By Jack Lennard, Ashara Peiris, and Fraser Posford
The first of the QuidditchUK (QUK) regionals kicks off this weekend with Southern Cup 2016 in Southampton. Not only will this decide the first three UK teams to qualify for the 2017 European Quidditch Cup (EQC) in Belgium, it will also decide the first 16 teams to qualify for the 2017 British Quidditch Cup (BQC) – offering intrigue and excitement at both the top and bottom of the tournament. Here, we outline the key things to look out for – players to watch, storylines to follow, teams that will qualify for EQC, and the lasting impact the tournament could have on quidditch in the UK.
Seven Players To Watch
Alex Macartney – London Unspeakables – Keeper
Making his debut at BQC 2016 earlier this year, Macartney was quietly successful. Now that he has had a further six months to mature, this 6’4” self-proclaimed tank has really come into his own. Boasting fantastic driving, solid passing, and a great tactical understanding, Macartney scored or assisted in most of the Unspeakables’ goals at Highlander Cup IV. With spots on both the TeamUK roster and development squad available, Macartney is already a clear frontrunner for one of these positions.
Katy Lawrence – Warwick Quidditch Club – Chaser
Previously a beater for Warwick, Lawrence made the transition to chaser over the summer and has since excelled. With phenomenal positioning and great finishing ability around the hoops, Lawrence will surely add to Warwick’s chaser depth and fill the hole left by the departure of Dina Caruso and Lauren Hewitt. Some of Lawrence’s other advantages are her coachability and communication. She is always eager and willing to learn, and because of this she is improving at a phenomenal rate.
David Holland – Southampton Quidditch Club (SQC) – Beater
SQC’s Captain David Holland made his return to the sport at Battle Royale earlier in the month, after a severe back injury at last year’s Southern Cup looked to have permanently retired him. Despite being out for a year, Holland showed no sign of rustiness, throwing in big hits and always pressuring the opposition. A good Southern Cup 2016 performance may be enough to earn him a berth on the TeamUK training squad, a spot he arguably earned two years ago.
Georgie Rumney – Norwich Nifflers – Beater
As former captain of the Norwich Nifflers, Rumney has shown that there is plenty of talent present in the East Anglian team. Possessing excellent game awareness, seeker beating, and catching ability – which includes such feats as catching a bludger immediately after her teammate ducked underneath it – Rumney may be able to bring the Nifflers out of the limbo in which they’ve been stuck. If she can continue to bring her hard-working ethos to the Nifflers, it could result in wins at Southern Cup and a possible upper-bracket finish.
Olivia Payne – Radcliffe Chimeras – Chaser
With many having already written off the Chimeras for this season, Payne comes into the captaincy role with an uphill battle ahead of her. With a number of players leaving the club this year, Payne will have to work hard to ensure that she can manage the team’s expectations and bring the remaining players together to form a coherent squad that can compete. Will she be able to do it? Only the Chimeras’ performance at Southern Cup will tell us.
Max Gill – Cambridge University Quidditch Club – Chaser
Having won a bronze medal at BQC 2016 with Durhamstrang, Max Gill takes his talents from north to south to join the light blue of Cambridge. A powerful quaffle carrier and solid defender, he is an asset to any team, and his performances for Durham did not get the credit they deserved. Apart from Captain Tom Hardman, Cambridge lacked a real physical presence in their quaffle play last year and this is most definitely something Gill, a former rugby player, can provide for the team. With a roster of just 10 players, Gill will have plenty of chances to impress and will have to really carry the team if Cambridge are to have any success at Southern Cup – something he will be familiar with from his time playing with the Durham Direwolves prior to being promoted to Durhamstrang.
Reuben Thompson – Falmouth Falcons – Seeker
Thompson stayed very much under the radar in his first season with the Falcons; however, this season may well be his chance to come into his own in the position. With his tall, athletic physique, Thompson showed signs of promise at Whiteknights Goes Forth at the end of last season, and his speed of hand and willingness to dive for the snitch could represent a useful (and potentially crucial) tool for the Cornwall side. He already has one SWIM-range catch under his belt this season in Falmouth’s narrow 60*-30 win over Swansea Seven Swans in the South West League, and he could have a few more if given the opportunity in Southampton.
Will Warwick or Werewolves Win?
With both the Warwick and Werewolves of London squads boasting almost the entirety of last year’s Southern TeamUK talent, these two teams are coming in as heavy favourites to win Southern Cup. However, which of these two teams will actually be the champion? Early season wins over Southampton Quidditch Club, Velociraptors QC, and the Bristol Brizzlebears show that when the Werewolves play well they can beat any team. However, an out-of-range loss to Antwerp Quidditch Club and a disappointingly flat SWIM-range victory against the merc team at Battle Royale – with a quaffle offence led by Seb Waters of Warwick – showed that the Werewolves’ strong quaffle game can be stymied.
Meanwhile, Warwick have been unable to have any warm-up games, so Southern Cup will be the first time that this team will play any real games. However, regular practices and some players’ experience at Battle Royale means Warwick will be ready. Furthermore, less challenging opponents in the group stages means that Warwick will likely be well-rested for later games. They will be able to warm up nicely and get into the swing of the games before they have to face anyone who might actually challenge their dominance.
The Chimeras Evolve
Oxford’s Radcliffe Chimeras come into Southern Cup as the reigning British champions and two-time reigning champions of the South. They are in search of a historic first three-peat in British history, yet they are very much unfancied to even be on the podium come early Sunday evening. This is due to the team’s large-scale exodus of personnel at the end of last season, including the likes of former captains Abby Whiteley, Ash Cooper, and Luke Twist – players and personalities who have been integral to Oxford’s “golden generation.” This year’s team certainly have some big shoes to fill, and although they have been shorn of much of their talented assets, the likes of TeamUK beater Alice Walker, Mark Richards, and Ireland international Mathilda Pandora Rose show that the Chimeras still have players who can pack a punch. A third straight Southern title may seem out of the question considering the comparative strength of their opponents, but it is certainly worth seeing how far they can take their title defence.
Brizzlebears vs. Falmouth – The Rematch
When the group draw was made on Oct. 9, the standout fixture was arguably the pairing of the Brizzlebears and Falmouth Falcons in Group C. The two sides fought out an incredible quarterfinal match in last year’s competition, with the Brizzlebears completing a dramatic comeback from 70-10 down to eventually win in double overtime, securing their EQC qualification in the process. Their latest encounter will represent a role reversal from last year, when it was Falmouth who went into Southern Cup 2015 as one of the tournament top seeds with aspirations of a second consecutive EQC berth. Historically, neither team has been comfortable when given the mantle of favourites, so while the Bears may appear to be in the ascendency right now with Falmouth going through a transitional season due to the departure of some significant players, the result of this matchup is far from clear. Could we see another epic showdown and/or potential win for the underdog Falcons? Or will the Bears assert their dominance and lay down a marker on Day One? We wait in eager anticipation to find out!
Just How Will Swansea Perform?
Swansea Seven Swans are one of those teams that has existed for quite some time, yet has never shocked people. Making a somewhat shaky debut at Whiteknights the Third, in which their grasp of the rules was definitely questionable, they performed respectably at Southern Cup 2015 and again at Whiteknights IV at the end of the 2015-16 season (this time with some eye-catching new kits). However, few were expecting the narrowest of defeats that Swansea received only weeks ago in their South West League fixture against Falmouth, a match that ended 60*-30. Falmouth have been a strong team in the UK for quite some time, and there is little to suggest that their talent has abruptly dropped off. Though Falmouth are isolated by their geography, this has not proven to be a problem in the past, and so a reasonable suspicion is that Swansea have seriously upped their game over the summer and will be coming into their group with a point to prove. Maybe we are wrong. Maybe Falmouth had a bad day, or fielded an inexperienced roster. Or maybe we are not, and we could be looking at a very strong Swansea finish in Group A.
17 Teams… For Now
Despite increased visibility in the media and the excellent work of the QuidditchUK marketing department in the past year, Southern Cup will once more be contested by 17 teams, the same as last year’s event. With only Canterbury’s Flying Chaucers as Southern debutantes in 2016 (Tornadoes Quidditch Club, who contested Southern Cup 2015, now play in the Northern region), it would appear that growth has stagnated somewhat, especially considering that the tournament more than doubled in size from eight competing in 2014 to 17 in 2015. However, if there is one thing we know from history, new teams in the UK have traditionally taken half a season to a year to properly establish themselves before competing at major tournaments, so the current lack of growth shouldn’t be of great concern. Irons are already in the fire and we could well see some new faces on the UK scene soon. Bath Quidditch Club (Bathilisks) dropped from Southern Cup not long after the group draw announcement and have already competed in the South West League, a competition in which the Worcester Saucerors are expected to compete later in the season. Bournemouth Quidditch Club recently attended a Hooch Initiative session at Southampton, along with Portsmouth. Meanwhile, there are murmurings of new teams being created in Winchester and at the University of Sussex in Brighton. If trends and these development projects are anything to go by, expect to see an expanded Southern Cup for the 2017 season.
Three EQC-Qualifying Teams
Warwick Quidditch Club
With a huge wealth of talent coming into this tournament, the EQC spot is Warwick’s to lose. The rest of the UK has not seen them play yet this season, but if Seb Waters’ performance at Battle Royale is anything to go by, Warwick have retained their talent from last season – and added to it. Captain Hannah Dignum offers the passion, skill, and motivation to keep the team at the top of their game, and Vice-Captain James Burnett offers the experience (fresh off yet another TeamUK stint, this time helping them to bronze at the 2016 World Cup) to grapple with the more refined tactics they may come up against as the season progresses. The lack of game experience for their freshers is the key weak element in this team, and it’s one that other teams will have to hope Warwick have not prepared for.
Werewolves of London
Werewolves have made their goal very clear this season: be one of the top teams in the country, if not take the top place themselves. They have the players to do that. Jan Mikolajczak and Jemma Thripp remain two of the best beater and chaser options the UK has to offer, and that is just the start of this incredibly experienced squad. The real power behind the team is Simon Bidwell, who coaches and leads the team through gruelling trainings. Bringing plenty of former SQC players with him (including Vincent Fouré and Alex Greenhalgh), he has the familiarity with his players to bring them success. However, a lack of recruitment may force them to be more resourceful than they expect to be when it comes to the latter stages of the tournament, and this is a Werewolves weakness upon which other teams may rely.
Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts
This final place caused a lot of debate among staff. It’s a place that is perhaps one of the most tightly contested in the sport in the UK at the moment. SQC, the Radcliffe Chimeras, and the Brizzlebears are all vying for this final place at EQC. We ruled out the Radcliffe Chimeras fairly early on; though we are eagerly awaiting to see whether the team can bounce back from a huge depletion of players, the early occurrence of Southern Cup in the Oxford term just does not allow new players enough time to fill the shoes of those who have left the team over the summer. Meanwhile, the Bears, though convincing at the SW League fixtures, lost to SQC at Battle Royale and are taking a slightly depleted squad to Southern Cup. SQC have retained veteran beaters Imy Gregg, Alex Carpenter, and David Holland, who is now captaining the team after his return from injury. SQC are also renowned for their recruitment, and if anyone can burst the Bears’ dreams of qualifying for a second consecutive EQC, it will be them.
One Lasting Impact
The way the Werewolves perform at this tournament will set the tone for the rest of the season – no, for the rest of the UK’s development in the sport. Southern Cup is the first time that a community team (Werewolves) will go in with a genuine chance of taking home the title. This will not just impact how the UK quidditch community sees the chances of Velociraptors QC and Tornadoes and other community teams; it will affect how they gauge the potential for university teams to coexist with these teams – especially as loosely-based Midlands community teams draw talent from Nottingham and Loughborough. It will affect the likelihood of other community teams springing up in the same city as ones that are already established (in particular, the performance of the London Unspeakables after losing Fiona Howat to the Werewolves last season will be fascinating). So much rests on how the Werewolves and the teams around them perform at this tournament, and the ripples of the messages that are sent from Southern Cup will affect the future of quidditch analysis and growth in the UK.