Friday, October 30, 2015

Northern Cup Preview

by Abby Whiteley, David Goswell, Ashara Peiris, and Alex Harrison

With QuidditchUK's Northern Cup just around the corner, our writers take a look at how the groups are stacking up, and what to expect from the participating teams.




Introduction
Although Northern Cup 2015 is not the first edition of this tournament the original Northern Cup was held in the summer of 2014 and was won by the Bangor Broken Broomsticks this is its inaugural official iteration as part of the regular UK season. Fourteen teams will flock to Durham this weekend with the promise of spaces at the 2016 European Quidditch Championship (EQC 2016) spurring them on. The number of spaces available has not yet been specified, and so the only way teams can be sure of a place at EQC 2016 is by earning a berth in the final; after all, if the EQC 2016 organisers are particularly conservative, it is possible that the UK will have significantly fewer spots than last year.


The development of official regional tournaments is a significant step for the UK; it is the first European NGB to do so for tournament selection purposes. It represents an increasingly stable season for the British scene rather than the annual British Quidditch Cup (BQC) standing alone amongst random events of varying officiality and relevance. Institutionally, this is a big change for the UK and one which needs to be pulled off well for the community to have faith in the execution of BQC.


It is, however, worth bearing in mind that this tournament is rather early in the season: some universities are only three weeks into their term, and few have been back for more than five. This has put an exceptionally high demand on teams to quickly complete recruitment and basic training, and so it is unfair to presume that these will be polished or finalised squads. The tournament will still have predictive worth, however; it will showcase the best that the North has to offer at this stage and enable people to substantiate their speculations about possible contenders for the BQC 2015-16 title.



Group A
Predictions
  1. Keele Squirrels
  2. Leicester Thestrals
  3. Leeds Griffins
  4. Durham University Quidditch Club’s Direwolves
  5. St Andrews Snidgets


Keele are a reasonably easy choice for the top spot in the group on the basis of their impressive lineup, boasting 2015’s TeamUK utility player captain Tom Norton, as well as notable quaffle drivers Chris Scholes-Lawrence and Tom Tugulu. Keele were the highest placed Northern team at BQC 2014-15 and have had impressive retention between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. They did have some close games against Leicester at the recent East Midlands Cup 2015, but both teams were missing some key players, and Keele have always gotten the better of Leicester in the past. That said, Leicester can put together a solid side and, if they are having a good day, they may be able to give Keele a scare. Similarly, they should be able to take on the other teams in their group; Leicester have a comfortable win-loss record over Leeds, although the Griffins have occasionally managed to sneak a win.


Tom Norton | Photo Credit: Dan Basnett


It is tempting to put Leeds above the Direwolves on the basis of the Palatinate Cup where Leeds went 2-1 against Durham’s second team, even though Leeds sported 12 players and the Direwolves a full 21. Leeds were always ahead on-pitch, including a 140*-20 victory in the final game, and the Direwolves’ sole victory was a snitch grab when 20 points behind. It seems that it would take a significant change in the Direwolves’ game for them to take a victory from Leeds, but, given that the first two results were in snitch range, it could still go in the Direwolves’ favour. St Andrews have been predicted last on the basis of their disappointing showing at Highlander Cup III, where they placed fourth out of five teams, including a loss to the Holyrood Hippogriffs, whom they have traditionally defeated. However, they have gained Cory Faniel, who will help them by bringing increased physicality and seeking ability as well as knowledge on Leeds, his old team. This will bolster their lineup conveniently, and a St Andrews victory over either the Direwolves or Leeds is not out of the question. The placement between these three teams is therefore potentially anybody’s game.



Group B
Predictions:
  1. Loughborough Longshots
  2. Bangor Broken Broomsticks
  3. Derby Union Quidditch
  4. HogYork Horntails


Having retained some of their key players especially in the beater lineup on paper, Loughborough should be able to take this group. They placed far higher than any of the other teams in this group that were present at BQC; they took fourth, in comparison with Derby’s 12th and Bangor’s 14th and were the only team in this group to attend EQC. They still have Franky Kempster and Dan Bridges in the quaffle game, and Kempster gives them a great edge in seeking as well. Apparently, Jonathon Cookes will also be attending Northern Cup with Loughborough, which makes a significant difference to their potential. Without Cookes, Bangor might have been able to edge the Longshots out, as a good recruitment drive has furnished them with a quaffle lineup which is developing well, but it is questionable whether they will be equipped to counteract Cookes’ driving without Andrew Hull (now playing with Oxford University Quidditch Club) to neutralise him, as was the case in bracket play at BQC. With Loughborough having placed fourth at the East Midlands Cup 2015 and Bangor having come first at Whiteknights The Third in the summer, Bangor will be looking to upset which would give them an easier route through the rest of the tournament but it will be a tough one to crack.


Derby currently have a squad of 12 and, with the loss of Hull, their strongest beater lineup of Hull and Phil Brown has been rent. They should take on York without too much difficulty, as they have a great deal more experience than the Horntails and a genuinely excellent player in captain Charlie Schofield. If they had more players, they might be able to punch above their weight, but as it stands they may struggle. As for York, they might surprise with some excellent freshers, but it is impossible to call at this stage. They have played Leeds and put up an impressive show, so they could show some bite when it comes down to it; an upset is not out of the question, but Derby simply have so much more experience over them that York are certainly starting on the back foot.


The Preston Poltergeists, originally drawn in this group, have dropped out.



Group C
Predictions
  1. Nottingham Nightmares
  2. Durham University Quidditch Club’s Durhamstrang
  3. Holyrood Hippogriffs
  4. Chester Centurions
  5. Manchester University Quidditch Club’s Manticores


There exists something of a gulf in Group C between the top two teams and the lower three. Nottingham and Durham are in contention for the best team in the North, and it does not seem unlikely that they could meet again in the final. Nottingham are coming off a high from their decisive victory at East Midlands Cup, at which they ranked above Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Taxes Quidditch, and Derby. Durham, meanwhile, had a less consistent time at the Battle of Four Armies, losing significantly to the Radcliffe Chimeras and on a snitch grab to Warwick Quidditch Club although they did beat Southampton Quidditch Club 1 in SWIM, a feat not to be underestimated. The Nightmares have the better beater lineup, most notably the pair of Lucy Q and captain Lucy Edlund, although Durham may have an answer to them in Ben Guthrie. The quaffle lineups are reasonably well-matched, with David Goswell and surprise star James Thanangadan on the Nightmares’ side, and Robbie Gawne and Jackie Woodburn for Durhamstrang. Bex Lowe will be returning to Durhamstrang for Northern, which will help to alleviate the drop-off from Durham’s starting line as they sub in their weaker players. It may well come down to SWIM, in which case both lineups will see a significant dip in their quaffle play, as both primary seekers Goswell and Gawne are key pieces in the respective quaffle lineups.


James Thanangadan | Photo Credit: Jun Aishima


Although it is true that Edinburgh have not yet cut their teeth against either Nottingham or Durham this season, and they did have a great showing at Highlander Cup III, it is difficult to imagine that their improvement has been enough to pose a challenge to those teams. A third-place finish at Highlander, whilst respectable and following some pleasing results, is not enough to claim with confidence that they will be a realistic threat to either team. However, barring any significant fresher surprises, they should be able to take on Chester and Manchester; neither team has played competitively this season, and Manchester is at a very incipient stage in its development. Chester may give Edinburgh a closer game, but it is impossible to call with confidence at this point, and so it is only reasonable to expect a victory from the team that has already attended and succeeded at a tournament this season. Manchester, meanwhile, will be hoping to get some solid experience and hopefully score a few hoops against the more experienced sides and could even take a surprise victory against Chester or Edinburgh but it will be something of a baptism of fire.



Conclusion

Northern Cup will be the first truly comprehensive snapshot of Northern quidditch this season and with several exciting team d├ębuts, as well as some long-anticipated matchups, it promises to offer plenty of information to digest for the next few months in advance of BQC 2015-16. Keep an eye out for the Quidditch Post’s coverage over the weekend and keep an eye on Twitter (QuidPost_UK), as well as our previews of Southern to come out closer to the time. After the dust has settled, we will be writing up general reviews of each event, before launching into our mid-season team-by-team rankings, which will be built heavily on the results of Regionals.

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