Thursday, March 17, 2016

BQC Preview Groups G and H

In the final part of our group stage review, Kieran Smith and Fraser Posford look at  Groups G and H respectively.

Group G
Seed 1: Durhamstrang
Seed 2: Taxes Quidditch
Unseeded: Chester Centurions
Unseeded: Keele Krakens

As the top seed in Group G, Northern Cup runners-up, and the self-proclaimed ‘Kings in the North’, Durhamstrang will be aiming to rule this group. Over the season, they have consistently shown great improvement, pushing to be ranked among the elite of UK quidditch. Results against other teams ranked in the top 10 have been promising, such as the 70*-30 win against Loughborough Longshots at Northern, a narrow SWIM loss to eventual champions Nottingham Nightmares, and a 70* - 30 win against Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts at the Battle of Four Armies. However, all this promise has been overshadowed by the nagging feeling that Durhamstrang just cannot break into the clique at the very top, typified by the 180* - 70 loss to the Radcliffe Chimeras at What’s Up DOK, although their squad lacked a number of key players at the time.

With the outstanding captaincy of Jackie Woodburn, along with the chasing and seeking prowess of Robbie Gawne, Durhamstrang have the potential to win all three games in the group, but cannot be complacent, lest Taxes take advantage. Durhamstrang’s quaffle lineup is incredibly strong, boasting strong drivers in the form of Woodburn and Gawne, strong receivers in Jim Marschalek and Bex Lowe, and an accurate distributor in Ollie Farrell. Whilst Durhamstrang’s quaffle game is often lauded, their beater game is still incredibly strong, with two highly underrated beaters in Matthew Litwinowicz and Amy Chan. However, the absence of Marcus Buechel from their lineup will be felt.

Bex Lowe at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

Once they inevitably reach the upper bracket — whether as the first or second seed — Durhamstrang’s path is much less certain. Whilst a top eight finish should be expected, with a Final Four finish possible if the draw is favourable, Durhamstrang are a team that we could see crashing out earlier than expected. This possibility becomes all too plausible because, despite Durhamstrang’s strength, Taxes could prove to be a thorn in their side. 

Many of the problems Taxes have had this season can be attributed to having consistently smaller squads than other teams. This does not seem to be a problem for BQC, with the squad consisting of 16 players, which seems to be around the average size that many teams are bringing this year. As a team with a huge amount of experience, Durhamstrang must be conscious of complacency, as Taxes will pounce at the slightest sniff of weakness. The prime example of this is their comeback from being 0-70 down against Leicester Thestrals at East Midlands Cup to eventually win 80*-70.

The experience of vice-Captain Becky Thomson and the consistently amazing keeping of Captain and former TeamUK reserve Lee Baughan should keep the squad focussed and motivated throughout the latter stages of the competition. Thomson, in particular, has been a breath of fresh air this season, and is the type of beater who improves whoever she plays alongside. The chasing combination of Sally Higginson, Bex McLaughlin, and Claudio Svaluto is one that combines strength, power, and speed in equal measure, further ensuring that they will be a threat to any team they face. Add dangerous seekers in Tom Jones and Will Johnson, and Taxes are a solid bet to win any SWIM situation they find themselves in. This abundance of experience and skill means that a Durhamstrang win over Taxes is far from certain, and should allow Taxes to make a deep run into the upper bracket. Of all the new teams this year, Taxes has the greatest potential to advance to the quarterfinals, or even further.

Sally Higginson at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

How well the Chester Centurions will perform is even harder to ascertain than for other teams, partially due to the lack of competitive games played this season. Whilst Chester will likely struggle against Durhamstrang having already had a heavy 160*-10 loss to them in the Northern group stage their main strength lies in their defensive beating, with Jess O’Neill and Henry Parkes making life hard for any fast attacking team. The return of former Bangor and TeamUK beater Sam Davies to quidditch after a lengthy competitive hiatus will also undoubtedly bolster the side’s beater corps. However, it will be interesting to see if Davies will be able to keep up with the changes that the sport has experienced over the past year and half, particularly against the incredibly tactically astute beater lineup that Taxes boast.

Against lesser teams, Chester can certainly excel. A second place finish in the Northern Cup lower bracket losing out to Derby 100*-40 and winning Cottonopolis Cup against the Liverpuddly Cannons, their tactics have been shown to work time and time again. With the versatility of Captain Matty Garside, the Chester quaffle players can adapt to different styles of play and, combined with strong defensive beating, they should comfortably beat Keele Krakens and make a deep run into the lower bracket.

Chester Centurions at Cottonopolis | Photo Credit: Jessica Cornelius

Keele Krakens, as a new team, are somewhat of an unknown quantity. With a humbling yet unsurprising 240*-10 loss to Chimeras and an encouraging 70*-60 loss to Durham Direwolves in overtime at What’s Up DOK being their only results so far, no one is really sure what to expect from the Krakens. Despite being Keele’s second team, there is a surprisingly large amount of depth and experience within the roster, including quaffle players such as Tom Challinor and Pierce Brosnan and beaters such as recent transfer Ben Pooley, who should help guide the less experienced players through the game plan and keep them motivated. Alongside Joe Heath, Pooley should limit the damage dealt by attacking teams and help keep the Krakens’ games low scoring, perhaps giving Tom Berey the opportunity to make a SWIM catch.

Ben Pooley at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

It cannot be understated how useful it is for the Krakens to train with the Squirrels, drawing knowledge from their wisdom and experience. Whilst the Keele Krakens have the potential to perform well, and perhaps even upset Chester if they make the most of their squad, an upper bracket berth seems somewhat unlikely. However, their lower bracket performance will certainly be a test for Challinor’s captaincy.

Group H
Seed 1: Nottingham Nightmares
Seed 2: Leeds Griffins
Unseeded: Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds
Unseeded: Swansea Seven Swans

As one of the main contenders for the BQC title, the Nottingham Nightmares come into Group H as overwhelming favourites. Thanks to back-to-back tournament victories at East Midlands Cup and Northern Cup, Nottingham enjoyed a long unbeaten run at the start of the season until it was recently ended by Warwick Quidditch Club in a 2-1 series defeat in February at a set of friendlies. During their unbeaten run, Captain and beater Lucy Edlund, chaser James Thanangadan, and keeper Mikey Ansell established themselves as household names on the UK scene and, along with Lucy Quidditch and David Goswell, form a highly talented core of what is a very well-balanced and surprisingly deep roster.

Nottingham Nightmares starting line-up | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

In particular, it is Nottingham’s beater game that gives them an edge over many opponents. The high aggression style typified by Edlund, Lucy Quidditch, Rachel Lily and Matt Blindt often leaves other teams floundering as they suddenly find that their entire team has been beat out and that Ansell or Thanangadan have driven through for an easy no bludger conversion.

Many see this as the Nightmares’ best opportunity yet to claim the BQC title; however, their recent defeat to Warwick raises questions over the team’s collective composure and whether the team has peaked too early. However, in former Radcliffe Chimera Goswell and Brandon Fitz-Gerald, Nottingham possess two of the best seeking options in the UK, which could prove vital in what looks set to be the closest fought BQC to date.

Having been involved in BQC 2015’s ‘Group of Death,’ which included a heartbreaking defeat to the Falmouth Falcons as a scorekeeping error led to a cold catch, Yorkshire’s Leeds Griffins should feel much happier about their group draw this year, and will fancy their chances to progress to the last 16. After a rather disappointing Northern Cup campaign, the Griffins defied all expectations with an impressive display at January’s Compass Cup, finishing as runners up. At Compass, the Griffins played with excellent tactical intelligence and really got the most out of their 13-player roster. This was particularly apparent in their win over the Brizzlebears at Compass Cup. Somewhat out of the blue, Leeds effectively shut down Bristol’s fast passing game with composed slow-balling to snag a 50*-10 win, one of the lowest scoring matches in UK history. It is likely that they will attempt to use this style of play against the Nightmares to keep the score down. Whilst it seems unlikely that they will be able to do so particularly against such an aggressive beating line they will certainly give Nottingham a tough game.

Compass will have given Leeds great confidence going into BQC but, if they are to have a long tournament run in Rugeley, key players such as beaters Steven Daly and George Matthews, quaffle players Josh Armitage, Sash Steele, Kamal Ayach and Linh Nguyen, and SWIM-specialist seeker Matty Percival will need to be on top form.

Matty Percival at Compass Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

The Seven Swans go into their debut BQC campaign off the back of a promising Southern Cup performance. After overthrowing the London Unspeakables (and narrowly losing to the Brizzlebears) in the wind and rain of an Oxford November, Captain Ed Brett will be looking to take down another of the UK old guard in the form of the Leeds Griffins, with a place in the top 16 for the victor. This clash could well be one of the most exciting matches of Day One, and Swansea will look toward Durham Direwolves’ double overtime success against Leeds at Northern Cup for inspiration. With the likes of Brett, Calum Learoyd, and Tom Heal, the Welsh side look set to have parity in the quaffle game with the Griffins. Brett in particular had a breakout performance at Valentines Cup III, showing exceptional driving ability and stopping. However, despite the continued development of Alex Sheffield, Leeds have the more experienced beater lineup, which should be enough for them to win. However, this will have little effect on Swansea, a team who have so far approached each tournament with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude. Qualifying for the last 16 would represent incredible progress for the Swans, but even if they don’t achieve it this time around, their blend of strong driving and surprising long shots means that they have an excellent chance of making a good run in the lower bracket, and are certainly a team on the up.

Ed Brett (red) at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

Barring a major upset, the team likely to be bringing up the rear in Group H is the Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds. BQC will be the team’s Quidditch UK tournament debut, although they played in their first unofficial tournament at the second Scottish Cup in January as the ‘Buccleuch Bobcats’. Whilst this is not a team without experience, it is comprised of a number of members of the Edinburgh squad who lack the physicality and athleticism that many in the first team possess.

Heavy defeats to their first team and to the St Andrews Snidgets at the Scottish Cup suggest that this Hippogriffs team won’t be too competitive in Rugeley, but the tournament will represent a valuable opportunity for these previously underutilised players to get some game time and show improvement. New recruits Ben Zinger, Mohamed Elsonpaty, Carina Zacharias and Luka Nikolic have all shown promise leading into BQC, and should be looking forward to testing their raw talent against the likes of Leeds and Swansea. The Hippogriffs Seconds are a relatively unknown quantity, which could give them the element of surprise and work in their favour, provided they’ve had enough time to gel as a team prior to the tournament. However, beating any of their opponents in the group stages seems unlikely.


Carina Zacharias (left) at Christmas Cup 2015 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

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