By Fraser Posford and Ashara Peiris
The IQA World Cup 2016 bronze medallists, Team UK (TUK) have at last released their roster. But who made the cut, and how will they do?
Bill Orridge (C)
Since implementing team selection for Team UK, the number of new additions to the final squad has reduced each year. This year there are only four players who have never played on Team UK and a further four who were not on the 2016 World Cup squad but had been on a previous iteration of Team UK. Clearly it is becoming more difficult for new players to break into the elite level of the sport. So who are these new players?
Ollie Riley – Chaser – Holyrood Hippogriffs
Coming off the back of his most successful season ever, Riley captained the Holyrood Hippogriffs to an impressive fourth–place finish at this year’s British Quidditch Cup (BQC) which included an upset over BQC medallist favourites and Southern champions, Warwick Quidditch Club. Showing strong tackling, driving, distribution, and game intelligence, Riley will easily slot into Team UK as a secondary ball handler and off–ball chaser.
Tom Stevens – Chaser/Seeker – HogYork Horntails
York may have struggled to live up to the hype that surrounded them at the start of the season, but Stevens has set his own standards even higher and has made himself their star player. The former rugby winger has perfectly transferred his skills across to quidditch, regularly displaying perfect tackling technique and confidence in contact while using his lightning pace to duke through defences. The arrival of seeker Phil Brown at the Horntails has allowed Stevens to focus more on his chasing game and it has clearly paid off with his national selection.
Ben Malpass – Chaser/Seeker – Warwick Quidditch Club
As part of Warwick’s dangerous quaffle trio, Malpass has always been an essential part of their quaffle play. His superior receiving and finishing skills means he earns his spot at the expense of club teammate Luke Trevett. He has also become more lethal as a ball handler to compliment his off-ball play and has improved his seeking ability, rounding out his overall skill set.
Callum Lake – Dedicated Seeker – Bangor Broken Broomsticks
As Team UK’s only dedicated seeker, Lake has shown incredible consistency over the season. Lake has been able to catch snitches with incredible regularity, including against Durhamstrang and the London Unspeakables to secure Bangor’s Highlander Cup IV victory. With Team UK finally deciding to take a dedicated seeker to an international competition, this will leave him fresh and in a good position to end games on his terms.
The prodigal children
Jess O’Neill – Beater – Velociraptors QC
Since making her TeamUK debut at Global Games 2014, O’Neill disappeared off the national selection radar in the seasons that followed, playing on a mid-tier Chester Centurions side. Despite being a key part of the Centurions’ beater lineup, a lack of deep tournament runs denied her the required exposure to really showcase her skills in the top tier. Since joining Velociraptors QC, however, she has really put down her marker. Despite arguably being the least well–known of their female beating options, she is a defensive stalwart who is adept at making crucial interventions to prevent a goal for the opposition.
Ash Cooper – Chaser/Seeker – Velociraptors QC
Ash Cooper’s record speaks for itself. Ash is the most decorated player the UK has ever had with three BQC titles, three regional titles, and one EQC win to his name, and also was awarded Team World coach for his coaching of Team UK as well as captaining the side in 2014. Cooper is by no means the flashiest player on pitch, but he’s a rugged veteran, tactician, and winner who isn’t afraid to do the ugly work to ensure victory for his team.
Jacopo Sartori – Beater- Warwick Quidditch Club
As a last-minute replacement at the previous European Games, Sartori would have been disappointed to not make last year’s squad. Since then, however, his play has developed by leaps and bounds, demonstrating strong tackling ability, great offence, and an amazing awareness in snitch on pitch games; his improved play created the opportunity for Warwick’s first regional championship. Sartori will slot in well with the rest of the team, ensuring no drop off between beaters.
Abbi Harris – Chaser – Tornadoes Quidditch Club
A member of the first ever Team UK for the IQA Summer Games in 2012, Harris slipped into obscurity playing for Leicester Thestrals and Leeds Griffins in the following seasons, but has finally gotten the recognition she deserves while playing with Tornadoes QC. Since joining the team in the 2015/2016 season, Harris has been one of the Tornadoes’ most consistent performers, helping them to 3rd place and EQC qualification at Northern Cup this season and a BQC Quarter final. Harris’ confident ball handling and driving abilities make her a player that no one should underestimate.
Notable departures and near misses
Unfortunately, whilst there have been a number of triumphs for new players, that means that some previous Team UK players have narrowly missed out on this year’s squad. Whilst the likes of Ollie Craig have retired, Ben Morton and James Burnett have sat out for injury, and Jonathan Cookes is unavailable, a further four players were unable to make the squad this year, showing that even for regional and national champions, nobody’s spot on the team is safe. Notably Luke Trevett, David Goswell, Alex Carpenter, and Alice Walker have missed out on selection this year.
Furthermore, new Training Squad additions such as Aaron Brett-Miller, Anjit Aulakh, and Asia Piatek will be disappointed not to make the team. In the future, however, they will be in prime position to capitalise on any dropouts and will otherwise already have an eye on earning a spot for themselves in time for next year’s World Cup.
A number of players will be setting a new record for the UK team with Jemma Thripp, Tom Heynes, Andrew Hull, Luke Twist, and Jan Mikolajczak all making their fourth consecutive appearance for Team UK. This is the largest number of appearances for any player in Team UK and quite likely the world, and it is particularly impressive that these players have remained at the top of the game for so long.
This year’s captain, Bill Orridge (previous vice captain of the team and Loughborough Longshots coach) is now in his third year on Team UK and is a strong choice to take over the role. Orridge is a more reserved character than his charismatic predecessor Ben Morton, but he will lead by example on pitch and has the respect of the players off it thanks to his extensive experience and knowledge of the game. His leadership will surely put TUK in a good position.
The roster composition has shifted from last year and gives us a good indication of how Team UK may play in Oslo. Andrew Hull and Seb Waters are the only two recognised keepers in the team, which suggests they will rotate with one another to form a combination of bulk and pace. Should either get injured, James Thanangadan or Luke Twist will be able to provide more than ample cover. Speaking of Twist, his inclusion as beater in this roster likely means that we will see him link up with long–term teammate for club and country, Jan Mikolajczak. The ‘Twistolajczak’ beater partnership was first crafted over many games with the Mighty and Amazing Quercs and has been a prominent feature in the Werewolves of London’s gameplay this season. Both players bring an intensity and physicality drawn from their quaffle playing days into their beating, which can prove to be utterly unbearable for many opposition beaters. With the selection of four female chasers, Team UK has the flexibility to play them both at the same time and boost the physicality in the bludger game. The all female pairing of Lucy Quidditch and Lucy Edlund could also be utilised to devastating effect, which would allow Team UK even more flexibility in the quaffle game, adding another tactical tool for the squad to take advantage of.
With 11 chasers selected, the use of impact players, or players who play short shifts at high intensity, should continue to be a feature of this UK squad. With so many chasing options, it’s likely that a few of them will also be backing up sole seeker Callum Lake as a secondary seeker. This responsibility could fall to any one of Cooper, Stevens, Malpass, Veale, Heynes, or beater Twist in any one game, depending on the scenario and type of snitch they face.
Interestingly, this is undoubtedly a strong year for community teams with three of the four community teams contributing at least one member. Werewolves have provided four players and Velociraptors have a staggering eight players. Whilst this is not surprising, it shows how the move towards ‘super teams’ has led to a significant concentration of top level players.
Fall of previous champions
For the first time – excluding the 2012 squad, in which selection was just based on availability – there are no members of either the Radcliffe Chimeras or Southampton Quidditch Club (SQC), both former winners of the British Quidditch Cup. Whilst the TUK squad has a number of alumni from these clubs, as well as Veale who will return to SQC next season, it is significantly different to the years in which players from these teams made up a bulk of the team.
How will they do?
Now that we have seen the TUK squad, the question remains in how well they will actually perform. The UK squad has traditionally been one of the strongest, finishing no lower than fourth since 2014, including a silver medal at the previous European Games. However, this year’s European Quidditch Cup has shown greater parity across Europe. This will definitely be a hugely competitive tournament, but a win is well within the UK’s grasp.