Wednesday, April 13, 2016

From Hinkypunks to Honeybees: EQC 2016 Groups C and D

In a bit less than a week, 40 teams will descend on the small beach town of Gallipoli, Italy to compete to become the European quidditch champions. Follow the Quidditch Post’s coverage over the next few days to learn about the teams, group by group, that will be competing at European Quidditch Cup (EQC) 2016. Predictions like these would usually be posted in alphabetical order. However, we decided to switch things up this time, so for EQC 2016, we will be publishing our articles in reverse order, starting with Groups G and H, moving onto E and F, and now C and D.

Group C

Written by Bex McLaughlin (Barcelona Eagles), Kamil Urgun (METU Unicorns), Niccolò Andrea Carissimo (Hinkypunks Bologna), and Chula Bruggeling (Wageningen Werewolves), with additional reporting by Émeline Bosc (Toulouse Muggle Quidditch)

Group C Teams:
Warwick Quidditch Club (UK) - 19 players
Crookshanks Lyon Quidditch (France) - 12 players
Les Dracognards (Belgium) - 14 players
Hinkypunks Bologna (Italy) - 12 players
ITU Honeybees (Turkey) - 21 players

Runners-up in both the Southern Cup and British Quidditch Cup (BQC) this season, Warwick are a team capable of beating anyone in Europe. The one weakness they displayed at BQC was their over-reliance on less than half of their roster and their subsequent susceptibility to fatigue over long tournaments; despite bringing 19 players to Gallipoli, they are likely to encounter similar problems in the later stages of the tournament. Seb Waters, Luke Trevett, and Ben Malpass make for a fearsome, well-oiled quaffle trio, but Warwick place too much weight on their shoulders especially those of Waters, without whom the team can look disjointed and imbalanced. Warwick’s beater game is top-notch, however, with immense depth across all genders, particularly the resurgent James Burnett, Jacopo Sartori, and Katy Lawrence; additionally, seeker Jonathan Purvis proved his mettle by making the dramatic winning snitch catch against the Nottingham Nightmares in the BQC semifinal. Warwick should dispatch the rest of their group without much difficulty, especially given their numerical advantage, and will have their sights set firmly on the later stages of the tournament. How Warwick’s high-energy style meshes with the harsh climate of southern Italy could be crucial; their large roster might give them an advantage over smaller teams, but the weather could also work against them and disrupt the team’s balance. If they do not make it to the quarterfinals at the very least, Warwick might view their first EQC as a failure.

James Burnett beating for Warwick at BQC | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
The ITU Honeybees are also making their EQC debut, and are the dark horses in their group. They played at Turkish Quidditch Cup in October and were eliminated by BOUN Centaurs in the quarterfinals with a score of (110-70*), but they have not played any other official matches since. The team has improved through regular training and a friendly match against the METU Unicorns. The Honeybees’ gameplay depends on direct dives to the hoops supported by aggressive beaters clearing their quaffle carrier’s way to the hoops. Ali Gülüm and Cemre Avcı are beaters to keep an eye on. Olgaç Can Öztürk is known for his quaffle play and is the only Honeybee to be selected for the Team Turkey training squad for World Cup. Gülüm is a talented and agile seeker. The Honeybees will bring their full squad to Gallipoli, which will be an advantage against teams with smaller squads such as Hinkypunks Bologna and Crookshanks Lyon, but this is the Honeybees’ international debut, and they are inexperienced. If they can adapt to the level of play quickly, they can expect to battle for third or even second place in their group. They might even take a game from Lyon, as they will have the stamina advantage, playing the final game of the day against them. 

Similarly to the Honeybees, EQC will be the first international event for Hinkypunks Bologna, a team that will use this opportunity to improve their playing skills and level as a team. Hinkypunks have 10 new members this year, but some of them will not be available to play for them at EQC for various reasons. For example, one of their players will play on the Durhamstrang team as she’s been studying abroad in the UK. The team worked hard during this season to improve each player’s skills to an almost equal level, and seven of them are on the training squad for the Italian National Team. Alberto Nicolini, captain of the squad and one of the keepers on the training squad for the National Team, has great leadership skills and is able to efficiently adapt plays to his opponents. Almost all of their players are not very big; with only a couple of physically strong players, the Hinkypunks will surely rely on their speed and agility, both in chasing and beating.

With Crookshanks Lyon making their second appearance at EQC, they are the most experienced of their group, but their roster is as depleted as that of the Hinkypunks. Unfortunately, despite being a team known for their strong female chasers such as Jeanne Heeren of Team France, none are appearing for Lyon at the event; this is remedied with mercenary player Célie Josse-Chevrollier of Hermines de Rennes. Raphaël Fayolle and Antoine Rimboud are a strong keeping force for Lyon. The team’s male chasers also excel, especially Yohan Riquet who will have to work extra to cover the loss of ex-Team Norway player Mikel Poisse who cannot attend. At beater, Renaud Mortier can play entire games with no drop in his high standard, consistently displaying deadly accuracy and athleticism. Despite an impressive third place finish at Coupe de France losing in the semifinal to reigning European Champion Paris Titans, there is a real possibility that Lyon will not make the upper bracket, perhaps falling to both Warwick and the Honeybees. However, if this small, but able team can stave off fatigue, a third place in the group and good lower bracket run are possible. 

Les Dracognards gained their EQC spot by finishing third in the Belgium Quidditch Cup (BelQC). Despite that, the team does not have any players on the roster from their national team, the Belgian Gryffins, although they do have two players from their alternates list: Tatiana Pujkis and Florian Dion. At BelQC, Les Dracognards utilized a large roster to sub often and maintain a high level of energy, which translated to a very smooth chaser game with clean passing and a high-energy beater game. It remains to be seen if they will be able to repeat this performance at EQC, where they will only be bringing a squad of 14 players and will have less room to sub than they had at BelQC. Les Dracognards’ seekers Nicolas Hanot, Quentin Lescroart, and Adrien Marangon know what they want when the snitch comes on pitch and are not afraid to collect a couple of bruises in the process. Hanot in particular, with his experience as a snitch in both Belgium and abroad, seems to know what he’s doing when wearing the yellow headband.

All in all, Warwick is likely to be in first position at the end of group play, with both their sizable roster and their track record this season. The battle for second place is likely to be between Crookshanks Lyon, Les Dracognards, and ITU Honeybees; with their variety in experience and squad size, anything could happen. Meanwhile, Hinkypunks Bologna, with their relatively small roster and inexperience, will likely end up moving on to Division II at the end of the day.

Group D

Written by Bex McLaughlin (Barcelona Eagles), Chula Bruggeling (Wageningen Werewolves), Fraser Posford (Southampton Quidditch Club), Heidi Åmot (OSI Vikings), with Kai Haugen Shaw (OSI Vikings).

Group D Teams:
Radcliffe Chimeras (UK) - 15 players
Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino (Italy) - 15 players
Ghent Gargoyles (Belgium) -  21 players
Ruhr Phoenix (Germany) - 19 players
Toulouse Quidditch (France) - 13 players

Despite the fact that 40 teams are attending this tournament, the Radcliffe Chimeras and Green-Tauros Quidditch will face off in pool play just as they did at EQC 2015. Last year, the Chimeras were at home with a full roster brimming with some of Europe’s best players, but now the boot is on the the other foot with the Oxford side bringing a depleted squad and the Tauros having the home advantage. The current British and Italian champions’ spots in the upper bracket are far from secure against Ruhr Phoenix and the experienced Ghent Gargoyles. The tiny Toulouse team is unlikely to finish with a win at the end of pool play; however, additions on Day Two could mean their run in the lower division is a different story. 

Compared to EQC 2015, a different story will play out for Oxford University Quidditch Club. On reputation, having recently claimed their second British championship, the Radcliffe Chimeras will be solid favourites to win Group D. Oxford’s premier team regained their British crown in dominant fashion winning all of their games out of snitch range at BQC this year, including a 150*-50 scoreline against Warwick Quidditch Club in the final. Last EQC, the Chimeras finished runners-up to Titans Paris; however, due to some key absentees, a repeat is highly unlikely. Formidable TeamUK veterans Andrew Hull, Tom Heynes, and Ashley Cooper are missing from the Chimera quaffle game this time around. Chimera captain Abby Whiteley also cannot attend, with vice-captain Olivia Payne stepping up. Crucial beaters Jamie Cash and former Team Belgium player Shati Patel are also not attending. However, the promotion of Hattie Elvins and Paul Mabey from the Oxford Quidlings (Oxford’s second team) as well as the return of Emily Hayes and Mitch Skiles go some way to mitigating the team’s losses. The fortunes of the Chimeras’ EQC campaign are likely to hinge on the beater pairing of long-time TeamUK chaser-turned-beater Jan Mikolajczak and new Team UK training squad member Alice Walker. The pair’s outstanding performance at BQC allowed the Chimera quaffle players to take the upper hand on multiple occasions, and additionally masked the team’s frailties at seeker. With a lack of a consistent option in the yellow headband, the Chimeras will need to control matches as they did at BQC in order to win, though they could become unstuck if they are kept in SWIM range; fortunately, this is a situation in which they rarely find themselves.   

Radcliffe Chimeras beater pair Alice Walker and Jan Mikolajczak | Photo Credit: Van Klaveren Quidditch Photography
The Ghent Gargoyles will be led in Italy by coach Ellen Vander Heyden and captain and trainer Brian Verbeure, and they are the only team in this group able to bring a full 21-person squad. Combined with the overall experience of the team, this might give the Gargoyles the edge needed to get themselves to Division I. Around Europe, this team might be best known for hosting the League of Extraordinary Ghentlemen: a summer fantasy tournament. All of the places at this summer’s second edition of the tournament filled up in less than three minutes. The Gargoyles’ roster includes two quaffle players for the Belgian Gryffins, the Belgian national team, in Ellen Huycke and Micah Unruh. Huycke also joined the Belgian Gryffins in Italy last year for European Games, while Unruh is a newcomer on the quidditch scene. With his height and great reflexes, Unruh quickly became a key player for the Gargoyles this season. Other main players include chaser Nick De Leu, who made it to the reserve list for the Gryffins this year, and Eli Van den Bulcke, a hard-to-tackle quaffle player who is frequently described as a “tank” player. The Gargoyles’ strategy often relies on frequent subs and larger numbers, something their full roster should allow them to do this tournament.

Another one of the newcomers this year is Ruhr Phoenix, founded at the end of Oct. 2015. The team managed an impressive third place at Germany’s national championship back in January after existing for only three months. With two more months of training under their belts and 19 players making the trip to Italy, Ruhr Phoenix seems ready to give the other teams in this group some trouble and possibly make it into the upper bracket. On the other hand, having such a big squad consisting mainly of people relatively new to the sport could be a hindrance, depending on how well the team has managed to become used to each other. The team is led by co-captains Niklas Müller and Saskia Busse, two of only a handful of players on the team who had previous experience with quidditch, as part of the Heidelberger Hellhounds and USC Dementors, respectively. Out of those without any previous experience, both Sven Schulz and Theresa Raulf have shown themselves to be quick learners, and became two of the teams top players. However, it has to be pointed out that this is not a team that seems to rely on key players, instead showcasing a rather consistent level of skill in pretty much all players, whether they are quaffle players or beaters. This allows the team to keep up a high subbing rate without any noticeable changes in skill level, something they will no doubt make good use of in Italy, where the sun can make games especially tiring. 

With weakened squads being a theme for this year’s EQC, Toulouse are no exception. Historically, this team has struggled with numbers and will be competing at EQC with a mere 13 players on Day One. However, at Mangamore Kopa back in October, they came fifth out of six teams bolstered by a few mercenary players and showcased an incredible amount of grit and resilience, traits they will surely need to last against tough competition. Toulouse’s beater game remains largely unchanged from the Coupe de France, where Toulouse took fifth place, with Fiona Staub and captain Morgane Prime being instrumental. Staub cut her quidditch teeth in the UK, where she gained experience with the then-called Chester Chasers. However, the team’s quaffle game is lacking numbers. The biggest quaffle losses are keepers Sylvain Hochede and Maxime Grazzini. Hochede represented Team Norway at last summer’s European Games and was invaluable at French Cup. To fill the void, chasers Thomas Coffigneau and Thomas Marguet will step up into the green headband. On Sunday, Toulouse will gain two more of their team, including Jason Chemin, who is a strong, physical player with competent tackling skills. Add the standout Émeline Bosc at chaser, and Toulouse may surprise in the lower bracket. 

Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino impressed greatly at EQC 2015 and came ninth in the tournament. This team is characterized by their athleticism, and most of the players are very fast, powerful, and experienced. Several of them were also on the Italian national team at European Games. The Green-Tauros are the current Italian champions, a title they won back in 2015 after beating Lunatica in the final, well out of snitch range. Walid “Wolly” Benfadel is one of their absolute key players, as he is an exceptional keeper with quick drives and agile movements that make him very hard to stop. Davide Maniscalco is one of the many strong and fast chasers on the team, and Vera Tosetto makes a great troll and was nominated for best female chaser at EQC last year. Beaters Francesco La Malfa and Michele Genovese are both quick on their feet and accurate in their shots, and have a varied arsenal of tactics in offense. Italian national team seeker Salvatore Zollino performed admirably both in defense and offense and will be a great strength to the team. Just like last year, the Green-Tauros are in the same group as the Radcliffe Chimeras. Having lost to them in a close game, the Green-Tauros are highly motivated to get the upper hand this time around, and with a depleted squad traveling down from Oxford, it is far from unthinkable that their wish will be granted. However, what seems certain is that being Italian champions playing in Italy, they will not be content with anything but a run into the upper bracket.

Radcliffe Chimeras seems to be the clear favourite for this group, having consistently finished high in both BQC and EQC tournaments. Having placed ninth at EQC 2015, and winning back their Italian title in their last national tournament, Green-Tauros seems all set to claim that second Division I spot. Toulouse Quidditch, on the other hand, seems destined for Division II, with only 13 players available on Day One. That leaves Ghent Gargoyles and Ruhr Phoenix to battle it out for third place. Both teams are of similar size, meaning their difference will likely come down to skill. Ruhr Phoenix showed us what they could achieve in a mere three months at their national championship, so who knows what they will be able to do with two more months. On the other hand, Ghent Gargoyles have been around quite a bit longer, and might be more used to each other, another important aspect of this game. In the end, we can only wait and see.

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