. To set up for that, Edmonton did a good job at controlling the ball before initiating a drive.

1st Place – University of British Columbia Thunderbirds Sports Club (UBC) (6-1)
150*-0 win against UBCQC
170*-0 win against UVic
90-50* win against Calgary Mavericks
150^-90* loss to Edmonton Aurors (OT)
150*-30 win against SFU
Semifinal: 150*-40 win against UBCQC
Final: 90*-80 win against Edmonton Aurors

UBC’s program went through a major overhaul this season, with many of its veteran corps gone. UBC was able to offset this with an athletic and strong recruiting class, as well as having returnees step up in more prominent roles. UBC showed a strong ability to move the ball in half court and control play, and was effective in limiting turnovers and fast breaks and opportunistically regaining possession on defense. Unfortunately, UBC’s top beater pairing, Janik Andreas and Emma Sherwood, played through significant injuries during the finals; luckily, former chaser Cole Li stepped up with more minutes, and emergency beater Katie Olfert and stepped in and performed admirably.

Against Edmonton, UBC was again able to manufacture copious chances, thanks in large part to its beaters, particularly the aggressive beating of Li, but shot itself in the foot more often than not. Gaurav Sandhar led UBC in scoring during the finals and seemed to create a chance each time he got the ball, but three of his medium-range passes to the same spot ended up rolling out of the hard boundary. Wyatt Verchere also turned the ball over twice in situations where a better play or pass was readily available. Same with Austin Wallace, where two of his passes ended up with a loss of possession.

UBC celebrates its regional championship win | Photo Credit: JYK Photography

UBC’s main weakness remains an inability to tackle on defense. Specifically, UBC does a poor job of slowing down then finishing off driving chasers without beater support. As a 6’4” keeper, Verchere might be its best bet and showcased his defensive skills with two emphatic blocks in the finals, but the entire team will need to work on bringing drivers to the ground.

All-Tournament Team
Players were selected on the impact their play had on their teams throughout the tournament, as well as their overall level play. The team was also selected with the gender rule in mind.

Chaser – Gaurav Sandhar, UBC
For someone who is only in his second season of quidditch, Sandhar played like a veteran all weekend. He is quick and covers a lot of ground, and also has an amazing vertical jump to block shots on defense, making him an intimidating point chaser. Sandhar burned teams on the the fast breaks, scoring over 10 goals in seven games, with around half of them coming from UBC’s Day Two games.

Chaser – Chris Radojewski, Edmonton Aurors
As one of the more recognizable names to come out from western Canada, Radojewski needs little introduction. While on the pitch, Radojewski’s usual playmaking abilities allowed his team to cycle effectively in the offensive zone, as well as setting his other chasers up perfectly for an easy goal. It is a shame that assists were not tracked this tournament, or he may have shown up a lot more on the scoresheet than he has.

Chaser – Kathy Kwan, UBCQC
Teams spent all weekend overlooking Kwan, and she quickly burned them with her speed and tenacity around the hoops. She is elusive and hangs onto the quaffle like a player twice her size, which makes her extremely important to UBCQC’s ability to maintain possession on offence. In a region where female chasers are greatly undervalued and underappreciated, Kwan is a shining example of what happens when a smaller chaser is allowed to thrive.

Kathy Kwan on defence | Photo Credit: JYK Photography

Keeper – Cameron Cutler, UBC

On a rookie-filled team, Cutler’s experience in the back end provided a calming presence on the field. As is the case with Radojewski, his impact on the scorecard would be much greater if assists were tracked, as Cutler’s trademark drives and passes provided UBC with the offense it needed to secure its first regional championship.

Beater – Nathan Ross, SFU
Without Ross’ phenomenal play all weekend, SFU would not have exceeded all expectations and gone on to win the bronze medal. Known for their trademark aggressiveness on offence, Ross opened up a lot of space for SFU’s chasers to drive in and set up in the offensive zone. Ross’ ability to regain bludger control at will and unrelenting seeker beating were also key factors in SFU’s success, giving the team’s rookie seekers more time alone with the snitch.

Beater – Cayley Mendoza, Edmonton Aurors
Though she is no stranger to the quidditch community in western Canada, Mendoza is still in her first year as a beater since switching from chaser due to concussions. She was a constant thorn over the weekend, showing off the catching hands that made her such a valuable chaser by catching bludgers and turning the tides for control in Surrey. With the amount of precision that Radojewski demands from his chasers, Mendoza’s strength in her new role is proving to be a game-changer for the Aurors.

Cayley Mendoza performing pre-tournament duties | Photo Credit: JYK Photography

Seeker – Austin Wallace, UBC
Wallace’s championship-winning catch against Edmonton is certainly one of his best. His long wingspan makes it hard for most snitches to fend him off for long, which was shown in the gold medal game, as it took Wallace under a minute to make the snitch grab. Though seeking is his bread and butter, Wallace is also a highly competent chaser who utilizes his strong drives and dishes to create offensive opportunities for his team before the end of the seeker floor.

Honourable Mentions:
Chaser – Damir Ninković, UBCQC
Keeper – Steven Robertson, SFU
Beater – Janik Andreas, UBC