By Brandon Borges
The Great Lakes region is set to start 2019 with a bang with Grand Valley State University’s second home tournament of the season, the Grindy Slam Winter Jam.
The Grindylows are set to face some fiery competition on January 26th following the cold Great Lakes winter break, both within the division and outside of it. Two teams – the Ball State Cardinals and Michigan State University – are repping the Lakes alongside GVSU at the tournament. These two very different teams have given the Crew in Blue some of the closest games they have had this year. Ball State is filled with hungry young talent and a top-notch pedigree, while the more veteran Michigan State University squad has aspirations of claiming an at-large bid for US Quidditch Cup 12.
The Midwest boasts three teams attending this tournament, the nationals-bound Illinois State Firebirds, the dangerous Marquette University, and a team no doubt on the up-and-up in Columbia College Chicago Quidditch. With these six teams set to do battle and no obvious front-runner at the tournament, here are the biggest questions going into the Grindy Slam Winter Jam.
Part of what makes this tournament so difficult to call is how the three Great Lakes teams in the tournament matched up at the Regional Championship, the last official tournament all three competed in. Roarke McAllister and the Michigan State Quidditch team bested Alex Berdy’s Grand Valley team before falling to Joey McIntire and the Ball State Cardinals, who themselves lost to the Grindylows. While bids were only awarded to BSU and GVSU, it would be a major mistake to write off the Michigan State team. While McAllister’s beating wizardry, along with the insane athleticism in their keeper core of Tawfik Abbas and Brandon Rohnke were already well-known due to their work on the Detroit Innovators last summer, it is the improvement on the rest of their squad that has them poised for success at the tournament, most especially their beater core. Nick Yeager, Andrew Sacha, and Courtney Houghtaling have all upped their game this season through their scrappy, chip-on-the-shoulder energy they have supplied the team with, to say nothing of the defensive excellence that their chaser Horatio Hampton has supplied at the point. To add to this storm, this entire Michigan State squad knows that they deserve a bid to nationals with the way that they have been playing, and it is hard to disagree with them.
Ball State as well is poised to play their guts out this tournament, as they will look to provide their talented new players with more experience and with that hope to instill in them a winning attitude as they prepare for nationals. With McIntire, Mary Owen, and Sam Buchholz all working to help upstarts like Liam Zach and Dayne Patton realize their potential, the real X-factor heading into the tournament is the possible return and official season debut of Nick Kaufman.
Kaufman, who was sidelined with a broken collarbone for the 2018 portion of this USQ season, will look to continue with the excellent play he provided during his time with the Indianapolis Intensity this past summer.
With the two aforementioned teams set to be even better than they were at Great Lakes regionals, Berdy and the Grindylows will certainly have their hands full. Most definitely, both teams will look to try and slow down Grand Valley keeper John Smutny, who has provided the Grindylows with a regional MVP-caliber season thus far. GVSU has capitalized on his play by surrounding him with great players who work off of what he provides on pitch, including the top-notch beater play of Berdy, Marques Artz, and Brandin Yee, and the perfected off-ball movement that chasers like Tess Scheidel have given the big man to finish off the strong drives he always gives. Indeed, all three teams are looking to score a tournament victory and the wins that come with that, and the battles they are bound to have will be a sight to behold.
Two dark horses to win this tournament come from outside the Great Lakes region, but are nonetheless familiar with at least the Michigan teams of this region. The Illinois State Firebirds have faced GVSU and MSU in the past, as has Marquette Quidditch, who has even faced the MSU Spartans this season. ISU often boasts a small but powerful roster led by the amazingly strong and fast Kenneth Bonomo, who turned a good deal of Great Lakes eyes towards him at both last season’s Winter Midwest Fantasy and this summer’s Midwest Fantasy. Also of note is one Linnea Schulz who had some quality experience on the Intensity roster this summer. Not to be underestimated, the Marquette Quidditch team, led by Connor Curtin, Jordan Amedio, and Abby Klockow, will look to pick up some quality wins as well.