Thursday, April 14, 2016

From Vikings to Vanguards: EQC 2016 Groups A and B

This coming weekend, 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, C and D, and now A and B.

Group A Teams:
Titans Paris (France) - 21 players
Loughborough Longshots (UK) - 21 players
Warsaw Mermaids (Poland) - 12 players
Vienna Vanguards (Austria) - 17 players
Malaka Vikings (Spain) - 12 players (official roster)

Written by Bex McLaughlin (Barcelona Eagles), Kinga Robutka (Quidditch Hussars), Fraser Posford (Southampton Quidditch Club), and Kai Haugen Shaw (OSI Vikings)

Additional reporting by Marc Garganté (Barcelona Eagles)

Controversial opinion: Group A is boring. Every other group has a considerable degree of competition for the top spots; Group G, for instance, with OSI Vikings, Keele Squirrels, METU Unicorns, and Rheinos Bonn, is impossible to call, with any of those teams safely making the upper bracket in a different pool. It is not so with Group A. The Parisian squad are the current European and French Champions, and many of their players are also European Games Champions to boot. They are a squad of 21 with a muscles per player ratio that puts many of us to shame. They face Loughborough, who finished eighth at the British Quidditch Cup (BQC) in March, the small squads of Malaka and Warsaw, who are competing internationally for the first time, and the somewhat experienced Vienna Vanguards. Day One for the Titans will probably be less rigorous than their own training sessions in the French capital. Loughborough, while arguably underperforming at BQC, are a strong side and should claim the second spot.  

After winning their first Coupe de France in February, reigning European champions Titans Paris come into EQC 2016 as overwhelming favourites to defend the title they won in Oxford last April. The Titans have not lost since Barcelona Moustaches Time 2 in September, where they had a greatly weakened roster, and were ruthless in pursuit of their national title, beating then champions Paris Frog 180*-50 in the final. The Parisian team’s roster is arguably stronger than the one that won EQC 2015, with French international Antoine Lupi and former Paris Frog Soufiane ‘Sojo’ Anwar joining to give them an extra physical dimension. Furthermore, new recruits Léonard Podetti and Félix Pognard have fit seamlessly into the infamous Titans’ counter-attacking quaffle game, characterized by the likes of captain Valentin Farése, keeper Albert Bregeault, and chasers Mourad ‘Tarzan’ Ghazi and Shadé Jaiyeola. Very few weaknesses exist in this Titans Paris team; however, it must be said that the key to their success rests on the shoulders of Etienne Pogu. The beater, who missed playing for France at European Games 2015 as he was living in the United States and where he competed for the New York Titans in Major League Quidditch, is pivotal to the Titans’ defence. As shown by narrow wins over Deurne Dodo A and Paris Frog in friendlies earlier this season, the Titans can struggle and become ill-disciplined when Pogu is not on pitch. Nevertheless, it seems EQC is the Titans’ championship to lose, and it will be a big shock if any team manages to oust them from their perch, especially as they are one of the only teams bringing a full 21-person roster.

Albert Bregault keeping at Valentines Cup III | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

The Loughborough Longshots come into EQC off the back of a mixed BQC performance; they exited in the quarterfinals, a disappointment after last year’s fourth place finish. However, they gave eventual champions the Radcliffe Chimeras an excellent game with a score of 70-160*, and this is a point of great encouragement. With a full roster for EQC, the Longshots are set for a strong group stage performance. Their beater game shows promise across the board, with versatility shown in attack, defence, and reclaiming bludger control; this gives them the option to use vice-captain and utility player Bill Orridge in a black or white headband. With large players like Dan Mitchell and astute beaters, Loughborough can drive but also have a smart passing game that can unlock opposition defences. The neat finishing of Chaz Howkins and the mid-range shooting skills of Stef Pouros shine. Whilst the Titans will almost certainly prove too much for the Longshots to overcome, securing second place and an upper-bracket spot is almost assured. As long as their play across positions gels and their beaters get sufficient foothold within games, Loughborough have the potential to go further than their previous 13th place EQC performance.

With many new additions to the team since EQC 2015, especially amongst the chasers, the Vienna Vanguards are significantly stronger than last year. Chasers such as Simon Heher, Andrea Wöger, and Matthias Gruber form the driving force of the team, and the combination of beaters Niki Sagl and Karina Auer has proven to be a tough nut to crack for other teams. The Vanguards have struggled with inconsistency on occasion; on some days their game works really well, on others less so. The Vanguards are bringing a roster of 17, which will certainly be an advantage over Warsaw, who are only bringing 12 players and will most likely be exhausted after three games. It will be interesting to see how Vienna can hold up against the Longshots and Malaka. The key for this team is to stay focused and not lose their cool while playing. Whatever the outcome of the games, they will certainly do all they can to give Loughborough and Malaka a run for their money.

Vienna Vanguard Andrea Wöger with the quaffle | Photo Credit: Anna Koivu

Followers of the Polish league will be surprised to see Warsaw Mermaids at the European Quidditch Cup this year. Their presence at the tournament is a painful reminder for Poland that money still is the biggest obstacle for the developing league. Warsaw Mermaids snatched the place from the Quidditch Hussars, who were unable to gather 10 people able to go to Gallipoli, Italy. Although luck might have helped the Warsaw Mermaids get a place at EQC, the odds were certainly not in their favour in the draw. The relatively inexperienced team, who have been active since the 2014-15 season, will have to face the Titans with a roster of only 12 players. In the Polish Championship, the team definitely performed below expectations, placing third out of three teams. During EQC, they will probably rely on their most experienced players, some of whom represented Poland at European Games 2015 in Sarteano, Italy: the skilful utility player and Mermaids captain Marian Dziubiak, and offensive chasers Joanna Cielecka and Stanislaw Iskorostinskij. The tournament will be a tough and tiring one for the small Polish team, and the chances of Warsaw Mermaids achieving a good result in the group are slim. However, they will have an opportunity to learn from some of the best players in the world and bring those skills back home. 

Similarly to the Mermaids, the Malaka Vikings will also gain a lot from the international experience. Malaka have never played internationally before. However, they have been making headway in Spain as the Spanish quidditch program has developed over the last year, and the team’s performance has improved with it. They placed third at la Copa de España, but once they’ve learned from international competition at EQC they are expected to do even better next year, as they have a lot of potential. While they have a very disciplined game style, they still lack the proper tactical depth to implement it fully. The team is physically strong, but lacks the speed to fully use their potential in both defence and offence, which will leave them vulnerable against fast-paced teams.

Five of the team's players will represent Spain at the World Cup this summer, and four of those are attending EQC. These players are beater Cristina Domingo and chasers Manuel Jiménez, Marina Blasco, and Paula Marmolejo. Despite having national team players on their roster, they will still struggle, having only been able to send 12 players to Gallipoli. This will leave them no chance against the full-sized roster of Loughborough, who have also had the advantage of playing more games in a more competitive league. They will also most likely struggle against the Vanguards, a team that has practised methodically since last EQC, although this would be their chance to exceed expectations. They should still be able to beat the Warsaw Mermaids, who are also fielding a 12-person roster, as the tactical level in Spain is still higher than the one in Poland.

In Spain, the Malaka Vikings are known as the team with the best fair play mentality, and even when facing excessive force, illegal tackles, and unvalidated ref calls against them, they simply shake it off in a manner that would leave Taylor Swift proud. So while we will not see them in the upper bracket, and they might not be able to climb that high up in the lower bracket, they will definitely take away a lot from the experience of playing at Europe's top level and hopefully manage to pass on some of their sportsmanship to the rest of the community. 

While the top spot for Group A is almost assured, the real, hard-hitting questions need answers. Will the Spanish Vikings get the opportunity to prove their mettle against the Norwegian Vikings of OSI? Will Vienna vanguard a victory in pool play? Are Loughborough’s upper bracket aspirations nothing more than a longshot? Were the Mermaids made for glory? Should these tortured puns be given a yellow card? 

Group B Teams:
Nottingham Nightmares (UK) - 16 players
Lille Black Snitches (France) - 12 players
Kraków Dragons (Poland) - 17 players
Virtute Romana Quidditch (Italy) - 14 players
Madrid Wolves (Spain) - 12 players

Written by Bex McLaughlin (Barcelona Eagles), Kinga Robutka (Quidditch Hussars), and Fraser Posford (Southampton Quidditch Club)

Additional reporting by Marc Garganté (Barcelona Eagles)

On initial impression, the dominant team in this group is the Nottingham Nightmares. Notts, as they’re informally known, qualified for EQC from their first place finish at the UK’s Northern Cup in November. However, while they are a physical and athletic team, the Madrid Wolves are this tournament’s dark horses. While Lille is also an experienced team they, along with Kraków and Romana, are unlikely to make the upper bracket.

At EQC, the Nottingham Nightmares will have a point to prove, having underperformed at BQC in March. Losing to Warwick Quidditch Club in an overtime semifinal, before losing to Durham in the third place playoff left Nottingham without a podium finish, a result that does not accurately reflect their overall performance this season. The Nightmares are set for a good run this tournament with a favourable group draw and an almost full strength roster, although reliable beater Brandon Fitz-Gerald is absent. Chasers Tommy Ruler and Isobel Sheene put in stellar performances at BQC, as did beaters Rachel Lily and captain Lucy Edlund. Current Team UK training squad members Mikey Ansell and David Goswell have also forged a formidable rotation at seeker. Advancing to the quarterfinals seems fairly certain for the Nightmares. However, if they are to repeat last year’s joint third place finish or advance to the final, they will need to be more composed and clinical. The BQC semifinal showed Nottingham’s lack of creativity on the attack. The powerful Warwick bludger game nullified Notts’ aggressive beaters and stymied the Northern champions’ usually reliable quaffle driving. If they can learn from their BQC semifinal loss to the Willows and return to their early season form, Nottingham can certainly be considered as title contenders and a team well worth watching.

Rachel Lily beating at BQC | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography

While Lille Black Snitches seem small with only 12 players, they have shown in this year’s Coupe de France that they can still play at a high level with this size, and finished fourth. They also showed the determination their players have to keep on going, no matter what happens, especially their female players; with only two female players, both captain Agathe Delepine and Valentine Thierry had no subs during the tournament, but they never once gave up. This determination was one of the reasons captain Delepine was awarded the Best Female Player award, alongside a good dose of skill. She was further recognised for this skill by being on the 40-person shortlist for the French national team, together with beater Rudy Delobel. If nothing else, we can be sure this team will keep fighting till the very last second. Besides being motivated and determined to win, the Black Snitches seem to put a lot of value in playing fair, and were awarded the Fair Play award at Coupe de France for not receiving a single card during the tournament. 

A team probably not contending for the title, but nevertheless attending EQC with heads held high and big hopes are the Krakow Dragons, the 2016 Polish Champions. Even though they have only started to play as a team this season, they positively surprised the Polish quidditch community with their stellar performance in the national championship this year. Their play is strong and consistent across all elements of the game, but two things stand out the most: their aggressive quaffle driving, and Michal Bodziony’s excellent seeking. The team is led by Olga Krzywicka, who is also one of their main beater forces. However, the fact that they upset the more experienced Polish teams is definitely not a promise of a solid performance at an international tournament, and exposure abroad is certainly something the team lacks. On the other hand, the Krakow Dragons will come to Italy with their strongest roster and, as the biggest team in the group with 17 players, they will be able to benefit from substitutions. A loss against the Nottingham Nightmares, taking into consideration their experience, is to be expected, but the Polish team could put up a solid fight against all other teams. It seems that, just as they surprised their home country, the Krakow Dragons stand a good chance to surprise Europe as well. 

Like Krakow, Madrid are something of an unknown entity outside their homeland; this will change this weekend as the pack is unleashed onto the European scene. The Wolves are everything a quidditch team should be, with athletic, aggressive chasers who can lay in multiple tackles, coordinated attacks, and intense physicality. Back in October a tense overtime pool play game at Mangamore Kopa saw the Wolves lose to the other Iberian powerhouse, the Barcelona Eagles. Now, with six more months of training and a national title behind them, the Wolves will have gained the tactical knowledge and most crucially the beater experience to not be caught out like that again. Leading the team’s aggressive attacks are quaffle players Artur Martin and Miguel Vàzquez. Vàzquez has been selected for Team Spain’s World Cup squad, along with captain Dani Báscones and Laura Moreno, who are both beaters, have been selected for Team Spain’s World Cup squad. While the Wolves EQC squad is a mere 12 players, there are no weak links in the team, and assuming they are not fatigued they should go through to the upper bracket without too much of a challenge. 

From wolves to a city build by two men raised by a wolf okay, I’ll admit the connection is tenuous we have Romana. The Italian side are a young team who have not yet faced international competition. Technically, Romana are coming to EQC as a result of their fifth place finish at Italian nationals in May 2015 and accepting the the bid when a different NGB could not send a team. Having had an almost complete roster turnover since Nationals, the side is a new team with an old brand. Remaining players include captain and beater Giorgia Quinti and beater Matteo Plebani. Quinti began her career with Lunatica Quidditch Club and has many years of experience. Plebani brings speed and athleticism to Romana’s bludger game. Sandra Kreit, most commonly associated with Toulouse Muggle Quidditch but currently studying abroad, brings experience to the squad, and is a deceptively good seeker. Despite having the home advantage of familiarity with the climate, the Roman side is highly unlikely to scrape a win in pool play.

Will Krakow be able to drag on through bracket play? If all roads lead to Rome, will Roma’s lead to victory? Do Lille stand a lil’ chance? Will the Wolves pack a punch into the upper bracket? Can Notts tie-up the score or will their dreams of glory turn to… bad dreams?

1 comment:

  1. We'd like to straighten some facts out. In the end Poland got 3 places at EQC, but even before that, Quidditch Hussars let us take their spot, because they couldn't go. So "snatched" is a strong word :D
    We may not be rich but I'm sure every team worked hard to be able to come to Gallipoli. And it may be a tough couple of matches but the goal is to meet great people and have fun :)