Friday, March 10, 2017

British Quidditch Cup 2016-2017: 5-3-1

By Fraser Posford

The fourth British Quidditch Cup (BQC) will be taking place in a matter of hours. While the teams make last minute preparations for the biggest tournament of the season, the Quidditch Post takes a look at some of the issues relevant to the tournament and UK quidditch as a whole, who the main contenders are for the title, and who will lift the cup come the end of the weekend.

Five Talking Points

1.  Does the new format work?
Following some heavy criticism of last year’s tournament structure, in which a QPD-based system was used to rank teams following Day One’s group stage matches, this year’s BQC will follow an Olympic-style bracket. Under the new system, a team’s bracket run to the championship game is already partially pre-determined in a set structure based on where you finish in your group (e.g. winner of Group A will play the runner up of Group H in the Round of 16). This means that teams can already predict their route to the final and who they are likely to play if they want to get there.

As it stands, there looks to be plenty of positives for the new system. Teams will not need to drag matches out for maximum QPD to get a better placement for Day Two, we will not see any rematches of group stage games until the final, and organisers should have very few (if any) calculations to make when organising the bracket for Day Two, greatly helping in arranging the referee schedule. The only downside is that, should all top seeds win their respective groups, the bracket will be split between community team top seeds and all the university team top seeds. This means we may not see a first all-community team final this year, with Werewolves of London and Velociraptors QC expected to meet in the semifinals. Warwick Quidditch Club, by the design of the format, are likely to get an easier semifinal match should they reach that stage in the tournament. Of course, it all depends on one’s allegiances as to whether this is a positive or negative system, but it will be interesting to see if there are any other effects from the new system once we see it in action.

BQC returns to Rugeley | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
2.  Can anybody shock “The Big Three”?
Much has been made of the strength that Warwick, Werewolves, and Velociraptors possess; it is almost as though they are in a league of their own at the top of UK quidditch. All three are expected to make it to the semifinals of the tournament, making the prospect of any of them being knocked out before then one of the main stories of the weekend and one of – if not the – biggest upsets in BQC history. Based on results so far this season, only the Bristol Brizzlebears look even remotely likely to achieve toppling one of these giants, having defeated weakened Warwick and Werewolves teams at January’s Hateful 8 tournament. Assuming the draw follows seedings, it is likely that the Bristol side should meet Warwick in one of the semifinals, while Werewolves and Velociraptors face off in a battle of the super teams in the other. While the Bears are proving willing to bridge the gap between “The Big Three” and the rest, it remains to be seen who will join them in this challenge.

3.  Are we ‘All In’ this together?
For all the quality of last year’s BQC, perhaps the main criticism was the underutilisation of non-male chasers in the quaffle game, especially in the final. This was something that Jackie Woodburn drew great attention to with an in-depth article on the issue. Woodburn’s article attracted great debate within the UK community, especially with the rise of the This Girl Can campaign. It was soon followed by a World Cup win in which the Australian female chaser lineup of Cassia Menkhorst, Taya Rawson, and Caitlin Thomas displayed amazing on- and off-ball chasing skills to help secure the Dropbears’ historic win. Woodburn has since set up All In, a coaching initiative designed to develop the skills of non-male players in all positions and integrate them more into the top level of UK quidditch. The program has had a very encouraging start in terms of helping to change attitudes towards non-male players in the UK, and it will be interesting to see what impact the influence of All In will have on gameplay at BQC in its early days and where it may go from here.

Caitlin Thomas’ off-ball chasing in the 2016 World Cup championship | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
4.  Who will survive the Group of Death?
The first days of most tournaments often do not have many exciting moments, but the group draw has gifted us with some tasty action to follow right from the beginning of the weekend. Group E is being described as this year’s group of death, and for good reason. A regional runner-up in Durhamstrang, a former national champion in Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts, the BQC 2016 lower bracket winners HogYork Horntails, and Southern Cup lower bracket winners Falmouth Falcons all share this space and come into it with different angles. Durhamstrang as top seeds have struggled for form this season, while Southampton – whose season came crashing back down to earth following their early exit from Southern Cup – will be looking to redeem themselves. York, who were also drawn in a group of death at Northern Cup, will want to avoid another lower bracket experience, while Falmouth will want to prove they can still compete in the mid-tier. This is perhaps the toughest group ever assembled at BQC, with every single team believing they are worthy of a spot in the upper bracket. Every match is guaranteed to bring high-level play and drama to the first day of the tournament, and everyone at the tournament, spectators and teams alike, will have one eye on what goes down in this group.

5.  What impact will the South West League teams have at the tournament?
At the start of the season, the South West League was established as the first league format for quidditch in the UK. The competition has mostly been run by Brizzlepuffs Quidditch Club and has featured both Bristol teams, Bath Basilisks, Exeter Eagles, Falmouth Falcons, and Swansea Seven Swans. With few other club tournaments running in between QuidditchUK regional championships and BQC, the league has proved to be the main source of competition for these teams, and seeing how these teams fare at BQC should give us an indication of how valuable regular matches can be for teams.

The Brizzlebears may have run away with the South West title with ease this season, but the benefit of the league may be seen further down the table with Swansea, Falmouth, and Exeter able to pick up added match experience outside the pressures of a tournament environment. For the most part, quidditch has historically been played as a tournament sport due to the short duration of matches and the practicalities of organising fixtures between teams in a sport almost exclusively run and played by cash-strapped students. If the participation in the league corresponds to improved BQC performances for the South West teams, it might not be long until we see more regional leagues being set up across the UK.   

Bath play Swansea in the South West League | Photo Credit: Callum Lane (WonderLand Visuals)
Three Contenders
Before a ball was even thrown at the start of the season, it was clear to many that it would be a race between three teams for the BQC trophy: Warwick QC, Werewolves of London, and Velociraptors QC, a collective of teams dubbed “The Big Three.” All season has been spent building up to see these three teams claim their first BQC title and become the third British champion in the tournament’s short history.

Velociraptors QC
Velociraptors are very much the form team going into BQC. The Midlands-based side took the Northern regional title at a canter, beating all their opponents out of snitch range and conceding a mere seven goals all tournament, before another dominant tournament win at Hateful 8. The Raptors’ 18-player roster for BQC is stacked with quality and experience across the board and is probably their strongest to date, including the new acquisition of former Radcliffe Chimera Angus Barry, returning after a lengthy absence due to injury. The team contains four members of the BQC 2016 Chimeras winning roster (including Captain Tom Heynes and double BQC winner Ash Cooper) who know exactly what is needed to win Europe’s toughest national competition, plus eight BQC semifinalists/medal winners who will be desperate to finally reach the top step of the podium after coming so close in the past.

The Raptors’ main strengths are their driving game in quaffle players like James Thanangadan and Warren McFadyen, their aggressive beating courtesy of Lucy Q and Dan Trick, and an all-around ironclad defence. The team follows a very similar gameplan to that of last season’s Nottingham Nightmares, in which the highly chaotic Lucy Q opens up holes in the opposition defence, providing space for Thanangadan and company to make a barreling run toward the hoops – a strategy that is fairly hard to stop once it gets going. However, when the Nightmares faced Warwick in the 2016 BQC semifinal, Warwick’s beaters were able to outplay their opponents and expose what was otherwise a fairly one-dimensional tactic. Although this year’s Raptors possess a bit more variety across their quaffle player lineup compared to last year’s Nightmares, dominating Lucy and her fellow beaters while on offence remains a key aspect to exploit if any team wishes to defeat the Northern champions, although this is much easier said than done.

Another potential weakness of Heynes’ team, like the Werewolves, is the lack of training time prior to the tournament in comparison to Warwick. However, this is somewhat offset by their familiarity and chemistry with one another that was established in previous Bangor Broken Broomsticks, Nottingham Nightmares, Keele Squirrels, and Radcliffe Chimeras teams in years gone by, as well as on the international stage with TeamUK.

Velociraptors at Northern Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Hannah Dignum
Warwick QC
The landscape of UK Quidditch has changed a lot in the last 12 months, but one team that has resisted this is Warwick QC, the bridesmaid club of the 2015-16 season. Twice the Midlands side finished second to the Radcliffe Chimeras, first at Southern Cup 2015 then at BQC 2016, and this season they will be determined to follow in the Chimeras’ footsteps to BQC glory, having already been crowned the best team in the South. If you believe in superstition, a particular omen is on the side of the Willows. Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts are their opponents in Group H, and for the last two years the team that has gone on to lift the BQC trophy has had to go through the Scottish champions at this stage in the tournament to get there. The bracket also appears to be in Warwick’s favour, with Werewolves and Velociraptors expected to be on the other side of the draw. This means they may not have to play a snitch-range game until the final, unless the Brizzlebears can put together a performance reminiscent of their Hateful 8 win, should they meet in the semifinals. A lack of depth and tournament stamina proved to be detrimental to Warwick’s BQC hopes last year, as they had to put everything they had left into a tightly-fought semifinal vs. the Nottingham Nightmares. After defeating the Nightmares in overtime, staying in range with the Chimeras proved to be one step too far. This time, captain Hannah Dignum will hope her roster of 21 has the ability to cope with the strains of a BQC championship run.   

Keeper Seb Waters remains the on-pitch general of the team, barking out instructions and dictating the pace of the game like few others can. He, along with his lieutenants Ben Malpass and Luke Trevett, form a formidable attacking trifecta of speed and interplay that is akin to that of Titans Paris at times. And even when that fails to unlock a defence, Warwick can add in the power of Joe Kernaghan and Darius Fattahi to the mix, as well as the poaching skills of Kat Jack and Katy Lawrence around the hoops. The absence of TeamUK beater James Burnett is a major blow that places more emphasis on the play of Jacopo Sartori whilst also providing the opportunity for Nadhirah Anwar and Dignum to show more of what they are capable of. Keeping Sartori fresh and uninjured is now especially vital if Warwick are to gain the edge in the bludger game, as he is regarded as one of the best aggressive beaters in the UK. The Willows have incredible faith in seeker Jonathan Purvis (who now has a capable replacement in the form of Malpass), and they will be doing everything they can to ensure the snitch ends up in his hand even in the closest of matches.

Of “The Big Three,” Warwick should come into BQC as the most prepared side, considering their intensive training schedule. This should give them great cohesion that will go some way to negating the inexperience of some of their players. Warwick are back at BQC with a vengeance looking stronger than ever, and they will surely be using the pain of last season’s final to spur them on to victory this year.

Warwick defeat Brizzlebears at Hateful 8 | Photo Credit: David Richardson
Werewolves of London
After a very limited opening season, the howl of the Werewolves can finally be heard loud and clear as the Londoners join this season’s leading pack. The days of scratching around for players and occupying the mid-tier are over for the Werewolves, as they now have the roster to really challenge for the top prize in UK quidditch. Simon Bidwell will be looking to be the first captain to lead two separate teams to BQC titles, having inspired Southampton Quidditch Club to victory in 2015. Five players of that winning Southampton team plus the dynamic duo of Luke Twist and Jan Mikolajczak, two-time BQC champions with the Radcliffe Chimeras, form an integral part of this Werewolves’ roster. In the likes of former Canadian international Brian Wong, Jordan Aymer-Jeffrey, and former Team UK captain Tom Norton, the Werewolves have plenty of chasers blessed with blistering pace. The Werewolves also have arguably the best female chaser lineup in the UK right now with the talents of Jemma Thripp, Tash Ferenczy, and Joanna Piatek. If the Werewolves wish to win BQC, they must make a point of using these strengths to their advantage. Warwick QC and Velociraptors QC have already managed to defeat Werewolves this season by slowing the game down and denying the Werewolves opportunities to attack  against broken defences, and it will be up to the likes of beaters Mikolajczak and Chris Thomas to intervene in quaffle play at the right points to secure turnovers for their team.

Tactical issues are not the only obstacles Werewolves will have to overcome at BQC. Individually, the London team are undoubtedly fantastic players, but infrequent training sessions and a roster that has chopped and changed throughout the season has not allowed the team to gel on pitch as well as they probably would have liked to. Managing a full roster of 21 is never easy at the best of times, but that struggle is certainly compounded when it involves incorporating players coming from a larger spread of teams than rivals Velociraptors, who do not have much time to learn how to play with each other. The team also has a number of big personalities who are known to get hot-tempered in the heat of battle, and they will need to keep their discipline and composure if they wish to succeed.      

Werewolves of London at Southern Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Rica Biasi (More Quidditch Photos)
One Champion
If all goes to form, Warwick QC are guaranteed silver medalists, should they avoid any upsets on their route to the final. The West Midlanders should have the ability to beat everyone in their slightly easier path to the final, although with weaker roster depth, they will need to keep their key players as fresh as possible to avoid coming up just short once again. The likely showdown between Velociraptors QC and Werewolves of London in the semifinals should be an incredible encounter if previous games this season are anything to go by. The match should have all the qualities we expect from a BQC final, and if both teams play to their maximum potential, it could well be a snitch-range match. If it comes to this, it is expected that Velociraptors QC will edge the tie by the finest of margins thanks to their slightly greater talent at seeker coupled with the exceptional snitch-on-pitch beating of Lucy Q. When Werewolves beat Raptors in snitch range at Battle Royale back in October, the Raptors’ seekers were given plenty of one-on-one time with the snitch that ultimately they couldn’t capitalise on before Vince Fouré made a catch that was very much out of the blue. Judging by this beater dominance, it could well be the Raptors’ match to lose. However, as anybody who follows quidditch knows by now, snitch-range games are rarely that simple and anything can happen. With the aforementioned scenario playing out, this would lead to a final not too dissimilar to last year’s with a highly experienced team (Velociraptors) facing off against a talented yet slightly raw opponent (Warwick). Considering the strength of both teams’ quaffle game, the match will be won in the beater game – an area in which the Raptors’ overall depth and experience (particularly in aggressive beaters) should allow them to come out on top, but to what extent remains to be seen. If they can keep the match in range, Warwick will have to go for a quick catch to win the game, potentially committing all their resources to snitch play, which is when the Raptors may get their chance to pull away into a sufficient lead. All in all, purely based on the consistent quality across their roster, we predict Velociraptors QC to win this year’s British Quidditch Cup.

  1. Velociraptors QC
  2. Warwick QC
  3. Werewolves of London

That concludes our pre-BQC coverage. After all the build up to the tournament, it’s now up to the players of the 32 teams to do the talking on the pitch and prove or disprove our predictions. Remember to follow @QuidPost_UK for score updates from all the matches played over the weekend.The only question left to ask is: are you BQC Ready?

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