Thursday, April 7, 2016

From Rheinos to Rumpeldunks: EQC 2016 Groups G and H

In about 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.

Group G

Written by Bex McLaughlin (Barcelona Eagles) and Chula Bruggeling (Wageningen Werewolves) with additional reporting by Kai Haugen Shaw (OSI Vikings), Lisa Tietze (Darmstadt Athenas), and Nina Heise (Bowticores).

Group G Teams:
OSI Vikings (Norway) - 14 players
Keele Squirrels (UK) - 20 players
Liège Leviathans (Belgium) - 14 players
Rheinos Bonn (Germany) - 14 players
METU Unicorns (Turkey) - 20 players

Of all the pools, Group G is the hardest to predict, as any combination of METU, OSI, Keele, or Bonn could realistically qualify for the upper bracket. Bonn and METU are the German and Turkish national champions, respectively. OSI took second at the Norwegian national, and Keele, while not appearing as strong as it did in the 2014/15 season, have lots of experience and TeamUK talent in their ranks. Liège Leviathans are the lowest ranked of the attending Belgian teams and are almost certainly destined for Division II. However, not all these squads are at full strength, so the field is wide open. 

The Keele Squirrels earned their EQC bid back in November by placing fourth at Quidditch UK’s Northern Cup. Riddled with injuries, the Squirrels lost to the Loughborough Longshots 100*-70 in the third place playoff after defeat at the hands of eventual champions the Nottingham Nightmares 130*-40 in their semifinal. For EQC, Keele have pulled several players up from their new B team, Keele Krakens, including Kraken Captain Tom Challinor, QUK President Melanie Piper, and ferocious Emma Carter. These chaser additions will be great complements to the dominating and agile beating of Dave Goddin, Ollie Hymers, and Connor Simpson. However, the Squirrels lack experience in the keeper department, as they play freshers Scott Hopkins and Dan Holmes there. While they both performed well at British Quidditch Cup in March, knowing how to handle international pressure and combating new play styles is a matter of experience, which they currently lack. Keele would also be foolish to underuse their deeply talented female chaser line in the form of veterans Jen McCallum, Elise Amoah, and the outstanding Hannah Ridley (one of only two freshers to be invited to the TeamUK training squad). Even without former Captain Tom Norton and current Captain Chris Lawrence attending EQC, the Squirrels are safe in Ben Morton’s hands as he was TeamUK’s coach in 2014.

Keele Squirrels | Photo Credit: Joe Heath
The Squirrels vs. Unicorns match will see contrasting play styles between Keele’s agile squad and the physical strength of the Turkish champions. Placed in EQC 2015’s “Group of Death” with Paris Titans and Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts, METU secured second place in Division II. This year is different. METU claimed victory at their own Intergalaktik Cup, defeating merc team the Norwegian Ridgebacks, in which OSI players made up the majority, and could feasibly overpower OSI. With another year of experience and a plethora of Team Turkey veterans in the squad, the Unicorns will challenge the depleted Squirrels and relatively newer Bonn. The Unicorns’ greatest assets are their aggressive beaters who often bring the fight right up to the opposing keeper zone, forcing opponents to make mistakes. Talented beaters on the squad include Umut Yeşilkaya, Sıla Kara, and seeker/beater Kamil Urgun. Team Turkey beater Melike Balkan will not be attending, so several promising METU Minicorns (their B team) have been drafted to bolster the squad to help keep up the pressure. Additionally, the Unicorns have an incredibly physical chaser lineup with Can Kaytaz, Kaan Bolat, Sıla Yüksel, and Ahmet Can Karakadılar. With a deep bench of exceptional players, the Unicorns are one of the favourites of the non-seeded teams to make a deep run into the upper bracket.

METU Unicorns | Photo Credit: Sait Kaytaz
The only team to challenge Unicorns in physicality in this pool will be Rheinos Bonn. The German team’s fast and ferocious play style clinched victory over Darmstadt Athenas 90*-60 in their national championship. This victory avenged the Rheinos’ only loss that weekend as Darmstadt spectacularly took victory 120*-30 in pool play. Seeker/chaser Christian Zimpelmann, who was voted MVP at German Cup 2016, in combination with fellow chaser/seeker Leander Troll, will mean that neither snitches nor opposing defences will be safe. The pair has extensive experience playing in Canada at the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia, respectively, and were able to coach this new team to a national championship in a very short time span. Keeper Leo Müller completes this terrifying trifecta of quaffle players. As for the bludger game, the Rheinos will showcase one of Germany’s most aggressive beaters in Sebastian Elster. The Rheinos are an athletic, competitive squad who have proven to have the grit, determination, and spirit to win.

Rheinos Bonn | Photo Credit: Marvin Stamer
Another player with something to prove will be OSI captain and integral Ridgeback player Kai Haugen Shaw. Shaw will be keen to avenge the Intergalaktik Cup final, but his squad is far from as strong as they were at Norwegian nationals. The Vikings are not immune to the issues of getting a full squad to southern Italy, and will be without powerhouse quaffle players Anders Gorboe of Team Norway and Federico Montalenti. The recently renamed Vikings, previously known under the name UiO Quidditch, secured a place in the top seed based on their performance at EQC 2015, where they lost to Paris Titans Quidditch in the quarterfinals. More recently, the Vikings took second at the Norwegian Championships in March, losing to NTNUI 140*-50. A strong keeper presence there allowed for Shaw to play beater; back as keeper for EQC, he has tremendous support in the form of man-mountain Jakob Lenz, Heidi Åmot, and Johanne Steinlien, all of whom are chasing or beating for Team Norway at World Cup. The beater line also has star power in Anders Storruste and Stein Elgethun. If the Vikings can withstand the Unicorns without falling to fatigue, they could stay out of Division II.

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OSI Vikings | Photo Courtesy of OSI Vikings
The team that is almost certainly heading to Division II is Belgium’s Liège Leviathans the youngest Belgian team, who have only been practicing since Sept. 2015 making its way over to Italy this year. The Leviathans hadn’t expected to go to EQC this year, having placed eighth at the most recent Belgian Quidditch Cup, but were offered a spot in late February when Belgium received an extra bid and all remaining higher-ranked teams declined the offer. Despite being a new team, the Leviathans have gained experience playing official games through Belgium’s league structure; they currently rank fifth out of six teams. The Belgian Quidditch League is the first such conference in Europe, and the Leviathans have eagerly participated and shown significant improvement from every game they play. They’ve so far demonstrated that they don’t rely on key players as much as some other teams do; instead, they are a team that can present a danger no matter who is on pitch, with fast chasers and a strong defensive beater game. This will be an asset in the later stages of EQC, as they are less likely to be hindered by any unfortunate injury or fatigue. Notable players on the team include chasers Audrey Linssen and Arnaud Liepin, who were both selected for the Belgian squad for World Cup 2016. Both Linssen and President Liepin only started playing this season, making their selection all the more impressive; it is a testament to their skill and ability to learn and adapt quickly. Another relatively well-known player on the Leviathans’ roster is utility-player Nicolas Volders, who manages to make himself an asset no matter which position he plays and isn’t a stranger to international (fantasy) tournaments.  

Liège Leviathans | Photo Credit:
The group with probably the most exciting team names historical vikings, mythical unicorns and leviathans, exotic rhinos, and mischievous squirrels will play out as one of the most unpredictable groups of the tournament. OSI and Keele could feasibly be unsettled from their seeded status, as METU and Bonn are their regions’ champions and could outplay these generally slighter, quicker squads with pure physicality. 

Group H

Written by Bex McLaughlin (Barcelona Eagles) with Lena Mandahus (Vienna Vanguards) and Kai Haugen Shaw (OSI Vikings)

Group H Teams:
NTNUI Rumpeldunk (Norway) -14 players
Southampton Quidditch Club 1 (UK) - 17 players
Aemona Argonauts (Slovenia) - 12 players (two of those are unsure if they are going)
Darmstadt Athenas (Germany) - 14 players
Barcelona Eagles (Catalonia) - 16 players

Facing the current Norwegian and Catalan champions, the former British champions, and German national silver medalists will be a baptism of fire for newcomers Aemona Argonauts. The Slovenian side gained their bid as a developing NGB, and this will be their first foray into the major international fray. However, as an unknown entity, they could pack a surprise. The Argonauts are unlikely to have the tactical know-how to pose a serious threat to the established teams, but are these known powerhouses all their reputation leads us to believe?

After winning the Oslo Open in October and the Norwegian Championships in March, NTNUI has won everything they can in Norway this season. They enter European Quidditch Cup 2016 (EQC) as a top eight-seeded team based on a quarterfinal exit at last year’s event and are favorites to do at least as well in Italy. Captain and utility player Jørgen Stenløkk is a threat in any position. Along with his experience from European Games and the previous two EQCs, his charismatic leadership brings out the best in his team. In addition to Stenløkk’s agility and speed, fellow utility player Amund Kulsrud Storruste brings strength and power. Storruste wreaked havoc as a beater for OSI Vikings last season, but his recent diversification into chasing makes an already dangerous player lethal. Add Team Norway’s Maja Ørsleie, Inger Viken, and Jorge Ebett “Silver” Chacón Murillo, and NTNUI’s squad of 14 are in a strong position, if they are not fatigued by the likes of SQC1 and Italy’s sunny climes.

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NTNUI after winning the Norwegian Championship |  Photo Credit: Kristin Kravdal
The team unlikely to be phased by the climate is Catalonia’s sole representative: the Barcelona Eagles. The Eagles have dominated their fellow Catalan teams and presented a serious threat in neighbouring Spain. The Barcelona team was victorious at Mangamore Kopa in October after beating the Spanish champions, the Madrid Wolves, in a tense OT game in pool play, and the Spanish runners-up Bizkaia Boggarts in the final. Except for the additions of Team Spain players Ander Carbón and Irene Velasco, as well as former TeamUK player Bex McLaughlin, the Eagles’ core lineup has changed very little over the last few seasons. As such, synergy and experience are in the Eagles’ arsenal. Throw in the deadly accurate beating of Toni Salvador and Alba Arrieta, the physical strength and authoritative command of Marc “Big Markus” Garganté and Chema Hidalgo  as keepers, and a plethora of deep chaser talent including Marc Vilamú and Pau “Silver” Perez and there are very few weak links in the squad. Add that each of their non-male players represented at European Games, and that the Eagles beat the Norwegian Ridgebacks 140*-90 at Barcelona Moustache Time 2 in September, this year could be the Eagles’ chance to shine, assuming they can steady the nerves that have been their Achilles’ heel in previous years.

Barcelona Eagles | Photo Credit: Laura Sayalero Platero
A team that has not struggled with nerves this season but rather injuries is Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts. Last year, SQC1 captured the British Quidditch Cup (BQC), and EQC 2015 saw the colloquially-known Anchors share third place with the Nottingham Nightmares after a mutual forfeit. This year at BQC, SQC1 finished  fifth and are heading to Italy with a roster notably missing European Games MVP Ollie Craig, tenacious Aaron Veale and behemoth Vince Fouré. However, that is not to say the Anchors’ chances are over, as the dream team of Ajay Gohil and Anjit Aulakh will fill the void. Additionally, in their ranks are current TeamUK training squad members: chaser Jemma Thripp, keeper turned beater Alex Greenhalgh, and beater/chaser/seeker Alex Carpenter, who all stand excellent chances at representing the UK at World Cup. Additionally, chasers Fraser Posford and Joel Davis, as well as beater Matthew Drummond all pack a serious punch. To bolster their ranks, a selection of players who represented SQC2 at Southern Cup or BQC have been pulled up, most notably Samuel Instone. Instone’s aggressive seeking style will be a welcome substitute for Carpenter. While the squad is without some of their biggest names, SQC1 will be a difficult match-up for the Eagles and Darmstadt, but a loss to NTNUI is probable.

Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts at BQC 2016 | Photo Credit: StaceynDavid Thripp

Limited squads is the theme for this year’s EQC, with location and expense putting nearly all teams under pressure. Darmstadt are no exception with a squad of 13. The unfortunate injury of chaser Lisa Struck at a recent training is a definite blow, leaving talented ex-Team Norway beater Lisa Tietze, new beater Anna-Marie Bader, and chaser and captain Nadine Cyrannek alone to fulfil the gender rule. Cyrannek and Tietze are a powerful and experienced pair, but four games in the Italian sun will be a serious strain. Tietze will be best utilised playing conservatively in defence, allowing beaters Steffen Wirsching and Christian Plesker to take the fight to the opposition as needed. Keeper Simon Burgis and chaser Philipp Wetterich have played together since the team’s inception almost two years ago and have impeccable synergy; this pair should be able to pass around a defence and capitalise on their opponents’ mistakes. The good point of Darmstadt’s small squad? Their infamous on-pitch organisation and coordination will shine, so long as they have the endurance to match.

Darmstadt Athenas | Photo Credit: Simon Burgis
Coordination comes from practice and experience, two key elements lacking for the Aemona Argonauts, the group’s clear underdog. Having only played against other teams on one occasion and with many of their players only starting this year, the squad is very much one that is still finding its feet tactically. However, in a set of friendly matches in March, the Argonauts defeated the Pressburg Phantoms 170*- 20, but lost 150*-40 to the Vanguards; a good result considering the experience of Vienna’s premier team. This encounter will have given them a good introduction into adjusting to other teams’ playing styles and a taste of real competitive quidditch. The Argonauts rely on well-positioned chasers and adept trolls Katarina Šeme and Verena Deutsch, in addition to powerful driver Tim Soklič. Beaters Borut Bezgovšek and Vid Rotvejn Pajič are skilled at maintaining bludger control; however, they quickly give up on their ball after missing a beat. Apart from Soklič, the Argonauts’ game lacks physicality, a mark of their newness to the sport. Toppling any of this group’s seasoned teams is unlikely for the Argonauts, but they will certainly gain great experience from attending EQC, and it will benefit them and Slovenia in the future.

Aemona Argonauts (in green) | Photo Credit: Jürgen from Quidditch Austria
After scrutinising the teams and delving behind their reputations, the outcome of this pool is even harder to call. All the squads have fewer than the 21 players allowed, which will make this a battle of endurance as much as skill. The Eagles have been known to get nervous and make rookie errors, SQC1 are without crucial leadership figures, Darmstadt will be pushing their women to the limits, NTNUI will be battling a completely different climate to their home nation, and the Argonauts are the new kids on the block. Will the Eagles soar? Will SQC1 drop their anchor into the upper bracket? Will NTNUI be left out in the cold? Will the Argonauts or Athenas fall like a Greek tragedy?

Editor's Note: Christian Zippelman was not just his team's MVP, but the tournament's, the article has been updated to reflect this. Arnaud Liepin is Preisdent of Liege, not Captain.

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