By Fraser Posford
After the World Cup fever of 2016, attention turns to this summer’s European Games (EG) in Oslo, Norway. Team UK come into EG as one of the main contenders thanks to their bronze medal performance in Frankfurt, Germany the highest finish of any European side. There will be a certain amount of anticipation, pressure, and hunger surrounding the squad to win a first major trophy. Thanks to the strength of the domestic teams, Team UK have a staggering wealth of talent at their disposal, as demonstrated by the latest 42–player Training Squad. This makes the task of selecting a roster immensely difficult, with a squad that is twice as big as the team they’ll bring to Norway.
Below, I take a look at some of the selection dilemmas Head Coach Emily Oughtibridge and her coaching team faces ahead of naming this year’s roster while also making my own picks.
Andrew Hull (Velociraptors Quidditch Club)
Seb Waters (Warwick Quidditch Club)
Caleb Pakeman (HogYork Horntails)
Andrew Hull must be one of the first names on the team sheet for this summer. The veteran of three years with Team UK has had another amazing season with his new club Velociraptors QC, especially improving on his defensive play and shot and pass accuracy.
Following the retirement of Ollie Craig and Luke Twist’s switch to beating, two spots opened up at keeper. Replacing both of them is no easy feat due to their incredible athleticism as well as prolific playmaking and goal-scoring capabilities, but these players will undoubtedly be determined to prove their abilities in the UK shirt. Despite having chased at last year’s World Cup, Seb Waters is a natural choice to slot in here, having played primarily at keeper for Southern champions Warwick this season. Waters is one of the best when it comes to organising and dictating the pace of a game, and both these qualities will be essential in the latter stages of the tournament.
York’s Pakeman is a wildcard for this year’s team due to his inconsistent form in a Horntails side that didn’t quite live up to expectations this season. However, he is likely to get the spot based on his potential. The large size of the latest training squad suggests that Oughtibridge is viewing EG as a stepping stone to next year’s World Cup. If this is the case, Pakeman, or even Swansea Seven Swans’ Ed Brett, may fit the bill as a player who has shown flashes of ability but is still yet to truly hit their peak. Werewolves of London’s Alex Greenhalgh, who was a keeper/seeker for Team UK in 2014, is also well within contention for the team, especially with his utility abilities. However, as a keeper who plays in a similar style to first-choice Hull, Greenhalgh doesn’t offer as much in his primary position as he does as an overall player, which may cost him.
Tom Heynes (Velociraptors Quidditch Club)
Bex Lowe (Durhamstrang)
Ollie Riley (Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts)
Tom Stevens (HogYork Horntails)
James Thanangadan (Velociraptors Quidditch Club)
Jemma Thripp (Werewolves of London)
Luke Trevett (Warwick Quidditch Club)
Aaron Veale (Werewolves of London)
Jackie Woodburn (Velociraptors Quidditch Club)
I expect the chaser lineup to be mostly unchanged from the World Cup. Jemma Thripp, Bex Lowe, and Jackie Woodburn continue to be the standout female chasers in the UK who should rotate between each other at EG. The only doubt over this trio is with Woodburn, who missed half of the season recovering from the knee injury that sadly ended her World Cup campaign prematurely. However, since her timely return to help Velociraptors win their first British Quidditch Cup (BQC) title in March, Woodburn hasn’t showed a noticeable drop off in performance and could well be back to her best in Oslo. Of the many other female chaser options in the squad, the Loughborough Longshots’ Franky Kempster is perhaps the closest to taking a spot in the team, having played for the UK against Norway in October, as well as being a similar player and character to Lowe. However, considering the form of the incumbents, it appears she may narrowly miss out again.
Male chaser is once again a hotly contested area in the squad with plenty of options available. Aaron Veale has had another high-performing season, this time in the colours of the Werewolves who he helped to podium finishes at every major tournament. His all-round skill set and experience makes him a serious threat to any opposition. As two players coming from teams that aren’t traditional Team UK feeder clubs, Ollie Riley and Tom Stevens are unconventional roster picks but their form this season earns them their places. Both of them have been vital to the progress of their respective clubs, with the former defying previous injury problems to lead Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts to an unprecedented fourth place at BQC 2017, which included a highly impressive individual performance to defeat Warwick in pool play. Including Riley and Stevens in this roster means that it becomes a choice between Warwick teammates Ben Malpass and Trevett to make it into the team. Playing both alongside Waters at keeper in their accustomed Warwick trio is tempting to consider, as it is a combination that has served the Midlands side so well in recent times. However, as Velociraptors and the Hippogriffs showed against Warwick at BQC, elite teams can effectively nullify this offence with hard physical defence. This mostly counts against Malpass who struggled in these matches while Trevett was still able to have a big influence on both attack and defence in the face of defeat.
Conversely, large physical chasers are at premium in the UK right now, which means that Tom Heynes and James Thanangadan’s places are more or less secure, especially following some solid performances with the Velociraptors this season. With Jonathon Cookes unavailable for EG, veterans Heynes and Thanangadan will provide the much needed muscle to puncture opposition defences. Former captain and coach Ash Cooper also has an outside chance of making this year’s team, and with a record as decorated as his, there’s certainly reason to argue for his inclusion. However, having only just regained his Training Squad place, Cooper hasn’t had much time to fit into the team game plan that has been developing over the season and this may leave him on the reserve list.
Alex Carpenter (Southampton QC)
Lucy Edlund (Velociraptors QC)
Jan Mikolajczak (Werewolves of London)
Jess O’Neill (Velociraptors QC)
Bill Orridge (Loughborough Longshots)
Lucy Quidditch (Velociraptors QC)
Jacopo Sartori (Warwick QC)
I expect many familiar faces from Frankfurt to be beating once more for Team UK in Oslo. Lucy Quidditch, Bill Orridge, Jan Mikolajczak, Lucy Edlund, and Alex Carpenter have continued to produce high–level performances this season, and I would be surprised to see any of them lose their spots.
The injury that kept veteran James Burnett out of BQC and EQC was certainly unfortunate for Warwick; however, it did allow Jacopo Sartori more game time to prove his capabilities. Sartori’s exclusion from last year’s World Cup squad was quite surprising, as he has done nothing but improve since playing at European Games 2015. His speed, reflexes, and reading of the game make him a formidable opponent. Despite this, Sartori won’t be able to walk easily into this year’s side due to stiff competition from Luke Twist (Werewolves) and Anjit Aulakh (Southampton). Both players have switched to the position full time in the past year and proved themselves at the highest level but just miss out in my roster. EG may be a tournament too early for Aulakh, who has only just entered the Training Squad and in comparison to Sartori is still learning the position, while the issue of Twist is one of the most difficult that Oughtibridge faces with this year’s roster. The former Radcliffe Chimera is undeniably an impressive player; however, since switching to beater, he hasn’t proved to be as dominant when compared to the impact he used to make in the quaffle game. Twist could easily be picked for this team for his utility capabilities but may find himself behind Mikolajczak, Orridge, and Sartori in the beating picking order, which may not sit well for a player who’s so accustomed to playing heavy minutes.
With Carpenter expected to be deployed as a seeking option, there’s a space for another beater that will be closely contested between Imy Gregg, Jess O’Neill, and Alice Walker. All three have proved themselves on the international stage in previous Team UK rosters and should all be worthy of slotting into this year’s roster; however, I expect only one of them will make the cut. While Gregg is the more rounded of the three and Walker’s chemistry with Mikolajczak (formerly of the Chimeras but now with Werewolves) makes for a formidable partnership, both have been playing on declining Southampton and Oxford teams this season, which hasn’t allowed them much opportunity to truly showcase their talents. This favours O’Neill as a member of the victorious Raptors beater corps who would be linking up with many of her teammates in this UK roster, including both Lucys in the black headband. Training performance may be a deciding factor between these three.
Ben Morton (Velociraptors QC)
Reuben Thompson (Falmouth Falcons)
Although a broken hand kept Ben Morton out of EQC for the Velociraptors, he should be fit in time for EG, and if he goes, he must surely be a candidate to captain the team once more. Morton is the epitome of hard work and dedication, bringing an incredible amount of experience to the position as well as cover at chaser, plus his defensive qualities make him the best all-round seeker in the UK right now. The demotion of David Goswell to the Expansion Squad means there’s a seeker place up for grabs to be taken by either Bangor Broken Broomsticks’ Callum Lake, Falmouth’s Reuben Thompson, or Warwick’s Jonathan Purvis. Having spent the whole season in the Training Squad, Purvis is likely to be in pole position to take the place; however, his over-reliance on his arm reach to make a snitch grab makes him somewhat one–dimensional, especially when put against long–armed and strong snitches. Therefore, I’ve picked Thompson in my team who, whilst also having a similar reach and SWIM record to Purvis, is the more athletic of the three and has an excellent diving technique that’s reminiscent of Ollie Craig. The UK will also have other seeking options available in the likes of Carpenter and Stevens, so there is a relative amount of depth in this position.