"Cold, cold, cold, oh dear god, why am I so cold?" - One Texan player recounts his experience at Snow Cup 2014.
I was sitting in the Salt Lake City airport waiting for my flight back to Texas after the fourth annual Snow Cup when I came to two realizations. The first was that I can’t hack it in cold weather cities. I thought I was going to die from hypothermia a couple of times while I was checking out the Mormon Tabernacle at night. I also slipped 302,019 times. No thanks. My second realization was that I needed to trash my Southwest bias. People are balling outside of Texas. Hosted by the Utah Crimson Fliers quidditch program and organized by the wonderful Sequoia Thomas, the Snow Cup provided me with my first prolonged glimpse of play outside my own region this year. I loved what I saw. There are some amazing players that are every bit as good as my Southwest compatriots. A day filled with upsets, wow plays and nail biters saw players begin to make big names for themselves.
Red, Blue, Orange, Grey, Green
I was really excited to see Red Team general manager (GM) and chaser Colby Soden of the University of Kansas play at this tournament. However, fate deprived me of this early in the first game of the day. Soden took a stray finger to the eye and was left with one functioning eye for the rest of the day. Without him, Red Team turned to University of Houston chaser/keeper Kelby Brooks for offense with moderate success. Hamstrung without a true offensive creator, Red Team stumbled to a 0-3 pool play record.
A 180*-80 win over Red Team was the only victory Blue Team managed in its group. Throughout pool play, former Kansas chaser Hai Nguyen dazzled with a mixture of speed and power. Slicing through defenses, Nguyen carried the Blue Team offense for much of the day. While new Florida’s Finest seeker Brendon Frisella attempted to play sidekick to Nguyen, Blue Team was left looking for a true second option. Frisella’s native position is seeker, which made the transition to chaser somewhat difficult. With bludger control, captain and GM Daniel DePaula (Louisiana State University [LSU]) was able to pave the way for Nguyen and company with the help of beaters Amanda Nagy (Lost Boys) and Brian Vampola (Santa Barbara Blacktips). Stagnant when Nguyen took a seat on the bench, opponents were able to pull away from this team.
Orange Team was a bit of an unknown to me coming into the tournament. I knew Justin Peters (University of Arkansas) would likely have a strong tournament, and he did not disappoint. A presence as the main point defender, Peters was all over the field making tackles and stifling opposing ball carriers. Throw in his considerable offensive contributions and Peters was certainly the Orange Team MVP. A 2-1 record with wins over Blue and Red impressed, but a deflating 140*-50 loss to Grey Team showed this team had a ceiling. Aided by the wall of human flesh that is chaser Ben “the bearded” Reuling of the University of Utah, Orange Team had incredibly physical chaser defense. Looking for the big hit, a missed tackle or an early beat often left defenders alone or out of position to stop marauding chasers. A lack of a coherent strategy on offense or defense and subpar beating seemed to hinder GM and chaser Dakota Briggs’ (Utah) squad.
Separating itself from the pack as the true number two team in its pool, despite emerging as the number three team on point differential, Grey Team impressed early with its victory over Orange Team. However, an early 130*-40 loss in its first game of the day to Sarah Kneiling’s (LSU) Green Team left many overlooking the Grey squad. Anthony Hawkins picked an outstanding squad led by tournament MVP and seeker Keir Rudolph of Kansas and his consistently solid seeking play. Chaser Ericka Phanthip of Sin City Quid Pro Quo Quidditch was a revelation. I was repeatedly impressed by her tenacious defense and willingness to throw herself into any tackles. Phanthip catapulted herself into the ranks of the elite defensive female chasers in my mind. Beating was a definite flaw of this team. Beater Duston Mazzella of Arizona State University had a solid tournament, but he was at a disadvantage without a steady beating partner. With spark plug chaser Grant Daigle (Kansas) and the physicality of chaser Brett Steinbrink (Kansas), Grey Team was a solid team that could not find steady beating or a legitimate number one offensive option. This team did know who it was though. All Anthony Hawkins was concerned with was giving his first-round pick a shot at the snitch grab. This would serve Grey Team well in bracket play. A close 100*-60 win over Red Team demonstrated that this team would definitely need Rudolph to succeed if it was to go far.
Sarah Kneiling’s Green Team, on the other hand, proved to be the class of pool one. Pairing the outstanding chasing talent of Drew Wasikowski (Texas A&M) with up-and-comer Noah Schwartz of Tufts University was a brilliant move on Kneiling’s part. We knew that Wasikowski would bring his consistently high-level of play to the tournament. The revelation was the young chaser from Tufts. The two combined to make a formidable defensive chaser line that stifled opponents throughout the day. In Schwartz, we have a rising star from the Northeast who should make a name for himself in the coming months. Utah keeper/chaser Andy Hopkins impressed with solid defense adding to a very stout chaser corps. This does not even begin to touch on the contributions from former Team USA captain and current QC Boston: the Massacre captain and chaser Zach D’Amico and Oklahoma Baptist University chaser Tylor McLaren. D’Amico provided an offensive spark to divert some of the considerable defensive attention paid to Wasikowski. McLaren also impressed with his ability to drive to the hoops and make catches in traffic.Tad Walters (Loyola New Orleans) was solid in beating, helping Captain Kneiling maintain bludger control for good portions of their games. The favorite early on, Green Team was stomping all opposition until a 110*-80 snitch grab loss to Tony Rodriguez’s (Lost Boys) White Team. After a snitch injury, I jumped into the game as a substitute and was able to go up against D’Amico and Duncan Ferguson of LSU--two outstanding seekers. D’Amico was relentless, rising up after every fall to never give me a moment of rest. Ferguson was incredibly lanky and difficult to deal with. I felt like every lunge left him an inch or two from a snitch grab. Ultimately, it was Long Beach Funky Quaffles chaser Alex Richardson who pulled off the snatch and won the game for the White Team as a result of a quick flurry of attempts by D’Amico that commanded all of my attention at the time.
Standings after pool play
Pink, Purple, Black, White, Brown
Pool two was definitely the tougher of the two pools (three of the semifinalists were from pool two). Pink Team had its work cut out for it. GM and chaser Santiago Gonzalez of the Lost Boys made numerous fundamental errors in drafting his team on full display throughout the day. Paramount was the lack of a creator on offense. Gonzalez was hesitant to drive throughout the day and resorted to long passes to covered teammates on numerous occasions. Beater Samy Mousa (Kansas) was forced to switch over to chaser, as neither Gonzalez nor Lost Boys teammate Mitch Cavender were able to shoulder the offensive load. Without someone to distribute the ball, many of the role players for this team were unable to create their own offense, which led to stagnant plays that resulted in bomb passes or hero-ball tactics. An 0-3 record filled with blowouts made it a difficult day for what some thought would be a contending team.
My Brown Team’s first game of the day was against Chris Lock’s formidable Purple Team. The first thing I told my team prior to the game was that we absolutely had to prevent Lost Boys seeker Steve DiCarlo from getting anywhere near the snitch. With the game tied at 30, DiCarlo went for the grab and caught it. With my fears realized, I saw firsthand the danger this elite seeker poses to his opponents. However, we had scored seconds before, leaving Brown Team up 100-60 and sending Purple Team to the loss column 100-90*. Despite its 1-2 pool play record, Purple Team remained a very impressive squad. With a chasing corps that included Kansas’ Deric Mar, the indomitable Vincent Berrios of Arkansas and a standout performance from captain Chris Lock, the Purple Cobras did not gel early on. Pool play was definitely a meshing period for this team. They would end up coming together, managing a nice run in bracket play.
This was truly the Vanessa Goh (Lost Boys) show. All apologies to Internet rabble rouser Mitch Cavender, but I could not keep my eyes off Goh. The definition of a utility player, Goh quickly realized her team would benefit more from her beating skills and switched over. I saw a dominant beating performance from Goh as I scoped out a close 90*-50 Black Team loss to the White Team. Goh was clearly her team’s best beater and thoroughly impressed me. Switching between chaser and beater as needed, Goh displayed a mastery of a wide array of skills sets. Victories over the Pink and Purple Teams also highlighted the talents of a few of Goh’s draft choices. De’Vaughn Gamlin proved to be a fiery talent out of the University of Northern Colorado. Quick and shifty, Gamlin cut through defenses as a chaser and managed some strong seeker play when called upon. Lone Star Quidditch Club’s Craig Garrison, sick with the flu, played tenacious point defense and managed some nice scores. While his field vision and ball distribution need some work, Garrison did himself justice as he showed heart and grit. In all, Black Team was seen as one of the early contenders to take home the title of Snow Cup IV champions.
Let’s start off with what everyone already knew about this team. Tony Rodriguez is a stud. This was my first time watching him outside of last year’s world cup and he definitely lived up to the hype. However, Rodriguez lacked any sort of reliable second scoring option. Too many passes were dropped by this team and too much was placed on the star keeper’s shoulders. Devon McCoy stood his ground on defense but seemed to have a big inclination to pass instead of using his athletic skill set to drive towards the hoops. Rodriguez’s passing abilities flourish when he is paired with strong cutters that can position themselves in the open spaces that Rodriguez’s presence on the pitch creates. McCoy is still a good player; he simply didn’t mesh well with Rodriguez. Kansas beating duo Doug Whiston and Nicole Denney impressed with a readily evident chemistry that helped a lackluster chaser defense keep scores close. However, given both of their athletic limitations, Whiston and Denney were outclassed on occasion. A 2-1 record, with its only loss coming on an overtime snitch grab against Brown Team, left White Team inches away from an undefeated pool record and a first-round bye in bracket play.
The only undefeated team coming out of pool play was the Bombastic Brown Bombers. However, it didn’t come easy, with two of its three wins decided on close snitch grabs. Early on you could see beater Brandon Rylee of Thundercats Quidditch was a steal in the fifth round. Dominant throughout pool play, Rylee stifled opponents, consistently regained bludger control when needed and came up with big beat after big beat. Following two nail-biters against the Purple and White Teams that could have easily gone the other way, my team seemed to gel in our handy victory against the Pink Team. Consistently able to snag a 30-point lead, the Bombers had a tough time pulling away to place games out of reach. Chaser Tye Rush of Riverside Quidditch impressed with his blazing speed, strong defense and an instant connection with UCLA chaser and first-round pick Michael Binger. Connecting on a few alley-oops per game, the chemistry between these two players was there for everyone to see. Riverside chaser/beater Alyssa Burton initially started off at chaser but switched over to beater by the end of pool play through a combination of her own stellar play and the strong chaser play provided by Tufts chaser Hannah DeBaets. A 3-0 record set this team up with a bye and one of the easier matchups in the quarterfinals.
The play-in round saw Blue Team face Pink Team while the Purple Cobras squared off with the Red Team. Blue Team, realizing its need for offense, began to use Amanda Nagy at keeper while switching to a two-male beater set. This was a completely new team as a result. Nguyen played the role of creator while Nagy and Frisella attempted to provide consistent receiving options. Brian Vampola paired up with DePaula to make one of the more formidable beating pairs of the day. Up by ten points at the time of the snitch grab, Blue moved past a tired Pink Squad 110*-70 that left GM Santiago Gonzalez’ squad 0-4 on the day.
Purple Team was given a surprisingly close game by Soden’s Red Team. Winning on a snitch grab 130*-110, Red Team saved its best for last and went out fighting. Ultimately, the loss of Soden was too much to overcome for a squad that didn’t have much experience carrying an offense or leading a defense. Players were asked to take up bigger roles than they were perhaps ready for. Purple Team survived thanks to Steve DiCarlo’s heroics but a matchup against Green in the quarterfinals left many questioning its chances against the burly Green Team defense.
Black Team started the second round of bracket play with a convincing win over Dakota Briggs’ Orange Team. Emerging chaser Brian Wong (University of Ottawa) was ready for the elimination games as he stepped up his game in bracket play. Adding more speed to a growing number of offensive options for Black Team, Wong established himself as a strong chaser with a bright future in the game. Wong is only on his school’s B team. Either the University of Ottawa is going to be amazing this season or their leadership is insane. I am holding out hope that I get to see what has become one of my favorite players this spring at World Cup VII. A 120*-60 game ended by a Black Team snatch had many thinking that Black Team could win the whole thing.
In the other three versus two seed matchup, we had Grey Team facing the White Team. A marquee seeking matchup paired Duncan Ferguson against Kier Rudolph. What’s more, they treated spectators to a thrilling game tied until the death. With the game on the line, Rudolph came up big in the clutch with a nice snitch grab to send Tony Rodriguez and co. home early, winning 90*-60.
Blue Team came into its quarterfinal matchup against Brown Team as heavy underdogs. Undefeated in pool play, Brown seemed likely to cruise by DePaula’s team for a matchup against Goh’s Black Team. However, it built on its improvement in the play-in round to surge ahead of the favored Bombers squad by 40 points. Keeper Nebraska Huggins of Thundercats Quidditch came to the rescue, jumping off the bench to provide instant offense with his ankle-breaking jukes and ability to out-hop almost everyone on the pitch for jump balls. Nagy and Nguyen provided the offense to give Blue Team a lead while DePaula and Vampola were devastating in defense, shutting down the Brown Team offense. However, Huggins and Rush managed to bring the score within 10 to give Michael Binger a chance to snatch the snitch. He made good on that opportunity and handed his team a close 110-90 win.
Finally, we had what I expected was the beginning of Green Team’s march to the final. Faced with a team that could match its defensive physicality in Chris Lock’s Purple Team, the Green squad fell in a shocking 110*-70 upset. As we see regularly at the world cup and various regional championships, snitches add a welcome level of chaos to our sport. Unable to create a sizeable point cushion to prevent Steve DiCarlo from working his magic, the Green Team didn’t have a seeking option apart from Zach D’Amico, who is a native chaser. Lock, along with strong defense from Deric Mar and Vincent Berrios, managed to stifle the high-powered Green Team offense and squashed any dreams of victory for Kneiling’s team.
The game that wouldn’t end, the Brown-Black semi-finalmay have included more play stoppages than any game I have ever been a part of. Intensely close for much of the game leading up until the release of the snitch, both teams managed to shine. De’Vaugh Gamlin and Brian Wong were large contributors for Vanessa Goh’s Black Team. While Goh was somewhat stifled in this game, her teammates came up big. Oklahoma Baptist University beater Chandler Smith and former LSU beater Sam Burmester were stellar for much of the game. Every time I went for the snitch, Burmester was right there ready to send me back to hoops. Numerous ejections included Gamlin and the best female beater at the tournament, Alyssa Burton. Burton was a huge loss for Blue Team, but an unexpected player stepped up to save the day: fourteenth-round pick chaser Ra Hopkins of the Silicon Valley Skrewts. Hopkins impressed with strong positioning, tenacity and an accurate arm. She didn’t step off the field until the end of the game and played a position she was wholly unaccustomed to. I did not expect this sort of play from her and I was thrilled to see her step up to the occasion. A handicapped snitch left the beaters scrambling to cover the seeking game. The openings created as a result led to the trio of Nebraska Huggins, Tye Rush and Michael Binger securing a forty-point lead before I managed to make the snatch and send Brown Team to the final.
On the other side of the bracket we had what some were calling the best seeker matchup of the season in Rudolph versus DiCarlo. Incredibly close throughout, this game was destined to end on a snitch grab. However, the result was somewhat in question. As I was playing in a semi-final on the other side of the dome, most of what I heard of the game was secondhand. I asked Justin Peters to give me a short recap of the other semi-final:
“Purple Team snagged a lead with a few early goals. Steve DiCarlo and Arizona State University beater Josh Mattison maintained a two-male beater set the entire game with DiCarlo staying in much of the game. In the end DiCarlo played almost all game and Kier Rudolph was fresh. The snatch should have put the game into overtime but the last goal before the snatch was assisted by a player who was beat. Video evidence was brought up later and the refs agreed it shouldn't have resulted in a win.”
Despite this, credit must go to Rudolph for making snatches when it mattered. 3-0 in SWIM situations for the day is a very good stat and he certainly did his part to ensure the Grey squad made its way to the final. This is just a clear example of why you should always play until you hear a whistle.
Grey Team met up with my Brown Bombers in the final of Snow Cup IV following a grueling day of games. With both teams exhausted, the game was going to be won by whoever could muster the last bit of energy left in their teams. Thankfully, my teammates came in and fought like champions. Zooming out to a quick lead, the Bombers executed a fast-paced and aggressive game plan that involved lots of driving to the hoops and the utilization of star beater Brandon Rylee. Rylee demonstrated the ability to shift between beating styles, playing conservatively early on and shifting to a more aggressive full-court beating game. This opened up numerous driving lanes for me and my other teammates. Never looking back after an early flurry of scoring, the Brown Team won 100*-60 following a suicide catch by Kier Rudolph.
Here is where I get to brag on my team a little bit. If you don’t want to read, just skip ahead to my All-Tournament teams. I’ll try to keep this short.
WE DID IT, GUYS! I AM SO UNBELIEVABLY PROUD OF EACH AND EVERY ONE OF MY PLAYERS! I had the honor of playing with 13 individuals who managed to come together to do something special. I have won numerous tournaments in the past but there is nothing like being with someone when they capture their first tournament victory. I dedicate this article and our victory to Amanda, Nebraska, Binger, Justin, Shaye, Alyssa, the two Hannah’s, Brandon, James, Tye, Ra, Paula, Kevin, and my anonymous good luck charm. You are all amazing people that I am thrilled to have met and I wish you all continued success in quidditch. You’re champs, guys!
Below are my picks for the first and second All-Snow Cup teams. My criteria for these two teams were fairly simple: which players caught my eye and who I felt contributed a lot to their team’s success.
First team All-Snow Cup
Keeper: Tony Rodriguez
I really don’t have to explain this pick. He is elite and carried his team throughout. Enough said.
Chaser: Drew Wasikowski
Best chaser defender at the tournament? Check. Strong offensive game? Check. Wasikowski shifted to the point defender position at this tournament and impressed me quite a bit. Typically stationed around the hoops when he plays for Texas A&M, Wasikowski was all over the field knocking people off their brooms with an ease that you just don’t see too often. He is definitely a lock for this team.
Chaser: Tye Rush
Apart from Brian Wong, Rush might have been the fastest person at this tournament. He consistently won the quaffle on brooms up and played strong chaser defense throughout. Throw in his considerable offensive contributions which included quite a few WOW moments, and Rush was definitely deserving of his status as an MVP runner-up.
Chaser: Ericka Phanthip
While her offense wasn’t on par with her defense, Phanthip most certainly impressed me this past weekend. She was arguably the best female defender not named Vanessa Goh and was able to pick her spots to help on offense.
Beater: Alyssa Burton
Easily the best female beater at the tournament, Burton amazed me with her versatility in a position she plays part-time. I can’t remember how many times Burton saved a score, caught an opposing bludger, or rallied our defense. Riverside Quidditch has a rising star on their hands and I can’t wait to see this woman dominate again.
Beater: Brandon Rylee
Hands down the best beater at this tournament. I challenge anyone to find me a better beater at Snow Cup. Rylee has it all: a great arm, great stamina and a good eye for positioning. In games where Rylee was carded, our team suffered without him. This Thundercat is a stud.
Seeker: Kier Rudolph
Apparently this seeker catches everything in sight. He carried his team to the final and that definitely merits a spot in my All-Tournament team. Plus I heard he won MVP or something.
Utility: Vanessa Goh
I created this 8th spot simply because I couldn’t decide where to put Goh. She was the definition of a utility player. Able to play any position at an elite level, I was waiting for Black Team to put her in at seeker but was deprived of what I’m sure would have been an equally stellar seeking performance if we had been given a chance to see Goh try her hand at the seeking game.
Second Team All-Snow Cup
Keeper: Nebraska Huggins
Apart from Stephen Bell (Lone Star QC) and Brad Armentor (LSU), I have never seen one player break so many ankles. This guy melds physicality with a silky smooth driving style that makes him hard to bring down. I can’t count the times I threw jump balls only to see this athletic freak catch them at their highest point and throw it down for a vicious alley-oop dunk.
Chaser: Michael Binger
A good distributor and defender, Binger had a standout performance at Snow Cup, including a clutch snitch grab to allow Brown Team to escape the clutches of defeat in the quarters against Blue Team.
Chaser: Noah Schwartz
I’ve seen a lot of Lost Boys game film and I don’t remember anyone able to tackle Tony Rodriguez as consistently as Schwartz did at Snow Cup. A physical presence throughout, this Tufts chaser has a very bright future that definitely deserves attention.
Chaser: Hannah DeBaets
Shedding tackles left and right, bringing down passes in traffic and occasionally distributing the quaffle for scores, Schwartz’s fellow Tufts chaser was on fire. A strong defender who was able to take down much larger individuals, DeBaets impressed me with her tenacity and grit.
Beater: Chandler Smith
At every turn in the Brown v. Black semi-final matchup, I saw Chandler Smith. A deceptively strong arm and strong instincts that let him know when to take a gamble, Smith proved that OBU has some good beaters it will be bringing to the Southwest Regional Championship on February 22nd. Keep an eye on this guy.
Beater: Sarah Kneiling
Kneiling has been around forever. She is a familiar face that has been lost in the shuffle over the past two years as a result of LSU’s decline from national prominence. Kneiling turned in a strong performance and helped Green Team look dominant during pool play.
Seeker: Steve DiCarlo
This guy just has a scare factor about him. He frightens opponents into altering their play style because he commands a lot of attention. Once the snitch returns to the pitch, he immediately becomes the focus of the beating game. While he had a subpar tournament when you consider his dominance with the Lost Boys, he still managed to open up spaces for his teammates towards the end of games by his presence alone.. He belongs on this team.
Utility: Amanda Nagy
Playing beater, chaser, and keeper at various stages throughout the tournament, Nagy was the glue that held blue team together. I was impressed with the ease both Goh and Nagy were able to slide over to other positions. What this tells me is that the Lost Boys as a team have a firm grasp on strategy for all the positions. I would love to see Nagy and Goh beat together mainly because I think they would be one of the more formidable beating pairs in quidditch.