Thursday, July 14, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Italy

By Bex McLaughlin and Matt O’Connor, with additional reporting by Niccolò Andrea and Claudio Svaluto

Note: An Italian translation will be added to the article in the coming days.

Quidditch’s beginnings in Italy can be traced to Dec. 2011 after Michele Clabassi, who would become the first president of Associazione Italiana Quidditch (AIQ), watched YouTube videos of World Cup V which had just taken place the previous month in New York City. He then launched the national governing body’s (NGB) Facebook page and translated the rulebook. Word of the game spread incredibly fast, with three teams competing at the first Italian nationals in June of 2012.

Now there are eight fully-fledged competitive Italian teams, with a further eight in development. Teams are spread around the country with two in the capital (Virtute Romana Quidditch and SPQR Quidditch Roma), Hinkypunks Bologna Quidditch, Milano Meneghins Quidditch, and Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino in the north, and Lunatica Quidditch Club in the far south in Brindisi. Despite students forming a sizable proportion of Italy’s current player base, there are no university teams in Italy, only community teams

The competitive eight met most recently in May for the Italian national championship, Torneo Nazionale Quidditch 2016, where Virtute Romana Quidditch took the title, beating previous champions Green-Tauros in snitch range in the final. AIQ is currently the only European NGB to organise its nationals after the European Quidditch Cup (EQC) of that season, so Romana secured their place for EQC 2017 in the 2015-16 season. There are also hopes for an Italian league in the coming seasons.

Virtute Romana playing at European Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
Italian quidditch has been represented at all four EQCs so far, including the first one in 2012 where five French and one Italian team challenged one other. Both the 2015 European Games and EQC 2016 took place in small towns in Italy: Sarteano and Gallipoli respectively. The tourist board of Tuscany was keen to get visitors to a somewhat out-of-the-way place, and the hotel complex in Gallipoli was eager to fill its rooms in the off-season. 

Despite such prominence within international quidditch, Italy is not known for providing referees. European quidditch runs in English, and the lack of English fluency in the country stymie that aspect of involvement. This also comes through in the Italian playing style, with some Italian competitors playing hard and fast with the rules. 

The Italian National Team competed at European Games 2015, ending their run by cold catching against the Belgians in the quarterfinals with a score of 90-30*. This was disappointing to some analysts, given that the Italians had home advantage with a full roster and crowd support. 

The Squad
Italy held two tryouts for players interested in joining the national team, after which they published a list of hopefuls on their website. On June 9 they published the official roster, featuring 21 players and eight reserves.

The team is led by coach Michele Clabassi, together with vice-coach and trainer Dennis Rossini, both of whom will be playing as chasers during the tournament.

Coach Michele Clabassi playing for Milano Meneghins Quidditch at European Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Kieran Harris, courtesy of Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

The Roster (by Position)
Walid Benfadel (Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino)
Gabriele Cocino (Virtute Romana Quidditch)
Alessandro Delle Grazie (Lunatica Quidditch Club)

Marco Anglano (Lunatica Quidditch Club)
Giulia Antonaci (Lunatica Quidditch Club)
Erika Crociani (Siena Ghibellines Quidditch Club)
Michele Genovese (Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino)
Francesco La Malfa (Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino)
Edoardo Rubino (Virtute Romana Quidditch)
Federica Zagordo (Hinkypunks Bologna Quidditch)

Michele Clabassi (Milano Meneghins)
Maria Lucia De Luca (Milano Meneghins)
Andrea Miglietta (Lunatica Quidditch Club)
Oriana Pallaoro (Hinkypunks Bologna Quidditch)
Francesco Peciccia (Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino)
Giorgia Quinti (Virtute Romana Quidditch)
Dennis Rossini (Milano Meneghins)
Claudio Svaluto (Taxes Quidditch, UK)
Octavian Tulbure (Green-Tauros Quidditch Tornio)

Luca Donati (Hinkypunks Bologna Quidditch)
Francesco Ermini (Milano Meneghins)

Interview with Michele Clabassi and Dennis Rossini
We talked with Italy’s coach Michele Clabassi and vice-coach and trainer Denis Rossini about the team, the players, and their goals for the first time the national team will play outside of Italy.

Quidditch Post: What are your goals for this tournament?
Michele Clabassi: Improve from last year. Less banally said, as a minimum target we would like to improve our position among European teams from European Games, and in the process try to beat at least one of the teams in Pod 1.

QP: What will your team need to do to accomplish these goals?
Dennis Rossini: Playing as a team. Italy is still partially tied to the “hero-ball” style: ball to one player and wait to see what happens. We need to function as a unit made of 6-7 players. Furthermore, we need to not underestimate physical training, in which we still need to catch up with the favourites in the competition.

QP: How is your team preparing for World Cup?
MC: We had two trainings, both in Bologna, in addition to two tryout events around Italy, all with a mix of conditioning, drills on technique, strategy, and scrimmages. The last step before the tournament will be trainings in Frankfurt.

QP: What impact do you anticipate World Cup having on quidditch in your country?
DR: Starting with tryouts, the wider goal for the National Team has been to contribute to an all-round improvement for Italian players and teams. World Cup will be the culmination of this work, allowing players from several teams a chance to face the best that quidditch has to offer at a global level. I expect this will bring us even more competition in national events next year and better results from teams that will represent us at EQC.

QP: Are there any teams that you particularly would like to play?
MC: I am going to answer from a personal point of view, but for different reasons this is shared by many in the team: USA. In my case, it’s a meeting three years in the making. My first meeting with high-level quidditch was in the summer of 2013 in Boston (the best in Europe were Paris Phénix, with a 1-3 record at World Cup a few months before then) and since then no other chance to play with/against a US team has come true; maybe this time it will!

QP: Who are some of your team’s key players?
DR: Walid Benfadel already turned some heads in Sarteano, keeping up the level even when the whole team was short on energy. Now he has twice the experience and the level of the rest of the team has visibly increased.
MC: Michele Genovese is an experienced beater; if he is able to get into the competition with the right mindset he could have a strong impact on the entire beater department.

Michele Genovese beating for Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino at European Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
QP: Who would you say is one player who doesn’t get the attention they deserve?
DR: Going through the list I can think of at least 12 players I could mention, many of whom would have equally deserved a mention in the previous answer. Going through the list a second time, I think I could add another three or four, between new players and familiar faces who are still more or less underestimated. For different reasons, I expect almost the entire team to show they deserve more attention than what they’ve received so far outside of Italian quidditch.

QP: After hosting the European Games in Sarteano in 2015, and the European Quidditch Cup in Gallipoli in 2016, has the sport changed in Italy? Has there been more interest in the sport?
MC: We surely found a somewhat increased interest, in some cases turning into active teams (first of all the Siena Ghibellines Quidditch Club from Siena who took part in our national tournament), in some others slowly disappearing again. From this point of view, Sarteano had a bigger impact, while EQC was important in terms of experience, as it allowed five Italian teams to be present.

Competing in their first tournament away from home, Italy will be looking to build upon their fifth place finish at last summer’s European Games. Returning players Michele Genovese, Andrea Miglietta, Michele Clabassi, and Marco Anglano each have two years of experience and are bolstered by several inexperienced yet athletic players from the likes of Italian champions and EQC upper-bracket team Virtute Romana, although their captain and reliable utility player Giorgia Quintili will also add some much needed experience to what is a gifted but ultimately callow side. 

Beater Edoardo Rubino will be one to watch among the newbies, but will do well to follow the direction of the experienced Genovese, who will look to use his experience to direct his beater partner, whoever that may be, and his own skills to direct the game. That said, the Italian beater game can be somewhat distracted at times, with even their most experienced players vulnerable to being caught in off-quaffle beater battles, and beater coach Jacopo Radice is himself rather inexperienced as a coach at this level.

Beater coach Jacopo Radice beating for Milano Meneghins Quidditch at European Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Kieran Harris, courtesy of Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
In the quaffle game, the focus of Italian opponents must be on 6’1” ex-basketballer Walid Benfadel. This rangy chaser is a menace near the hoops and is a fantastic aerial threat. Supported by elusive, fox-in-the-box Green-Tauros clubmate Francesco Peciccia, these two are likely to be Italy’s most deadly pairing. However, there is a tendency for them to isolate themselves from the rest of the national side, which could prove costly. The Italian game is also much less physical than the majority of other teams, with the focus on evasion and resultant lack of powerful runners not standing them in good stead for some of their group games, and will likely see them come up particularly short against the uber-physical French team. They will look to ex-coach Miglietta to hopefully rectify that deficit. Italy has also had historical problems with discipline and could easily struggle with the rigorous standard of refereeing that will be on show. Expect fireworks in their showdown with historical bad boy France in pool play.

Despite having a good-sized seeker corps, with dedicated seekers in Luca Donati and Francesco Ermini as well as several chasers more than capable of doubling up in that department, Italy lacks the standard of snitches that will be on show in Frankfurt; the challenge may be a bridge too far for a group that, despite their numbers, has no outstanding talent of which to speak.

It would be a surprise to many if Italy finished anywhere but second in the all-European Group A, where they are unlikely to have the weapons to make a dent in French hopes of the top bracket seed. However, they are a good year ahead of the Netherlands in development, and likely even further ahead of Slovenia, so they should have no trouble comprehensively dispatching this pair. Italy will be looking to inflict heavy defeats on the European minnows to counteract their own likely heavy loss to the French juggernaut and thus avoid a disappointing seeding on Day Two, and a tough bracket draw that could see their mid-table push prematurely ended.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this incorrectly listed Francesco Peciccia as a player for Lunatica Quidditch Club

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