Tuesday, April 14, 2015

EQC Preview: Underrated Players

By Ben Pooley

With the European Quidditch Cup (EQC) rapidly approaching, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of the less recognised players going with the UK teams, focusing on talent that often gets overlooked. So, without further ado, here are my personal opinions.

The London Unspeakables
Player: Luke Trevett

Most teams gain freshers in one solid block at the beginning of the year, with a few people drifting in over time, but this does not apply to the London Unspeakables. Being a community team means people join all year round, and talent can sneak in under the radar late into a season, and this is certainly what has happened with Luke Trevett. The first impression one gets of Trevett is that he looks incredibly athletic, and, while that is still true, he is so much more than a killer set of abs and arms that could crush a melon. As a chaser, Trevett brings a physicality to London's game which stands out due London's less physical chaser line up, with him mostly using his strength to barrel down the pitch and make terrific interceptions and tackles. He is as fast as London’s Nat Thomas, which means one cannot beat him to any ball at brooms up. At the British Quidditch Cup (BQC) he made a great appearance despite it being his competitive d├ębut. Learning to play quidditch was not hard for Trevett due to playing team sports such as football avidly, and that is definitely where he has picked up his positioning ability and pitch awareness.

With his only real weaknesses being experience (having only played for two months) and being fairly quiet on pitch, both of which will come with time in the game, Trevett is definitely one to watch at EQC and beyond!

Honourable mention also goes to Marcus Hart who is wholly underrated and deserves more plaudits. You go Marcus!

Radcliffe Chimeras
Player: Charis Horn

Onto the Chimeras now, and it is quite tough to choose a hidden gem from a team that is made up of some incredible players, who, in turn, have been selected from a large pool of talent, but I have chosen someone who I believe is undervalued as a chaser. That player is Charis Horn. Having played since the creation of quidditch in Oxford, she is used to playing at the highest level, and has that experience under her belt. If you had never played with or against her you could be forgiven for underestimating her, because she hits hard—like, really hard. Combine that with her knack for going in for seemingly futile tackles, only to gain something from it, and you have a player who is invaluable for a team. Her work rate is the thing that impresses most; whether she is charging after a loose quaffle or getting beat while point chasing and instantly running back to keep the attack stifled, she is always there, doing her job without hesitation. Obviously the Chimeras should be a team to watch for at EQC since they are looking to retain their title, but keep an eye on Horn as she comes up against some of the best players in Europe and holds her own.

The Keele Squirrels
Player: Jen McCallum

We have another feisty, tenacious female chaser now, with Jen McCallum from the Keele Squirrels. Having been a key member of the Keele chasing line up at the first British Quidditch Cup, where she helped her team to a second-place finish, McCallum has experience on her side. However, due to various other commitments, including study and work placement, she did not train for the first half of this season. Yet, despite this sabbatical from quidditch, she has come back looking even stronger than before. Her willingness to take on anyone regardless of size makes her a fearsome opponent. Her play against the Loughborough Longshots at BQC2 was particularly impressive: she point-chased with aplomb and marked anyone she needed to, rendering some of the Longshots’ best players out of action on the attack. Keele also trusts her immensely, and this shows through her confidence on pitch, her talent amplified by her slotting into her specific role on the team. She is also well versed in the fundamentals of the game, with catching being one of her strongest points. Her knack of being able to get into space at every opportunity means that she can adjust herself well to her team’s lineup and their passing ability. On top of all this, she possesses the right balance of competitiveness and sportsmanship, meaning she is a pleasure to play both with and against, and she is also great to hang out with off-pitch.

Also worth a mention is John Benest who is unable to make EQC, but is definitely an integral part of Keele!

Nottingham Nightmares
Player: Brandon Fitz-Gerald

We now come to Nottingham! Placing fifth at BQC, they have proven themselves worthy qualifiers for EQC. Again, this is a team with a vast amount of talent, especially amongst the newer players. For this article though, I shall be focussing on one of the older guard. Despite missing BQC1 and Northern Cup last year he has progressed massively, and I personally think he is incredibly underrated. Brandon Fitz-Gerald is a quick, nimble chaser, who has a brilliant work rate, and never fails to give his all in a match. Despite being on the shorter side, he makes up for it with chasing every ball down, and his incredible bursts of speed. It is not so much his pace, but his rapid acceleration that leaves opposition chasers spinning like the Road Runner has just sped by. While he could just run the ball up a lot of times, he decides to make the smart pass, leading to countless goal-scoring opportunities and many assists. As well as being a solid chaser, Fitz-Gerald seeks with aplomb. Despite not actually having made that many snitch catches, he can pull one out of the bag when really needed and makes life hell for snitches and opposition seekers alike. Will he make your life a nightmare on pitch? We'll see at EQC!

Player: Jade Strange

Up next is Durhamstrang, a team that has seemingly come out of nowhere this season, with some fantastic performances. Most people like to focus on Durham’s abundance of fast, physical chasers—which, while true, overshadows another part of its play: the beaters. Having seen Durham play, Jade Strange makes up the core of its beating play, being a solid rock at the back. Her fast movement across the pitch makes her hard to catch when you want her bludger, but also hard to escape from, when you definitely do not want her bludger thrown at you. Pitch awareness is also key to her game, being able to keep track of where the opposition threats are at any one time. While she is quite conservative with her bludger, it is not because she cannot use one effectively when she needs to. She has a strong arm and precise aim, meaning you are right to be scared when running at her if she has a bludger in hand. I have not seen her play much without a bludger, because if she loses one she gets it back almost immediately. She recently made it onto the Team UK alternates and deservedly so. Jade could make a big impact at EQC, I think it would be Strange if she didn't! (geddit?)

Loughborough Longshots
Player: Frankie Kempster

You might not have heard of this team, it's a bit of a longshot. It's Loughborough! After securing fourth place at BQC it is clear they have a solid squad with some excellent chemistry, with every player having their role in the team. A player who fulfils her role extremely well is Frankie Kempster, her talent making her a rightful pick for the Team UK alternates. A fearsome combination of agility, strength, general grit, and determination makes her the all-round chaser that any team would be lucky to have, with her ability to find space anywhere on the pitch being particularly useful. Her speed helps her when chasing and seeking, meaning she can have that slight edge over other players. Stamina is one of the things that makes her such a good seeker, allowing her to keep going through several opposition seekers without subbing while keeping up her effectiveness. This was seen in the third-place playoff at BQC2 against Keele where she did not let the aggressiveness of Keele's beaters put her off her job. She was having to continually switch between defensively and offensively seeking, which did not faze her at all, and proves she has the right mindset for this sport. With a close group, there are likely to be a fair few SWIM range games for Kempster to demonstrate what makes her such a good player!

Oxford Quidlings
Player: Robert Brignull

We have the Quidlings now! This is team that has been striving since its creation to show people that it is not just Oxford’s second team, but a group of players capable of competing at the highest level. This team is now at that level thanks to many hidden gems in the team, but the player I want to focus on today is Robert Brignull. Only at the point of fact-checking this article did I realise that Brignull, one of the Quidlings key keepers, has only been playing for one season, which is remarkable considering his prowess and influence on the pitch. Having played with and against him many a time I can attest to his ability as an octopus-like entity in front of the hoops, somehow denying the opposition’s most accurate shooters. On the offence he also excels, with his height and strength making it hard to prise the quaffle from his grasp. Add in his effective distribution, and pinpoint passing and you have a keeper who is integral to his team no matter who has the ball. Give him another season or so and Quidlings could have one of the best keepers in the country. EQC watch out! Can I get a hoot hoot?

Leicester Thestrals
Player: Zoe Harrison

Caw caw! I don't know what noise a Thestral makes, but we have Leicester next! With a strong performance all season, where its placing at tournaments has not reflected its level of play play, Leicester is looking good for EQC. My pick for Leicester was a difficult one, as a lot of the team often gets overlooked alongside its well-known players. One of those players who has been brought to my attention in the last few tournaments is Zoe Harrison, a chaser who has put in some brilliant performances this season. Possessing one of the strongest stiff arms in the country, once she is locked onto you, there is no getting away. Like some other people mentioned in this article, she has got the basics down to a fine art, with her two-handed catching and positioning making her a skilful opponent. Equally she has perfected her timing, knowing exactly when to pass, and to whom, setting up plays nicely. Her play style complements the rest of the Leicester chaser line beautifully, making her performances that much more effective. EQC will be tough for Leicester because of its group, but if Harrison remains consistent with previous showings, then she will make a big impact on the pitch!

Falmouth Falcons
Player: Katt Jeffrey

The Falmouth Falcons are known for their brilliant beaters, and quick quaffle counter attacks, but this achieves nothing if you constantly concede goals. That is where keepers come in, and Falmouth has arguably the most overlooked keeper in the country in the form of Katt Jeffrey. Standing at just shy of six feet, she has the height needed to prevent goals in any of the hoops; this, combined with her lightning-fast reflexes, makes her one of the best shot stoppers in the UK. Despite Falmouth’s strong defence, sometimes someone sneaks through and when that happens Jeffrey isn't afraid to go for the tackle, where I have seen her take down the opposition countless times. It is not just the defence where she excels, however; on the offence she's a brilliant distributor of the ball, consistently finding good passing options and helping the attack move forward, aided by her wonderful communication. Her performances have only improved since Southern Cup and I can only imagine she will get stronger and more influential as the next season unfolds. Maybe EQC will be her chance to shine on the big stage? I certainly think she has the potential to do so!

Southampton Quidditch Club 1 (SQC1)
Player: Joel Davis

Recently crowned British champions, Southampton Quidditch Club 1, is going to EQC to win, and it has a good chance of succeeding, thanks to its squad filled to the brim with experienced and fresh talent. A player who is most definitely a fresh talent is Joel Davis: a chaser who has rocketed from someone who had never really played sports before, to a national champion in under a year. Having only recently ascended to the position of SQC1 player, he has proven it was worth putting him there, with some solid showings at BQC, particularly against the London Unspeakables in the group stage. With consistent two-handed catches and the ability to put in last ditch tackles when required, he is an asset to have at both ends of the pitch. On offence, he can drive through most players, and, even when he is stopped, passes off perfectly to a teammate in an optimal position. On defence, he is able to man mark efficiently, sticking to his target with the efficacy of chewing gum, and just as annoying. Overall, he is not particularly weak in any area, which makes him a brilliant all-round chaser. Will SQC1 win EQC with the help of the new Ginger God in town? We shall see!

A special thanks to Hannah Watts for her insight into some of these players!

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