Thursday, July 21, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on the United Kingdom

By Bex McLaughlin


The United Kingdom's quidditch scene is the most developed in Europe. The British have been wielding broomsticks since 2011 after Keele University student Megan Shaw started the then-named Avadakeeledavra Quidditch Team in the autumn of 2011. Shaw fell in love with the sport while studying abroad in the USA. Since then the sport has grown exponentially across England, Scotland, and Wales with over 30 active teams, a fully developed governing body, one European club champion, and medal success for the national team. The governing body of British quidditch, QuidditchUK (QUK), is well-organised with a large Executive Management Team of media, communications, leadership, gameplay, and human resource departments. While currently QUK is run by dedicated volunteers, there are plans to have at least the president's position financed in the coming years, gaining continued recognition for quidditch as a sport.

In addition to QUK’s many staffers, the UK has been represented well by volunteering internationally. The last two editions of the European Quidditch Cup (EQC) were directed by UK players with Oxford University Quidditch Club’s Luke Twist and Warwick Quidditch Club’s Jacopo Sartori at the helm for EQC 2015 and 2016 respectively. For the World Cup (WC), former QUK Vice President Matthew Guenzel and current QUK Gameplay and Events Director Tom Challinor are tournament director and assistant tournament director respectively. TeamUK (TUK) is flying to Frankfurt with high expectations, but however the squad performs in Frankfurt, the British will be well represented with crucial Organising Committee members, and many snitches and referees in the ranks.  

The first iteration of TUK in 2012 saw 20 players attend tryouts, only to finish in last place in Oxford that July at the Summer Games. The 2014 incarnation for the Global Games in Burnaby, Canada fared somewhat better, losing on a knife-edge in the third-place playoff to Canada. That squad had been selected after over 100 players had tried out in January, whittled down to 42, and then to the final 21. For the 2015 European Games, a different approach was used: scouts attended as many tournaments as possible, and thrashed out the 21 plus reserves while locked in a room for 10 hours. Second place in Sarteano in SWIM to the French national team was a bitter disappointment to the squad that had been favourites to win.

Luke Twist chasing for British Quidditch Cup (BQC) 2016 champions the Radcliffe Chimeras | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
The Squad

This year, TUK has been evolving over the season with regular training sessions across the country aiming to significantly develop the squad. The initial squad was made up of those who had made the previous TUK and attended European Games, as well as some players scouted at regional championships. Everyone who made the squad was guaranteed two practices that were held roughly every six weeks. The squad size stayed at around 35 players over the course of the year, with scouting continuing at tournaments over the course of the season. Tom Heynes took over as TUK coordinator, and he kept Ashley Cooper as head coach for the second year running after being captain at the 2014 Global Games. Lucy Q, a Sarteano veteran, was appointed as beater coach, while Emily Oughtibridge brings her rugby background into her role as chaser coach, helping the team to be more physical. Finally, Robbie  Young, a member of the 2012 and 2014 squads (and being selected for the 2015 squad, but having to withdraw due to injury) was appointed as seeker coach.

Roster (By Position)

Andrew Hull (Radcliffe Chimeras)
Luke Twist (Radcliffe Chimeras)
Ollie Craig (Southampton QC)*

Aaron Veale (Southampton QC)
Ben Morton (Keele University QC)
Bex Lowe (Durhamstrang)
David Goswell (Nottingham Nightmares)*
Jackie Woodburn (Durhamstrang)
James Thanangadan (Nottingham Nightmares)
Jemma Thripp (Southampton QC)
Jonathon Cookes (Loughborough Longshots)
Luke Trevett (Warwick QC)
Seb Waters (Warwick QC)
Tom Heynes (Radcliffe Chimeras)

Alex Carpenter (Southampton QC)
Alice Walker (Radcliffe Chimeras)
Bill Orridge (Loughborough Longshots)
James Burnett (Warwick QC)
Jan Mikolajczak (Radcliffe Chimeras)
Lucy Edlund (Nottingham Nightmares)
Lucy Q (Nottingham Nightmares)
* indicates player will also be playing as seeker

Team UK captain Ben Morton seeking at BQC 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
Interview with captain Ben Morton
The Quidditch Post sat down with TeamUK captain Ben Morton to discuss his thoughts about the TeamUK squad and their performance at World Cup.

Quidditch Post: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! TeamUK has been training regularly through the season in preparation for World Cup; in what ways does the team feel different than in 2014 and 2015?
Ben Morton: Well, as you say, we are now training near monthly and not just for World Cup 2016, but for all future tournaments. TeamUK being a permanent feature, especially with its current structure, has changed everything. As well as getting to train more frequently as a team, outside of training we have all had to push ourselves to our limits just to ensure that we don’t lose our spot to one of the many people in the UK who are also doing their everything to take it from us. This has created a massive step up in competition in the UK, which has instilled an unstoppable drive in the national team. Combine this with the hardships of 2014 and 2015 and just how much we have to prove, I pity anyone trying to stop us from achieving our goal.

QP: You mention the “hardships” of the previous years, referring to the heart-breaking losses to Canada and France that cost TUK the bronze at Global Games 2014 and the gold at European Games 2015 respectively. With the USA being such a powerful team, and the favourites to win, where would you be satisfied to finish at World Cup, if the gold remains elusive?
BM: Would you ever travel all the way to Everest with the intent to climb to the top, then after months of training and preparation and all the money you have paid to make it a reality, think to yourself ‘If I only make it half way I’ll be happy with that’? We’re training hard to give our all and do our nation proud. If we believed for one second that our all wasn’t good enough to win, then I’m not sure we could really say that all the hard work was worth it. So for that reason I have to say: our aim, if not thinking about the gold, is to beat all of the opposition.

QP: Fighting talk indeed, Ben. You’re quite right: no one trains for second place. And who’s taking you to the very top of Everest? In a team of amazing, dedicated, talented players, who has that extra star quality? Who’s a real game-changer for TeamUK?
BM: The coaches have done an amazing job at picking not only a talented squad, but also a versatile one. We all have that little something extra we bring to the team dependent on the situation, so depending on what is thrown at us any one of us may have to step up and be that game-changer. Let’s just hope we’ve done our homework correctly to make sure we know who to play and when. I know it’ll be interesting to see if the other teams have done theirs.
QP: A vague answer, Ben. How about this: which players on TeamUK don’t get the recognition they deserve?
BM: It’s hard to say a player doesn’t get recognition based on their playing merit if they’ve made the squad. The scouts and coaches have clearly seen they are brilliant and so they have been rewarded for it. However, I would have to say that, in terms of the extra-curricula kind of stuff, Tom Heynes as the TeamUK coordinator has gone above and beyond for the team already and continues to do so. Without him TeamUK would not be as successful as it is now. To add to that, Ashley Cooper and the other coaches deserve credit for just how much work they have put in; developing tactics, planning trainings, choosing squads. These are people with other full-time lives taking on another almost full-time job (without pay), just to help TeamUK be their best. They are a true inspiration.
QP: For yourself, Ben, from captain of TeamUK in 2012, to manager in 2014, back to player in 2015, and now captaining the United Kingdom at the 2016 World Cup, can you put that feeling of selection into words? And how were you picked as captain?
BM: All my past roles sound so important and like a big deal and I really did put my heart and soul into them all. However, it came down to a little bit of luck or down to being around for the longest, mostly. In the past I have very much been blessed with opportunity.

However, this time was different. Captain selection was made by the coaches, down to who showed the most merit both in and out of training - who proved they could lead the team into battle, so to speak. I won’t lie. When I started this season and I knew I was invited to the training squad because I attended the European Games; becoming captain was just a pipe dream. My focus was to keep my spot in training and earn a place on the World Cup roster. I worked so hard to make sure I didn’t miss out. After all of my past experience, I had to fight for at least one more chance to try to earn TeamUK the glory they deserve. As time went on I got better, stronger, fitter; I got more confident and that pipe dream seemed like something I could fight just that little harder for.

I don’t think there are words to describe that feeling, when you have pushed yourself to new limits to achieve a dream and then that dream comes true. Euphoric, maybe?
Once you’ve achieved that dream, though, you move on to fighting even harder for the next. There’s always a next step.

QP: What is that next step? You’ve already done it all. You’ve been QUK President,  you’ve led the team. Considering hanging up the boots altogether and perhaps… going into corresponding? I hear the Quidditch Post is hiring!
BM: I haven’t quite done it all. My main focus is on TeamUK at the moment and being everything I can be for them. So I haven’t really thought too much about ‘the next step’ too much just yet. I am finally leaving Keele after five years, though to play for the Velociraptors. So I suppose the next step is to collect as many gold medals as I can before I get too old to play. It’d be nice to stop the Paris Titans from winning a third EQC, I suppose.
I’m not sure I could ever be willing to hang up the boots.

QP: Quidditch in the UK is huge, and you did play an integral role in making that happen. What impact will WC 2016 have on UK Quidditch?
BM: These kinds of major international tournaments are just good for quidditch on a global scale. It really raises the profile of the sport. We may be a small sport that’s almost completely self-funded, but we make these tournaments happen time and time again. It just goes to show how much we care about it, and that alone is enough to make people pay attention. We can’t expand without raising awareness of the sport, and this is one of the best way to do it. In terms of the UK specifically, tournaments like this and European Games are pushing the level of competition to a whole new high. People aren’t just competing to show their team is better. They are competing to show that they personally are the best and deserve a chance to represent their nation. Everybody wants that chance and everybody is willing to work hard for it and when people strive to be the best they can be; in my opinion that can only be a good thing.

QP: I know you’ve been pushing yourself to be at your personal best for the tournament, so, a few last questions: what’s your workout routine? And what advice would you give to anyone wanting to be the next Ben Morton?
BM: I figure you only get so many chances at this, so this time I feel I’ve gotta do it properly. My routine varies a little but tends to be along these lines: early morning abs, cardio or agility during my lunch hour, gym or boxing or fitness video at night. Of course, I play quidditch and practise catching and throwing the quaffle every chance I get.

My advice for ‘the next Ben Morton’: Dream bigger! In all seriousness, though, if there is one thing I’ve learnt throughout my time, it’s this: nothing is out of your reach. It doesn’t matter who you are, we all have the potential to live out our dreams. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’ll probably be the hardest slog of your life, and you’ll hear voices telling you to give up. But if you want something bad enough, you don’t listen and you fight through. You give your all to be your all. Anyone can do it as long as they are willing to try. That’s all that separates the greats from the good: how badly they want it.

QP: Thanks so much again, Ben, and good luck to you and TUK.


Having fallen agonisingly short at last year’s European Games, the UK will be looking to make amends in Frankfurt. To this end, they have selected a vastly experienced side, many of whom are veterans of the last two international campaigns.

In addition to this experience, the UK selectors have picked a side laden with familiarity, with three-quarters of the squad coming from just five teams, with only seven teams represented overall. Additionally, the presence of the entire squad at regular training camps should see the players work well on-pitch with those outside their regular season outfits. Stylistically, the UK have gone for a squad packed with strong, direct runners and despite the difference between Andrew Hull’s strength and James Thanangadan’s agility, the tactics will be similar, with strong drives toward the hoops supported by an aggressive beater game lead by Jan Mikolajczak and Lucy Quidditch (both TUK veterans and used to playing with the most elite teams in the UK), as well as the support runs by the likes of Tom Heynes, who has been consistently in the right place at the right time for the Radcliffe Chimeras all season. Both of the aforementioned beaters will be underpinned by their more understated club partners Lucy Edlund and Alice Walker respectively. While less obvious than their offensive qualities, their nitty-gritty defensive work allows the attacking mentality of Mikolajczak and Lucy Q to flourish.

The UK also sport a remarkably physical chaser line on defence, with no real weakness to power through. The Durham pair of Jackie Woodburn and Bex Lowe in particular are supremely adept at throwing in strong tackles to bring players down, not to mention the safe hands of Jemma Thripp. With the almost telescopic arms of Ollie Craig able to swat down passes within the same postcode as the rangy keeper, the UK side should be a truly difficult proposition to break down for all but the overwhelming favourites, the United States.

Jackie Woodburn at Durham University Quidditch Club’s Intercollegiate Competition | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
As one of the constants of the international game, TeamUK will be hoping to make a strong bid for a medal position and will be keen to avenge last season’s SWIM loss to France, should the sides face each other in the knockout stages. While the United States look invulnerable at the top of the international scene, the chasing pack are likely to be closer than ever. With this in mind, the UK should be wary of concentrating too much on the teams above them and not enough at the teams behind, such as the improving Belgium. Failure to do so could result in a shock loss for the UK. If all goes well, however, they should make the semifinals of the competition, with an appearance in the final not out of reach, though perhaps unlikely if the Australians and French continue to show their impressive athleticism.

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