Wednesday, March 8, 2017

British Quidditch Cup 2017 Preview: Groups A-D

By Fraser Posford, Anthony Tatman, and Thomas Newton, with contributions from Georgie Rumney and Alessandro Zazza

On the weekend of March 11-12, the British Quidditch Cup (BQC) returns to Rugeley Leisure Centre in Staffordshire for the fourth edition of the tournament. Below, we take a look at the teams contesting Groups A to D. Read on to find out who we think will make it to the championship bracket and who will enter the consolation bracket on Day Two. Our article on Groups E to H will be coming soon.   


Group A
Predictions
  1. Velociraptors QC
  2. Keele Squirrels
  3. Brizzlebees
  4. Portsmouth Horntail Strikers

Unsurprisingly, heading up Group A is Northern Cup champions Velociraptors QC. With an impressive 16-2 record for the season, including a 12-match winning streak going into BQC, the Midlands side led by Tom Heynes are aiming for victory at BQC, and nothing else will be acceptable for this new quidditch superpower. This is a reasonably kind group draw for the Raptors, especially considering they already have a 170*-10 win over Keele Squirrels (their likeliest challengers) under their belts this season. As long as they play to their potential throughout and avoid complacency, the Raptors should win Group A with ease before turning their focus to a championship run on Day Two.

Velociraptors QC at Battle Royale | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Keele have so far had a season with more downs than ups. The Squirrels were one of many clubs hit by the large exodus of graduates from university teams at the end of last season with the departures of players like the versatile Tom Norton and reliable Alice Nightingale leaving sizeable holes on the team’s roster. A tournament win at East Midlands Cup back in October looked promising for the Staffordshire team; however, a nightmare Northern Cup experience followed less than a month later. Scott Hopkins’ side finished last in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ behind the HogYork Horntails, Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts, and BQC Group rivals Velociraptors QC. They ultimately finished in 14th place, their lowest ever tournament ranking. However, a 60*-50 win over reigning champions the Radcliffe Chimeras at February’s Crumpet Cup suggests signs of improvement for the Squirrels going into BQC. An immensely physical quaffle player lineup – led by Captain Hopkins and featuring the likes of Chris Lawrence and Abdul Morrison – should be enough to secure them victory over the Portsmouth Horntail Strikers, second seeds in the group. Should Keele choose to use a more passing-based approach, they possess two capable receivers in the Ridley sisters, Hannah and Sarah. Meanwhile, the return of Connor Simpson should help sure up the Squirrels’ beater department, which has arguably been their Achilles heel for some time now. A place in the Round of 16 is a very reasonable goal for Keele and would represent a good recovery following their Northern Cup performance; however, reaching the quarterfinals will likely prove out of reach for them this year.

The third spot in the group will most likely be contested between Portsmouth and the Brizzlebees. This will be their second encounter of the season having faced off at Southern Cup in October, a low-scoring affair in which Portsmouth claimed victory thanks to a crafty turn and catch from Captain Jack Latoy to win 60*-20. This is a tough match to call, but we can almost guarantee it will end in snitch range. The Brizzlebees enjoyed three wins at Southern Cup 2016, and given the close nature of their loss to Portsmouth in the tournament’s group stage, they will be looking to get revenge on the Strikers as one of their goals for BQC. The fluctuation of roster due to promotions and demotions from the first team always makes predicting the fortunes of a second team difficult, and the Brizzlebees are no different. The promotions of Florian Messemer and George Whiting to the Bears won’t help Captain Charlie Brooks’ team; however, they will be gaining the experience of beater Luke Stevens and chaser Jack Lennard; they will add something to the team, particularly Stevens, who has been a reliable character for the Brizzlepuffs since the club’s inception. Finley Williams will also be a commanding force at keeper. The Brizzlebees have greatly enjoyed holding the title of best secondary team in the UK for the past year following their 20th-place finish at BQC 2016, and this will certainly be the target for the team once again. However, if the Bees are to maintain this, they will have to do it without a proven replacement for Aaron Brett-Miller, whose many snitch catches made that 20th-place finish possible.

Brizzlebees at Compass Cup | Photo Credit: Katherine Jeffery
This will be Portsmouth’s first BQC appearance, having missed last season’s BQC due to funding and roster issues, and they will be coming into it with the confidence instilled in the team following their Southern Cup performance. Wins against Brizzlebees and Oxford Quidlings earned the Strikers an upper bracket finish in Southampton, giving the team a much more rewarding experience than the torrid affair of their 2015 appearance. However, since October, although some of their players were present at Christmas Cup and Valentines Cup fantasy tournaments, their only competitive action as a full team has been playing the Norwich Nifflers at Concrete Cup; thus a lack of match-sharpness is likely to be detrimental to the inexperienced Strikers. Captain Jack Latoy will be key to the South Coast side’s progress at BQC while keeper Scott Brown and chaser/seeker Alastair Taylor continue to improve. As it stands, Portsmouth are still a relatively raw, unknown quantity at this year’s BQC. This could give them the element of surprise against the teams they face, which may prove to be the edge they need.  

Group B
Predictions
  1. London Unspeakables
  2. Leicester Thestrals
  3. Nottingham Nightmares
  4. Cambridge University QC

Claiming silver at Highlander Cup IV and being the surprise team of the Southern Cup this season, the London Unspeakables go into the British Quidditch Club as a first seed and with a status to defend. Group B contains Leicester, who secured seventh place at the Northern Cup in November, as well as threatening unseeded teams the Nottingham Nightmares and the Cambridge University Quidditch Club. The Unspeakables’ play at Hateful 8, even with a considerably diminished chaser lineup, however, demonstrates that to underestimate the Unspeakables as a first-seeded team would be a mistake. The Unspeakables squad selected to play at BQC is a strong one across the board, with both experienced players and fresh talent. The experienced players such as Ben Pooley, Ashara Peiris, and Pedro González-TarrĂ­o provide a solid core for the team; however, experience is not something the Unspeakables need rely on. New players, including Olly Nguyen and Gio Forino, already show the promise of becoming game changers. Additionally, the Unspeakables have fierce female players including Monique Davis, Eva Verpe, and Glory Tan. Tan also adds depth to the Unspeakables’ seeking game alongside the talents of their captain, Matt Bateman. The aptitude and determination of the team should give the Unspeakables an edge that will see them top their group and go through to the upper bracket. If Day One goes to form, a rematch with Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts in the Round of 16 is on the cards and should it materialise would prove to be a match to measure the development of these two teams since their last meeting at October’s Highlander Cup IV. Reaching the quarterfinals is well within the abilities of this Unspeakables side, a result that would represent a substantial improvement on last year’s disappointing 24th-place finish.

Eva Verpe chasing at Highlander Cup IV | Photos Credit: Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography
The UK’s oldest club, the Leicester Thestrals, have historically been a very comfortable mid-tier team for many seasons now, and this one is no different. However, what is impressive about this year’s team is that they have been able to maintain this status despite the major losses of beater Dan Trick and the long-serving Warren McFadyen to Velociraptors QC and beater Andrew Mclachlan-Newens. The Thestrals put in a respectable seventh-place performance at Northern Cup in November, falling in the quarterfinals in a 180*-0 drubbing by eventual tournament champions Velociraptors QC. Their only other bit of competitive action this season was a joint-training session and set of friendlies with Oxford University Quidditch Club, and the team will hope they are not out of match practice when they take the pitch in Rugeley. Keeper Elliot Fisher continues to get better and better with every game he plays, and his driving ability is important to the team’s strategy. In the beating department, Gabri Hall-Rapa is a key figure; his aggressive beating can prove unbearable at times for the opposition, not to mention his uncanny ability to force quaffle turnovers on defence. Alex Lewis is a highly underestimated chaser, as is his teammate Jo Creighton, who has shown a marked improvement in the past year, while the power of Joseph Wilson and lightning speed of Tom Hutton as a seeker rotation can cause a real problem for even the best snitches.

In a similar vein to Keele, the Nottingham Nightmares are another team who thus far this season have paled in comparison with the one that reached two European Quidditch Cup (EQC) semifinals in two years. An extensive list of departing players have led to the Nightmares losing many key elements of their roster, making this season very much a transitional one for Captain Rachel Lily and her team. Ninth place at Northern Cup was a reasonable result considering the team’s lost personnel. They impressively managed to hold Tornadoes QC within overtime range in a low-scoring 80*-20 affair as well picking up large wins over Chester Centurions and Liverpuddly Cannons before being knocked out by Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts in overtime on Day Two.

Nottingham captain Rachel Lily | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Nottingham’s results suggest they can compete in the mid-tier at BQC, and therefore a spot in the upper bracket will be a realistic goal for the team. Quaffle player Tommy Ruler, one of seven ‘old guard’ players from last season, will be key to the Nightmares in their battle with Leicester Thestrals for that Round of 16 spot, along with the often underrated Jazzy Drew. Meanwhile, their 11 freshers will be looking to prove their value to the team in their debut BQC. The Nightmares’ main problem may prove to be a lack of depth in their beater and seeker departments. Replacing Lucy Q and David Goswell, two of the best aggressive beaters and seekers in the UK, respectively, is by no means an easy task, and with few proven options in these positions, could prove to be their undoing against Leicester’s Hall-Rapa and Wilson/Hutton duo. While a match with Warwick QC in the first round of upper bracket play almost inevitably awaits the victor, the team that loses has a good chance of making a deep run in the consolation bracket.

Cambridge round out this strong group as decided underdogs after a less than stellar performance at the Southern Regional Championship, with their only win coming against a Norwich side who, whilst playing close games, didn’t pick up a win. The loss of Captain Thomas Hardman for the final game dropped the Cambridge team down to eight players, where they suffered a big loss against Swansea 170*-10. With a previous over-reliance on Hardman in their quaffle lineup, the addition of ex-Durham keeper James Marschalek will be sure to take some of the pressure away from the captain to let him focus on the games around him.

The big worry for them will be whether their beaters have been able to fuse together and learn to communicate as the holes at Southern Cup were down to some aggressive beaters taking advantage and being able to rack up scores with some strong pressing action.

Group C
Predictions
1       1. Tornadoes Quidditch Club
2      2. Radcliffe Chimeras
3      3. Chester Centurions
4     4.  Reading Rocs

Tornadoes will be going into this tournament eager to write the wrongs of their last BQC campaign, where (as Taxes Quidditch) they fell afoul of Chester Centurions in pool play, wound up in the lower bracket, and then had the final snatched away from them by York in overtime. As the group’s top seed, this Tornadoes side can be confidently predicted to reverse last year’s performance and make the upper bracket. The geographically-loose side barrelled into an EQC berth at Northern Cup after a series of impressive results, including a 200*-40 victory over Bangor Broken Broomsticks before an overtime win against Loughborough. Their quaffle game contains the likes of Tom Dutton, David Goswell, Emily Hayes, and Bex McLaughlin, all of whom have superb ball-handling and finishing ability. Tornadoes also benefit from the presence of Jonathon Cookes in the black headband, whose ability to make pinpoint beats at range, whilst being nearly impossible to tackle, is borderline unfair. In addition to Cookes’ impressive transition to beater, the return of Lee Baughan and Becky Thomson, and the acquisition of Ben Dawes will strengthen what was previously the team’s weakest position. Having handily defeated Chester once already this season in a 80-30* quaffle shutout, and beating teams with the calibre of Bangor and Loughborough, Tornadoes have given more than enough evidence that they can see off all competition in this group out of snitch range. However, if anything will threaten Tornadoes’ progression through the tournament, it is a lack of training time (nothing new for the team) and a physical driving keeper to give the team a reliable source of goals in what is mostly a quaffle player lineup whose strength lies more with speed and agility. Cookes can easily be used in this role as well, but Captain Will Johnson will need to be careful not to overwork such a key player.

Jonathon Cookes beating at Battle Royale | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
The Chimeras’ performance at Southern Cup was a clear sign of a team in a transitional period. This season’s crop of Chimeras are a far cry from the invincible juggernaut that dominated BQC III following a mass exodus at the end of last season and an inability to fully replace the calibre of the players who left. TeamUK beater Alice Walker continues to have a strong season and is commanding on any stretch of the pitch, Rob Brignull is a safe pair of hands in goal, and Hannah Watts has solid ball-carrying ability. The absence of Bathilisk convert Mathilda Rose, who was their fiercest point of attack at Southern Cup, will be missed, although they have found a more than capable replacement in former Nottingham Nightmares Coach Mikey Ansell – a major threat in both the quaffle and seeker game. Of all the players who left the Chimeras at the end of last season, TeamUK beater Jan Mikolajczak is arguably the team’s biggest loss; his frantic bludger play and incredible stamina was vital in winning the team’s second BQC title. This leaves a lot of pressure on Mikolajczak’s understudy from last season and this year’s vice-captain Jamie Cash to fill this role. Overall, considering their past performances and the calibre of their Group C opponents, the Chimeras should safely take the second place berth by beating Reading Rocs and Chester. They may even fancy their chances against Tornadoes if they can perfectly apply an effective game plan and capitalise on a disjointed start from their opponents, allowing a seeker rotation of Ansell and Mark Richards a chance in snitch range to make the all-important grab. The prospect of a title defence and third BQC win for Oxford’s A-team is fairly unlikely, but a run to the quarterfinals is not out of the question.

Chester Centurions are having a strange season. They defended their title at Cottonopolis III, proving themselves a match for teams on the lower end of the middle tier, such as Manchester Manticores. Conversely, they very nearly didn’t qualify for BQC after a worrying campaign at Northern Cup that saw them lose in pool play to Tornadoes, lose 220*-40 to Nottingham Nightmares, and narrowly avoid defeat to a Liverpuddly Cannons side who were on top for large parts of the game. The loss of beater Jessica O’Neill to Velociraptors QC has been telling, although Olly Barker has been playing like a titan in the black headband and effectively carrying the team to compensate. The telling thing for Chester this season isn’t the personnel they’ve lost; it’s the lack of energy from the personnel they’ve retained. Andy Messenger and Connor Climo are still doing a solid job in quaffle carrying, but overall the team’s finishing wasn’t what it was at Whiteknights, allowing the likes of Manchester and Sheffield to keep them in range. Teams that can counter-attack have found Chester flat-footed when resetting their defence, and their cohesion as a unit is much lessened from last season. The return of beater Harry Parkes to the team is very much welcome and could free up Barker to play his primary position of chaser and provide a much-needed extra goal threat. The Centurions are most likely to finish in third in the group, although Reading keeping them in range isn’t out of the question. Seeing them challenge the Chimeras or repeating last year’s shock victory over Tornadoes is highly unlikely – that said, give Barker a bludger and miracles can happen.

Olly Barker beating at Cottonopolis | Photo Credit: Sam Mottram Quidditch Photography
The Reading Rocs were forced out of Southern Cup with a BQC berth but no victory to their name, despite several close encounters. The Rocs held the Chimeras to a fifty-point lead prior to the end of the seeker floor before the game got away from them; they also lost to Exeter Eagles in range on Day One before a 120*^-90 overtime defeat to the Bristol Brizzlebees, despite historically having a surprisingly good record in OT. Losses to the tune of John Calzolari and Harry Richardson – their two most adept quaffle carriers – are going to hurt them badly, along with a lack of competitive experience. Unlike their Group C rivals, they have not played since Southern Cup. Molly Whitaker remains a great finisher, but tends to not call for passes except when trolling close to the hoops; a slight tweak to that gives them a brilliant midfield option. Molly Maurice-Smith has developed strongly as a ball carrier and safe pair of hands under pressure, and Nick England is similarly a great space-finder and driver. All that being said, the Rocs are ultimately still suffering following their departures at the end of last season. They don’t have a utility player as effective as Tom Newton, a driver or tackler as powerful as Finley Williams, or anyone to fill the boots of the highly industrious and talented Chris Thomas in beater play. Lack of personnel and competitive experience will most probably condemn Reading to last place in this pool.

Group D
Predictions
  1. Werewolves of London
  2. Leeds Griffins
  3. Norwich Nifflers
  4. Durham Direwolves

One of this year’s main title contenders, Werewolves of London come into BQC with some favorable results in previous outings this season. An astonishing group stage at the regional championship where they finished with a +630PD range, including a 220*-20 game against reigning champions Radcliffe Chimeras, was then followed up with a decent Day Two before coming undone against Warwick Quidditch Club in the finals. The Werewolves had their revenge at Hateful 8 where, after finishing second in pool play, they beat Warwick 80*-30 on Day Two on their way to a second-place finish. Werewolves go into BQC with one eye already on the second day of play. They are clear favorites to take the top spot in this group, although they will still have to be switched on to see off a challenge from Leeds Griffins. But with a favorable unseeded draw on their side, they shouldn’t have to come out of second gear in their other games.

Werewolves of London play Warwick QC at Hateful 8 | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Besides appearing at Northern Cup, Leeds Griffins are one of the teams who have been in the competitive wilderness for most of the season and therefore have an air of unknown around them. At Northern Cup they performed admirably, with an undefeated Day One, including a tense game against Leicester Quidditch Club, which they won 130*-100 after being equal throughout. Day Two was a crash back to earth, with a heavy defeat by Durhamstrang in the quarterfinal, not helped by a straight red for Josh Armitage, crushing their hopes of an EQC spot in the process. With a very solid seeker in Matty Percival, they will be confident in themselves to secure wins against perceived ‘bigger’ teams if they can hold to SWIM. Along with Percival, the Griffins have ever-presents in keeper Josh Armitage, Captain Sash Steele, and chaser/beater Chris Culling, not to mention an impressive fresher intake for the season who will be more than willing to prove themselves on the national stage. The Griffins will rely on the strong bond the team shares to push them on further into Day Two.

Once again, the Norwich Nifflers will be massive underdogs at BQC. Without a win at Southern 2016, a thrilling 210*-130 loss to Southampton Quidditch Club 2 proved they can match the other teams towards the bottom of the pack. BQC presents another problem; with heavyweights Werewolves and a strong second seed in Leeds, Norwich will be looking towards their game against the Durham Direwolves to prop them up into the third place of their group. Looking ahead to Day Two, if they play to their potential, Norwich could very easily rack up two or three wins at this year’s BQC. Beater Georgie Rumney will have to be at her very best to help this team fly higher, along with Laura Jamieson who had an impressive Southern Cup alongside Rumney. The Nifflers will also need Thomas Gymer and Endijs Daniels Paulins to be on top form as goal scorers to give the team any chance of victory. The most exciting prospect to look out for is Lizzie Turner, who impressed at Valentines Cup as a strong keeper with some great tackles and blocks for her team.

Georgie Rumney beating at Valentines Cup | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Durham Direwolves enter BQC with the second-smallest roster in the tournament, which could come back to bite them. Their only win at Northern was an unconvincing win against the Edinburgh seconds in the group stages, though they did hold both Leicester and Leeds to under 100PD difference in both games before unceremoniously being ousted in the first round of the lower bracket by Keele Squirrels. Their performance at Compass Cup was laboured, but this was most likely due to only arriving with 10 players and ultimately having to forfeit Day Two as a result.

They also have a good starting six, including Alexander Lusty, Wing Lam Ho, and the standout at Compass Cup and player to watch, Lydia Robinson, a chaser with shades of ex-Durhamstrang Captain Jackie Woodburn. The Direwolves lack depth though, and without the squad numbers, they may find it tough to measure up against other teams who will have the fresh legs of substitutes to fall back on if they lose any of their key players. Direwolves will probably look at this tournament as experience for their players and possibly scouting for their first team, when their graduates move on.

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