Monday, March 14, 2016

BQC Preview Groups A and B

With the British Quidditch Cup (BQC) fast approaching, the Quidditch Post presents the first of our many preview articles. First up are Groups A and B, written by Dan Trick and Matt O’Connor.

Group A
Seed 1: Keele Squirrels
Seed 2: Bangor Broken Broomsticks
Unseeded: St Andrews Snidgets
Unseeded: Norwich Nifflers 

When predicting which team will top Group A, it is hard to look past the group’s top seeds, Keele Squirrels. The Squirrels are bringing a smaller, more focused squad than they have to previous tournaments, one that is replete with talent and experience. The Squirrels suffered a slow start against fellow group members St Andrews Snidgets during the Northern Cup group stages eventually winning 80-50* something they will be hoping to avoid this time around. Their roster size should help them achieve this by affording each player more pitch time and a greater opportunity to hit their stride. Keele’s powerful drives should allow them to muscle their way past St Andrews, whose strength lies in pace over power. Plus, their beater game has a wealth of experience that will be bolstered by the return of Alice Faux-Nightingale. This beater game should see them take their game against Bangor. Whilst Bangor have the physicality in the quaffle line to contend with Keele’s drives, the Squirrels’ offensive beating will be able to clear channels for the likes of keeper Chris Scholes-Lawrence. It will be that, or Keele’s drivers could draw such attention from their opponents that players such as recent TeamUK training squad call-up Hannah Ridley will be afforded pockets of space around the hoops to exploit.

Hannah Ridley seeking at Christmas Cup 2015 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

The battle for second place is set to be a fierce one, with the key matchup between Bangor and St Andrews being that of physical play vs. speed. Aside from Matt O’Connor, the Scottish side bring a squad of speed and agility over brawn, whilst Bangor’s Jay Holmes and Fabian Brunt bring an excellent physical presence and discernible height advantage. Bangor have struggled previously when facing smaller, more technical teams such as the Falmouth Falcons at the start of the season, which may give hope to the Snidgets. However, Bangor ranking five places above St Andrews at Northern Cup and triumphing over the Snidgets at Highlander Cup III, will likely give the Welsh side some optimism of their own. The absence of an identifiable offensive beater for the Snidgets may well give Bangor the edge in a straight matchup as Bangor’s physical defense is likely to withstand St Andrews’ attacks. Bangor beaters such as Jack Newton, with his advanced play and ability to tackle opposing beaters, could also play havoc with their defense, offering favourable conditions for Bangor to counterattack.

If the Snidgets are able to keep games within SWIM, they stand a fighting chance, having developed a promising seeker game led by Caitlin Hamilton and Caitlyn Ramsey. Should the team fail to make the upper bracket, this seeker game may well give them the tools to shine within the lower bracket. Still, an appearance in the upper echelons will be their primary aim.

As St Andrews learnt painfully last year at BQC in which they lost via SWIM catch, despite being significantly out of range at one point in the match all of Group A would be remiss to underestimate the Norwich Nifflers. Whilst Norwich had a disappointing regional performance, their SWIM-range match with the Reading Rocs and a reasonably close, albeit out of range game against Falmouth, will have given them confidence in their abilities. With the time they’ve had to build upon their promise, the Nifflers will be looking to live up to their status as one of the country’s oldest teams, be it through their group stage matches or a run in the lower bracket. The Nifflers’ recruitment will help in this regard as they have expanded the gender diversity of their team, allowing for more flexibility, whilst players such as Emma Jones with her dauntless play, or Kieran Pratt, who grabbed the snitch against St Andrews in last year’s fixture, will ensure they put up a spirited fight in all games – and in particular in their grudge rematch. Across both the Northern and Scottish Cups, St Andrews have registered wins against teams ranked similarly to Norwich and so should fancy their chances, as long as they have learnt the lessons of BQC past.

Norwich (bibs) playing Falmouth at Southern Cup 2015 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
All the teams in Group A are highly experienced, and all have something to prove. Keele will look to at least repeat their semifinal appearance of last year and fight off the insurgent teams pushing for higher spots. They will seek to prove their fourth place finish at Northern was a momentary waver, and improve from What’s Up DOK? in terms of results against top teams. Meanwhile, after a middling Compass Cup result, Bangor will be aiming to push forward and mix once more with the country’s elite teams, without forgetting to watch for other contenders who will be snapping at their heels. St Andrews intends to provide strong representation for Scottish Quidditch and impress more than at Northern Cup with their expanded roster, whilst Norwich will similarly build off regional results to ensure they remain a relevant and sufficiently regarded part of UK Quidditch.

Group B
Seed 1: Radcliffe Chimeras
Seed 2: Holyrood Hippogriffs
Unseeded: Durham Direwolves
Unseeded: London Unspeakables

At first glance, Group B looks like an open-and-shut case with the seeds, Radcliffe Chimeras and Holyrood Hippogriffs, strolling into the upper bracket, leaving London Unspeakables and Durham Direwolves to fight it out for lower bracket seedings. However, Direwolves have created upsets before and London have pedigree in the sport, so perhaps this group will not be as straightforward as the favourites might hope.

As the current Southern Cup champions, the Radcliffe Chimeras are the team to beat in Group B, and they will feel confident about escaping this group as the top seed, setting up a run into the latter stages of the competition. Having experimented with a larger roster so far this season, Captain Abby Whiteley has opted for a return, enforced or otherwise, to the familiar small Chimeras squad. The small squad size is not the only familiar sight, as the squad is packed with players experienced at the top of the UK scene and contains no less than six members of the current UK squad, as well as Coach Ashley Cooper. It is likely to be more of the same from the Chimeras, with lots of drives created by keepers Andrew Hull and Luke Twist, backed up by the support play of Tom Heynes and the beating of Jan Mikolajczak and Rix Dishington. If they hit their usual standards of excellence, the Chimeras should simply be too much for the other sides in this group.

Rix Dishington and Tom Heynes at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
The Holyrood Hippogriffs are possibly the most improved side in the country so far this year, winning the Scottish Quidditch Cup II at a canter and earning themselves a spot among the second seeds for BQC, something that would have been absurd 12 months ago. Despite the presence of the Chimeras, this is probably an easier group for the Hippogriffs than the one they found themselves in at Northern in October, and they should have their sights set firmly on second place. While they have struggled against sides of the calibre of the Chimeras so far, on paper the Hippogriffs should have little trouble defeating the Unspeakables, as they did at Highlander III, and the Direwolves, who were defeated by the Snidgets at Northern, a team Edinburgh easily dispatched at Scottish with a depleted roster. The standout player for the Scots is undoubtedly Ollie Riley, who comes into BQC off the back of 22 goals in three games at Scottish Cup, but teams should also beware the offensive beating talents of Nye Baker and Ben Middlemiss, who will pose a threat to the vast majority of sides in the competition.

Ben Middlemiss beating at Christmas Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
In theory, the Durham Direwolves face an uphill battle to make the upper bracket, having failed to even make the lower bracket at Northern. However, to discount them based on this could be a fatal error. The Direwolves have recorded a win against the seeded Leeds Griffins this season, and possess a very solid chaser line that has the advantage of training with top-tier mentors in Durhamstrang. The Direwolves have to contend with the loss of Dan Mitchell, who was a superb quaffle driver for them at Northern, and they will need to have improved their beater game massively from October to contend with the experience their opponents have in this department. If they can overcome these issues, they could once again provide a shock.

London Unspeakables have had a tumultuous season so far, placing last at Highlander III, underperforming at Southern, and losing experienced beaters Ben Pooley and Katya Veleva to Keele Krakens and Taxes Quidditch respectively. However, with a win at Roxdon, and respectable returns from L Tournament and Londingster, the Unspeakables could be peaking at just the right time. Even with the obvious losses, the Unspeakables still boast an experienced side. Beaters Ashara Peiris and Sophie Chretien are old hands at the bludger game, and if they can stay in range, they can still call upon the considerable seeking talents of Fiona Howat. Despite their difficult season so far, with the expectations down and the pressure off, London could rediscover the form that took them to EQC last year to pull off some unlikely upsets.

Ashara Peiris beating for London Unspeakables | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

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