Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bludgers in the Air: Valentine's Draft Previews

By Jay Louis Holmes and Matthew Western/Quidditch UK
With the first draft of the second Valentine's Cup drawing nigh, all of UK quidditch waits with bated breath to see whose corner they'll be fighting in the biggest fantasy tournament the world has ever seen. But is it just luck of the draw? In the end , do these draft picks have all the profundity of a monkey hitting a typewriter? QUK Media says no, and we intend to prove it. In a two-part set of articles, our correspondents each set down their analyses of five captains from the Valentine's Cup, deciphering the labyrinthine workings of their minds in an effort to predict those captains' game plans and drafting strategies. First up, Jay Holmes and Matthew Western present their breakdowns of ten Valentine's captains. We begin with Jay's analysis of Amy Flynn's team, the Quidcrushers: 

Amy Flynn - Quidcrushers

Amy will finally be stepping up to the captain role after being a key leader during London’s search to appoint a new captain. Playing for the London Unspeakables this season would have been a fantastic learning opportunity for any player, with their many high-profile successes, let alone one with the experience Amy has. The Unspeakables have been on the up since the start of the season, and their summer guest coach scheme, along with an influx of new players, will have given Flynn a range of experiences and ideas for how to build a fantasy team.
I think Amy’s team will be on the larger side - around seventeen players - to help give her the edge over the more experienced captains in the draft, and will bring in players from some of the bigger teams who can help with the tactics of beating veteran captains such as Andrew Hull and Warren Mcfayden. 
That given, I can see Amy bidding for Ben Honey and Natasha Ferenczy. Not only are they great players who combine smooth passing movement with goal scoring potential that would improve any team, but they can bring strategies from elite teams which will certainly help knock back some of the captains.
I also expect Amy to bid for players she is more familiar with in order to build a solid backbone for her team. One pair that where both players fit the bill is Watts up Vogts?.  Consisting of both Hannah Watts, a frequent attendee of London’s training sessions, and Jacob Vogts, a new exchange student who could bring a powerful American play style to the field. Knowing these players well would lay strong foundations for Amy to build on, providing both pre-existing chemistry and a core she can trust to consistently deliver on pitch.

Andy Cooke - In (K)Need of Quove

Andy Cooke is arguably in one of the worst positions of the draft: an injury at the Christmas Cup leaves him unable to play for his own team. However, this does give him a larger budget to spend on players, and at the tailend of the draft every single one of those coins will matter. 
Andy has captaining experience from Derby, leaving him in a great position for the tournament, as he already knows how to run a team and will use his charisma and humour to band his team together from the very start. Despite this, he will have to make up for his lack of presence on pitch by buying players he knows can command the field as well as control the opposition. For this reason I can see him bidding for the power couple that is Luke Twist and Jan Mikołajczak. Not only are they both proven leaders and athletes who can make life hard for any opposition, but the few extra coins Andy has been gifted could be the final push he needs in securing this pair. Twistolajczak would make a fine addition to any team, and would be great for Andy as a starting foundation.
Andy may also bid for beaters who he knows can boast aptitude in both attack and defence to ensure that he can control the field and force plays to play out in his favour. As such, I suspect he might bid on the Broom Crossed Lovers, Ben Morton and Sam Davies. Not only do they bring an immense amount of tactical knowledge to any team, they are also proven to shut down any and all offensive plays. This skill, combined with their excellent stamina, means that Ben and Sam could be the brickwall defence that Andy needs to give him the edge. 

Bex McLaughlin - Bludgers for My Quoventine

Next under the microscope is Bex McLaughlin, who is absolutely no stranger to fantasy tournaments. Having played both in the UK and abroad, Bex will be able to incorporate the many styles of play they have worked with into their dream team.
Bex is one of the most experienced captains in the draft and has certainly absorbed an immense knowledge of players and gameplans. Bex should be able to use their competitive experience to pick a team that they know will click perfectly on pitch,  and that will be the crux on which their victory or defeat rests.
I think McLaughlin will go for a mid-sized squad of around fifteen, and the main focus of their picks will be fitness and competitiveness. Bex will thrive off the atmosphere that this huge tournament creates and pick a team that they know can perform and create game-making opportunities when it matters. 
I think Bex will have their eyes on one of the most sought after couples: James Burnett and Tom Norton. Not only do they create some fierce offensive options, but the chemistry Bex has built with Burnett and Norton over their time in Team UK leaves them aware of the duo’s play style and able to field them to their maximum potential.
I can also see Bex bidding on some European talent in a bid to give their team the added kick and flair to get around the UK’s way of doing things. They’re in a uniquely advantageous position for doing so; their presence at Barcelona Mustaches Time last summer leaves them more knowledgeable than most when it comes to the continental scene. Investments such as Emeline Bosc and Marc Garganté, whose combination of French and Spanish styles of play could fit well into the team that Bex is creating, stand out as particularly promising.
Finally, I’m calling Bex to make a bid for Fiona Howat and Robbie Young, another highly rated pair. Their excellence in seeking and chasing will both bolster Bex’s front line and, when that front line isn’t quite enough, give them good odds of pulling a SWIM catch out of the bag.

Lucy Quidditch - Black Hearted Beauties

Lucy Quidditch is our penultimate captain up for analysis, and she boasts one of the leading analytical minds in the sport. Combine that with her role as Team UK Coordinator and you’ve got a captain who’s constantly on the lookout for new talents who could shine if given the spotlight, and can recognise them before most have the chance.
I’d expect Lucy to build another relatively large team of approximately seventeen players, simply because her knowledge of some of the inexperienced but promising players in the draft will let her pick up some exceptional pairs that slip under the other captains’ radars.
Lucy’s team will be built around fast, technical play that can identify and exploit the chinks in the armour of other captains’ lineups. One couple that would fit perfectly into this style of play is Dale Evans and Emily Hayes. Both of them are renowned for taking teams apart from the inside, and their experience at the highest level of UK quidditch mean that they require little direction.
I can also see Lucy going for some of the lesser-known couples in the draft, such as Samuel Senior and Sash Steele or Charlie Schofield and Jana Jaworska, who are incredibly efficient players and among the rising stars of UK quidditch, but whose status as relative unknowns leaves them likely to be neglected by other captains. If Lucy can get some of these couples cheaply then she could steal the tournament, and make some players into stars while she’s at it..

Matthew Guenzel - Love at First Hype

Finally, I’ll be following the Valentine’s journey of quidditch veteran and hype master Matthew Guenzel, a man who was discussing the finer aspects of the off-pitch seeking rule before you even knew what a bludger was. Matthew’s experience of the game will no doubt be a huge boost to his captaining abilities - having seen the sport grow from capes to international conquests, he understands the most important parts of the game and knows what it takes to make a strong team. Helping lead Derby Quidditch into their strongest year yet will have hugely increased Matthew’s confidence, and knowing most of the community by name or face means he really does have the full pool to choose from when forming his team. 
Matthew will pick a small team of players he is very familiar with in an attempt to maximise the value and utility of each of his purchases. I can see him looking for quick, powerful chasers such as Tom Heynes and Kai Shaw, proven goal scorers and some of the best power chasers in the game, as well as building a solid beater base with players such as Holly Kerslake and Libertee Hull, who are proven to dominate both defences and bludger control.
However, as I’m sure you’ve seen from the sheer mass of social media output, Matthew is not only looking for the physical ability but also wants his ‘Hype’-oriented mindset. Matthew’s team ethos is to be a hyperbolic parody of the fantasy tournament, the Joker to Oxford’s Batman, and he’ll be looking for players who he knows can keep morale high. With this in mind, Guenzel should be looking for players such as myself and Sarah Dorricott, or Ben Dawes and Caspian Cunningham - players with proven ability to rally a team round their cause and spur them on to new heights.
Next, Matthew Western presents their five favourite captains to cause a stir in the draft next week, and takes a guess at what their game plans and major plays might be in the bidding process:

Olivia Payne - The Paynekillers: No Pain, No Gain!

As a GM completely new to captaining, of which there are surprisingly few in this tournament, and a chaser sometimes unfairly seen as the Chimeras’ third string behind the more established Abby Whiteley and Charis Horn, one could be forgiven for underestimating Olivia. However, it is in a sense her junior status that gives her such potential as a dark horse.
During her time as a Quidling, Olivia had the opportunity to be in close proximity to some incredible quidditch whilst at the same time remaining a detached observer, most notably at the 2014 EQC. Given this background, followed by her experience on pitch with the Chimeras, Olivia has acquired a wealth of knowledge that belies her lack of presence in quidditch discussion and leadership prior to this point. This leaves her open to slip under her competitions’ radar. It wouldn’t surprise me if Olivia is quietly forgotten at the start of the draft, only for all the captains to suddenly realise mid-draft that she has assembled an elite team right under their noses.
Payne’s experience point defending for the Chimeras leaves her well equipped to command such a defence herself - rather than leaders, she’ll be looking for players who can be relied upon to follow orders correctly. She might base her chaser lineup around herself and one other elite chaser (Adam Jasko stands out as particularly complementing her style of play), and then fill it out with good value pairs she can count on to get the job done. Ben Guthrie and Becky Lowe from Durham would fit into this role particularly well - having played them earlier this season, Olivia knows that they are both physical defensive threats, and are in the draft at an excellent price.

Matty Panda - The Selfie Squad

Matty is slowly earning themselves something of a legendary status when it comes to merc tournaments, having captained teams at Ducking and Mercian II to first and second place respectively. This wouldn’t be exceptionally impressive if it hadn’t been for the remarkable contrast between the two efforts - where Matty’s Duckling team was founded upon a mass bargain buy of unknown Chimera talent, their Mercian effort took a far more balanced approach whilst still retaining an incredibly integrated feel. Matty’s bidding game toes a fine line between planning and utter anarchy, and I’m excited to see how it all pans out this time.
Of course, the flipside of all this is that Matty remains extremely unpredictable in the actual players they pick. What remains constant though, in my opinion, is the ethos. Panda makes their picks with the aim of having clear subbing rotations that virtually guarantee an efficient lineup. For example, at Mercian II they drafted Philip Sam as a sub for themselves, along with Jess O’Neill and Zoe Ford as subs for each other, thus creating a perfect rotation of two offensive/defensive pairs. Matty could, in fact, recreate the same feat - Phil and Zoe are a couple in this draft. However, that strikes me as far too boring for Panda. A clear way I see for them to set up a good beater rotation would be to draft Libertee Hull and Holly Kerslake, before finding a more offensive wild card in another pair.

Chloe Watson - P.S. #IQuoveYou

Chloe’s status as unfortunate quinjury victim leaves her almost unique among the GMs, with her and Andy Cooke as the only non-playing captains. Whilst this at first seems to be quite the disadvantage, it gives Chloe one of the highest starting budgets, and leaves her in an excellent position to critique and improve upon her team’s play - one that, as a long-term non-playing captain for her home team of Durham, she is uniquely accustomed to.
The big question is how Chloe will deal with her experience problem. Durhamstrang may have made waves in the UK scene, but their victories to secure the Highlander II trophy were against mid-table sides at best, and their sole other fixtures have been against Chimeras, Quidlings, and assorted merc teams (primarily composed of York and Leeds players) at the Eggnog Tournament. Combine this with a dearth of Durhamites at the Christmas Cup, and you have a serious problem. There’s a huge gap in Chloe’s top-tier experience.
How might she solve this? Surprisingly easily, actually. A combination of predictable bidding on the commonplace elite names of the draft like Twistolajczak, followed by slightly less predictable bids on well-priced semi-Chimera pairings such as Ben Dawes and Caspian Cunningham, finally rounded off with some bargain Quidling or Leeds pairs, such as Dani Ellenby and Alan Willis (especially good for the inclusion of an up-and-coming Warwick player in Alan).

Gareth Rogers - Ain't No Bludger Fast Enough

Despite hailing from Warwick, a team with an even greater scarcity of competitive play, Gareth if anything faces far less of a knowledge problem than Chloe. With experience from the Quercs debut at Whiteknights II, the Christmas Cup, Warwick friendlies against Brizzlepuffs and Quidlings, and of course the first Valentine’s Cup under his belt, Gareth has a pretty comprehensive view of UK quidditch talent.
What he might lack, however, is the knowledge of how to make those big names all come together on pitch. When I saw Warwick against the Brizzlepuffs they had less than ten players, and Gareth was receiving tactical assistance from Chimera alumna Priya Shah. The way I see it, there’s one feasible solution to Gareth’s lack of experience with leading a full-sized team, one full of experienced players with sizable and perhaps conflicting egos. This would be to make a strong bid for a couple featuring an experienced player he could place in a vice-captain role, one who could provide invaluable assistance without detracting from Gareth’s own leadership. Rogers’s choice for this role could make or break him.
Regarding the overall style of Gareth’s team, I’d say that as a relative novice he’s likely to build it around what he knows - namely, the Warwick style. What struck me about Warwick was their all-in, aggressive physicality, and a grit and drive reminiscent of Loughborough (with a bit less tactical finesse). As such, I’d expect Gareth’s team to be packed with heavy hitters. At Mercian II, Tom Heynes notoriously decimated his budget to lay down an eye-watering winning bid for Luke Twist. With his inexperience in the drafting game, I imagine Gareth might do something much the same for a player of a similar style to Twist. Whether it’ll pay off as well for him as it did for Heynes remains to be seen.
Thomas Newton - U Give Quove A Bad Name
Thomas must be coming into this draft feeling like an dark cloud of bludgers lies suspended ominously above his head. I refer, of course, to the less than stellar performance of previous Reading captains at fantasy tournaments (cf. Blitzen Blades at Christmas Cup, and the Fawkes’ Flyers at the previous Valentine’s Cup). However, the eagle eye Newton has kept on UK quidditch developments under the guise of a certain (wholly anonymous) quidditch blogger, combined with his bold and occasionally outspoken tournament predictions, shows that he aspires to go above and beyond the achievements of his Reading peers.
Having said that, with his lack of experience in both leadership and teams other than Reading, I think Thomas will want an air of familiarity rather than throwing himself into the unknown. I don’t mean that I expect him to buy up all the Reading players; more that I expect his team to cultivate the air of relaxed congeniality that he is used to. As such, he’ll be on the looking for players who can go from fierce on pitch to friendly off pitch in a heartbeat, so as to balance his team spirit with his competitive drive. A standout couple that would fit the bill here is Ben Dawes and Caspian Cunningham, particularly given how Caspian plays into the tradition Reading-London rivalry. And of course, if Newton is looking for team spirit and raw quidditch potential at what could be a bargain price, then some of the Brizzlepuff pairs are guaranteed to deliver.

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