Wednesday, July 20, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Slovenia

By Vid Rotvejn Pajič

Quidditch was introduced to Slovenia in the summer of 2015, when a group of international exchange students gathered in Sežana. The formation of what remains the only team in Slovenia followed in October of the same year. At first it was mostly a leisure activity, but as more and more serious players joined, the squad began yearning for more competitive play.
Almost all of the players have defended the colours of Aemona Argonauts internationally at various tournaments, so the lack of any national competition does not necessarily affect their experiences in a serious tournament. The Argonauts have in their short existence ventured all around Europe, playing tournaments in places like Milan, Italy; Vienna, Austria; Passau, Germany; and of course Gallipoli, Italy at the European Quidditch Cup 2016.

Aemona Argonauts at their tournament in Passau, Germany. | Photo Credit: Tanja Stražar
The Aemona Argonauts are a community team, which allows for a broad range of ages; the youngest player is 17 years old.

There is some bright news on the horizon for Slovenian quidditch, as there is the prospect of another team emerging in Nova Gorica in the summer, which would significantly boost the country’s credibility and enhance the team’s strength.

The Squad
In Slovenia, there is about one quidditch player per every 100,000 inhabitants, which, with a total population of two million, adds up to a grand total of 20 official players and one team: the Aemona Argonauts. As such, the Slovenian national team is basically identical to the team that presented itself in Gallipoli back in April.

The team is led by Coach Borut Bezgovšek, who, in addition to coaching, will also be playing and volunteering as a referee in Frankfurt.

The Roster (by Position)
Timotej Soklič
Blaž Kosmač

Verena Deutsch
Sabina Dolar
Tanja Stražar
Laura Bogovič
Niklas Basler
Jernej Valič
Silvia M. Erre

Borut Bezgovšek
Tomas Pleško
Pia Marinček
Vid Rotvejn Pajič        

Interview with Borut Bezgovšek and Verena Deutsch
The national team’s leaders, Coach Borut Bezgovšek and Team Manager Verena Deutsch, who started the Slovenian quidditch phenomenon, volunteered to answer interview questions on behalf of the Slovenian team.

Quidditch Post: How did you first encounter quidditch?
Verena Deutsch: It was pretty random, at a summer school in Slovenia actually.  There I met a guy from Belgium who told me about it and invited me along to his team’s training when I visited him in Brussels. In a way, me starting a quidditch team in Slovenia brought the story full circle.

QP: What was it that attracted you in this game?
VD: Initially, the fun and welcoming atmosphere combined with the fact that it was treated as a serious and quite physical, even full contact sport. It being mixed-gender was also a huge factor for me, since I always disliked the separation of boys and girls into typical boys or girls sports, especially in school. After graduation, I didn’t think I’d ever voluntarily touch a volleyball again… Well, quidditch proved me wrong. We make so much better use of it, though, and since there is always so much going on at the same time, it never gets boring.
Borut Bezgovšek: Beating. Beating is what makes this game interesting. It adds another layer to the game that traditional ball sports don’t have, one that adds a considerable amount of depth to it. It changes it from rugby mass-on-mass clash to super dynamic and strategic game, adding gameplay between chasers and beaters.

QP: What would you say are the qualities that make up a good quidditch player and a good captain?
BB: Finding your place in the team. Whether it’s the flashy dominant point chaser/offensive beater or not-so-spectacular off ball/support chaser, having value to the rest of the team and being valued in turn; knowing you’re making the team better by being part of it.

As for being a good captain... It’s the ever shifting balance between abiding by players’ personal wishes and wishes of the team as its own entity. The two often clash and it's captain's job to navigate the two. Having a strongly-supported team goal and/or being charismatic with strong ideology goes a long way toward being a successful captain.
VD: I would add that as a captain it’s extremely important to know where your players individual strengths lie and how to combine them effectively to the team’s maximal advantage.

QP: What position do you prefer and why?
VD: I prefer chasing to beating, but I absolutely love seeking! It seems so crazy and random that I just had to try it. Turns out it is also pretty exhausting, which is probably one reason why I like it.
BB: I prefer beating. The strategic element is greater, with fewer persons involved and harder, split-second decisions. While of a supporting nature, [beating] has such a strong influence on the result that it cannot be neglected. It can compensate quite a lot in chaser game, while not being able to eliminate it being important. Vice versa, strong chasing can trivialize beating to a large degree.

QP: What do you expect from Slovenia in the World Cup?
BB: I expect us to say hello to the quidditch world as a nation. I expect we’ll show we’re fighters on the pitch and worthy of inclusion in the awesome quidditch community off of it. I don’t expect we’ll win any high ranks, but I’m sure we’ll learn a lot and come back next time stronger.
VD: To give our best, individually and as a team, and to enjoy playing and watching some beautiful games. As a very young and small quidditch nation, we won’t have a chance against top European teams, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t try our best to give them a hard time. Hopefully, we will be able to affront some teams closer to our level and play some even matches.

QP: How would you evaluate your team?
BB: We’re a small team. Our players, while few, are dedicated and, more importantly, rather cool. We’re proud of gathering and keeping together such a heterogeneous bunch of people. Some come from sports backgrounds, some from a sedentary lifestyle, but with effort and persistence, they found a valuable place in the team just the same. We’ve developed massively since encountering other teams in matches, it’s so encouraging to compare first and recent experiences.

QP: What would you say are your team’s biggest strengths?
BB: Our biggest strength is our players’ dedication. While time constraints and finances don’t allow many to travel so our few international excursions have been with barely two-digit rosters, those of us bring that wealth of experience back and the whole team benefits from it.

QP: Do you think that you are prepared?
VD: We have a really small roster but we will be as prepared as we can! As Borut said before, dedication is our biggest strength and I think that all those hours of training will pay off.

QP: How do you handle the contrast between inclusiveness and competitiveness?
BB: As nearly any starting sports team, we’ve struggled with that dichotomy, but I feel we’ve struck a good balance at the moment. The more competitive players on the team have acquiesced that to be part of the team, they have to work with players who don’t have the background or ideal physical fitness. The other side of the spectrum has understood that they have to be valuable to the team, bring something to the working of it, and that that is enhanced by being in shape. Most recently, we’ve gone to River Cup in Passau and while a small roster of 10 players helped, the absolutely amazing weekend was enhanced by all our players feeling that they contributed to the overall result.

The size of their squad is their biggest weakness: the roster shows only 13 players, meaning Slovenia is almost certainly an underdog in the competition. However, although the lack of players might lead to exhaustion and increases the risk of possible injuries, this will hopefully be compensated for by the synergy of the team, as they have played with each other for their entire quidditch careers.

Borut, voted MVP at River Cup, will be a vital asset his aggressive beating will, the Slovenians hope, be able to keep teams with bigger squads pinned back and will stop the opposition from bringing their numbers to bear. However, beaters in this vein will always have to be wary of being drawn into beater battles that leave the quaffle defence vulnerable, and more experienced teams will likely be quick to exploit this. A group of fast and agile chasers in the form of Verena, Jernej, Tanja, and Silvia will offer Slovenia their best attacking chances. Likely to attack in a cluster, the synergy learned from the Argonauts’ games should come in handy when launching full-scale attacks. Meanwhile, Timotej, while not quite as fast as the other quaffle players, should bring a more physical and defensive aspect to the squad.

Borut Bezgovšek beating at EQC 2016. | Photo Credit: Aurélie Lee' Jacquin
Slovenia will mostly rely on their courage and their willpower, but luck will most likely also play a major role in the outcome of their matches. They hope for the best, yet do not expect it. The team is used to playing with one another, which should  allow individuals to put up their best performances.

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