Thursday, February 18, 2016

UK Midseason Review Part 3

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 three of the Quidditch Post’s mid-season ranking for the United Kingdom. These past weeks we have shared insight on the rankings voted on by our team of country-wide analysts, which were aggregated to provide an idea of where we think 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 is our final installment of our mid-season review with places 1-10. 

10. Leicester Thestrals by Jackie Woodburn

It has been a term of fifth place for Leicester. The team experienced a disappointing fifth at East Midlands Cup out of the six teams attending, and an encouraging fifth at Northern Cup, making them the highest-ranked team knocked out of the quarterfinals.

Leicester’s battle against Taxes Quidditch at East Midlands Cup was perhaps their most disappointing loss of the term. Initially leading 70-0, Leicester allowed the lead to slip out of their grasp and Taxes took the win. However, at a tournament so early on in the season, Leicester’s dip in play can be attributed to a high fresher ratio on pitch as they blooded their new players in the run up to Northern Cup.

Leicester Thestrals at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Come Northern Cup, Leicester stormed their group, only conceding one game and taking old rivals Keele Squirrels to first overtime. Leicester played a tactical game, effectively shutting down Keele’s big drives and allowing seeker Joseph Wilson to make the catch. It is worth noting that Wilson flies in the face of the team’s reputation as inconsistent; he made the snitch catch in every game the Thestrals played at Northern. Having escaped the group stages, Leicester went on to face Durhamstrang in the quarterfinals. Sadly, what had worked defensively against Keele’s drives did not work against Durham’s passing, allowing the host team to get 60 points up before the snitch grab.

Whilst Leicester’s regulars continue to make a big impact on pitch, their fresher cohort is gaining traction. Leicester will be sad to see foreign talent such as Joel Benner and Alessandro Zazza return home, as their addition to the quaffle game brought welcome relief to Warren McFadyen and Callum Humphreys, respectively. Meanwhile, Dan Trick has found himself an effective beater partnership in strong offensive fresher Gabri Hall-Rapa. Leicester’s beater corps also sees Klara Daily quietly developing into a force to be reckoned with. Her resilience and receptivity shone through at Christmas Cup, and it is this sort of raw talent that Leicester needs to make sure they capitalise on in the next term to allow them the shot they deserve at British Quidditch Cup (BQC).

9. Bristol Brizzlebears by Fraser Posford

The Brizzlebears have had a hugely satisfying start to the season in their first campaign as the Brizzlepuffs first team. Their fourth place finish at Southern Cup represents the club’s best tournament finish, which subsequently earned them qualification to the upcoming European Quidditch Cup (EQC), a feat many would not have predicted a few months ago. Finishing second to Werewolves of London in pool play, the Bristol side put in an inspired performance on Day Two, which included a double-overtime victory over the Falmouth Falcons in the quarterfinals. This was a real highlight of the season thus far and one of the best matches in UK history, with the Brizzlebears completing a dramatic comeback from 70-10 down.

Bristol Brizzlebears at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
The team then put in another gutsy display in their 90*-20 Southern Cup semifinal loss to eventual champions Radcliffe Chimeras, staying within snitch range for most of the match. What makes this result even more impressive is that this current crop of Brizzlebears is almost the exact same team that were beaten 180*-0 by the Chimeras in last season’s Southern Cup, showing vast improvement during the club’s short history. 

The key to the Brizzlebears’ success has been an unbreakable team spirit and chemistry that has developed gradually over the past season thanks to their squad retention. Each player plays for each other, and this familiarity often makes up for what they lack in tactical knowledge, defensive organisation, and game management. Individually, the increased pitch presence of talismanic Captain Tom Ower has brought more flair to the team’s attack, whilst Josh Blannin is a much-needed physical presence in defence. Beater Alistair Goodwin has become one of Bristol’s key players, and chaser Sophie Craig’s execution around the hoops has earned her along with Blannin a TeamUK training squad place. The Brizzlebears are this season’s surprise package and could well cause some more upsets in the months to come.

8. Falmouth Falcons by Fraser Posford

Depending on your perspective, the start of the 2015-16 season has been a glass half full or half empty situation for the Falmouth Falcons. In October, they claimed their maiden tournament victory in dominant fashion at Highlander Cup III before a disappointing early exit at Southern Cup a month later. At Southern, the Falcons comfortably won all three of their games on Day One and looked set for the semifinals when they were 70-10 up against the Brizzlebears before the Bristol side’s incredible comeback. This ultimately cost the Falcons a place at EQC and they will consider themselves somewhat unlucky not to be competing in Italy this coming April.

Falmouth Falcons at Highlander Cup III | Photo credit: Ellie Leatham
On the pitch, the Falcons continue to play the same fast-paced brand of quidditch that was the team’s trademark in the 2014-15 season. The speed of players such as co-Captain Conor Watson, Liam Parr, Oscar Lozada, and Kat Jeffrey create nightmares for opposition defences and has certainly not lost its entertainment value. On the other hand, the Cornish outfit face a personnel problem in the beater game. Alex Brown and Alicia Ackroyd both of whom were selected for the TeamUK training squad have been one of the most impressive beater combinations this season, yet with the absence of Ollie Somers and having only one other male beater on their roster at Southern Cup, it seems that the team is heavily reliant on Brown. 

With Brown unable to get time in the yellow headband, this has led to Hugh White becoming the Falcons’ primary seeker option. Whilst he has performed well so far, Brown’s ability in this department has certainly been missed. The good thing for the Falcons is that they have acquired plenty of new players who should have gained reasonable playing experience by the time BQC comes around in March. These new players can only help the team, especially in the beater corps. Another top eight finish at BQC should be a reasonable target for the Falcons; however, a semifinal berth may just be one stretch too far for them this season.

7. Loughborough Longshots by Kieran Smith

This year has been one that has improved over time for the Loughborough Longshots, with their first outing resulting in a disappointing fourth place at East Midlands Cup a tournament that they hosted and won last year. A record of 1-3 speaks for itself, with their only win a 120-30* game against a Derby Union Quidditch team that was significantly struggling for players. This did provide a chance, however, to blood some freshers. Therefore, this result cannot be taken as seriously as their performance at Northern Cup, which was much more like the standard of play expected of the team.

Loughborough Longshots at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
With the beating prowess of former TeamUK Vice Captain Bill Orridge and TeamUK reserve Franky Kempster in the chasing game, Loughborough easily topped the group at Northern Cup, setting up a quarterfinal match against Durhamstrang. With great quaffle play from Kempster, and on-pitch leader Dan Bridges paired with excellent beating from Holly Kerslake and Orridge, Loughborough raced into a lead. However, a red card to the team’s chaser Jonathon Cookes meant that Loughborough could not pull away and would be left wondering “What if? when Durhamstrang made the snitch catch. With a 100*-70 third place playoff win against old adversaries Keele, the tournament ended on a high with Loughborough showing the preseason predictions to be correct.

Many Loughborough players may be disappointed that their ranking has dropped from fifth to seventh; however, they can take solace in the fact that most of their losses were in less important games. This can be used to push on for a good showing in BQC and EQC, challenging the top teams all the way. If talent such as Thomas Groves-Bond, Sim Thornton, and Chaz Howkins who all impressed in the friendly loss to Leicester keep developing, they may cause a few surprises.

6. Keele Squirrels by Matt O’Connor

This has been a season of nearlies so far for Keele, who were defeated handily by the Nottingham Nightmares in the final of East Midlands Cup and narrowly lost to Loughborough in Northern Cup’s third place playoff. However, Keele just beat the Longshots for sixth position in our rankings. Holding the Longshots to a SWIM defeat despite being unable to call upon arguably their two best players Tom Norton and Tom Tugulu is a feat. Additionally, their recruitment at this stage seems to be better than Loughborough's with a number of talented freshers throughout Keele’s squad.
Keele Squirrels at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Led by fiery former Captain Norton and stand-out fresher Elliot Galbraith, Keele’s running game coupled with a good offensive beater game has been a strength for them so far this season. It has been incredibly effective against the weaker teams they have faced, allowing them to handily dispatch Leeds Griffins and Bangor Broken Broomsticks, who both made the upper bracket. Heavy-hitting Keele newcomer Scott Hopkins has strengthened the team defensively, but it would be a valid criticism to say that, offensively, they rely heavily on their counter-attacking keeper Tugulu, who has been in impressive form so far this season. This approach has failed Keele somewhat against the more physically adept sides of Nottingham and Loughborough, a problem that was exacerbated by the injury crisis Keele suffered at the end of Northern’s second day.

Despite their impressive return so far this season, Keele still have a long way to go. They have made a habit of starting slowly in matches, especially during the pool play stage at Northern Cup, where they only escaped snitch range in the 17th minute against the lowly St Andrews Snidgets and had to come from behind against Leicester Thestrals. Improvement is needed here if they are to challenge at BQC.

5. Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts by Ashara Peiris

Reigning BQC champions, Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts (SQC1), came into this season with a lot to prove. They needed to show that they were not a flash in the pan and that they deserved to keep winning. Despite losing a number of players due to graduation and placements, including TeamUK players Lydia Calder and European Games MVP Ollie Craig, as well as former Captain Simon Bidwell, SQC1 had a significant amount of recruitment that has led to a talented squad. 

Veteran SQC1 talent such as Aaron Veale and Imy Gregg continued to shine over the season, whilst experienced SQC2 players such as Ajay Gohil showed that they deserved their promotions. New recruits, including Annabel Solnik and Karol Kwasnicki, are proving that they deserve their positions on the team.

Southampton Quidditch Club at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
As a team, SQC1 has demonstrated their usual blend of excellent physicality on defence and powerful driving. These traits have allowed them to dominate against weaker opponents. At times, however, they have had a definite deficiency in their passing game. This was not helped by injuries to key players, such as Anjit Aulakh. Furthermore, the loss of David Holland was felt particularly keenly at Southern, as this left them missing one of their top beaters; they struggled to retain control and this led to two SWIM losses against eventual second place finishers Warwick Quidditch Club.

Whilst SQC1 have experienced success this season currently sporting a 6-3 record, a Southern Cup third place finish, and a qualifying position for the European Quidditch Cup they will undoubtedly be disappointed. They boast victories against rivals Radcliffe Chimeras and the Bristol Brizzlebears, but hold a disappointing 1-2 record against Warwick with both losses being at Southern Cup and a loss to a depleted Durhamstrang squad. However, SQC1 have shown they have a spark and can play with the best teams. Given a couple of months for their newer players to gel, SQC1 should be able to perform well at BQC, with a finals berth and even a title defence possible.

4. Durhamstrang by Matt O’Connor

Durhamstrang’s upwards trajectory on the UK scene continues this season, achieving an impressive fourth place in our rankings. They put in an excellent home performance at Northern Cup, earning them second place. In pool play, they held the imperious Nottingham Nightmares to within snitch range. They also competed on level terms with the Nightmares for the first ten minutes of the final before Nottingham’s superiority and some profligate Durhamstrang shooting allowed the Midlands side to pull away.

Durhamstrang at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Durhamstrang have evolved their game somewhat this season, adding a slow, methodical passing element that strongly contrasts with their quick and powerful ground game. This gives them an extra dimension to their play, aided by new recruit Peter Hobson, who looks assured in the keeper slot. The team’s new style, however, has the downside of inviting a lot of pressure close to their own hoops when faced with a talented offensive beater setup, as seen in the Northern Cup final, and it is likely that this problem will present again in the later stages of BQC unless Durhamstrang learn to handle ultra-offensive beating. They will also need to increase their strength in depth, particularly on the non-male side of things, where, due to injury and lack of personnel, they were significantly lacking by the end of Northern Cup. Possible promotions from the Direwolves could easily remedy this. 

The main improvement that Durhamstrang can make, on the evidence of the season so far, is in their seekers. Durhamstrang only caught two of six snitches across the Northern Cup weekend, and their main seeker threat, Robbie Gawne, is also their most accomplished chaser. Increasing their seeker corps must be a primary objective for this side to progress beyond their current standing.

3. Warwick Quidditch Club by Ashara Peiris

Warwick are the most improved team compared to last season so far. Now that most of their players have at least a year’s worth of experience, they have been able to make use of their significant athleticism and skill to their advantage, securing a second place finish at Southern Cup and impressive SWIM wins over SQC1 and Durhamstrang.
Warwick Quidditch Club at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
They currently have an incredible starting chaser lineup, including TeamUK hopefuls Luke Trevett and Seb Waters, as well as Ben Malpass. They have also recruited some excellent support chasers in Dina Caruso and Kat Jack, the latter of which is formerly of the Nottingham Nightmares. Their chaser corps were heavily assisted by some incredibly intelligent beating from Jacopo Sartori, Hannah Dignum, James Burnett, and James Hewitt. Sartori in particular showed that he deserves his place on this year’s TeamUK training squad by performing admirably in the SWIM games against SQC1. What allowed them to win these games was impressive seeking from Jonathan Purvis, who caught the snitch in five of the six games at Southern Cup.

This is not to say that Warwick is without fault. Whilst their seeking was incredibly impressive, their lack of a proficient substitute for Purvis meant that in the few times he subbed off, Warwick were unable to catch the snitch. Furthermore, although Warwick have an incredible starting quaffle lineup, they have a relative lack of depth beyond this, meaning that they often had to play far more time than may have been ideal.

Overall, however, Warwick have had an excellent start to the new season and will be looking forward to BQC and EQC. If they continue to perform at their current level and improve on their deficiencies, a championship is well within their grasp.

2. Nottingham Nightmares by Dan Trick

The Nottingham Nightmares have started the season at a blistering pace, continuing last season’s momentum. Their clean sweep victory at East Midlands Cup was an early statement of intent, and their success at Northern Cup followed in a similar blow-out sweep.

Nottingham have secured this success from the basis of solid cohesion in attack between their beater and chaser lineups. Aggressive beating led by Lucy Q is consistently capitalised upon with turnovers deep into opposition’s halves, wreaking havoc upon defences. A high press from all positions has been a vital feature of their play and was key in undoing Durhamstrang’s initial slowballing in the Northern Cup final. Defensive beating anchored by Captain Lucy Edlund grounds the team, ensuring they are less exposed to swift counters.

Nottingham Nightmares at Northern Cup | Photo credit: Katherine Watson and QUK
Nottingham have also developed an increased physicality this season. Players such as Andrew Price and fresher Tommy Ruler have been leading the way in an increase in tackling and physical runs, combining well with their offensive beater play, smashing their way through bludgerless defences then resolutely tackling on the defence. The speed and agility of the likes of James Thanangadan further capitalises on the aggressive pressing, allowing quick breaks. Acquiring David Goswell also gives Nottingham an upper hand in seeking, permitting them confidence in SWIM situations whilst also complimenting their chaser lineup.

Both Durhamstrang and Keele scored goals against Nottingham in similar conditions: once obtaining bludger dominance, these teams enacted an offensive beating strategy similar to Nottingham’s own and, particularly in the Northern Cup final, had they been more clinical in some chances, they may have pushed the Nightmares’ defences closer. Passing has also been a weaker point of Nottingham’s play. If they are prevented from implementing their high-risk beating, their chaser runs may be thwarted. Nottingham were known for their adept troll-play last year, and re-development of this tactic would allow them an extra angle in attack.

In all, Nottingham have had a well-deserved unbeaten run and are undoubtedly BQC title contenders. Their winning mentality and cohesive play across all positions will stand them in good stead; this potential is reflected in the high rankings assigned them here.

1. Radcliffe Chimeras by Fraser Posford

So far, so good for the Chimeras. The fortune of Abby Whiteley’s team has played out pretty much as predicted by our season preview with the retention of their Southern Cup crown and just a solitary SWIM loss to rivals Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts denting an otherwise perfect record. Whiteley’s decision to increase the Chimeras’ traditionally small roster size up to 18 has proved beneficial, allowing their key players extra rest between stints whilst nurturing new talent.

Radcliffe Chimeras at Southern Cup | Photo credit: Andrew McCombie and QUK
Veteran TeamUK Keeper Andrew Hull has been the most noteworthy addition to the team, relieving the pressure on former captain Luke Twist with his trademark powerful drives and accurate distribution. Besides Hull, newcomers in the form of the athletic Mitchell Skiles and Fran Morris an excellent poacher around the hoops as well as the ever-maturing Mark Richards have allowed the Chimeras to maintain arguably the most clinical attacking quaffle player lineup in the UK. 

The Chimeras are not without fault, though. Their second Southern Cup triumph was completed in a much less imperious fashion than their first, and the gap to them at the top of the UK scene has certainly narrowed. This is most apparent in the beater game with Jan Mikolajczak being their most talented asset whilst the likes of Rian Harris, Jamie Cash, and Alice Walker have significant ground to make up in order to reach the same standard set by Mikolajczak and the now-departed Mathilda Rose. The Chimeras also miss the seeking prowess David Goswell brought with him to the Nottingham Nightmares, as exemplified by the defeat to Southampton, leaves them vulnerable during matches in snitch range. Nevertheless, the Chimeras are still in a strong place to try and reclaim the BQC title in March. However, they will be feeling the pressure from Nottingham, Southampton, and Warwick to do so.

Thank you all for following the Quidditch Post’s mid-season review. Stay tuned for our final Part Four, which will include a full summary of the results along with other statistics.

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