Sunday, October 18, 2015

Five Lessons From Four Armies

by Alex Harrison and Jack Lennard

On Saturday, 18 Oct., Warwick Quidditch Club (WQC) hosted a mixed Southampton Quidditch Club (SQC) roster, Durhamstrang from Durham University Quidditch Club (DUQC), and the Radcliffe Chimeras from Oxford University Quidditch Club (OUQC) in a friendly tournament called the Battle of Four Armies. With so many top UK teams present at one event, especially right before regional championships, Quidditch Post staff in attendance knew we would learn plenty about what was in store for the 2015-16 season. We were not disappointed.

SQC 90* - 20 Warwick
Radcliffe Chimeras 170* - 70 Warwick
SQC 30 - 70* Durham
SQC 80* - 50 Radcliffe Chimeras
Durhamstrang 80 - 110* Warwick
Durhamstrang 30 - 120* Radcliffe Chimeras

1: Nothing is true, everything is permitted
This season was already shaping up to be one of the most exciting on record in the UK, but this weekend will have confirmed that. We saw hints of growing parity among an expanded pantheon of top teams last season: SQC1 unseated the Radcliffe Chimeras as British champions, only to be defeated themselves by Oxford’s finest in the semifinals of EQC 2015. Meanwhile the Keele Squirrels, the Nottingham Nightmares, the Loughborough Longshots, and Durhamstrang all vied for dominance beneath the top two teams. This weekend, however, showed that the sense of excitement and tension in UK quidditch will only grow. Every team came out of the event with at least one defeat and one victory. For Durhamstrang, DUQC’s primary team, beating SQC will give them a huge boost in confidence ahead of Northern Cup, and though SQC should feel rightly proud of beating the Chimeras, the Chimeras will come back stronger after promotions and with more training sessions under their belts the Oxford term starts later than most, limiting the training the team has had thus far. Meanwhile, Warwick continue to ride the wave of their strong finish to last season by beating Durhamstrang, a sign that they will be one of the favourites for a podium finish at Southern Cup. Other teams will be watching these competitors with interest – Nottingham, for example, victorious elsewhere this weekend at East Midlands Cup, will see their opportunity to solidify a place at the helm of UK quidditch.

An event full of surprises | Photo credit: Jackie Woodburn

2: SQC are the fresher experts
SQC took the lead in actively using new players this weekend and it paid off with a strong set of results and the benefit of giving their brand new players some experience against elite opposition. Two new standouts are Luke Garland and Karol Kwasnicki, who immediately looked at home on the team. Garland’s blend of physicality, speed, accuracy, and commitment to the tackle gives him sky-high potential as a keeper, and Kwasnicki – tall, quick, tough, and remarkably agile – is obviously going to be a top player by the end of the season, as his four-goal haul against the Chimeras attests. However, only Garland has been selected for the firsts when it comes to the quickly approaching Southern Cup, a decision new SQC 1 captain Charlie Taylor might be questioning tonight, while SQC 2 captain Amy Tucker will possibly be celebrating. All their new freshers will have to have consistent and dedicated discipline training over the next few weeks so as to avoid repeating the cards SQC 1 were shown in last year’s Southern Cup final. Warwick’s new cohort are mostly transfers, notably James Burnett, Luke Trevett, and Kat Jack, with only a few players making their competitive debuts at this event. Durhamstrang struggled with numbers and injuries, playing most of the day with only 10 or so fit players, all of whom were experienced, and the Chimeras fielded a similarly small and seasoned roster. The Chimeras will have to wait to see the benefit of their fresher intake, relying on the growth the Oxford Quidlings will provide the first year players before they can join the OUQC first team; therefore SQC have immediately taken the lead in developing their new players. This event was the first chapter in what may be a season-long experiment in the best way to establish a multi-team club. With QUK now allowing more flexibility in movement between first and second teams within a club, we may see the Chimeras adapt to strengthen their position.

Two clubs, but only one way to recruit and promote players? | Photo credit: Natasha Ferenczy

3: Warwick’s strong performances may belie their true firepower
Interesting? Controversial? You bet. Warwick’s victory over Durhamstrang was down to the wire, with the score level at 80-80 when the snitch was caught. Warwick’s putting seven past the Chimeras and holding SQC 1 to a 40-point lead will further add credence to the fact that they’ll be launching a very serious challenge to the top teams this season. Furthermore, they did field the most complete roster of any team present. Southampton fielded an experimental fresher-based squad, and the Chimeras missed a couple of key players while also still feeling the lack of training from the summer break, not to mention that Rian Harris, Jamie Cash, and Robert Brignull all debuted as Chimeras at this fixture. Durhamstrang were held together with spit and sports tape, bringing a small squad that suffered numerous injuries as well as being exhausted from the early 3 a.m. start to their journey. Meanwhile, Alan Wills was the only notable Warwick absence. Furthermore, their win against Durhamstrang was mostly the product of Seb Waters having the game of his life, scoring from improbable range again and again. However, while their freshers remain largely untested, the squad has been strengthened by transfers – and, of course, the team itself was new last year when it sprung onto the UK scene to storm up the rankings. Though they won’t have the power of surprise they had last season, Warwick boast a powerful team.

4: Durhamstrang might be the real deal (but also might not be)
Durhamstrang’s 70*-30 win over SQC was impressive and surprising, considering that SQC were fresh off a victory over their rivals, the Chimera, who had dispatched Durhamstrang themselves fairly easily earlier in the day. SQC will argue that they played a fresher-heavy game in order to further develop their team for the big tournaments later this season, which they did, though that didn’t hinder their performances in the other games. However, Durhamstrang will argue that they played with a 10-person squad missing numerous key players and had to play two consecutive matches. Digging deeper into the scores yields more positives for Durhamstrang, as they stayed level against the Chimeras for a good portion of their match, and their Warwick game certainly could have gone either way, with only a snitch catch deciding the victor . Robbie Gawne is virtually unstoppable at full pelt, whilst Jackie Woodburn continues to grow in her weakest area, confidence, both taking their experience with TeamUK to further build and strengthen their playing style, and Durhamstrang’s beater lineup – despite missing Ben Guthrie – looked able to stand up to anyone in the country. Amy Chan, already having impressed those who saw her at the tail end of last season, made a strong impact, and will go a long way to giving Durhamstrang’s beater corps more depth as well as finally getting the recognition she deserves. However, they must be wary of relying too much on a few key players. The loss of Bex Lowe over the summer, though a blow, will hopefully allow them to build up several key replacements (Livia Higgins, getting more time on the pitch than ever this weekend, being one of them), whilst the addition of a second team, the Durham Direwolves and the continuation of an internal competition within DUQC will be integral to growing organically and sustainably as a club over the course of the season.

Many positives for Durhamstrang, but also a reminder of the need to develop sustainably | Photo credit: Jackie Woodburn

5: The Chimeras have lost their magic touch
Whisper it quietly, but the Chimeras no longer look like the truly exceptional, invincible team they once were. There was a time when they were so far ahead of the game that playing them felt like a training exercise because you were going to lose, so you might as well learn a few things. The Chimeras are arguably stagnating or at least improving at a slower clip than the rest of the field. The loss of David Goswell won’t have helped, though there are several members of OUQC who might step into his shoes, such as Brignull, who had an excellent debut at this tournament and certainly looked the part of a first team keeper. The beater lineup has really suffered. Although Jan Mikolajzcak and Luke Twist have expanded their impressive skill set to bludgers, Matty ‘Panda’ Murrell will be leaving the club before Southern Cup with Rix Dishington following after the event, and a vast swathe of their beaters are relatively new to the Chimeras (Cash and Harris, of course, and Alice Walker only debuted prior to BQC 2014-15). Cash and Harris made it through the Battle of Four Armies, helped by Walker’s excellent game, but they will need expert and intense training if they are to approach the level required for the Chimeras to continuously challenge for the top spot. It won’t be easy, especially with the pressure of expectation that comes with their promotion. Things will only get harder for all of OUQC, not just the recently promoted. New captain Abby Whiteley and club president David Dlaka have the daunting task of training adequate replacements for almost all of the Chimeras’ old guard when this season ends and those players move on. Notable losses will include former captain and president Ashley Cooper, world-class utility player Mikolajczak, and the point chasing expertise of Whiteley herself. Meanwhile, other teams are starting to catch up. This was first seen as teams started to hold the Chimeras within snitch range for longer and longer periods (notably in their matches against Warwick and Nottingham at BQC 2014-15), before their invincibility was shattered by consecutive finals defeats to SQC 1 and Paris Titans in BQC 2014-15 and EQC 2015. The quick passing and fluid movement that were once the signature Chimera tactical and technical innovations have become commonplace. In many ways, this is the ultimate compliment. The Chimeras have dragged the rest of British quidditch up, and now they’re not so special any more. Right now, when you watch them play, you see a very, very good quidditch team who are arguably still favourites against every single other outfit in the country, but they’re gods no longer.

A roar, or an SOS cry from the Radcliffe Chimeras? | Photo credit: Matty 'Panda' Murrell

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