By Gavin Hughes
This year the South-West Quidditch League, brainchild of Bristol Quidditch Club founder Tom Ower, will be expanding to two divisions and covering a geographical area from Cornwall to the western fringes of London. Last season’s competition saw Bristol’s Brizzlebears go relatively unchallenged in their debut title run, with the Falmouth Falcons securing silver, but both teams have their chances of repeating last year’s performance cast into doubt by the arrival of strong newcomers like Southampton Quidditch Club and Oxford’s Radcliffe Chimeras. Meanwhile, the likes of the Bath Quidditch Club (Bathilisks) and the Bristol Brizzlebees, who last season languished at the bottom of the table, have another chance at glory in the newly created second division.
2016-17 Final Standings
- Bristol Brizzlebears
- Falmouth Falcons
- Swansea Swans
- Exeter Eagles
- Bristol Brizzlebees
- Bath Quidditch Club
2017-18 First Division teams
Portsmouth Horntail Strikers
Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts (SQC1)
2017-18 Second Division teams
Bath Quidditch Club
Bournemouth Banshees Quidditch Club
Reading Knights Quidditch Club
Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds (SQC2)
Winchester Wampus Quidditch Club
The defending champions enter the second season of the South-West Quidditch League among the favourites. They have retained most of their key players from last season and can still boast a formidable quaffle lineup that includes Team UK expansion squad players Dominic Ayre and Viral Patel, alongside new arrival David Goswell. They are also augmented by the beater presence of Team UK training squad member Aaron Brett-Miller and Team Ireland’s Jodie Mee. Incoming captain Ollie Bridgen is an experienced player and astute tactician, while George Whiting and Samantha Frohlich are likely to go from strength to strength as they build on their excellent debut seasons. Bristol Quidditch Club is one of the largest in the UK, with a reputation for excellent player recruitment and retention. With such a solid foundation to build upon, the Bears will be aiming for no less than a second consecutive title, and a strong South-West League performance could potentially underpin another medal challenge by the Bears at the British Quidditch Cup (BQC). Their main rival for the title will be Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts, although an away fixture in Falmouth could still pose a threat if they are unable to bring a full lineup. Their February matchup with the Falcons, mirroring last year’s schedule, is likely to be a good indicator of where the Bears stand in the lead-up to BQC and a possible European Quidditch Cup (EQC) campaign.
The Devon side’s inaugural performance in the South-West Quidditch League was plagued by SWIM defeats to Falmouth and Swansea, and with the linchpins of their quaffle, bludger, and snitch games, Ryan Watkiss, Graeme Zaple, and Eddie Owsley respectively, all leaving the club this year, it seems unlikely that the Eagles will be able to maintain such parity against their southwestern contemporaries. Their lineup still includes some talent, such as new captain Charlie Strickland and coach Kieran Elliff, but the Eagles will likely find that their main problem lies in squad depth, as they can no longer hide behind the individual star power of Watkiss, Owsley, and Zaple. This is likely to be a rebuilding year for the club, with a focus on developing their freshers, and their main goal should be to avoid relegation so that they can make a better podium challenge in next season’s league. Their first two fixtures are against Southampton and Bristol, indisputably the strongest teams in the division, and the scorelines in these matches will reveal whether the Eagles have successfully offset their losses in personnel with fresher talent in time for November’s Southern Cup.
Last year’s South-West League silver medalists had a disappointing season overall, though considering the extent to which they had to rebuild their squad after the graduations of the 2015-16 season, their lower bracket titles at Southern Cup and BQC represent a valiant effort. Now rejuvenated and aiming to break back into upper bracket play at Southern Cup and BQC, the Falcons might hold out hope for a repeat second placing in the South-West League, but are much more likely to be contending for third or fourth. In Reuben Thompson, the Falcons have one of the best seekers in the UK, and will always be a threat in SWIM range, particularly when bolstered by the experienced, reliable beater presence of Elliot Thomas and Sarah Hopkins. Veteran Hugh White, now wearing the green headband, has potential to be a titan shot-stopper, while captain Gavin Hughes has swapped to chaser following a successful stint playing the position for the Northern Watch in the QPL over the summer. This depth of talent should see them past Swansea, Exeter, and Portsmouth. For the Cornish club, the key fixtures in the South-West League will be their November showdown with the Radcliffe Chimeras, which could potentially determine which of the two teams claims third place, and their February grudge match against the Brizzlebears, which will reveal whether Falmouth’s rebuilding efforts of last season have been enough to return to the top tier at BQC, or whether they are destined to remain in the mid tier at least for another season.
Portsmouth Horntail Strikers
Portsmouth make their South-West Quidditch League debut as underdogs with a point to prove. Their performances last year were uneven at best, reaching a surprising upper bracket finish at Southern Cup, before failing to maintain their seeding with an underwhelming lower bracket semifinal berth at BQC. Their key players this season will surely be captain Jack Latoy and keeper Scott Brown, who both have the talent to dictate the quaffle game and will be even more crucial to their success now that they have lost experienced beater Carrie Roberts to Southampton. The Horntail Strikers remain a somewhat untested team, as last season they played in comparatively few tournaments, and the regular competitive play offered by the South-West League could be a boon to their bids for regional and national glory. Their introduction to the league is coming via a veritable baptism by fire, with October, November, and December fixtures against Falmouth, Southampton, and Bristol respectively. How Portsmouth hold up against this difficult first trio of opponents will be very revealing with regard to their chances of maintaining or improving upon their placing at Southern Cup or BQC this year.
The once-mighty Radcliffe Chimeras arrive in the South-West League a shadow of their former selves, but nevertheless remain a competent side and a genuine threat to even the title contenders. Jamie Cash, previously an understudy to Jan Mikolajczak, is a dangerous presence at beater, as is Rix Dishington, and the arrival of Ben Pooley will bolster their beater corps nicely; meanwhile, Fran Morris can control the quaffle game while Mark Richards and Mikey Ansell offer seeker depth. However, with new recruits no longer benefitting from the direct influence of giants like Mikolajczak, Luke Twist, and Andrew Hull, it remains to be seen whether Oxford can shape their freshers into a team that will still have depth beyond the 2017-18 season. In light of this, a South-West Quidditch League title may be Oxford’s last chance at glory before they become mired in the mid-tier. Their first fixture of the season against Falmouth in November will be their most interesting. While the Chimeras are undoubtedly a stronger team on paper, the sheer distance to the away fixture could put a strain on their squad depth, but a confident victory in Cornwall would demonstrate that Oxford still have the talent and depth to challenge Bristol or Southampton; by extension this would suggest the possibility of a semifinal challenge at the Southern Cup and an upper bracket finish at BQC.
Southampton Quidditch Club Firsts
Even without the vast array of new players coming to the south coast team this season, SQC1 would be among the favourites to win the South-West League, but now they must certainly be seen as the team to beat. Retaining key players such as Ajay Gohil and Alex Carpenter and regaining veteran Fraser Posford and Team UK’s Aaron Veale, alongside new arrivals in the form of Durhamstrang’s Bex Lowe and Ben Guthrie, Portsmouth’s Carrie Roberts, and Lena Mandahus of the Vienna Vanguards, Southampton look to have one of the strongest lineups in the south even before fresher recruitment. They will not be playing their main title rivals, Bristol, until March, allowing their new players most of the season to develop before the two teams face off. The flipside of this is that with their first two fixtures being against the comparatively weak Exeter and Portsmouth, SQC1 will be relying more on their annual Battle Royale tournament than on the South-West League for match experience leading up to the Southern Cup, and their early league results are unlikely to affect expectations for the major tournaments of the season. What these games might reveal, however, is whether SQC1 have picked up any particularly promising fresher players, as these inexperienced players are more likely to receive lengthy periods of play time here than in the stiff competition of Battle Royale.
The Swans’ lineup of 2016-17 was their strongest to date, and they narrowly missed out on a silver medal in the inaugural South-West Quidditch League after a SWIM defeat to Falmouth on the opening day of the season, putting all the lower teams in the league to the sword, and scoring upper bracket finishes at both Southern Cup and BQC. This year, it looks unlikely that they will match or improve upon last year’s record, with the departure of Ed Brett, Troy Kelly-Weekes, and Anthony Tatman seriously damaging the physicality and experience of their squad. The Swans have historically played a game reliant on powerful drives and fast counterattacking breaks, and if they wish to continue playing that way, Chazz McLeod will need to have a strong season in the green headband. The match to watch for Swansea will be their opening fixture against the Brizzlebears. Last season their narrow opening day defeat to Falmouth was a sign of how much the Welsh team had stepped up their game from the previous season, and a close result against Bristol would indicate that their level this season hasn’t dropped as much as feared, while a decisive Bristolian victory could portend a difficult Southern Cup campaign for the Swans.
It is hard to make any concrete predictions about the South-West Quidditch League’s newly-created second division, as it contains three relatively untested and unknown teams. The Bournemouth Banshees made their first major appearance at the 2016-17 season’s Development Cup, where they fulfilled expectations, finishing eighth of nine teams, while Winchester Wampus and Harlequins Quidditch are completely untested in tournament play. Under the tutelage of Bex McLaughlin, Harlequins could conceivably challenge the more established teams in the division, but Winchester and Bournemouth will be hard-pressed to make a convincing bid for promotion this season. These two teams are likely to languish at the bottom of the table and will primarily use the South-West League as match experience to shore up the distinct possibility that they will not qualify for BQC. The recently renamed Reading Knights look to be favourites to win the division, with their lineup bolstered by the return of experienced players Finley Williams and Chris Thomas, alongside the Bristol Brizzlebees and Southampton Quidditch Club Seconds, who have the advantage of gaining experience by osmosis from their respective first teams. For Bristol and Southampton, the South-West League will be an excellent testing ground for new players, and the second division is likely to see a lot of experimentation from these clubs. This leaves Bath Quidditch Club, the dark horse of the division, who will be setting their sights on BQC qualification after a respectable debut season that included a podium position at the Development Cup and five of their players participating in the inaugural Quidditch Premier League. With good recruitment and development, Thomas Newton’s side could gain promotion to the first division for next year.