Thursday, November 12, 2015

Southern Cup 2015 Preview

by Fraser Posford, Ashara Peiris, and Jack Lennard

Following the success of the Northern Cup over the Halloween weekend, attention now turns to QuidditchUK’s next regional tournament: the Southern Cup. This is the second edition of the tournament following the inaugural Southern Cup in Southampton, England in November 2014, won by Oxford University Quidditch Club’s (OUQC) Radcliffe Chimeras. The Chimeras’ defence of their title will take place on familiar territory as OUQC hosts this year’s tournament at Horspath Athletics and Sports Ground in Oxford, England, which was also the venue for last season’s Valentines Cup II and European Quidditch Cup (EQC) 2015.
Seventeen teams will be present at the weekend five of which are making their official QuidditchUK tournament debuts aiming to be crowned champions of the South. Like Northern Cup, this is also a qualification event for EQC 2016, acting as an extra incentive to the participating teams. However, it remains unknown how many EQC bids will be granted to the UK and, therefore, the only way to guarantee qualification is with a podium finish.

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.
Quidditch Post COO Jack Lennard and UK writers Fraser Posford and Ashara Peiris took a look at the group draw for the tournament and provide predictions of what we might expect from the attending teams.

Group A Predictions:
  1. Radcliffe Chimeras
  2. Taxes Quidditch
  3. Cambridge University Quidditch Club
  4. Bristol Brizzlebees
  5. University of Exeter Quidditch Club

Due to the Southern Cup’s 17 attending teams, Group A has five teams and results against the lowest-placed team will be disregarded for ranking purposes. The team that will almost undoubtedly top the group are defending Southern Cup champions, the Radcliffe Chimeras, the first team coming out of OUQC. Boasting their largest ever roster of 18 players, including eight recent promotions from the Oxford Quidlings, this is a fairly fresh roster. However, with the experience of Captain Abby Whiteley and TeamUK players throughout the chaser lineup with Luke Twist, Andrew Hull, and Tom Heynes, with Jan Mikolajczak beating, this is still a dangerous roster for any team. Meanwhile, first-time players new to the sport from OUQC’s October recruitment drive have been promoted immediately, with the fast and accurate chaser Mitch Skiles being a particularly exciting acquisition. The Chimeras relative lack of beater depth means they could encounter trouble later on, so if they want to win, they will need to ensure their new players combine effectively with their previous squad.

The Radcliffe Chimeras | Photo credit: Matty 'Panda Murrell

The only team that should pose much difficulty will be Taxes Quidditch. Taxes’ excellent performance at East Midlands Cup, where the team finished third after beating the Loughborough Longshots showed that despite their small roster and lack of regular practice, Taxes could perform at a very high level. Taxes’ level of experience means that against all but the best teams they will be able to set the pace and use their extremely talented lineup to make each game their own.

Third and fourth placings in this group will likely be contested between Bristol’s second team, the Brizzlebees, and Cambridge University Quidditch Club. The Brizzlebees have had a busy start to the season, already playing six games in the first month of the season. This additional practice may give them a slight edge over Cambridge. However, Cambridge’s roster should be enough to clinch the victory if they can conserve enough energy with their 13-person squad for this crucial match. Cambridge are bringing a talented, albeit potentially rusty team, including last year’s Co-Captain Steffan Danino, former Chimera Jake Sullivan, and the bulldozer-like Tom Hardman. Meanwhile, Sian Hopper will make her southern debut after moving from the Leeds Griffins and will offer Cambridge yet more experience. The Brizzlebees will be mainly composed of players new to the sport, but they will be bringing flashes of experienced talent to the pitch in the form of Matty Panda Murrell from OUQC and Ajantha Abey, formerly of the University of Sydney Unspeakables. Meanwhile, keeper Jack Harlow-Pearlstone will be a force to reckon with both in sheer strength and command of the defence, while Claire Cooper’s already solid chasing and seeking will no doubt develop rapidly against the strong opposition the team will face.
Rounding off the group is the University of Exeter Quidditch Club, who will be playing their first ever QUK official games. Whilst the team has had some game experience playing Falmouth in early 2015 and recently against both Bristol teams this will likely not be enough to win Exeter a game. However, the team, led by Captain Bethany Ashley, will do their utmost to push as hard as they can. Amy Ferguson has excelled so far as a beater though her talents may need to be turned to other positions as needed by the team, and Eddie Owsley is a potent seeker who could make the difference if the team can slow the game down and stay in SWIM range at any time during the tournament.
Group B Predictions:
  1. Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts
  2. Warwick Quidditch Club
  3. Oxford Quidlings
  4. Portsmouth Horntail Strikers

The reigning British champions, Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts (SQC1), will be desperate to prove that their victory over the Radcliffe Chimeras in the final of BQC 2014 was no fluke after being knocked out by their rivals in the semifinals of the subsequent EQC 2015. Having recently beaten the Chimeras with a final score of 70*-40, SQC1 will feel the momentum is certainly with them. Though the squad has plenty of talent to the quaffle game with TeamUK veteran Jemma Thripp and Coach Vincent Fouré, the team has been hit by injury. Anjit Aulakh is not playing, while David Holland, Imy Gregg, and Aaron Veale all have injuries, meaning SQC1 will be performing below their best. The team will therefore be relieved to have new talent, strengthening SQC1’s quaffle game after the loss of such prominent players as Robbie Dugald Young and Ollie Craig. Kerry Aziz’s clear potential with a bludger will take some of the pressure off the somewhat slim SQC1 beater lineup that will miss the presence of Nat A’Bear. It is hard to see any team in this group stopping SQC1 from taking first place, but it remains to be seen whether the team can be rattled by a determined opposition and a build up of injuries.

SQC1 | Photo credit: Dan Basnett

The real clash in this group is for second place, and they will be between Warwick Quidditch Club and OUQC’s second team, the Oxford Quidlings. Warwick are a team to watch this year, as the team has acquired former OUQC beater James Jesus Burnett and the talented Kat Jack from the Nottingham Nightmares. Warwick may still, however, underperform at the weekend as the team has struggled to replace the main driving talent of Chris Noble. Captain Seb Waters has become a household name in the UK and was by far Warwick’s most valuable power at the Battle of Four Armies last month, while Jacopo Sartori has developed as a beater with TeamUK over the summer. While Luke Trevett and Ollie Stone provide a strong and agile presence for Warwick’s quaffle game, the team must ensure they utilise their new recruit, Anthony Tatman. Warwick needs to correct Tatman’s hero-running habit and work the team’s skill and strength into their more delicate quaffle game, replacing the physicality lost through Noble’s departure. If the team can do that, Tatman should be a solid addition to the team. Meanwhile, Hannah Dignum and James Hewitt will have to sharpen their teeth against increasingly aggressive beaters, and they will need to keep cool heads for Warwick to hold their beater game together.
Warwick’s main opposition in this group, the Quidlings, have their own problems. Despite a strong recruitment drive that has filled the Quidlings’ ranks, the Radcliffe Chimeras need for new talent has left the Quidlings in a weakened position. TeamUK keeper Andrew Hull was quickly snatched up by the Chimeras, as was Belgian beater Shati Patel. However, the Quidlings still have a well-rounded squad; Chimera veteran beaters Ben Dawes and Zoe Ford join the team while talented utility player Dale King-Evans also returns to bolster every position. Other returning talents include David Dlaka, an underappreciated beater option, and Michael Holloway, the erstwhile Quidling keeper option who, along with Mark Sid Richardson, will be the foundations of the team’s quaffle game. Meanwhile, exciting new recruits include Movin Abeywickrema, now a solid defensive beater adept at cleaning up attacks. Former Reading Roc Gemma Golder, and Nayyar Jamie, a long-standing member of the team, give the Quidlings some dependable chasing options. New Quidling Captain Emily Hayes is a canny tactician, but on paper alone it is Warwick’s match to lose. However, if the Quidlings accommodate their lack of physicality in the quaffle game and target Warwick’s beaters with aggressive beating and a staunch defence, then the blow to Warwick’s confidence and the boost to the Quidlings may be enough to swing it in their favour.
The Portsmouth Horntail Strikers are new to UK quidditch, having only played a varsity match against a mixed Southampton team. It is unfortunate that Portsmouth is in such a challenging group, and it seems unlikely that the team will end Day One with a win. However, the team’s spirit is admirable, and Captain Jack Latoy must use this weekend as an opportunity to develop the team’s key players and build a squad for the future. Rob Bull’s accuracy with a bludger is already impressive, and he will no doubt have a stronger sense of beater tactics under pressure after this weekend, while Ellie Marvin will see her tactical understanding of positioning within the quaffle game tested against experienced defences. Meanwhile, beater Carrie Roberts will have the opportunity to put her physicality into practice against the aggressive beating games of the other teams in this group, developing a stronger understanding of the strategy involved alongside James Grainger and Scott Brown who will experience a more complex and balanced quaffle game.

Group C Predictions:
  1. Falmouth Falcons
  2. Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds
  3. Reading Rocs
  4. Norwich Nifflers

The Falmouth Falcons are the only team with a 100 percent win percentage so far this season besides the newly crowned Northern Cup champions, the Nottingham Nightmares courtesy of a much deserved first-ever tournament win at Highlander Cup III this past October. Falmouth won all of their matches out of snitch range at Highlander and will hope to bring this good form to Southern Cup, having finished in fourth place last year. Cornwall’s finest will be bringing a 19-player squad to Oxford in contrast with the tiny squad of 10 who were victorious at Highlander. These additional players are mostly chasers, which should take the pressure off the team’s main threats such as Co-Captain Conor Watson and nimble chaser Oscar Lozada. Falmouth are short of male beaters a reverse of last season’s male-dominated beater corps with only two: TeamUK’s Alex Brown and new player Petter Kjernsbeck. This suggests that the team could be fielding an all-female beater lineup, including the in-form Alicia Ackroyd, especially when Brown is seeking. Falmouth have been considered to be a dark horse at previous tournaments the team has attended, and it will be interesting to see how the team performs under the pressure of being one of the big dogs in a tournament of this calibre.

The team who look most like giving Falmouth a run for their money in pool play is Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds (SQC2). Last time these two sides met, the Anchors claimed a close-fought SWIM victory at Whiteknights the Third, and the Southern Cup looks set to provide an exciting rematch. However, SQC2 has been diminished in their experience since April. Promotion of some of the team’s most influential players at Whiteknights has weakened Amy Tucker’s squad, although one player who looks to be especially key to the fortunes of SQC2 here is powerful beater Matt Drummond a member of the BQC 2015 winning SQC1 team following some fine performances in tournaments throughout the summer. Furthermore, many new players are eagerly awaiting their tournament debut, such as chasers Matteo Barraclough and Kevin Luu, beater Charlie Bailey, and seeker Harvey Rampton. Couple this raw potential with the experience of the likes of Tash Ferenczy, Nikita Gale, and former Radcliffe Chimeras beater Rica Biasi, and SQC2 has an excellent chance of making bracket play on Day Two and challenging Falmouth for the top spot in the group if the team does not get carded too much.

A distinct gap in quality between the teams looks set to split Group C with Falmouth and SQC2 battling for the top two spots, whilst it is between the Reading Rocs and the Norwich Nifflers to secure third place. This could be a close-fought contest, but the Rocs should take it. Under new Captain Chris Thomas, the Rocs appear to be in a transitional phase following the departures of their old guard and the introduction of new players to the team. An overtime loss to a Southampton freshers team – during which SQC lent several players to the visiting Rocs is the only action seen this season thus far from the Rocs, and they showed very little of what to expect from them in the coming months. Yet, Thomas has since stated that Reading might as well be a brand new team this year, and it will be interesting to see if this pans out in the team’s progress at Southern Cup. However, one factor that could hold back any potential renaissance for the Rocs is the gender balance of their roster, which is predominantly male and therefore will put a lot of strain on the few female and non-binary players on the team.

The last team in Group C is the Norwich Nifflers, one of the oldest yet least developed UK team. A sole but emphatic victory against the St Andrews Snidgets at BQC and a last place finish at Whiteknights last season suggest a team in decline. However, a new season allows for a clean slate, and the Nifflers will wish to put the disappointment of 2014-15 behind them. Norwich are bringing 19 players including quaffle player Matt Frampton, the Southern Cup 2014 Rookie of the Tournament. He is joined by beater and Vice-Captain Tim Thomas, as well as seeker Abi Ashborn, who claimed a few cold snitch catches last season amongst the team’s many defeats. Teams that go up against the Nifflers will not be predicting a tough match; however, should the Nifflers utilise their large roster effectively, they could capitalise on an opponent’s overconfidence and defy the odds. A win from any of their games over the weekend will signal progress for Norwich, and the team will especially be looking toward beating Reading to achieve this, as well as whomever they are likely to face in the lower bracket.

Group D Predictions:
  1. Brizzlebears
  2. Werewolves of London
  3. London Unspeakables
  4. The Seven Swans

There is no obviously superior team in this group. The match that could decide the victors is Brizzlebears vs. Werewolves of London which will take place during a decisively exciting first round of matches. This will be the Brizzlebears first tournament outing as Bristol’s first team and, having made their debut as a club at Southern Cup 2014 and finishing without a win, they will be eager to show how far they have come since. The season has started well for the Bears with comfortable wins over Exeter Patronum and the Brizzlebees, as well as a narrow 30-80* SWIM loss to an Oxford Quidlings side (which was majority Quidlings players but did also include four Chimeras). A characteristic lack of brawn in their quaffle player lineup means that the Brizzlebears will be reliant on speedy players such as Josh Blannin, Ollie Bridgen, and Captain Tom Ower to unlock defences whilst utilising the trolling skills of Sophie Craig and Isabella Aston. Club President Dominic Ayre also played excellently as seeker during Looking Fly’s All-Star Weekend in August and will be aiming to repeat this in Oxford.

Brizzlepuffs Quidditch Club | Photo credit: Fraser Posford

Standing in the Brizzlebears’ way to first place in Group D are the Werewolves of London, one of this season’s newcomers. Founded by former St Andrews players Sasha Burgoyne and Alex Harrison, the Werewolves will also be making their tournament debut and are probably the most unpredictable team in the competition. An impressive 150*-0 shutout of local rivals and fellow Group D opponents, the London Unspeakables, is their only match result to date and suggests they will be able to hold their own against any team at Southern Cup. However, the introduction of players from Canterbury’s Flying Chaucers and the Surrey Stags without any collective training time may well disrupt the Werewolves’ team chemistry although hopefully Captain Simon Bidwell’s excellent tactical mind should mitigate this. Strong talent in former Southampton beaters Ben Lawrence and Nat A’Bear means the Werewolves look set to gain bludger control against the Brizzlebears which could give them the edge they need. This will be a tough tournament for the Werewolves due to their small numbers and the inconsistency of quality across the squad.

Last season’s Southern Cup bronze medalists the London Unspeakables are Group D’s seeded team, yet they will have to be on top of their game if they are to stand a chance of repeating this feat. London’s first quidditch team are yet to record a win this season after a dismal Highlander Cup III campaign and losing to the Werewolves, leaving them with a renewed underdog status. The experience of players such as Claire Jarvis, Ashara Peiris, and Fiona Howat should prove to be too much for the Swansea Seven Swans in the Unspeakables’ tournament opener, though their form this season suggests they are unlikely to challenge the Brizzlebears or the Werewolves. However, the ace in the pack for new captain Peiris and his team is the large amount of new additions to their 21-strong roster. The influence of players like chaser/keeper Sam Senior, Spanish international Pedro González-Tarrío, Thomas Ffiske (formerly of Exeter Patronum), and Matt Bateman could make or break the Unspeakables’ campaign, and, as shown last season, they are a dangerous outfit when in snitch range.

The team likely to be bringing up the rear in Group D is the Swansea Seven Swans. The South Wales side are also new to QUK official competition, although this will be the team’s second tournament appearance after Whiteknights The Third, a baptism of fire for the Swans although it yielded an inaugural victory in the form of a SWIM triumph against the Norwich Nifflers. Group D could be equally difficult for Swansea, and a win of any kind would represent an incredible achievement for the team, especially considering their lack of match practice this season. However, players such as chasers Ed Brett and Kitty Purcell, and seeker Caroline Norrish, showed promise at Whiteknights, and they could flourish in the lower bracket on Day Two in which they could rematch the Nifflers as well as newer teams.

Besides friendly matches and unofficial QUK tournaments, Southern Cup will be the first chance we have of seeing the UK’s southern teams in action this season. The tournament, alongside Northern Cup, should give us an indication of the current landscape of UK quidditch and who the main contenders might be for BQC 2015-2016 champions. Keep an eye out for the Quidditch Post’s coverage over the weekend and follow live updates on Twitter (@QuidPost_UK). After the dust has settled, we will be writing up general reviews of both Northern and Southern Cup before launching into our mid-season team-by-team rankings, which will be built heavily on the results of Regionals.

Disclaimer: Jack Lennard is a member of Oxford University Quidditch Club. Fraser Posford is a member of Southampton Quidditch Club. Ashara Peiris is a member of the London Unspeakables.

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