Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2015-16 UK Mid-season Review Part 2 of 4

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 two of the Quidditch Post’s mid-season ranking for the United Kingdom. Earlier last week you had your appetites whetted with part one of this review. These rankings were voted on by our team of analysts from around the country and were aggregated to provide an idea of where we think these teams rank. Note that these rankings are based on results from the beginning of the 2015-16 season September to December 2015 and do not reflect any more recent events. So, without further ado, here are places 11-20.

20.  Bristol Brizzlebees by Ashara Peiris

As one of the newest teams in the UK, the Bristol Brizzlebees have already made a huge impression. Despite only beating one opponent this season going 3-0 against the University of Exeter Quidditch Club Captain Matty Murrell has shown that they have assembled an excellent crew with a lot of potential. Whilst they were only able to win one game at Southern Cup, the Brizzlebees performed admirably, playing an incredibly close game against Cambridge University Quidditch Club only to lose to a SWIM catch in overtime. They also suffered an incredibly unfortunate loss to the Reading Rocs in the lower bracket, where miscommunication between the bench and the seeker resulted in an accidental cold catch just after the Rocs pulled out of range.

Bristol Brizzlebees at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
Unlike many new teams, the Brizzlebees have a well-balanced team that has clearly benefited from training with Southern Cup’s fourth place finishers, the Bristol Brizzlebears. The Brizzlebees combine excellent quaffle players with great beaters. Sophie Mckenzie, Ajantha Abey who has now been promoted to the Brizzlebears – and Daniel Goh particularly shone on both sides of the quaffle, showing strong driving on offence and crunching tackles on defence. However, the Brizzlebees will need to ensure that they do not rely too heavily on driving and instead develop their passing game. In the beating game, Kieran Harris and Aaron Brett-Miller were particularly impressive, often holding bludger control for significant portions of time and using them effectively on both offence and defence.

What is most impressive about the Brizzlebees is that they have shown strong improvement over the season, going from being beaten soundly by the Oxford Quidlings – admittedly in a game with a number of Radcliffe Chimeras participating – to losing just outside of SWIM range against Taxes Quidditch. If the Brizzlebees can continue improving at this rate, they will surely be a threat to any mid-level team in the UK. Whilst they will undoubtedly be outshone by their sister team, the Brizzlebees will be trying their hardest to sneak into the upper bracket at the British Quidditch Cup (BQC), or at worst perform close to the top of the lower bracket.

19.  Reading Rocs by David Dlaka

Despite being one of the oldest, well-established, and most prolific teams in the south, the Reading Rocs have long been ridiculed for sitting at the bottom of the mid-tier, with newer teams springing up and quickly overtaking them in rankings.

Reading Rocs at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
These times have ended, as the Rocs seem to be on a much-anticipated and well-overdue climb out of the rut they have found themselves in for the past season. Despite being relatively dormant, with only a friendly series of mixed games with Southampton Quidditch Club prior to Southern, and the loss of several veterans such as Lee Baughan, Nicole Stone, and Tom Jones, the Rocs showed improvement from previous appearances. Captain Chris Thomas has truly stepped in and taken his role seriously. His own excellent play, resulting in a TeamUK invitation, has also contributed to the quaffle play, with Charlie Stock, John Calzoari, and Finley Williams aiding on the offence.

As for the beating lineup, seasoned beater Tom Newton, alongside Jake Veryard, managed to hold off the strong Falmouth Falcons offence and keep them within SWIM range for the entire game, despite some questionable tactical decisions. A similar situation arose with Southampton Quidditch Club 2, where a SWIM loss followed an otherwise tight game. With victories against the Norwich Nifflers and the Bristol Brizzlebears, it was a great Southern Cup performance for the Rocs. One thing everyone was talking about was that for the first time in forever, the Rocs played with passion and fire. This time, they were not going to be an easy victory for other teams. That determination showed, and it will continue to push the Rocs up the ranking tables at BQC. If the Rocs can keep this up, they will surely be on the right path.

18.  Chester Centurions by Matt O’Connor

A trip to the lower bracket final at Northern Cup represents a solid return for the rebranded Centurions, who have had a quiet season so far, only appearing at one tournament and playing no friendlies. The Centurions were possibly the team that lost out most from appearing in Northern Cup’s Group of Death, facing both finalists as well as a resurgent Holyrood Hippogriffs, whereas in another group they may have fancied their chances of making the upper bracket.

Chester Centurions at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
The Centurions’ most obvious strength lies in the defensive beating of Jess O'Neill and Henry Parkes, who both possess excellent bludger discipline, making the Centurions quite a tough nut to crack for teams lacking a dedicated offensive beater. This showed in the Centurions’ lower bracket semifinal match against the St Andrews Snidgets at Northern Cup, where they kept a clean sheet and were confident throughout. However, they do not possess strength in depth in this position, and struggle when one of the pair is absent. Olly Barker and Captain Matty Garside are both versatile players and could feasibly play well as beaters, but that would leave the Centurions short in the chaser game. The Centurions also lacked non-male quaffle players at Northern, barring the experienced Beth Quayle, and would benefit from allowing their freshers to debut sooner rather than later. They should be striving to play at least a friendly before BQC in March just to get some competitive experience under their belt, or the pressure of the occasion could overwhelm otherwise talented players.    

17.  Derby Union Quidditch by Kieran Smith

This year, Derby Union Quidditch have been hit hard by players lost to injury or not returning to the team after the summer, and due to their small squad these losses are hugely magnified. This can be easily seen in the team’s last place finish at East Midlands Cup, only scoring 40 quaffle points in the process. However, some positives can definitely be taken from the overall disappointment of the tournament. The team performed admirably against strong and hard-hitting opposition, catching two of the three snitches available to them. Even with injuries in previous games inflicting further pain to the depleted squad, Derby’s best performance was in their fifth place playoff against the Leicester Thestrals, which showed the great fitness of their players.

Derby Union Quidditch at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
More positives can be taken from the team’s performance at Northern Cup, with Derby going 3-1 in the matches they actually played before a 150-0 forfeit to the Loughborough Longshots to avoid further injuries, leaving them with a 3-2 record. Derby went into Day Two as the top-ranked team in the lower bracket, and it showed. As usual, Derby’s small roster contained some quality players, with the beating pair of Phil Brown and Matt Guenzel leading from the front. With the added support of Billy Warford, Derby’s beating game was far too strong for the Chester Centurions in the lower bracket final, with the game ending 100*-40 in Derby’s favour.

Nothing should be taken away from Derby’s quaffle players though, with keeper Sam Pursey and chaser Jenny Benson showing that they can comfortably score hoops against lower-ranked teams. Given all the promise the team showed last year where they beat Warwick Quidditch Club, and even pushed Nottingham Nightmares all the way at BQC Derby have slightly disappointed. Derby need to flesh out their squad; even though they are excellent players, the current squad just cannot make it through tournaments unharmed, and they must mitigate the fact that influential Captain Charlie Schofield has stood down. If Derby can do this and avoid injury to key players, then they will be a team to look out for at BQC.

16.  Leeds Griffins by Dan Trick
Leeds Griffins have had a difficult start to the season. A singular win at Northern Cup does not make for good reading, but their dramatic double overtime loss to Durham Direwolves – having previously gone 2-1 against them and SWIM loss to rivals Leicester Thestrals show that they have the ability to push opponents close and, on a different day, may have snatched more victories. Their success in hosting Eggnog 2; A New Yolk – a tournament for developing teams should not go unmentioned, showing not all success is measured in wins.

Leeds Griffins at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Josh Armitage has remained a key driver for Leeds, his barrelling strength combining well with the pockets created by the team’s offensive beating. Leeds could benefit if they manage to use their perceived over-reliance on Armitage’s drives to their advantage. If teams are sufficiently caught up in attempting to mark him out of the game, then a well-developed passing game should allow them to bypass defences by utilising their other chasers in and around the opposition’s keeper zone. Beaters Steven Daly and George Matthews deserve credit for facilitating the success of Armitage’s drives; their aggressive beating and adept teamwork clear his path whilst helping secure Leeds defensively.

Tenacious seeker and chaser pair Sash Steele and Sophia Boyadjieva can trouble any team if the Leeds are able to keep within SWIM range. In particular, Steele galvanises the team with her defensive resolve, giving Leeds a solid base upon which to build. Depth of squad appears to be the current issue for Leeds, so working to build depth to support their key players would not go amiss and would help their prospects of future victories.

Leeds are currently just living up to the Top 16 BQC spot predicted at the start of the season. If Leeds can turn their apparent overuse of key figures to their advantage, using the opposition’s focus upon them to create space and opportunity for other chasers, and develop a solid beater base behind Daly and Matthews, then they stand good chance of snatching a few more wins and moving toward securing at least a Top 16 berth come BQC.

15.  Southampton Quidditch Club 2 (SQC2) by Abby Whiteley

The most promising of UK B teams – and the only one to make it into the upper bracket of a regional tournament SQC2 should be flattered to have been predicted to make it into the upper bracket of BQC. Although the team did benefit from a favourable group draw at Southern Cup, they demonstrated flashes of potential that mean this prediction is not necessarily out of their grasp. It is difficult to know who will still be on the squad by BQC, but Matthew Drummond and Enrica Biasi – both experienced players – were one of the strongest beater pairs the team had to offer, and there is enough athletic ability in some of the other beaters that, should they take the example of their more experienced teammates, opponents will find a much tougher game than anticipated in the bludger game. Chaser Matteo Barraclough is the big name amongst the freshers of SQC2, showing excellent responsiveness and intuition when making fast breaks – the provenance of several of the team’s hoops against more experienced teams – and he is well supported by Callum Day, another promising acquisition.

Southampton Quidditch Club at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
SQC2 will need to build on what we saw at Southern Cup, as some of the results are not too hopeful – a 150*-30 loss to the Falmouth Falcons stands out in particular – but with the talent they have and the impressive support system around them, improvement is definitely achievable. It would be nice to get SQC2 some games against mid-tier teams in the upcoming months so that they have experience beyond the alternations of blowouts and runaway successes that have so far characterised their season. SQC2 will meet teams more evenly matched at BQC, and the best preparation is practice.

14.  Holyrood Hippogriffs by Matt O’Connor

The Holyrood Hippogriffs go into the second half of the season with their most accomplished period as a team to date. As the oldest Scottish team, hailing from the country’s capital of Edinburgh, the team placed an admirable third at their own Highlander Cup III and made the upper bracket of Northern Cup, eventually placing seventh. The combination of a blowout 190*-60 win over Manchester University and Derby’s 150*-0 injury-induced forfeit allowed them to progress as a lucky third-placed team, despite large defeats against both Durham University’s Durhamstrang and the Nottingham Nightmares in pool play.
Holyrood Hippogriffs at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Bringing in TeamUK alternate Ben Middlemiss and converting chaser Nye Baker over to beater has plugged the physical beating hole the Hippogriffs struggled to fill for some time. In the quaffle game, keepers Zach Dean-Stone and Kingsley Taveau have added some needed steel to the Hippogriff defence, while on offence vice-captain Ollie Riley has been arguably the best player in Scotland so far this season. Behind the scenes, Hannah El-Shobaki’s substitute management skills have been superb for the Hippogriffs; this is something that can be a double-edged sword, as their collapse against the Bangor Broken Broomsticks at Highlander Cup III demonstrated, where the dismissal of Middlemiss coincided with El-Shobaki on pitch as seeker. The Hippogriffs have also struggled against organised, physical defences, scoring only 40 quaffle points across three games against the Northern semifinalists and desperately needing offensive support for the excellent Riley.

The Hippogriffs will want to ensure that their success over the first half of the season continues and if they can, a place in the quarterfinals of BQC will be well within their grasp.

13.  Bangor Broken Broomsticks by Abby Whiteley

A second-place finish at Highlander Cup III and a quarterfinals berth at Northern Cup are symptomatic of a team that can hold their own, but fall a little short of the upper echelons. Once southern teams are in the mix at BQC, Bangor should certainly make it into the upper bracket but will have a grind ahead of them to make it into the quarterfinals. Bangor has comfortable wins against St Andrews Snidgets, the HogYork Horntails, and the London Unspeakables under their belt, as well as a SWIM-range finish against the Loughborough Longshots, but they have been repeatedly thwarted by the Falmouth Falcons. It is probable that the quarterfinals at BQC are Bangor’s aim, and facing teams well-matched to them will prepare Bangor well to that end.

Bangor Broken Broomsticks at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Bangor have been pleasingly proactive this season, with a sizeable contingent at the 2015 Christmas Cup as well as their attendance at club tournaments, and these competitive excursions have given Bangor the chance to show off some of the talent they have up their sleeve. Keeper Liam Vernon and Captain Jay Holmes are the perennial names of Bangor this season, and Emily Oughtibridge and Emily Lakin continue to be strong options in the chasing outfit. Jack Newton is a bright new option in the beater corps who impressed at the 2015 Christmas Cup, but it would be nice to see Bangor get some more depth in the yellow headband. Bangor’s snitch record this season has thus far been 50 percent, but only one of these catches was in snitch range; seekers and beaters who can perform in SWIM situations are crucial at tournaments such as BQC, and developing this area of their game would help Bangor immensely.

12.  Taxes Quidditch by Abby Whiteley

The performance of this team, known to be fairly low on numbers but replete with experience, was the object of much speculation preceding Southern Cup. They did not disappoint, earning a spot in the quarterfinals and going out to eventual finalists Warwick Quidditch Club. Taxes are also one of the few teams in the south who have come up against northern teams thus far this season, and they have also shown their mettle there. A defeat of the Loughborough Longshots with an overtime snitch grab – the bronze medalists at Northern Cup is a particularly pleasing result, as is being only 40 points behind the eventual tournament champions Nottingham Nightmares before a Nottingham snitch grab left them 70 up. It is for these reasons, alongside some strong games at Southern Cup, that Taxes have been ranked where they are.

Taxes Quidditch at Compass Cup | Photo credit: Chaz Howkins
With Lee Baughan at keeper, Claudio Svaluto and Abbi Harris chasing, Becky Thompson and Jade Saunders beating, and Will Johnson at seeker, there are no obvious deficiencies in the lineup to exploit at first glance. Taxes’ problem is depth, but not in the usual sense of the word. This usually means there is a significant drop between the strongest and the weakest players, but that is not the case here; the team is consistently strong throughout the squad, but they have a limited number of options. The lack of substitutes is less worrisome in terms of fatigue, which is less of a problem with such experienced players, but more in terms of novelty; once opposing teams have figured out the tricks and strengths of the lineup, Taxes may struggle to respond to their counterattack. Every player on Taxes therefore has to do the work of two, not only in terms of the time put in on-pitch, but also in terms of innovation and responsiveness. That said, Taxes will doubtless be an exciting team to watch out for at BQC, and they could well go as far as predicted here.

11.  Werewolves of London by Fraser Posford

Of all this season’s new teams, the Werewolves of London have looked the most promising so far, finishing in a respectable sixth place at Southern Cup. Built around a core trio of former Southampton players with keeper and captain Simon Bidwell and beaters Nat A’Bear and Ben Lawrence, the Werewolves topped their group with comfortable wins over the Seven Swans and rivals the London Unspeakables, as well as a narrow SWIM victory versus the Bristol Brizzlebears. The Werewolves exited the competition at the hands of the monster Bidwell created Southampton Quidditch Club 1 as an unfortunate hand injury to their captain derailed any possibility of upsetting the reigning British champions.

Werewolves of London at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
The Werewolves played an intelligent and disciplined brand of quidditch at Southern Cup but were limited by having such a small roster due to a string of unfortunate injuries to players, including Nathan Jones and Evelyn Goodall formerly of Falmouth Falcons and Nottingham Nightmares, respectively prior to the tournament, and missed recruitment opportunities, despite being supplemented by players from the Canterbury Flying Chaucers and the Surrey Stags. The team was also missing cohesion due to little training time and a lack of match practice, although this did not stop founders Alex Harrison and Sasha Burgoyne from flourishing.

If the team is to progress, recruitment and regular training sessions are issues that need to be addressed. With more players at his disposal and more practice as a group, Bidwell will be able to flex his tactical muscle even more, an exciting prospect to say the least. Like his idol Augustine Monroe, Bidwell is also a highly talented beater, to the point of it arguably being his strongest position. If the Werewolves develop capable alternative keepers, this could give him more time in the black headband to nurture the skills of Burgoyne and the lively Phil Sam. A quarterfinal place at BQC is well within the Werewolves’ grasp, but even if they do not improve in time for March, they should still finish comfortably in the Top 16.

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