Friday, March 18, 2016

BQC Preview Groups E and F

Next up in our coverage of the British Quidditch Cup (BQC) are Groups E and F, brought to you by Matt O’Connor, Abby Whiteley, Ashara Peiris, and Alex Harrison.

Group E
Seed 1: Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts (SQC1)
Seed 2: Falmouth Falcons
Unseeded: HogYork Horntails
Unseeded: Manchester Manticores

Group E is headed up by the defending British Champions, Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts. SQC1 have had a somewhat mixed performance this season. Whilst they have had big wins against other top teams including an 80*-50 win over old rivals the Radcliffe Chimeras at the Battle of Four Armies they have also been unable to get these signature wins when it matters. Notably, at Southern Cup, SQC1 lost two SWIM-range games to Warwick Quidditch Club, including one in the semifinal. Whilst this loss denied SQC1 the opportunity to take home the crown, the semifinal place earned them their European Quidditch Cup (EQC) spot and a shut-out of the Bristol Brizzlebears gave them a well-deserved third place in the tournament.

Although SQC1 have been weakened by injury over the past few months losses include David Holland  and Captain Charlie Taylor their squad has been bolstered by the return of Ollie Craig and the encouraging development of their newer talent such as Jordan Aymer-Jeffrey. Furthermore, the remainder of the squad is still incredibly strong, with TeamUK beaters Imy Gregg and Alex Carpenter forming the backbone of a rock solid defence and a dangerous offence, with Carpenter’s seeking ability able to finish games seemingly at will.

Alex Carpenter’s now famous snitch catch at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

SQC1 will be aiming to make a statement in the group stages by soundly beating all three of their opponents, and whilst the Falmouth Falcons will not be an easy opponent, SQC1 should be able to push the pace and win the game out of range. Similarly, Manchester and York should be straightforward games for the defending champions. The real challenge for SQC1 will come once they reach the upper bracket. The immense depth that their squad brings will be a clear asset for them, as they will be able to tire out their opponents and grind out the win, or they can use their superior athleticism and tactics to control teams. However, if they find themselves in SWIM games, as they did against Warwick earlier this season, they will need to ensure that their beater game remains focused and gives their excellent seeker corps the opportunity to finish the game. If their squad can retain their composure, Southampton could be well on their way to a successful title defence. However, if other teams can control the game, SQC1 may find themselves out of their depth and crashing out in the quarterfinals.

The Falmouth Falcons have been a formidable team in the mid-tier since practically their very first outing, and they have performed solidly this season, too, with a quarterfinals finish at Southern Cup and a tournament win at Highlander Cup III. During this season, they have improved at the same rate as the rest of the game in the UK, neither losing ground nor improving their standing. Unfortunately, the Falcons’ most lasting legacy this season has been their defeat in double overtime to the Bristol Brizzlebears at Southern Cup; it was probably not easy for the Falcons to watch this match slip out of their hands, or to endure the subsequent jubilation of the community at such an excellent match that must have been so painful to experience. Hopefully, this will have driven the team harder during the past few months to work on their flaws, and we will see a performance with all the fire that characterised their game in the 2014-15 season.

Falmouth Falcons at Compass Cup | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

In this group, the Falcons have an exceptionally difficult game against SQC1 ahead of them, but they will also find themselves tested by the HogYork Horntails. This will be a clash determining who makes it into the upper bracket and who has to settle for a final ranking in the lower half of the table, and it will likely be one of the most exciting matchups in the group. The quaffle game matchup promises to be thrilling; it will be excellent for spectators to see the Falcons’ fast and physical chasers notably Conor Watson and Tyler Mills against the newfound physicality of York’s quaffle lineup, spearheaded by Caleb Pakeman. The Falcons have the edge in the beater game, with Alex Brown and Alicia Ackroyd being a formidable pair for any team to face, but they do suffer from a scarcity of seekers. Brown is a strong option, but since the departure of Joseph Haerdele the Falcons have struggled to produce a viable replacement; they will feel the bite here in SWIM situations unless they can dominate the beater game or catch quickly.

Despite losing all their games at Northern Cup, York are a side that showed remarkable fight and promise. Denied the possibility of proving their superiority among the emerging sides by a truncated lower bracket and the late withdrawal of the Preston Poltergeists from their group, York showed considerable improvement over the weekend, illustrated by their results against Derby Union Quidditch Club in the group stage and again when the two sides met in the lower bracket semifinal. In fact, the third time was the charm for York, when they were finally able to defeat Derby 100*-20 in the lower bracket final of Compass Cup. With the presence of Manchester in this group another developing side we may be able to see how York have progressed against other teams of their calibre. Good performance on Day One would see York gain a strong seed in the lower bracket, where their quick, physical game could allow them to go deep into Day Two of the tournament.

Caleb Pakeman keeping for York at Compass Cup | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

Manchester are a side who have struggled to gel this season. Despite chasers such as Ben Mercer and Robert Naylor having a good amount of physicality and speed, the Mancunian beater game could struggle to make an impact against the seeded sides especially Falmouth’s Alex Brown particularly with the added blow of captain and best beater option Benjamin Crump being injured. Their game against fellow newcomers York will be a more interesting watch; with York’s newfound physicality mixing with a somewhat immature beater game, this match could be a case of two similar sides cancelling each other out. That said, Manchester struggled at their home tournament of Cottonopolis Cup, losing out to both Preston and Sheffield Squids mercenary team, which does not bode well for the coming weekend. The Manticores will need to rediscover the form that found them in SWIM range against the Chester Centurions at Northern Cup to have a chance of a lower bracket seed, with the class of Falmouth and Southampton being too much for even the most optimistic to consider them for the upper bracket. 

Group F  
Seed 1: Loughborough Longshots
Seed 2: Leicester Thestrals
Unseeded: Bristol Brizzlebees
Unseeded: Flying Chaucers

Group F is an interesting group, simultaneously predictable and impossible to call. Most observers would agree that the teams going into the upper and lower brackets are easy to predict: Loughborough and Leicester, the seeded teams, should occupy the top two spots in the group, while the Brizzlebees and the Flying Chaucers will have to settle for third and fourth. Which team will top the group, though, is far from clear.

The Loughborough Longshots are one of QuidditchUK’s most difficult teams to classify. At times they flirt with making an assault on the elite tier of title contenders, but just as often they look like a very good but not great team, and one that can be upset by the growing crop of ambitious, hungry teams that are prevalent among the second seeds. This season, their results seem to show that they are in the latter mode. A borderline SWIM defeat of 100*-40 to Keele Squirrels in the semifinals of the East Midlands Cup was a bad omen, considering Keele’s own inconsistency this year. An improved performance at the Northern Cup saw Loughborough push finalists and fellow almost-elite team Durhamstrang to the edge, going down 70*-30 in a razor-edge semifinal, a tournament in which they were able to avenge their loss to Keele to take third place.

Jonathon Cookes playing at Christmas Cup 2015 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

Jonathon Cookes remains the Longshots’ most potent offensive weapon, aided by a fierce beater lineup led by TeamUK stalwart Bill Orridge and Hasan Azad, whilst Franky Kempster remains one of the best chasers in the country. Loughborough’s play is aggressive and proactive, focused on dominating the game rather than playing the more defensive counter-attacking style that many second-tier teams are finding success with. However, Loughborough’s control of games is less complete than that of stylistically comparable teams like the Nottingham Nightmares and Warwick, and they are susceptible to tactically disciplined ‘lesser’ teams. They should still be favourites from their group, but far from overwhelmingly so.

The Leicester Thestrals, meanwhile, are finally settling into consistency, establishing themselves as one of the two or three best insurgent teams that pose a threat to the elites. A SWIM defeat to Taxes Quidditch at East Midlands Cup, apparently brought on by complacency after running up a large lead, seems to have served as a wake-up call to Leicester; a narrow SWIM defeat of 120*-60 to Keele at the same tournament emphasises that they can compete with almost-elite teams, while a respectable 110-70* defeat to Durhamstrang at Northern Cup and a 90*-30 victory over the Werewolves of London at Londingster the First cement Leicester’s status as potent contenders capable of pulling off SWIM upsets against superior teams. Furthermore, their recent defeat of Loughborough at L Tournament shows that they have the potential to beat them, despite both teams having weakened rosters.

The key ingredients to SWIM victories a strong seeker and an aggressive beating game are in place, exemplified by Joseph Wilson and Dan Trick, respectively, and Leicester have an embarrassment of riches at keeper, with a trio of powerful attacking options in Warren McFadyen, Callum Humphreys, and Alessandro Zazza. Leicester won’t be unhappy with drawing Loughborough, and they will fancy their chances of squeaking through as group winners.

Dan Trick seeking at Valentines Cup III | Photo  Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

The Brizzlebees have impressed in their debut season, recording a victory over Exeter Patronum at Southern Cup and a series of close defeats to solid teams like the Reading Rocs, the London Unspeakables, and Cambridge University Quidditch Club. Their best result was arguably a 90-30* defeat to the Radcliffe Chimeras at Southern Cup, but squad movement between them and the Brizzlebears may hurt them going into BQC. Ajantha Abey and Sam Senior have moved up to the Brizzlebears, while star player Mathilda Pandora Rose has returned to the Oxford Quidlings, leaving the Bees short of their three biggest quaffle threats. All in all, the Brizzlebees are a quality team and have the key advantage of training regularly with the Brizzlebears, but at BQC the depleted Brizzlebees may struggle to recapture their best play this year.

Sophie McKenzie and Jack Harlow-Pearlstone, keepers for Brizzlebees | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

The Flying Chaucers remain one of the UK’s most enigmatic teams. Their surprise appearance at last year’s BQC made an impression, as did their memorable kit and their three hoops against the Bangor Broken Broomsticks. However, since that debut, they have somewhat dropped off the radar, failing to attend Southern Cup and not playing a single competitive match this season. James Gaunt, Kirsty Lukas, Chloe Marsden, and Alex Field all appeared for the Werewolves of London at Southern Cup instead and gained valuable experience there, but the team in general remains an unknown quantity in UK quidditch. A victory or even close defeat against the Brizzlebees should be the Chaucers’ main goal in the group, with the possibility of more in the lower bracket with a kind draw. Whilst their capes may not be returning, it is heartening to see the Chaucers return to quidditch after their year’s hiatus.

Flying Chaucers playing Brizzlebees at Doss Cup | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

No comments:

Post a Comment