By Fraser Posford and Ashara Peiris
Editor’s note: Ashara Peiris is a player for London Unspeakables.
On the weekend of Jan. 28 and 29, the Hateful 8 tournament took place at Warwick University. With the top four teams from both North and South regions in attendance, this tournament provided us with a progress update for the status of elite quidditch in the UK. The tournament was split via a community/university divide into two groups of four for Day One, playing a round robin from which the top two from each group entered an upper bracket and the bottom two entered a lower bracket for Day Two. Here, we reflect on Velociraptors QC’s tournament victory as well as some other key observations from the tournament.
1. Incomplete rosters give us incomplete impressions
Before we get into the rest of the article, all the results from the Hateful 8 should really be taken with a grain of salt. The outcome of the Hateful 8 may not entirely be defined by the players who played at the tournament, but rather, by those absent from the roster. Pretty much all teams at the tournament were missing key players across their roster, which likely had an impact on certain matches, leading to somewhat inconclusive results about the quality of the teams based solely on their rankings in this tournament. However, the importance of a winning run or the learning curve from a close defeat cannot be underestimated; therefore all teams will have gained some much needed feedback in their preparation for British Quidditch Cup (BQC) next month.
2. Raptors in pole position for the BQC title
The main hype going into the tournament was witnessing the first showdown of the season between “The Big Three” – Velociraptors QC, Werewolves of London, and Warwick Quidditch Club. This time around, it was the Velociraptors who came out victorious, beating Werewolves twice out of range to avenge their 70*-40 reversal at October’s SQC Battle Royale and beating Warwick 100*-40 on Day Two, to take home the trophy. The Northern champions were without Team UK keeper Andrew Hull, though his absence from the team was not really noticeable. Jay Holmes impressively stepped up his performances in the green headband, while James Thanangadan also deputised for the missing Hull. Ash Cooper was back to his scrappy best as a chaser, putting in plenty of graft at both ends of the pitch as well as catching four snitches as seeker.
In the beating department, Dave Goddin, Dan Trick, and Lucy Quidditch made their usual stamp on the proceedings, with aggressive beating being used effectively to set up goal after goal and force a number of turnovers.
Having gone another tournament unbeaten, the Raptors will be feeling very confident going into BQC, in the knowledge that they can win matches without relying on Hull (whilst also still being without the talents of injured Team UK chaser Jackie Woodburn). Tom Heynes’ team are now favourites for the BQC title, although remaining ahead of the chasing pack in Rugeley most certainly will not be easy.
3. Werewolves falter, Warwick tinker, and Brizzlebears rise to the occasion
The Werewolves’ frustrating season continues with another second place finish, and a first tournament win eluding Simon Bidwell and his team once again. They still looked somewhat disjointed at times with their lack of roster consistency and training time, which was not aided by the noticeable absences of Vince Fouré, Brian Wong, and Luke Twist. Losing twice out of range to Velociraptors QC will have hurt the Werewolves most of all, as they believe they are capable of beating their newfound community team rivals (and rightfully so having done so earlier this season). However, the Werewolves did manage to get a bittersweet victory over Warwick to avenge their Southern Cup final loss. With not much turnaround between now and BQC, it is Bidwell & co. who are playing catch-up.
Meanwhile, Warwick were perhaps the smartest team at Hateful 8. They were missing Team UK chaser Luke Trevett and key beaters Jacopo Sartori and James Burnett, so it seemed as though Warwick favoured development over victory and used their status as hosts to their advantage by bringing a large roster. Warwick fielded a fresher-heavy roster and even moved Seb Waters to beater on occasions with the likes of chasers Joe Kernaghan and Theo Baldwin-Evans and beater Taayeb Ali impressing. Last season, a lack of depth and fatigue/injury to key players cost Warwick the BQC title, so having the opportunity to give so many new players a taste of top-level competitive action in a low-risk environment prior to March’s main event could be a beneficial move for them. Therefore, whilst they suffered defeats to Werewolves, Raptors, and the Brizzlebears – a loss they later avenged – they should not be affected significantly.
However, the big surprise of the tournament were the Brizzlebears, who will be incredibly pleased with their performance. Whilst the Bears technically came fourth due to the lowest points difference of teams in the upper bracke, they had the second largest number of wins over the weekend. They topped the university pool on day one, thanks to an overtime win over Durhamstrang and a SWIM victory against Warwick, and grabbed a victory over a depleted Werewolves of London on Day Two. Despite taking third place at Southern Cup earlier in the season, there were questions about how well they would perform at this tournament, particularly compared to the northern teams. Prior to the tournament, it was not widely thought of that any other team could compete with “The Big Three,” yet the Brizzlebears blew away all concerns and upset the odds with their smaller but more coherent squad.
Aaron Brett-Miller continued to show that he is one of the UK’s best prospects, whilst the newly-promoted Florian Messemer showcased his chasing chops alongside some excellent seeking. Samantha Frolich and Viral Patel also continued to impress with Frolich catching the snitch to beat Werewolves, and Patel putting in a very assured performance. Come BQC, the Brizzlebears have an outside chance of snatching a medal if they continue to improve.
4. Lower bracket proves how tight the pack is
Match-ups between “The Big Three” were not the only ones of interest over the weekend. All four teams in the lower bracket proved that they deserved to be at this tournament, with only a single game between the four being out of SWIM range and with Durhamstrang vs. Unspeakables only 10 points out of range before the snitch catch. By this indication, matches in the Round of 16 at BQC should be ferociously competitive with a good chance of more SWIM-range matches. This time around though, Tornadoes came away with victories over each of the three teams with Abbi Harris, David Goswell, and Claudio Svaluto vital to the team’s chasing whilst the backbone of Jonathan Cookes and Becky Thomson opened up many opportunities.
Loughborough Longshots managed to defeat the Unspeakables whilst being 20 points down. They seemed to take the opportunity to try some of their newer players however they often played well. Emily Arnold in particular is a player who has started to show significant promise and, if cultivated, will be a threat. However, Loughborough still struggle slightly from having to rely on a few key players, particularly Holly Kerslake and Bill Orridge, who seemingly played in every position in some games. If they are unable to improve their depth, the Longshots may struggle come BQC.
Durhamstrang brought a particularly small squad to Hateful 8, with the substitution box often looking very empty. The small roster size also meant that the team developed great coherence and, in true Durham fashion, were able to grind out some strong performances in the form of narrow victories and defeats. James Fulton has now grown into a very competitive beater, with relentless napalm attempts and offensive beating. Similarly, Vincent Poon continues to develop into a speedy hard-hitting chaser. Durhamstrang coach and Team UK chaser Bex Lowe also made an impressive contribution as keeper. Close losses to the Brizzlebears and Loughborough on Day One (and a rare 70-70 draw on Day Two, a match ended early due to transport arrangements) were offset by a comfortable win over the Unspeakables on Day Two – although they were only ahead by 40 points prior to the catch. Whilst they seem unlikely to replicate last year’s dream run to third place, with this team, who knows?
Lastly, there were the London Unspeakables. Despite winning any games over the weekend, this was arguably the strongest they have ever looked, displaying reasonable performances against Werewolves and incredibly impressive showings against Loughborough and Tornadoes – both teams that outmatched them in the recent past. The development of a more nuanced and effective offence complemented their already powerful defence. Alberto Salvador was the star of the chasing game by scoring a lot, whilst Team Slovakia beater Martin Mornár was phenomenal in all stages of the game. If the Unspeakables can shore up a few problems (notably finding a capable seeking option besides captain Matt Bateman), they will be a formidable team.
5. Slow and steady wins the tactical mind games
As expected of the top-four finishing teams from autumn’s regional championships, the gameplay was mostly of a high quality. Pretty much every team relied on patient offence and very compact defence to force advancement of slowball, and teams were experimenting without trying to give away too much.
Matches at Hateful 8 did not exactly produce the most fast-paced or exciting of spectacles for the neutral viewer, something that was not helped by the typically wet British weather conditions, with at times a frustrating lack of decisive passing and clinical finishing around the hoops. However, Hateful 8 was yet further evidence of the maturation of top-level quidditch in the UK, with a more methodical and tactically nuanced perspective. Even teams such as the Brizzlebears and London Unspeakables, who have previously been somewhat disorganised and erratic in their approach, now play with a much higher level of game management and strategy.
Should weather conditions be better at BQC, many will be hoping to see more entertaining play fitting for the climax of what has been an intriguing season thus far in results, but not necessarily in style. Will we see teams unleash all their very best well-trained tactics and intense play resulting in the absolute goal-fest we crave? Or will we continue to see the more tactical, slow-paced yet tense matches that have plagued/graced (depending on your opinion) these past few months? History points towards the latter; however, we will see the answers to these questions unfold upon the fields of a small Staffordshire town just a few weeks down the line. Overall, Hateful 8 proved to be an interesting, albeit slightly confusing, stepping stone toward BQC. The only thing left to say – bring it on.