Tuesday, March 15, 2016

BQC Preview Groups C and D

Next up in our coverage of this year’s British Quidditch Cup (BQC), are Groups C and D, written by Abby Whiteley, Dan Trick, and Ashara Peiris.

Group C
Seed 1: Warwick Quidditch Club
Seed 2: Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds (SQC2)
Unseeded: Derby Union Quidditch Club
Unseeded: Oxford Quidlings

Group C is one that last year would have been one of the most balanced groups, comprising last season’s two best second teams as well as two teams that seemed to be on the up-and-up. Whilst the landscape of this group is very different this year, this is still a very interesting group, including a rematch of Warwick vs. Derby from last year with Warwick hoping to avenge their loss and the first-ever meeting of the Quidlings and SQC2.

There is no doubt that Warwick have taken this season by storm, and it is not controversial to say they should top this group with little resistance. Their only major tournament loss this season has been against the Radcliffe Chimeras in the Southern Cup final, with the Chimeras only one hoop ahead before they caught the snitch; hardly constituting a blemish on an otherwise excellent record. Warwick have also flourished against Northern teams, claiming two victories against the Northern Cup champions Nottingham Nightmares at recent friendlies and winning against the Northern Cup runners-up Durhamstrang at the early-season Battle of Four Armies

Overall, Warwick have every reason to feel confident going into this tournament, and with a beater line spearheaded by Jacopo Sartori, James “Jesus” Burnett, and Hannah Dignum, they are unlikely to feel too tested in this group. None of the teams in Group C have a realistic chance at beating Warwick, but they are most certainly not guaranteed a clean sheet either. Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds are the other seeded team in this group and, although Warwick’s keeper zone defence is exemplary, SQC2 have demonstrated good opportunism in the later stages of their attack and could put Warwick under some uncomfortable pressure.

Hannah Dignum beating at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Warwick should use the group stages as an opportunity to iron out some of their weaknesses, and it would be nice to see some more creativity in the chaser play. An overdependence on Seb Waters, Luke Trevett, and Ben Malpass will hit them particularly hard if any get carded or injured. Similarly, one exceptional seeker does not make a seeking corps; Jonathan Purvis needs a legitimate sub, and Warwick have not yet provided one. Warwick have all the makings of potential champions, but they are by no means infallible.

There is a tight battle for second place here, between Derby Union Quidditch Club (winners of the lower bracket at Northern Cup), Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds, and the Oxford Quidlings. Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds are the only team of the three to have made the upper bracket of a regional tournament, and they will be hoping to repeat the act here to prove it was not a fluke. They have reason to be confident, looking at their quaffle lineup. Luke Garland is the most prominent addition, presumably in response to Ollie Craig’s return to the Firsts, resulting in a surplus of keepers for SQC1. He changes the face of SQC2’s starting lineup significantly, bringing more sheer force to a line that felt the lack of an experienced driver in November; Garland’s strength alongside the speed and agility of Matteo Barraclough, gives SQC2’s driving line a pleasing diversity that is currently rare in seconds squads.

However, Group C demonstrates the most parity in the beater lineup, so it is here that SQC2 are the most vulnerable due to the opposition they will face. The opening minutes of each game will be instrumental in determining the mentality, and thereafter the power balance, of the beater game. SQC2’s beaters need to keep their cool in these crucial minutes, as the beater lineups of teams vying for second are too closely matched to each other to confidently state that any of them will dominate, and it is mentality that will win out.

Kevin Luu chasing for SQC2 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Derby University Quidditch Club enter Group C as an unpredictable quantity. Victory in the lower bracket of Northern Cup will have greatly heartened the Midlands side, but an underwhelming and disjointed performance placing them sixth of eight at their own tournament, the Compass Cup, may have undermined this. Derby face their perennial issue of a restricted roster, one exacerbated by the absence of their previous captain, Charlie Schofield: a player of his calibre will always be missed, and even more so within a reduced squad such as Derby’s. However, the return of Sam Pursey will help cover this loss, particularly following his impressive performance at Valentines Cup III which showcased his continued development. In Hugo Illing and Sonny Alan Ransom, Derby will be bringing agility and strength to their chasing corps respectively, albeit in fresher players.

Whilst Warwick’s strength should allow them to easily defeat Derby, Derby will be hopeful of victory against against a Quidlings side that have underperformed greatly this season. If they are able to acquire and maintain bludger dominance against the Quidlings’ experienced beater line, then their quaffle players should have the strength and skill to take the advantage. Whilst Derby have an outside chance at upsetting the group’s second seeds SQC 2 they are most likely to fall short in this endeavour, leaving them third in the group. Regardless of the bracket they enter, Derby’s lack of numbers are likely to count against them; however, a kind lower bracket draw may see them make progress, should they manage to avoid injuries, particularly ones that affect their limited gender flexibility.

Derby at Compass Cup | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Following last season’s success which included qualification for the European Quidditch Cup (EQC) the Oxford Quidlings are in a definite reloading year, as a number of their experienced players have either left the club or been promoted to the Radcliffe Chimeras. Whilst their performance at Southern Cup was uncharacteristically poor  only squeaking out a win against newcomers Portsmouth Horntail Strikers they have shown some improvement since then, with an improved performance at Roxdon the Second, despite losing games to both London Unspeakables Quidditch and Reading Rocs.

Whilst this may not necessarily bode well for them, the return of Mathilda Pandora Rose and Zoe Ford to the team will greatly bolster their team. Combined with the driving of Paul Mabey, this could greatly improve the Quidlings’ chances at defeating Derby. If Rose and Mabey can work together effectively, then it could lead to numerous driving opportunities.

Whilst making the upper bracket would require a monumental effort on the Quidlings’ part, they should still be aiming to perform reasonably well against both Derby and SQC2. Failing this, if they can find some of the form that they have showcased over the year, then they may be able to make a good performance in the lower bracket.

Group D
Seed 1: Bristol Brizzlebears
Seed 2: Werewolves of London Quidditch
Unseeded: Reading Rocs
Unseeded: Cambridge University Quidditch Club

Although seeding has mainly prevented the issues of having pools of death, Group D is as close to one as we’ll be getting at BQC this year. Featuring an entirely Southern group, including Southern Cup fourth-place finishers the Bristol Brizzlebears, this is the most competitive of all the groups, with each of the four teams having the chance to make the upper bracket.

The Brizzlebears will be aiming to finish at the top of their group and show the naysayers that they deserve their No. 1 seed and their qualification position for EQC. The Bears are bringing their strongest squad of the season yet, including the promotion of Ajantha Abey from the Brizzlebees and the return of Sam Senior. These additions will provide even greater depth to their already impressive chaser line. If they can use the strong driving ability of many of their chasers, including Abey and Josh Blannin, the smooth passing of Viral Patel, and the finishing ability of Charlie Brooks and Sophie Craig, the Bears should be able to comfortably ease past the other teams in this group.

Charlie Brooks, chaser for Brizzlebears | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Whilst the Bears have already faced the Werewolves of London this season losing via SWIM catch in their first game of group play at Southern Cup it is likely their additional depth and the weaker than usual Werewolves roster will allow them to prevail. If playing conditions are good, their style of short, sharp passing will allow them to juke past defences and score hoop after hoop. Furthermore, whilst games against the Reading Rocs and Cambridge will not be easy, they should still be able to push far past SWIM range before the end of these games. If the Bears make the upper bracket, it is possible to make a reasonable bracket run, with the quarterfinals likely to be their aim. However, if they receive a good seeding, they may even be able to push as far as the semifinals and show the rest of the UK how effective their quidditch can be.

For the Werewolves, this is a group of rematches as they have played against all of the teams except Cambridge. In each of these previous matches they managed to pull out victories, albeit in very close SWIM range games. Their game against Reading is particularly notable for the simultaneous loss of both of their beaters due to yellow card offences. Unfortunately for the Werewolves, BQC is unlikely to be the tournament they were hoping it could have been.

Alex Harrison chasing at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Whilst they have Captain Simon Bidwell, Nathan Jones, and Evelyn Goodall all returning from injuries as well as Lydia Calder, former TeamUK chaser, returning from her year abroad, the Werewolves are likely to have their work cut out for them. With no true keeper sub for Bidwell although Ryan Chaplin and Alex Harrison can both fill in if needed and a severe drought of beaters Jordan Moss, Sasha Burgoyne and Phil Sam being the only dedicated beaters they may at times have to play more conservatively than they would otherwise hope to. If they can remain disciplined, they may be able to repeat their defeat of the Brizzlebears; if not, however, they may find themselves falling to both the Bears and Reading.

Reading Rocs have been having somewhat of a resurgence this year, with Captain and beater Chris Thomas able to pull the team into contention against a number of teams, including close losses to the Falmouth Falcons and the Werewolves. He’s supported by able chasing options in Molly Whitaker who showcased excellent off-ball movement and scoring at Roxdon the Second and John Calzolari offering strong driving. However, when Thomas subs off as beater, either to seek or as another chasing option, there is a noticeable decline in the standard of the Rocs’ play. If they are able to mitigate this, they should be able to beat Cambridge and may be in with a chance of upsetting the Werewolves.

Molly Whitaker chasing at Roxdon 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
The final team in Group D is Cambridge University Quidditch Club, headed up by Captain Sam Ellis. Cambridge have had an up-and-down season, holding wins against the Bristol Brizzlebees in overtime, yet losing to Exeter Patronum shortly afterwards. They will be hoping to replicate the success they had at BQC last year, in which they were able to make the top two in their group and make it as far as the top 16. To do this they will be using their experienced beater corps of Jake Sullivan and Steffan Danino, who are both incredibly comfortable pursuing defensive and offensive beating strategies and will serve them well in all eventualities. If they can use their beating in conjunction with the quickness of Robin Lamboll, this should allow them to set up scoring opportunities, and the crunching tackles of Thomas Hardman will stop all but the strongest of opponents from getting through. If they are able to play at their most effective level, where the team works as a cohesive unit, they stand a good chance of beating Reading, and possibly even an outside chance at making the bracket.

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