Sunday, March 19, 2017

5 Things We Learnt from BQC

By Ashara Peiris, Hannah Dignum, and Jenny Benson

On the heels of British Quidditch Cup (BQC), the Quidditch Post’s UK staff takes a look at the stories of the tournament.

The community team era is here

With Velociraptors QC taking BQC, the community team era begins. Two of the three medallists were community teams, and all of the UK’s community teams made the upper bracket. With new community teams rumored to be starting next year in Stevenage and Oxford, it doesn’t seem that that they will be letting go of the top any time soon, particularly with a number of university teams such as Warwick Quidditch Club likely exhibiting significant turnover next year.

Velociraptors won all of their games to take first place at BQC 2017 |Photo Credit: Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography
With a strong 13th place finish at BQC, after coming in a dismal 24th place the previous year, the London Unspeakables showed that they have come a long way in just a short period of time. Despite a disappointing but narrow loss to the Leicester Thestrals on Day One (90*-60), they eased past Cambridge Quidditch Club and decimated last year’s fourth place finishers, Nottingham Nightmares, in a 270*-40 win. The continuing development of Martin Mornar, Eva Verpe, and Alberto Salvador has left the team with a dangerous offence, and keepers Gio Forino, Alex Macartney, and Pedro González-Tarrio have left the team with a defensive wall against which teams struggle to drive. Whilst they went out to Warwick in the Round of 16 and are thus the lowest-placing community team, improving by more than a dozen places in a single year is clearly not to be disregarded.

Having recruited well after last season, Tornadoes Quidditch Club took an improved roster to BQC, with greater depth in their chaser line in the form of Jonathon Cookes and David Goswell. As well as a boost to their physicality in their quaffle players, their seeker depth also increased, meaning that Nicole Stone had reliable substitutes such as Sally Higginson and Ben Dawes on hand. Despite this growth in their roster, the team’s biggest weakness was their offense. The Tornadoes’ inability to create scoring opportunities at the tournament was striking; against better teams they struggled to create more than a handful of these per game. But even when playing less formidable teams, they often relied on fast breaks or keeper drives to get out of range, such as games against the Radcliffe Chimeras or Chester Centurions.

Tornadoes narrowly beat Southampton in a low-scoring SWIM game during the Round of 16 | Photo Credit: Jessica Cornelius Photography
Werewolves of London met expectations, successfully fending off Edinburgh to take the bronze medal. Their only failing, particularly against a team such as Velociraptors, was the fact that they simply lacked the synergy that other teams had most definitely achieved. Under strong leadership from Simon Bidwell this is surprising, particularly as many of the players had played for the same team in the last season; Jemma Thripp, Aaron Veale, and Vincent Fouré had all previously played for Southampton Quidditch Club. Did their struggle ultimately result from their infrequent training sessions? Is this something for community teams to take away for the next season ― if Werewolves had trained every weekend in the run up to BQC, it is possible that they would have been more successful in presenting a united front against their opponents?

Not a single member of the community should be surprised to see Velociraptors QC at the top of the podium, as this team saw many members of TeamUK and other outstanding members of the quidditch community coming together to form the most elite team in the UK, if not in Europe. With a number of players who have worked together before, the Velociraptors displayed undeniable cohesiveness in their passing game that could only result in success. The pairing of Lucy Quidditch and Lucy Edlund paved the way for more success as the beaters created constant opportunities for their drivers, usually James Thanangadan or captain Tom Heynes.

The Velociraptors managed to get out of SWIM range against every team they faced at some point, although Warwick managed to close the difference so that they were in overtime range at the end of their game. Velociraptors will surely be looking forward to the European Quidditch Cup later this month, as a team with a very real chance at finally dethroning Titans Paris Quidditch.

Theme: Rise of New Teams
Many of the newer teams at BQC put in stunning performances on the biggest quidditch stage in the UK. Sheffield Quidditch Club in particular had a strong performance; having drawn a difficult group against teams such as Warwick and Edinburgh, many believed that they would struggle to survive. Sheffield achieved one win on Day One against Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds (SQC2) and were able to maintain SWIM against Edinburgh in a match that many expected the Hippogriffs to dominate. They showed a good command of the game dynamics, keeping or trading bludger control even against experienced beater lineups such as HogYork Horntails, and holding their own in the quaffle game even after the snitch was released.

Newer teams such as Sheffield demonstrated their potential against established teams | Photo Credit: Philippa Stazicker
Although not new teams, lower-tier teams also impressed. The Norwich Nifflers, striking the hearts of many in the community, had one of the most successful years in the team’s existence. Not only did they achieve a win against Durham’s second team, the Direwolves, but they were able to challenge teams of the upper bracket; at one point in their match against Leeds Griffins, they were 10 points ahead of one of the BQC quarterfinalists. Their improvement since Southern Cup is stark. With a stronger quaffle line spearheaded by Endijs Paulins and Kieran Pratt, they seemed considerably more comfortable going against tough opponents than they had previously been.

Other teams such as the Manchester Manticores and the Portsmouth Horntail Strikers proved themselves on pitch by exhibiting vast improvements from their matches in their respective regional tournaments. Upsets continued, such as Cambridge beating Nottingham, the winners of Northern Cup 2015, proving that smaller teams should not be underrated, and perhaps upper bracket teams are indeed starting to feel the pinch of losing players to community teams.

Theme: A New Format
At BQC 2016 there were a number of complaints made that teams had to play rematches in the first round of bracket play. As a solution to this, BQC 2017 developed a preset bracket. In this method the matchups were known in advance; for example, the winner of Group B would face the second place finisher in Group H. By doing so they completely removed the risk of any rematches occurring. Furthermore, the bracket was set up so that if games all went according to plan, then the Southern Regional Champions – Warwick – would face the Northern Regional Champions ― Velociraptors ― in the final.

Before the tournament, there were some worries that this pre-set bracket was boring and would lead to few, if any, surprises. However, Edinburgh’s surprise defeat of Warwick on Day One sent them over to the other side of the bracket, meaning that all of the ‘Big Three’ were on the same side, somewhat unbalancing the bracket. This also was partially responsible for giving teams such as the Bristol Brizzlebears a better opportunity to make the final.

But how effective was this bracket, and did it actually prevent rematches? Whilst it did, of course, remove the possibility of rematches, using the old seeding system would not have actually had any rematches from the group stages (although we would have Leicester vs. Loughborough take 78). Interestingly, some of the hypothetical matchups under the 2016 system were similar to the actual bracket this year, with the Unspeakables facing Warwick in the Round of 16; however, for the most part, many of the games were switched around. Importantly, the ‘Big Three’ were no longer all on the same side of the bracket. Whilst the final result would have likely been the same, we may well have seen Werewolves and Velociraptors not meeting until the final.

Whilst the idea of having pre-set brackets is effective, in future it may well be good to adapt this further so that there is some sort of reseeding after the group play stage. Alternatively, the use of a Swiss system, as used at US Quidditch Cup 9, may well be effective. Overall, the new format seems to have been effective. However, there may still be work to do.

What happened to Warwick?
Going into the tournament as one of the favourites meant that Warwick faced a great deal of pressure, resulting in stress, tension, and the fear of failure if they failed to meet expectations.

The biggest shock for Warwick, if not the biggest upset of the tournament, was the loss of their final match of Day One against Edinburgh. Having put in solid performances against SQC2 and Sheffield, the team was riding high and feeling confident going into their final match of the day.

Both teams put up a strong fight and outstanding quidditch was played on both sides; it was not that one team was worse than the other by any means. Warwick were surprised by a resilient chaser lineup including Ollie Riley and Kelsey Silberman, who used a surprisingly strong Baylor defence against a team that had never considered using such a tactic and therefore struggled to break it down. The beater play involved intense battles between Nye Baker and Jacopo Sartori, but it was apparent that Edinburgh were much more effective when using their beaters without having bludger control.

Edinburgh Holyrood Hippogriffs surprised Warwick on Day One and ultimately placed fourth at BQC | Photo Credit: Jessica Cornelius Photography
The loss put Warwick on the same side of the bracket as Velociraptors and Werewolves, and although Warwick stepped up and proved themselves – not only by being the only team over the weekend to maintain a SWIM game against Raptors but also being the only team to hold them within 100 quaffle points – the Southern champs were out in the quarterfinals.

Warwick have a lot to learn from this weekend. It is apparent that they must train to face all eventualities; you must train to face all teams rather than the top two in order to avoid major upsets such as this. But this weekend was not a failure for Warwick, and their final ranking in this tournament does not do justice to the players or the team as a whole. Their result against the Raptors prove that they are strong enough and capable enough to take on the biggest names in UK quidditch and won’t go down without a fight.

Level of gameplay
Going into the tournament, it was clear that the quality of quidditch played at this tournament would be the highest that had ever been seen in the UK. However, the actual improvement compared to last year was staggering. Teams at all levels showed considerably better ball skills and tactics. Whilst compact defence was the most popular choice by most upper bracket teams, some teams managed to break this with fluid pass-heavy offense around the hoops. Notably, the Brizzlebears were able to thread perfect passes to Viral Patel, who continually converted.

Brizzlebears’ Viral Patel chasing against Velociraptors in the BQC final. | Photo Credit: Jessica Cornelius Photography
Offensively, there was a worry that dull, walking-pace slowball offence would be used by many teams to keep them in range; however, this was far less common than expected. Whilst teams have moved to using passing-oriented slowball offence more effectively ― Velociraptors, Warwick, and Werewolves all used this at some points ― in general, the offensive strategies were more interesting to watch.

One area where gameplay still seems to lag behind, however, is in seeking. Whilst there was some excellent snitching over the weekend ― new snitch Sean Lee was particularly impressive ― seeking has not significantly improved. Despite teams often giving their seekers considerable time alone with the snitch, many teams struggled to make the catch. This is one area where teams will need focus on improving in the future to allow them to put games to bed.

New snitch Sean Lee impressed at the tournament. | Photo Credit: Rachel Taylor

Editor's Note: This article was released prior to official standings and previously said that all community teams reached the top 10. This has been corrected

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