Sunday, January 22, 2017

Velociraptors QC Take Home the Gold at Northern Cup

By Ashara Peiris

On the weekend of Nov. 12-13, the UK’s northern regionals were held in Durham for the second time. The newest community team, Velociraptors QC, eased their way to victory as expected, eventually triumphing 160*-30 against Durhamstrang — last year’s runners up — to take home the gold medal. Tornadoes QC — a rebranding of Taxes QC — took home the bronze medal and the final European Quidditch Cup (EQC) spot in overtime against last year’s bronze medallists Loughborough Longshots. So what did we learn?

The North is far deeper than the South, but Velociraptors remain unchallenged
In terms of parity, Northern Cup was a far more interesting tournament than Southern Cup. The average level of play at the tournament was significantly higher than it was at Southern. Whilst at Southern there were approximately six teams that could perform at the highest level, Northern doubled that number, which meant that games at all stages of the tournament were of a higher quality and more entertaining to watch.

Velociraptors’ brooms up | Photo Credit: Hannah Dignum
However, despite the North having a much larger number of teams that are in the mid and upper tier, the Velociraptors are considerably better than any other team in the North. Over the course of the weekend they played no games in SWIM range, caught every snitch, and only conceded seven goals. Whereas the South have both Warwick and the Werewolves of London at the top, the Velociraptors are unlikely to have many competitive games until the very latter stages of the British Quidditch Cup (BQC).

The EQC Qualifiers were somewhat of a surprise
Whilst the Velociraptors dominated as expected, the other two EQC qualifiers were always going to be interesting. Durhamstrang in particular were somewhat of an unexpected silver medallist. They seemed to really struggle on Day One and whilst they were able to beat two of the teams in their group, they did not look like the talented team that they are, which led to their third straight loss to Bangor Broken Broomsticks this season. However, a reasonable path to the finals and finally regaining their form in the semifinals, meant that they were able to defeat the Loughborough Longshots and secure a silver medal. With an incredibly on-form Ben Guthrie ably leading their beater corps and current TeamUK training squad chasers Emma Sands and Bex Lowe leading their chasing, they were able to show that they deserved an EQC spot, despite their rocky start.

Similarly, the Tornadoes had a slow start, only defeating the Nottingham Nightmares just out of range, before stomping the Chester Centurions and Liverpuddly Cannons as expected. In bracket play the Tornadoes were able to defeat fellow top-seed Bangor in a shockingly lopsided victory that led many to wonder why they fell apart while facing the Velociraptors after such a commanding performance on Day One and at Highlander Cup the previous month. Despite losing a hard-fought game against Velociraptors, the Tornadoes were then able to win in overtime against Loughborough. The biggest change for the Tornadoes this season is undoubtedly the move of TeamUK chaser Jonathon Cookes. Cookes added a huge level of physicality to their game as well as being able to regularly land pinpoint beats from seemingly ludicrous distances. Their development as a team was clear as they showed a level head at all times and appeared to have improved from their disappointing lower-bracket second place at the previous year’s BQC.

Jonathon Cookes playing for Tornadoes | Photo Credit: Hannah Dignum
The middle of the pack is hugely talented 
Amongst the talented mid-tier teams were the relatively young Manchester Manticores – only in their second full season of competition – who managed to storm their way to second place in their group, taking decisive victories over the Preston Poltergeists and Derby Union Quidditch and putting up a respectable performance against Loughborough. Ben Mercer led the team well with strong driving ability, whilst captain Ben Crump ably led their beater corps. Furthermore, chaser Zoe Ford showcased excellent tackling and driving ability, whilst Tua Karling demonstrated incredible positioning and throwing ability, netting her team a significant number of hoops.

Whilst Manchester were unable to triumph against Leicester Thestrals in a game that ended just outside of snitch range, they proved themselves a strong team. Leicester also showed that they were a very tough team, only losing to Leeds in the group stages 130*-100 after a thriller of a game. Tom Hutton’s newfound tackling ability compliments his ridiculous pace, and with a very able ball handler in Elliot Fisher, Leicester are a team to watch later this season.

Tom Hutton catches for Leicester against Manchester | Photo Credit: Katherine Watson, courtesy of QuidditchUK
New teams are a mixed bag
With Liverpuddly Cannons, Preston Poltergeists, Velociraptors QC, and Sheffield QC making their QuidditchUK official debuts, there were a number of interesting performances. Whilst the Velociraptors were only a new team by technicality, the others all were truly new, and each had a different impact. Sheffield QC are the team that stood out the most. In the group stages they performed admirably, defeating St Andrews Snidgets . They then managed to leverage this into a lower bracket run, only being defeated in the final by the HogYork Horntails. Sheffield showcased good athleticism, tactical nous, and a deep understanding of the game. In particular, captain Eddie Bruce, fellow chaser Rudi Obasi-Adams, and beater Valentin Trabis really stood out and had an impressive level of maturity for such new players.

The Cannons also managed very solid performances, only losing out on a BQC place in a close loss to the Durham Direwolves. Whilst they did not manage to qualify, they will hopefully remain active over the next few months and be able to challenge for a place next year. Unfortunately, Preston were not able to perform as well, losing by significant amounts in each game, though they did manage to score against Derby three times as well as catch the snitch against Loughborough. If they can improve over the next year, they may stand a chance of making it to next year’s BQC.

Liverpuddly Cannons at Northern Cup | Photo Credit: Katherine Watson, courtesy of QuidditchUK
Fall of the old guard
Whilst some of the new teams have been on the rise, a number of older teams have fallen on hard times. Derby Union Quidditch Club very nearly did not manage to qualify for BQC after coming third in their group and squeaking past St Andrews in the lower bracket quarterfinals. For a team that last year managed to make the upper bracket, this is a sharp fall from grace. The loss of some players and poor recruitment have put Derby in a very weak position for the coming year. If they are unable to improve and recruit more players over the next few months, they will surely face an early exit from BQC. Similarly, the Chester Centurions – also a previous BQC upper bracket team – only managed to qualify for BQC in their last opportunity, eventually defeating St Andrews.

Of the existing teams that failed to qualify for BQC, there were Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds and St Andrews Snidgets. Whilst the Seconds failing to qualify for BQC was expected, St Andrews will be feeling the pain of not qualifying. Although they were able to bring a reasonably-sized squad, the team suffered from a severe lack of cohesion and consistently made poor tactical decisions. Whilst not qualifying will be a huge disappointment to the team, they will need to use it as motivation to rebuild, regroup, and hopefully come back stronger in the new year, where they may be able to attend the recently announced Development Cup for teams not attending BQC.

Derby play St Andrews | Photo Credit: Katherine Watson, courtesy of QuidditchUK
Facilities were awful
The pitches and facilities used at Northern were some of the worst that have been used by the UK. There was only one toilet available for 400 people – plus the toilet was a 5-10 minute walk away – and the pitches were waterlogged, covered in horse poo, and dangerous to play on due to the presence of potholes, divots, and other hazards. Whilst the weather managed to remain dry until the final, had there been poor weather there was no contingency. This would be thoroughly unacceptable for a small tournament, let alone the UK’s second-biggest one.

Whilst it seems that some of these issues were caused by early miscommunication, it is still incredibly shocking how poor the facilities were, especially considering the bid that was originally promised. Similarly, whilst the pitches at Southern were of slightly better quality, a large number of very deep potholes, environmental hazards, and lack of indoor space meant that we could have been very close to having both regional championships be absolute disasters had the weather been slightly different.

With BQC returning to Rugeley this year, the facilities should be of a good standard, but serious thought needs to be put into how to improve the quality of bids received to ensure that all of these tournaments are of a good standard.

On a positive side, providing volunteers with a free lunch was a great idea, and making it easily accessible in the form of a food van was definitely a good step. This will undoubtedly be a useful way forward in the future.

BQC should be incredible
With so many teams performing so well at both regional championships, BQC should be the best yet with a massive amount of upset potential and great games on the horizon. Whilst it seems unlikely that someone outside of Werewolves, Warwick, or Velociraptors could take home the title, the ordering of the medals and the rest of the positions are all up for grabs.

The Quidditch Post previously misstated the name of a Team UK training squad chaser. Their name is Emma Sands not Eliza Sands. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

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