Thursday, January 28, 2016

UK Mid-Season Review 2015-16 Part 1 of 4

Part 1

Rankings contributed by Abby Whiteley, Alex Harrison, Ashara Peiris, Bex Lowe, Dan Trick, David Dlaka, Fraser Posford, Jack Lennard, Jackie Woodburn, and Matt O’Connor

Welcome to part one of the Quidditch Post’s mid-season ranking for the United Kingdom. Yes, you read that correctly. Over the next two weeks, we will be releasing a four-part analysis and summary of our UK rankings. These rankings were voted by our team of analysts from around the country and were aggregated to provide an idea of where we think these teams rank. So, without further ado, here are positions 31-21.

31. Portsmouth Horntail Strikers by Joel Davis

Although they are yet to claim a victory, the Portsmouth Horntail Strikers certainly came out swinging this season. In the first game of the season, Portsmouth held the Oxford Quidlings within snitch range, exhibiting an aggressive and powerful play style that few saw coming. Although the game ended in a Quidling victory with a score of 110*-90, the Horntails showed many that they are not a team to be underestimated.

Portsmouth Horntail Strikers at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
However, as a new team, many players lacked the endurance required for a large tournament. This meant that their game against the current British champions, Southampton Quidditch Club 1, went as expected, finishing 250*-20, with deteriorating conditions leading to injuries on both sides. Despite this and the Strikers’ devastating defeat to Warwick Quidditch Club, Portsmouth showed a passion for the game which can only be admired. 

As a new team to competitive quidditch, Portsmouth show a lot of potential and innovation, using techniques few have seen before in the UK. However, this is outweighed by many of their less successful tactics, such as their drop-kicking of the quaffle down the pitch. With some development and polishing and the removal of these tactics – the Horntails may prove themselves a team to be feared next season. However, they are unlikely to leave the group stages at this year’s British Quidditch Cup (BQC), and will instead be hoping that they will prove a threat to teams that underestimate them in the lower bracket.

30. Norwich Nifflers by Joel Davis

The Norwich Nifflers are another team to find a win this season, seeing a rocky start to Southern Cup with a 120*-20 loss to Southampton Quidditch Club 2. Norwich followed this up with a solid performance against the Falmouth Falcons; Kieran Pratt ended their game at 80-40* against the Falcons with a cold catch. Their last game of the group stages was a hard-fought loss to the Reading Rocs, in which they only narrowly lost in a SWIM situation at 70*-40. Norwich also had a close loss to Cambridge University Quidditch Club (CUQC) in the lower bracket, despite a solid beater performance by Emma Jones.

Norwich Nifflers at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
With BQC looming, Norwich would be wise to focus on their defence more than their attacking play. Furthermore, they should take the opportunity to participate in more games and fantasy tournaments, as this will really help them develop both as individuals and as a team. Their performance against a solid Falmouth squad shows a seeker lineup that can make a catch when required, and an offence that can still perform against even the toughest team. However, the team is often overwhelmed by fast attacking play. With a solid defence, Norwich may be able to steal a win or two this year. Whilst they may not manage to leave the group stage, they will certainly be coming to BQC with something to prove this year.

29. Manchester University Quidditch Club by Fraser Posford

It took most of last season and the beginning of this one for Manchester to establish a core player group, but the Manchester Manticores are now members of the competitive UK scene. Northern Cup represented the team’s QuidditchUK official tournament debut, which although an important landmark moment for the Manticores was also one they will not want to dwell on; they lost all four of their matches and finished 14th overall. However, despite this unfortunate record, Manchester can be proud of their efforts as they managed to remain within snitch range against the Chester Centurions (60-120*) and held tournament hosts Durhamstrang to a respectable 100-40* scoreline. During this match, Durhamstrang were wasteful in their attacks, and had it not been for some last-ditch defence as well as some near misses by the Manticores, Durhamstrang could have been under some serious pressure. Adding insult to injury, Manchester seeker Ashley Roberts produced an excellent cold catch against Durhamstrang’s snitch defence, denying them the opportunity to to rack up their quaffle point differential.

Manchester Manticores at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
In the likes of Roberts, Ben Mercer, and Ellie Martin, the Manticores clearly have capable quaffle players, thanks in part to the coaching of Jeanne Heeren, who previously played on the French national team. Still a relatively new team, the Manticores’ issues lie in their beater game. Captain Ben Crump, who is perhaps better suited to chasing, is Manchester’s most competent beating option, being able to maintain bludger control for extended spells. However, once they lose bludger control, it seems like Manchester lack any clear strategy of regaining it. Once they improve on this aspect of their play, Manchester could well be ready to make an assault on the UK’s mid-tier.

This season is all about development for the Manchester Manticores. As the season progresses, they may get overpowered by some teams, but the main goal for them is to learn something from each game they play in order to help build toward the future.

28. University of Exeter Quidditch Club by Abby Whiteley

Exeter’s sole victory this season came in a 70*-20 win over CUQC at Southern Cup, but this belies some strong performances throughout the season. They have twice been ahead on quaffle points against the Bristol Brizzlebees only to be thwarted by the snitch; during their Southern Cup matchup, which ended 150*^-100, the Brizzlebees caught the snitch for both overtime and double overtime. This, as well as other admirable performances, indicates the capacity of Exeter’s lineup. They are a notoriously small squad, taking a skeleton crew to Southern Cup, and the fact that they are pulling out good performances against solid lower-tier teams such as the Brizzlebees is a promising sign of a solid core of players who will have a lot of potential to grow when the demands on them are alleviated with substitutions.

University of Exeter Quidditch at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
Ryan Watkiss is the obvious standout name, a powerful driver with great athletic instinct, but he is supported by tireless and fast-thinking chasers Graeme Zaple and Bethany Ashley. Eddie Owsley has demonstrated a lot of promise as a seeker, and hopefully Exeter will have more opportunities in upcoming tournaments for him to show off.

In some games at Southern Cup, Exeter had a tendency to overcommit on the attack, bringing any bludgers they had up with them, but this usually caused more harm than good against stronger teams as they were unable to reset their defence quickly enough to counter breaks after a turnover. Keeping a bludger back to bolster the defence, especially if the quaffle play is mismatched, could help Exeter to concede fewer hoops.

It is likely that BQC, like Southern Cup, will furnish Exeter with few victories. However, if we see a full lower bracket, they will likely have more chances to show what they are made of; given their performances thus far, they could do quite well.

27. HogYork Horntails by Jackie Woodburn

York have successfully navigated their first term back on the quidditch scene. Although it was a period scattered with losses, York have fought for some victories which they can now build on as they look toward BQC. Their first game of the season ended in a 60*-50 victory over the Leeds Griffins, with Tom Stevens making the SWIM catch. Stevens went on to make 10 out of 13 catches throughout the winter: an admirable feat, but betraying their lack of depth in the seeker game. At Northern Cup, it seemed that Stevens left York’s chasing game short when he put on the yellow headband. However, the 2015 Christmas Cup in particular allowed Caleb Pakeman to show his aptitude as keeper, and next term will no doubt see him shouldering more of the responsibility of distributing and leading on-pitch.

HogYork Horntails at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
The Horntails have managed to avoid the trap of under-utilising bludgers; however, more tactical finesse is needed as the Horntails’ beaters often seem out of sync with the chaser game, or distracted from it altogether. Beater partnerships such as that between Francesca Vigilante and Lewis Boast are perhaps the answer to York’s worries, with Vigilante’s pitch awareness shining as an outstanding attribute for such a new player.

Their chaser game also shows signs of promise; raw talent such as Amy Pezet could take the team a long way once she has a few more fixtures under her belt. Unfortunately, uncertainty and hesitation seem to be the obstacles barring York’s way to the top. Competent passers are seen flailing under pressure beyond the halfway line in offence, leaving their initially fluid passing game to deteriorate into yet another drive from Pakeman or Stevens. Occasionally, York’s passing ability shines through around the hoops, but consistency is needed if they hope to make the upper bracket at BQC.

With such promise, then, 27th place seems a harsh ranking, but York’s 12th place finish at Northern Cup leaves them with a lot to prove. Their challenge now is to use the experience that their players will gain at Valentines Cup and other tournaments to make it into the upper bracket of BQC come March.

26. London Unspeakables by David Dlaka

The season started off poorly for this capital-based team. The London Unspeakables began the season with Highlander Cup III winless, facing difficulty against a strong Falmouth team, and tough competitors in the Bangor Broken Broomsticks and the Holyrood Hippogriffs. However, the only real disappointment for London from this tournament was a pair of losses to the St Andrews Snidgets, particularly the first game in which they lost within SWIM range.

London at Southern.jpg
London Unspeakables at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
The Unspeakables’ performance at Southern Cup was slightly worse than expected. They were fourth in a relatively difficult group comprised of the Bristol Brizzlebears, crosstown rivals Werewolves of London, and the fresh Swansea Seven Swans. Although they failed to win a game in the group stages, they put up a reasonable performance, losing to the Swans and the Brizzlebears only just out SWIM range. They then put on an impressive performance, beating the Brizzlebees on Day Two in the lower bracket.

The void left by Nat Thomas’ absence as the Unspeakables’ most reliable quaffle offense put them in a difficult position when it came to scoring, though solid attempts by Pedro González-Tarrío, Sean Hammond, and Nicholas Howson have to be lauded. Furthermore, on defence, they were able to use the physicality of some of their larger players – such as González-Tarrío and the skillfulness of chasers – such as Burcu Atay deserves particular notice as they ensured the Unspeakables minimised the number of goals they conceded. Ashara Peiris’ captaining during the tournament should also be commended, as it is difficult for a captain to keep calm when playing an important tournament, especially with little time to prepare.

However, what should by now be the Unspeakables’ strongest asset is at times their downfall: the beaters. They have arguably one of the most seasoned lineups of the mid-tier teams, but at times they have struggled to keep up with the general level of fitness and physicality that the role requires. Notably, the loss of one of the team’s most talented new beaters, Martina Brazdova, will leave a significant hole that needs to be filled. Furthermore, their new recruits should really sharpen their basic skills such as catching and throwing bludgers powerfully.

However, the season is far from over for the Unspeakables; Londingster the First and the L Tournament will prepare them well and could potentially offer a significant morale and confidence boost for what will undoubtedly be an incredibly tough BQC. However, should they not rise to the challenge, we may see the London Unspeakables tumbling further down the rankings.

25. Cambridge University Quidditch Club by Abby Whiteley

The Cambridge University Quidditch Club have been ranked a bit harsh at 25th, given some of the performances we have seen this winter. Some pleasing results at Southern Cup included a win against the Brizzlebees who have been ranked 20th and losing to Taxes Quidditch when only 30 points behind on-pitch, a feat which should not be underestimated given Taxes’ entry to the quarterfinals.

Cambridge University Quidditch Club (blue and orange) at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Steffan Danino, Michelle Lim, and Jake Sullivan are key names in the beater game who will be familiar to anyone who watched the squad at Southern Cup, and their collective experience is Cambridge’s greatest strength. The team has the capacity to finish at the upper end of the lower bracket at BQC if their quaffle game can mimic the decisiveness of their beater game. Players such as Tom Hardman and Robin Lamboll have the potential to direct the quaffle game, demonstrating excellent athletic instinct and opportunism. An improvement to their passing and catching game would allow Cambridge the opportunity to capitalise on their talent.

The general level of athleticism that the team demonstrated was decent; they were able to play throughout Southern Cup without a significant dip in performance. Furthermore, the team generally looked more careful and more experienced than they did last season, with all players showing a solid grasp of positioning. The obvious route that Cambridge should take in order to improve is to play more extracurricular matches; they have a great deal of potential but they need to be tested in competitive environments in order to hone their responsiveness in unfamiliar situations before being pitted against new teams in contexts where it matters.

24. Durham Direwolves by Dan Trick

Despite having only a week in which to train together before Northern Cup, the Durham Direwolves put in some strong performances. Their double-overtime victory against the Leeds Griffins and a SWIM loss to the St Andrews Snidgets highlighted the potential they possess, whilst poorer showings against Keele University Quidditch Club and the Leicester Thestrals show their vulnerability against more experienced teams. Their quaffle game was notable for its attempts to imitate their sister-team Durhamstrang’s style of fluid passing, although at times they appeared afraid to commit players on the offence, particularly with their beaters, leading to a sometimes toothless attack which invited pressure onto themselves. This can be partly attributed to their lack of training and they will likely be stronger in the seasons to come as they gain a better sense of how to manage a game. If they can play their beaters higher up the pitch and have a few more of their passes connect, the Direwolves will mature into a team capable of pulling off good results against any mid-tier team, as evidenced by their 2-2 record against Leeds.

Durham Direwolves at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Robbie Gawne
As with any organisation’s secondary team, the promotion of players has the constant potential to unbalance a squad; mitigating this will have to be one of the Direwolves’ primary aims for the rest of the season. The promotions of standout chaser Max Gill, beater Sophie Connelly, and first-choice seeker Alexander Lusty epitomises this with losses in every position. The leadership of Chloe Watson will help stabilise the squad and, if they can build upon the tenacity of beater Sarah Thursby-Pelham and tackling of Hugh Twigg, the Direwolves should be able to emulate the successful style in use with the first team.

Their current ranking places them at the lower end of the UK’s other B teams, though only one place below the well-established Oxford Quidlings. If the Direwolves can build on their promise and iron out some of the naiveties of their game, they should be well placed to challenge higher up the rankings, although being a more relaxed B team may hamper their efforts in this regard.

23. Oxford Quidlings by Dina Caruso

After their heavy defeat at Southern Cup, there is a lot of pressure on the Quidlings to perform well at BQC. One of the main areas that requires improvement is their attack; the Quidlings demonstrated little ability to drive. Furthermore, many of the team’s new players seemed lost on pitch at times. Though the team consists of mostly inexperienced players, the Quidlings should have given a much better performance at the regional tournament, particularly as they had the expertise of the defending Southern champions to draw from.

Oxford Quidlings at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Bex McLaughlin
Since Southern Cup, many of the team’s new players have shown improvement. With beater Hattie Elvin’s natural grasp of the tactics, and increased confidence from her performance at Southern Cup, she is a real player to watch at BQC. Serene Shibli has shown huge determination and stamina on pitch to emerge as a strong prospect for the team in the future. Although Paul Mabey was absent at Southern Cup, he showed that he was a strong driver in an excellent debut at the team’s friendly fixture against Bristol.

Experienced players such as David Dlaka, Ben Dawes, and Zoe Ford will hopefully form the seeds of growth needed to form a very powerful beater line up. Dani Ellenby’s skill at positioning and marking will be a vital asset for the team’s chasers, and the equally experienced chasing of Mark Richardson provides the Quidlings with the necessary strength they require to form a strong attack.

The Quidlings will be itching to prove that the team’s performance at Southern Cup was not an accurate reflection of their true ability, and it is possible that the Quidlings will make their comeback at BQC as the team they have always been known to be.

22. St Andrews Snidgets by Alex Harrison

The St Andrews Snidgets go into the forthcoming Scottish Cup as definite underdogs to a resurgent Holyrood Hippogriffs, a total reversal of fortunes from a year ago. At Highlander Cup III, the Snidgets made up for their two SWIM defeats to the London Unspeakables at Highlander Cup II with one SWIM victory and one more lopsided triumph, but continued their losing streak against the Falmouth Falcons and lost heavily to the Hippogriffs and Bangor. However, the new-look Snidgets appear to be settling in well, recording some respectable results in their debut showing at the Northern Cup. Though they came away with only one win, over an impressive Durham Direwolves team, they repeatedly lost close, hard-fought games by a handful of goals. This indicates a team that is still competitive despite an unfortunate win-loss ratio this season.

The St Andrews Snidgets at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
The return of the quick physicality of Aaron Daubney and Cory Faniel goes some way toward reinforcing the Snidgets’ chaser lineup, while new faces Klara Volckaert and Gregor Appeltauer help plug long-standing holes in the team, namely dangerous trolls and quaffle drivers. Offensive beating still remains a problem, with the excellent Elliott Fogg relying mostly on the inexperienced Tim Bailey and former captain Matt O’Connor, a converted chaser, as backup in the absence of Ben Middlemiss. The profusion of female beaters in the Snidgets causes some problems with on-pitch chemistry. Experienced chasers like Roland Crompton, Aakash Gupta, and Caitlyn Ramsey give the Snidgets a solid core to rely on, but the Snidgets’ roster is more suited to a clever passing game than quaffle driving, a strategy which can sometimes fail against physical teams who aggressively control the bludger game.

A Snidget victory in the Scottish Cup would rejuvenate their season, but even a narrow defeat to the Hippogriffs would be a highly encouraging sign for the BQC, where the Snidgets are unlikely to progress from their group. However, they will be hoping to win at least one game, and, although any top-class team will almost certainly defeat them, the Snidgets are capable of making them work uncomfortably hard for it.

21. The Swansea Seven Swans by Fraser Posford

The Seven Swans have certainly built on the promise shown at Whiteknights the Third last season, and they can be especially pleased with the way they performed at Southern Cup. Although they did not advance from their group, the Seven Swans claimed a well-deserved win against the London Unspeakables, a team with much greater playing experience. They also gave the semifinalists, the Bristol Brizzlebears, a run for their money, justifying their ninth place finish overall. On Day Two, the Seven Swans recorded two further victories in the lower bracket against Exeter (60-50*) and Portsmouth Horntail Strikers (190*-10) before the bracket was unfortunately abandoned, giving the team an extra confidence boost.

The Seven Swans at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
The Seven Swans’ main strength is in their quaffle game. Captain Edward Brett spearheads a potent attack including the team’s top scorer Calum Learoyd and newcomer Charlie McLeod, who are well supported by the talents of Lily Blaikie and Kitty Purcell. Haris Siddique has also excelled as a seeker and can only get better after his first tournament. However, the Seven Swans are being held back by a weak beater game, an area that often presents the biggest learning curve for new teams. The Seven Swans rarely held bludger control and lacked communication between beaters and quaffle players during their Southern Cup matches, which scuppered the team’s attacking potential and often resulted in hopeful and largely unsuccessful longshots. Their beaters should improve with experience six of their players are attending Valentines Cup but they could also use some more physical players to vary their lineup and gain an edge in the contact area, as well as analysing the beater tactics used by top teams in the US and the UK. 

After a positive start, the Swans should be targeting a place in the Top 20 of UK teams, and will be hoping for a kind group draw for BQC in order to achieve this. There remains a lot of room for improvement for this team, but under Brett’s strong leadership, they could develop and hone the talent already shown. The Seven Swans will be an exciting team to watch out for.

That’s all for part 1 folks, look out for part 2 coming soon!

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