with contributions from James Burnett, Gavin Hughes, Jessica Cornelius, Ashara Peiris, and Layla Marsden
Following the recent Southern Cup, Northern Cup 2017 is the second of the UK’s two annual regional championships which double as qualifiers for both the British and European Quidditch Cups (BQC and EQC) in the first half of 2018. Taking place this weekend, the event will be moving to Hallam Sports Ground in Sheffield for the first time after two years in Durham. Velociraptors QC, established powerhouse and haven for national team stars, come into the event as strong favourites to defend their 2016 title. In this article we explore seven individual players to look out for (with a focus on underrated or up-and-coming talent), as well as five interesting narratives, three of the most exciting teams, and ultimately, of course, a prediction of who will be the Northern Cup 2017 champions.
SEVEN Rising Stars
Michael Lewis – Velociraptors QC, Chaser by Layla Marsden
After making his début for Sheffield Quidditch Club last season, Lewis’ natural ability and aspirations to play for Team UK have seen him land a spot on the Expansion Squad just seven months into his quidditch career. Joining Velociraptors this season, Lewis will be able to enhance his already formidable abilities to become a real standout name. Standing head and shoulders above the rest of his previous Sheffield squad (literally), he possesses instinctive ability as an incisive receiver, and during the summer was one of the highest scorers for the Yorkshire Roses. His background in swimming and other sports also gives him the athleticism and strength to be an excellent quaffle driver, making him an asset in both on- and off-ball roles even to a team of Raptors’ quality.
Since joining Raptors Lewis impressed his new team mates, most notably with his achievements at Battle Royale II earlier this season, where he found his talents amplified by such a strong squad. As part of an amazing duo with loanee Seb Waters he was able to secure the Raptors the majority of their goals, not to mention he proved his worth as seeker by catching the snitch against Antwerp Quidditch Club and Werewolves of London. Versatile, athletic, and with incredible potential, Lewis is undoubtedly a player to watch on his rise to the top.
Aoife Jackson – Keele Squirrels, Keeper by James Burnett
One of Keele’s real success stories of recent years, Aoife Jackson has taken their time to develop but after two seasons is now proving to be a dependable and talented player in a team which will definitely benefit from them. Jackson made a timid start at Keele, playing with the now-defunct second team the Krakens for much of their first season. Following a strong finish with Keele last year, however, they enjoyed a breakout performance for the resplendent West Midlands Revolution during the 2017 QPL season, winning their first major accolade as the Revolution took the inaugural title.
Jackson is confident as a quaffle carrier and is a resilient driver, compensating for a lack of lateral agility with a real force in their forward movement, making them effective at barrelling through less effective tackles and forcing defensive chasers to commit. They perhaps lack the visionary passing of some of the best playmakers who will be on display at Northern Cup, but certainly make sensible decisions in possession; a player formerly hesitant and retiring in scoring opportunities has developed into a clinical finisher. Capable of scoring both as a receiver around the hoops and driving into an open field – despite not excelling in terms of pace – Jackson plays very well off the likes of teammates Sarah and Hannah Ridley, providing the Squirrels with an experienced and patient quaffle line that will be key to the team’s success.
Will Ramsay – Leeds Griffins, Utility by Ashara Peiris
Ramsay made his debut for the Griffins last year but did not have as many opportunities to make an impact as he would have liked; circumstances such as missing Northern and being drawn into a significantly tougher group than wanted at BQC .re what has kept him a little under the radar However, he made a big splash at Valentines Cup where he played significant minutes for the winning team, spending time in all four positions over the weekend. This is particularly impressive given that he was playing alongside Antwerp A Keeper Seppe de Wit, and Norwegian national team beaters Silver Chacon and Mette Sundal.
Ramsay impressed with great physicality, both as a beater and quaffle player and showcased incredible decision making, particularly for someone with such little experience in quidditch. Now making a surprise return to Leeds after returning back to the US earlier in the year, Ramsay could be poised to help Leeds to the next level. The game against Nottingham in particular will test him to his limits and his combination of athleticism and intelligence could potentially set him up to be one of the breakout stars of the tournament.
Julen Sempere – Glasgow Grim Reapers, Beater by Gavin Hughes
His name is not one many who follow quidditch have heard before, but Glasgow’s Julen Sempere, who has only been playing since the beginning of this season, shows all the signs of a future star. Making an appearance at Preston Poltergeists’ Baby BQC, he exerted dominance in the beater game over most of his lower-tier opponents, with a powerful, accurate long-range beat, solid defensive awareness and positioning, a high success rate in beater battles, and a strong foundation of natural athleticism. He rose to the occasion at Highlander V and put up a spirited fight against talented and vastly more experienced beaters during Glasgow’s defeats to Tornadoes QC and the London Unspeakables.
Currently, Sempere lacks discipline, which gained him the nickname ‘Blue Card’ at Highlander V after receiving four in one match. However, as an understudy to former Barcelona Eagle Chema Hidalgo Lopez – coaching but not playing for the Scottish side at Northern Cup – Sempere is likely to improve at a quicker rate than might usually be expected of a player coming through the training system of an inexperienced club. While Northern is unlikely to be his breakout tournament, it might offer us glimpses of what is yet to come.
Chloé Hemingway – Liverpuddly Cannons, Utility by James Burnett
Within a cohesive and fluid team aspiring to be greater than the sum of its parts, Chloé Hemingway is one of the few players who could be considered individually outstanding. Understated and diligent, Hemingway’s influence is visible in what she adds to the shape and tempo of the team as a whole. At the level of a squad such as Liverpool, her cool head and talented hands are worth their weight in gold. She is more than competent moving with and passing the quaffle, and has the confidence and awareness to make consistently good decisions with it.
As her team take their tentative steps to build from a Development Cup victory into a real impact on the competitive scene, Hemingway has the potential to shine at the forefront. Typically starting games at chaser, she adapts well to the needs of the team with catches to her name in the yellow headband and slotting seamlessly into the green. Despite a perhaps unrefined and haphazard technique, she is tenacious and fearless in the tackle, often disrupting attacks through these traits alone, and she is as reliable as any of her teammates in converting around the hoops. Hemingway is a prolific all-rounder who continues to develop individually and raises the standard of the Merseyside team alongside her. If she can take Northern Cup as a chance to develop some of the weaker aspects of her play, such as her off-ball offensive moves and mid-range distribution, it will not be long before Liverpool have a bona fide star on their hands.
Tev Wallace – St Andrews Snidgets, Chaser/Beater/Seeker by Gavin Hughes
Despite the dearth of good results for the Snidgets in the past year, Tev Wallace has been a beacon of hope for the Fife side, adept at chaser, beater, and seeker and possessing dazzling speed to accompany a surprisingly wiry frame and respectable tackling capabilities. They also read the game very well and add much-needed tactical flexibility to the often disorganised Snidgets attack, using their pace to make well-timed strategic beats and generate opportunities on the counter. As a seeker, they play long, uninterrupted shifts with tenacity, often without much beater support, and still have a reasonable catch record.
Playing for a low-tier side like Saint Andrews, Wallace has long gone unnoticed, narrowly missing out on a Northern Watch roster space last QPL season, but they’ve since stepped their game up markedly and if the Snidgets are to defy expectations at Northern, especially in a potential SWIM game against Liverpool, Wallace is likely to play a crucial part.
Elliot Fisher – Tornadoes QC, Keeper by Gavin Hughes
Hot off the back of a strong QPL season as the Northern Watch’s primary keeper and distributor, and flirtations with a number of clubs including Northern Lights and Manchester Manticores, Team UK Expansion Squad’s Elliot Fisher has finally settled on Tornadoes QC as his club for the Northern Cup. He’s a player known for his crunching last-ditch tackles, consistent shot blocking, pinpoint-accurate distribution and high percentage on the long shot.
In the post-Dan Trick era at Leicester, Fisher proved an absolute lynchpin and over the summer much speculation was made about where he’d end up this year after graduating at the end of the 2016-17 season. His QPL performance has made him particularly worth watching now he is with Tornadoes,
as having a player with Fisher’s physicality and counterattacking intuition at keeper will free up Dave Goddin to play as a beater, where he most excels, and should elevate the play of the entire team. Expect to see him link up well with fast receivers such as Claudio Svaluto and Tom Hutton, and other former Leicester players like Beth Thompson and Rachel Taylor and be a key part of the expected deep upper bracket run from Tornadoes.
FIVE Talking Points
European Débutants by Gavin Hughes
With only two EQC spots on offer at Northern, and one almost guaranteed to go to the Velociraptors, the fight over the remaining space becomes interesting, particularly when you consider that neither the Holyrood Hippogriffs nor the HogYork Horntails, the two frontrunners, have competed at a European level before. Sharing Group D, the two will be acutely aware that whoever loses their head-to-head match on Day One is likely to face Velociraptors before the final, as it seems unlikely the Raptors will fail to secure the first seed for Day Two. In fact, if the Edinburgh vs. York match is close enough in point difference, even the victor could find their day two seeding sabotaged, stacking one half of the bracket and opening up an easier route to the final for another team.
Contenders to capitalise upon the uneven bracket include the Loughborough Longshots, as their conspicuously weak group should offset the blow of having lost Bill Orridge to Raptors, at least for Day One. Tornadoes QC – replete with strong new signings including Elliot Fisher and Liam Vernon – who will fancy themselves in a head to head with any team besides Raptors or Hippogriffs. Other sides with a history of EQC experience, such as Durhamstrang and theNottingham Nightmares, look unlikely to repeat their past feats, as Nottingham’s Day Two ranking will likely be marred by a large negative differential against Velociraptors and a potentially close, cagey game against the Leeds Griffins, while Durhamstrang’s heavily depleted roster will struggle to top a group that includes the plucky journeymen Chester Centurions.
f you look at it a certain way, the second EQC berth could be decided not by the semifinals, but by the Hippogriffs vs. Horntails showdown that promises to be the centerpiece of Day One.
How Much Is a Large Club Worth? by James Burnett
A remarkable fact about this year’s Northern Cup is that while it is the largest incarnation of the tournament to date, boasting 25 teams, these come from amongst only 20 discrete clubs. Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds return to the fray alongside debutant second teams Liverpuddly Catapults, Manchester Minotaurs, and Sheffield Steelfins. Sheffield Sealions also make their first appearance as an unprecedented club third team.
Interestingly, however, with the exception of Holyrood Hippogriffs, none of these clubs’ respective firsts (Liverpuddly Cannons, Manchester Manticores, and Sheffield Squids) are considered realistic contenders for even a deep upper bracket run, let alone the podium spots, and it has to pose the question of whether a large club with multiple teams has any significant or inherent competitive value. Notable absentees from this year’s tournament are Durham Direwolves and Keele Krakens (respectively seconds to Durhamstrang and Keele Squirrels), whose presence in 2016 did not signal any long-term sustainability or growth in the size of their clubs.
Certainly Holyrood Hippogriffs, along with Southampton Quidditch Club and Oxford University Quidditch Club in the south, prove the success of a well-managed, sustainable second-team structure providing depth to the club and reinforcing the strength of the first team. Still, this is not a universal trend, and there is a certain onus on the second and third teams of Northern Cup to demonstrate that there is more thought behind them than just a way to include and pander to those players unable to compete for a spot on the first team. When properly nurtured, the depth of a club with constant competition for first-teamers, development opportunities for upcoming talent, and full-size scrimmages in training makes multiple teams a real asset – it remains to be seen how many of these clubs will bring multiple teams, and the benefits thereof, to Northern Cup in 2018 and beyond.
Jurassic World by James Burnett
Velociraptors QC stand poised to dominate Northern Cup 2017. The defending champions were played in-range by only two UK teams across the whole of last season, both of them in the South, and have only strengthened their formidable roster this year with the acquisition of rising star Michael Lewis and the formidable Bill Orridge. Outside of their roster, only three clubs attending Northern Cup can field one of the UK’s European Games-winning squad: Callum Lake of the Bangor Broken Broomsticks, Tom Stevens of the HogYork Horntails, and Ollie Riley of the Holyrood Hippogriffs (Abbi Harris of Tornadoes QC also played for the UK at European Games in Norway, but is not part of the Tornadoes squad for Northern Cup). No other side has the luxury of multiple Oslo veterans. In Lucy Q, Jackie Woodburn, James Thanangadan, Andrew Hull, Jess O’Neill, Lucy Edlund, Tom Heynes, and the UK’s captain Orridge, Raptors have eight. If you approach it by major accolades at club level, international appearances, Team UK Training Squad personnel, or any other conceivable metric for skill or success, the outcome is the same. Nobody else in the north comes close.
The disparity is staggering. In considering their fortunes at Northern Cup, the question is surely not whether there will be a gulf in class between Raptors and the chasing pack, but simply how great a gap there will be. Far apart from their technical skill and athletic talent, the depth of experience and quidditch intelligence amongst the Raptors squad is immense, and truly seems to consign the whole event to a contest for second place. Perhaps there is an extinction event on the horizon for the super team, but right now it looks a long way off.
Universities Challenged by James Burnett
The university-based Warwick Quidditch Club and hybrid “communiversity” Southampton Quidditch Club and Bristol Quidditch Club may be keeping the torch burning for university teams at the highest level of the sport in the south of the UK, but the picture is one of relative decline in the north as the community Velociraptors assert their dominance. Two years ago the top four teams at Northern Cup were established university powers – Nottingham Nightmares, Durhamstrang, Keele Squirrels, and Loughborough Longshots. This year, of those four only Keele come into the tournament with any realistic hope of making the top four, and even for them this is surely the height of their aspirations.
As mentioned elsewhere, of course, the rising powers in the north are the Holyrood Hippogriffs and HogYork Horntails, and both of these recruit primarily from universities, but the presence of strong university teams is not the same as the established university powerhouses of the south. Their fortunes fluctuate even in the south, of course, but the bedrock of a strong club working towards competitive strength has remained consistent – unlike the Hippogriffs and especially the Horntails having simply been blessed with a golden generation currently at its peak. From a long-term perspective, last season’s community team gold and bronze medalists – respectively Velociraptors QC and Tornadoes QC – look to be going nowhere, a sign that university teams in the north are very much the underdogs in a way which cannot be said to be true in the south.
The Two Faces of Scottish Quidditch by Gavin Hughes
While Velociraptors QC look almost unassailable in their quest for a second Northern Cup title, if any team were going to even remotely challenge them it would surely be the Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts. Although they will be missing talented recruit Guntis Rutins for the tournament they have enjoyed excellent retention of their 2016-17 season squad, with promising new additions to the quaffle game such as Nyal Sadiq shoring up the loss of Kieran Newton, along with Ollie Riley who remains one of the most astute and adaptable tacticians in the UK game. Their now-legendary upset against Warwick QC at BQC 2017 and their confident recent victory at Highlander Cup V are further signs of a team in ascendency, a team with a very real chance of being Scotland’s debut EQC contender. Coupled with the recent announcement of the Scottish Thistles QPL team, Scottish representation at EQC could herald a new era for the sport in a country where it has historically struggled to gain any traction.
That said, there is another side to Scottish quidditch, one that doesn’t set its sights on glory, but on survival. The Stirling Dumyat Dragons have been forced to drop out of the Northern Cup by a sheer lack of players, while Scotland’s three other teams – the Glasgow Grim Reapers, Saint Andrews Snidgets and Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds – rounded out the bottom three at Highlander V and are all likely to be scrabbling for BQC spaces at Northern. Saint Andrews and the Hippogriffs Seconds have both been saddled with difficult groups in which they are unfortunately expected to finish bottom, giving them unfavourable lower bracket seeding for the Day Two struggle to qualify for BQC. Glasgow’s prospects are slightly higher, with a very winnable matchup against Stirling’s replacement, the Northumbrian Ridgebacks, who are making their maiden tournament appearance. However, Edinburgh and York are guaranteed to make life difficult for Alice Ravier’s side, as both teams need to maximize their chances of avoiding Velociraptors in the upper bracket by attaining an extremely high QPD/minute. If Glasgow can rack up a high enough score against the Ridgebacks and stop a 300-point blowout at the hands of the Hippogriffs Firsts or York, they stand the best chance of ensuring Scottish representation at BQC outside of the Edinburgh bubble.
THREE Exciting Teams
Liverpuddly Cannons by Jessica Cornelius
Liverpool’s first team comes into Northern Cup on the back of their Development Cup victory, and will be looking to go better this year and secure themselves a spot at BCQ 2018. Although difficulties with trainings at the start of the 2017-18 season may have stunted their preparation, their recent match with Chester will give them confidence that they achieve their aims. Despite losing 190*-80, they scored more hoops than their Group E rivals Bangor Broken Broomsticks managed against the same opponents the week prior. This battle looks likely to decide second and third place in the group, and it will be interesting to see whether Liverpool can capitalise on Bangor’s low-scoring offence, with the Welsh side only winning one game at Highlander, and only having reached 100 quaffle points once this season so far.
Liverpool received a huge boost by holding onto former captain Iyas Husni for another season. They also bring with them the strong aggressive beating of Alex Rayner, who will look to disrupt opposing defences with or without a bludger in hand. The goal scoring ability of Chloé Hemingway will also play a vital factor in whether Liverpool can make the upper bracket. With her great determination and the ability to evade opposing defenders, scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem for Liverpool.
The Cannons’ aim will undoubtedly be to qualify for BQC. Whether they can overcome the more experienced Bangor team is yet to be seen, but even if they cannot, they should be confident in securing a high finish in the lower bracket.
Chester Centurions by Gavin Hughes
The Chester Centurions look poised to top Group C at Northern, and will feel confident that they can continue deeper into the upper bracket from there. Their main rivals, Durhamstrang, have lost a number of key players, including Sophie Connelly and Vincent Poon, who have moved to Bristol Brizzlebears, while Chester have retained their talented core from last season. Olly Barker is a dangerous player whether chasing or beating, and coach Andy Messenger, a recent convert to beating, already showed aptitude and on-pitch awareness in the position for the Northern Watch. Couple this with the formidable seeking talent of captain Connor Climo and teams should rightly fear the prospect of a SWIM game with the Centurions.
They have had a successful early season, with comfortable victories over Bangor and Liverpool, and their disappointing BQC performance (the unfortunate consequence of the Group of Death throwing eventual bracket-winners Falmouth Falcons at them in the first knockout round of the lower bracket) will give them the drive to prove that they deserve upper bracket play. If their scrappy, physical defensive game from last year carries over to the new season, then expect them to pull a couple of SWIM upsets against teams that look stronger on paper.
Keele Squirrels by James Burnett
The oldest club in the country, the variable fortunes of the team from Stoke-on-Trent look set to hinge at Northern Cup on a rematch of the first fixture ever to be played in the UK, a game against the second seeded Leicester Thestrals. At East Midlands Cup, the annual pre-season friendly competition at which both teams compete, the Squirrels won a narrow overtime game 120॰॰-110*॰, having been pegged back by a Leicester catch, and we can expect results to be similarly tight this time around. Despite the loss of two of their most lauded players in keepers Scott Hopkins and Chris Scholes-Lawrence, the midlanders look to be reaping the rewards of a patient faith placed in their long-serving players with talents such as Aoife Jackson, Mel Piper, Jessica Lee, and Will Nedin stepping to the forefront. Never a team blessed by high-profile incoming transfers or recruitment of prodigies, Keele’s experience has led them to nurture intelligence and composure amongst such talented players who, twelve to eighteen months ago, might have been considered wholly unremarkable.
Indeed, it is the way Keele play as a unit and their lack of dependence on any single, major talent which has led to their recent impressive form, including an upset against the Loughborough Longshots in the knockout stages of BQC 2017. Beyond formidable twin chasers Hannah and Sarah Ridley they are perhaps short on star talent, but in a region where that level of quality is in short supply – Velociraptors QC notwithstanding – this is unlikely to hurt them seriously. Indeed, in having the talented Ridley sisters they have an edge on many rivals, and will look to build on their coherent play and the promise of East Midlands Cup Best Fresher Teresa Ztirb as they develop another cohort of quietly understated ability; if they can edge out their group match-up with the Thestrals, they are well set for an upper bracket run and would not look out of place in the semifinals.
by James Burnett
With all that’s up in the air at Northern Cup 2017, perhaps the only foregone conclusion is that the trophy is Velociraptors’ to lose. There are plenty of new powers in the north, but the presiding regional and national champions seem an unassailable force. Holyrood Hippogriffs are likely to be their nearest competitors and will prove worthy silver medalists if all runs to script, but they simply lack the quality to go the distance with the talent Raptors have at their disposal. Hippogriffs talisman Ollie Riley, formerly of Team UK, is as good as any of the champions’ roster but he stands out on the Scottish side where at any given point, Raptors will have surplus players of Riley’s ability waiting on the bench.
Jay Holmes’ team have leadership aplenty from the Team UK coaching outfit, a deep roster replete with athleticism and competitive spirit, and world-class players across all four positions. Andrew Hull remains one of the most talented keepers in the game, despite a proclivity for rushed offenses. James Thanangadan and Jackie Woodburn will lead a chaser line which, for all that it will miss the defensive capabilities of Ash Cooper, is still dripping with talent in both offense and defense. From the aforementioned Team UK stalwarts all the way down to players such as Warren McFadyen and Kat Jack, the Raptors can rely on their chasers to cover all their bases in terms of defensive flexibility and attacking options. Indeed, that excellent players such as McFadyen and Jack represent squad players speaks for itself about how much skill there is in the team’s ranks.
It is their supremacy in the beater game, however, which is the definitive reason no team will manage even to play the Raptors in range in Sheffield. For the first time at club level, the UK national squad’s Lucy Q and Bill Orridge will line up alongside one another in a terrifying beater outfit. Lucy and Orridge, individually coveted for their immeasurable natural talent, together gave the SWIM-range European Games 2017 final a feeling of relaxed inevitability: expect no lesser dominance of every pitch they grace in Sheffield. As if that wasn’t enough, their ‘backup’ beaters mirror their chasers in being of such quality that they’d be star players on many other teams; Lucy Edlund and Jess O’Neill have over 30 international appearances between them, and despite having yet to make his international début, the talented Dan Trick is deserving of his place in the Team UK Training Squad. With rising star Michael Lewis, veteran Ben Morton, and Trick all threats in the yellow headband if it does come to that, to say that a team would need to play above themselves to beat this team at the weekend is an understatement. The sun will rise, the grass will grow, and Raptors will win Northern Cup 2017.