Thursday, March 9, 2017

British Quidditch Cup 2017 Preview: Groups E-H

By Ashara Peiris, Fraser Posford, and Anthony Tatman with contributions from Thomas Newton 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. Earlier, we took a look at Groups A to D. Below, we continue our BQC preview by looking at Groups E to H and the chances of the competing teams.

Group E
  1. Durhamstrang
  2. HogYork Horntails
  3. Southampton QC Firsts
  4. Falmouth Falcons

Group E is undoubtedly this year’s group of death. With a group containing the 2015 BQC champions and the 2016 BQC bronze medallists, along with the two regional lower bracket winners, this is the group to watch.

Durhamstrang come into BQC as a first seed after winning the silver medal at Northern Cup 2016. Whilst this is a great achievement, they have been fairly inconsistent this season. A disappointing fourth-place finish at Highlander Cup IV, along with a very slow Day One at Northern Cup (which included a loss to the Bangor Broken Broomsticks), meant that they had to play hard to secure their place in the finals. Whilst Durhamstrang have the individual talent to succeed, it was not until the latter stages of Northern, and perhaps even Hateful 8 – where they managed an impressive performance despite bringing a squad of around 10 players – that they have looked like a cohesive team. Since regaining their form, Durhamstrang have notched impressive wins over London Unspeakables and Tornadoes Quidditch Club. Beaters James Fulton and Sophie Connelly have stepped up to the plate recently, with great performances from both resulting in turnovers and goal opportunities. With the return of Max Gill, most recently playing with Cambridge Quidditch Club, and Jonathan Rees, Durhamstrang will have some extra strength on their drives.

Jonathan Rees, Max Gill, and teammates celebrate their quarterfinal win at BQC 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
The HogYork Horntails are probably the unluckiest team this season. At Northern Cup 2016, they were part of the group of death, containing Keele Squirrels, Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts, and eventual champions Velociraptors QC. The Horntails missed out on the upper bracket after losing in a SWIM game to the Hippogriffs. In another group they may well have been able to make the upper bracket, but they still proved that they were a threat after winning the lower bracket against the Sheffield Squids. Once again the Horntails have been drawn into the group of death; however, this time they may be able to do enough to triumph over the other teams in their group. Earlier in the season they played Southampton Quidditch Club in a series of friendlies, and they have only improved since. Strong quaffle threats in Charlotte Huguet, Caleb Pakeman, and Tom Stevens means that offensively they are very capable. They have also demonstrated a good capacity to improve in a short time, learning tactics from their opponents at Northern Cup only to use them later that very tournament. Whilst the Horntails have strong beating, when it comes to snitch on pitch they can be known to struggle, as their top seekers Phil Brown and Stevens are huge contributors in other parts of their game. The development of Connagh Doohan as an alternative seeker may well help to alleviate this issue. If they can use their improved depth effectively, then they are likely to walk away with an upper-bracket place.

Southampton Quidditch Club have seemingly fallen on hard times. At Southern Cup 2016 they eased into the upper bracket but suffered a surprising loss to the London Unspeakables, in which London managed to slow the game down sufficiently to make a catch for overtime and then catch again to win. The loss of a number of players due to graduation and placement years meant that at the beginning of the year, their chasing lineup had been severely impacted, and so at times they struggled to capitalise on openings on which their beaters had given them. Whilst they did not achieve their goals at Southern Cup, they still showcased strong driving threats in Jarvis Stanton and Lydia Calder, backed up by excellent around-the-hoops players such as Mantas Gudaitis. This chasing will be heavily assisted by excellent beating led by Anjit Aulakh and Alex Carpenter. Their aggressive beating and pressing ability gives their chasers significant opportunities to drive the quaffle in before making easy passes to trolls. The big question mark for Southampton, though, is whether they will have improved enough to beat the other teams. Southampton have only played one casual game since Southern Cup (a loss to Werewolves of London); however, the individual players will have had plenty of games in fantasy tournaments. This lack of competitive quidditch is likely to count against them, and whilst they will probably be able to defeat the Falmouth Falcons, a team against which they have rarely conceded, they will probably be the third-place finishers in Group E.

Alex Carpenter beating at the IQA Quidditch World Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
Lastly are the likely fourth-place team, the Falmouth Falcons. The Falcons were the Southern Cup 2016’s lower bracket winners after defeating the Exeter Eagles in overtime. Historically, Falmouth have been a very strong team, with a particular talent for powerful tackling, and excellent beating in Alex Brown and Alicia Ackroyd. They have generally focused on driving through their opponents rather than passing around the opposing teams. On defence, players such as Hugh White and Reuben Thompson can make incredibly hard hits, often stopping attacks dead. However, they suffer from a lack of depth, particularly within the beating game. Furthermore, whilst their drive-heavy and fast-paced exciting style pleases crowds, they have struggled with dealing with slower playstyles. This culminated in a loss to the Liverpuddly Cannons – a team that failed to qualify for BQC – at Compass Cup after the Cannons slowballed effectively. With all of the other three teams in the group able to play in this style, Falmouth may face issues making it into the upper bracket if they are not prepared to counter this. Realistically, they should be targeting a strong finish in the lower bracket, as either the champion or a semifinalist at the least.

Group F
  1. Brizzlebears
  2. Bangor Broken Broomsticks
  3. Exeter Eagles
  4. Manchester Manticores

Brizzlebears go into BQC on a high following solid performances this season. The Bristolians convincingly beat London Unspeakables to third place at Southern Cup, qualifying for a second consecutive European Quidditch Cup (EQC) in the process. At Hateful 8, they recorded shock wins over Warwick Quidditch Club and Werewolves of London, proving they can mix it with the UK elite. Former Radcliffe Chimeras captain Abby Whiteley has brought valuable experience to the team, and the promotion of standout beater Aaron Brett-Miller has added an aggression to the beater lineup they previously lacked. Florian Messemer has been promoted to their roster for BQC following some impressive play for the Brizzlebees at Southern as a pacey chaser/seeker. The Brizzlebears’ greatest strength lies in the chemistry of their 16-person roster, many of whom have been playing together for three seasons now, creating a highly cohesive unit who will go the distance for each other. Following their shock loss to the Leeds Griffins in last year’s Round of 16, captain Alistair Goodwin will need to be careful to avoid any overconfidence and help the team bring their A-game every match. Big worries may lie ahead for Bristol if they lose key players, as seen in their narrow 50*-20 win against Swansea Seven Swans in the South West League. Losing Brett-Miller or one of their go-to quaffle players such as Viral Patel or Ollie Bridgen could cause their fast-pressing attacking game to fall apart. This is Bristol’s best ever team and, for some, a culmination of three years of hard work. They will be determined to reach their full potential (especially those who graduate at the end of the season, of which there are many), whether that’s finally getting beyond the last 16 or sneaking a medal away from one of the Big Three. The Brizzlebears are this year’s dark horse.  

Brizzlebears chaser Ollie Bridgen and beater Aaron Brett-Miller | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Bangor Broken Broomsticks will already be able to look back fondly on this season. The North Welsh team have won both Highlander Cup IV and Compass Cup, beating the London Unspeakables and HogYork Horntails in the respective finals. Bangor also enjoyed a successful Northern Cup campaign in which they topped their group, beating Durhamstrang 80*-40 (their second of two victories over them this season). Unfortunately, the Broken Broomsticks’ hopes of a semifinal and pursuit of an EQC place were ended by Tornadoes QC in a 200*-40 drubbing in the quarterfinals.  Lauren Sterry, Jack Newton, and Callum Lake have been instrumental in Bangor’s illustrious season thus far, with chaser Sterry and seeker Lake being given call ups to the TeamUK development squad for their performances. These three, along with captain Liam Vernon, will be key to how Bangor play at BQC, particularly beater Newton who can be an absolute handful at times. Considering their group opponents, Bangor should comfortably take second place in this group. Unfortunately for them, Werewolves of London look highly likely to be their opponents in the Round of 16 and, barring a major upset, they aren’t expected to go any further in the competition.

After being around for over a season now, Exeter Eagles will finally be making their BQC debut. The Devon side come with a full 21-player roster, a far cry from their threadbare side at their first official tournament appearance at Southern Cup 2015, and will be hoping to use their numbers to their advantage, making up for their lack of experience in the process. Reaching the lower bracket final at Southern Cup, in which they lost 120^-70* to Falmouth Falcons, represented a good tournament performance for the Eagles. Captain Ryan Watkiss and beater Graeme Zaple were particularly impressive at Southern and they will be players to watch at BQC, along with former Falmouth chaser Tyler Mills. Judging by their results against Falmouth and against Swansea in the South West League, Watkiss and co. should be capable of beating Manchester Manticores, although it could be a close one. Overall, Exeter look destined for the lower bracket and will be hoping they can make a deep run in this competition.
Exeter Eagles at Southern Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Rounding out the group is the Manchester Manticores. The team showed a marked improvement at Northern Cup in November, in which they beat Preston Poltergeists and Derby Union Quidditch to finish second in their group. They even managed to push Leicester Thestrals close before the East Midlands side knocked them out on Day Two. The Manticores previously struggled with inexperience and a small roster, but both of these have been improved on; the 20 players they’re taking to BQC will believe they are capable of improving on last year’s 29th place. A win in their group would be an incredible achievement for Ben Mercer’s team, but like Exeter, the lower bracket is their likely destination for Day Two, where a potential match with fierce rivals Chester Centurions may well await them.

Group G
  1. Loughborough Longshots
  2. Swansea Seven Swans
  3. Derby Union Quidditch
  4. Oxford Quidlings

The Loughborough Longshots, Group G’s top seed, have managed another successful year. Despite narrowly missing out on qualifying for EQC after an overtime loss to Tornadoes QC, they have still shown themselves to be a force to be reckoned with. The always excellent beater pairing of Bill Orridge and Holly Kerslake is still strong, with a speedy and powerful quaffle lineup including Stephen Withers and Emily Arnold. At Hateful 8, the Longshots had close games against all teams outside of the Werewolves of London and Velociraptors, and defeated fellow fourth-place regional finisher the London Unspeakables in a back-and-forth game, eventually catching the snitch whilst 20 points down. They seem unlikely to be significantly troubled by the rest of their group; however, if they take Swansea lightly they may find themselves ready for an upset. All in all, it seems that they will be able to get to the quarterfinals of the upper bracket before likely losing to Warwick.

Holly Kerslake beating at Hateful 8 | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
The Swansea Seven Swans keep getting better every time they make an appearance. At this season’s Southern Cup, they put up a good fight against Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts in the group stages, and eventually lost to the Bristol Brizzlebears on Day Two, whilst handily beating their other opponents. Swansea’s game still heavily relies on drivers Ed Brett and Troy Kelly-Weekes, which can leave them somewhat one-dimensional; however, it is more than sufficient to decimate weaker lineups. A strong performance against Loughborough and comfortable wins against the other teams in the group should comfortably land them their first ever upper-bracket finish at BQC.

Next up is Derby Union Quidditch, a team that narrowly qualified for BQC after a disappointing performance at Northern Cup. Derby’s problem for many years has been a lack of players, and this year does not seem to be an exception, with only 13 players in attendance for BQC. However, this is more than they had at Northern Cup, and with the return of Rickesh Patel, Charlie Schofield, and Sonny Ransom who could not attend Northern due to illness, Derby will have increased depth and a small chance at defeating the Seven Swans. With the additional development of players such as Elis Vavruskova, who made her successful debut at Northern, and the additional strength and drive of their other players, Derby will be in a stronger position than earlier this season. This should be enough to get them the win over the Oxford Quidlings, and perhaps get them reasonably far in the lower bracket, though more than that would seem improbable.

Derby Union Quidditch at Northern Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Hannah Dignum
Rounding off Group G are the Oxford Quidlings, the lowest BQC qualifying team from Southern Cup. For the last two seasons, the Quidlings have unfortunately been on the decline, due to a number of graduations impacting the first team, resulting in the best of the Quidlings being promoted early. This trend continues this year, with former Norwich Nifflers player Sam Wainwright being promoted to the Chimeras. The Quidlings do, however, have some talent, with Elise Watts proving to be an able beater and Chris Mullender and Adam Paulson heading up the quaffle lineup. Whilst losses in the group stages and an early bracket exit seem likely, if the Quidlings can put in a reasonable performance, they should be proud.

Group H
  1. Warwick Quidditch Club
  2. Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts
  3. Sheffield Quidditch Club
  4. Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds

Warwick Quidditch Club are coming into BQC as the Southern Cup 2016 champion, after being runners up for the previous Southern Cup and BQC. Warwick bring a very intelligent gameplay style, utilising excellent passing and cutting around the hoops. The quaffle trio of Seb Waters, Luke Trevett, and Ben Malpass is as dependable as always, and they have greatly improved their depth. However, there have been clear chinks in the armour. Whilst the team is incredibly talented, they are still heavily reliant on Seb Waters to help control the quaffle game. Furthermore, one of their best beaters, James Burnett, is out of the tournament due to injury, leaving Jacopo Sartori without his usual beater sub. They have also had mixed success at tournaments recently. At Hateful 8, due to few of their starters being unavailable, and with a need to give newer players such as Joe Kernaghan and Tayyeb Ali game time, they did not have the same level of success, eventually losing to Werewolves of London, Velociraptors QC, and the Bristol Brizzlebears (although they later avenged this loss). If their full roster does not cope, they may find themselves in for an earlier than expected exit.

Warwick QC as Southern Cup 2016 champions | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts, the reigning two-time Scottish champions and Highlander Cup third-place finishers, are coming into BQC with a lot of momentum. In a recent trip to Durham, a thoroughly depleted squad of only eight managed to remain in SWIM against a full Durhamstrang squad, whilst comfortably defeating Durham Direwolves. Captain and TeamUK chaser Ollie Riley is a very able ball handler, knowing when to slow down play and putting in hard hits to cause turnovers. Nye Baker and Jack Murray are both very capable and aggressive beaters, and backed up by Emilia Kuisma, their beating corps must be feared lest other teams be dominated. Against SQC2 and the Sheffield Squids, it seems likely that Edinburgh will win. Warwick will, however, be a much trickier nut to crack. Against the Southern champions, it is likely that Edinburgh will have to resort to slowball and restrict the time that Warwick will have to make plays on the quaffle. Whilst Riley can do this well, all evidence currently points toward Warwick having the upper hand.

Whilst Kieran Newton and Kelsey Silberman both offer good passing options when Warwick counter with an inevitable press, the tight man marking of Warwick will likely be enough to steal the ball and punish the Hippogriffs on turnovers. However, they may be able to exploit Warwick’s own tactics and pull off the upset. If they manage this, they are in for a shot at medals, as they would then fall on the more winnable side of the bracket, avoiding one of the other top three teams until the semifinals.

Kelsey Silberman chasing at BQC 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
Sheffield Quidditch Club, this season’s Northern Cup lower bracket runners-up, have hugely improved since their debut at the previous season’s Cottonopolis. Captain Eddie Bruce is a talented quaffle driver and defender, and he is backed up by the physical Rudi Obasi-Adams. Whilst the team has a lot of raw talent, they often play with too much recklessness, which results in receiving too many cards. If they can manage this well, they will be able to leverage this into good performances against Warwick and the Hippogriffs and a decent finish in the lower bracket.

Last up in the group is Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds (SQC2). Whilst SQC2 have not won a game at a BQC (except for a forfeit victory over the then Chester Chasers at BQC 2015), they are still not a team to be underestimated. With a returning Charlie Taylor and former Firsts player Annabel Solnik joining the Seconds, SQC2 will be in good hands. Similarly to Sheffield, they are an inexperienced team; however, under the tutelage of the Firsts team, they may well have shown greater growth than Sheffield. This may be sufficient to triumph over Sheffield and perhaps win a game or two in the lower bracket.

No comments:

Post a Comment