by Paulina Hausner
Two–time Polish champions Warsaw Mermaids will yet again represent their country at the European Quidditch Cup (EQC) in Pfaffenhofen this April. The tournament in Germany will be the third time they face the best teams in Europe.
The Mermaids are a strong squad, whose players have formed a huge part in establishing more sport-oriented quidditch in Poland, ever since its very beginnings back in 2014. They have played in all the national championships (since the first one in 2015) and participated in creating the Polish Quidditch League (Polska Liga Quidditcha – PLQ). It’s notable to point out that some of the Mermaids each year become active members of the national team. Chasers Marian Dziubiak and Kiril Kravchuk, as well as beater Maciej Olejnik, have not missed any national team games since 2016 and are likely to come back again this year. In 2017 during two international competitions (a tournament at the Harry Potter Festival in Odense, Denmark and the European Games in Oslo) Aleksandra Wiechetek, Agnieszka Ząbkowicz, and Michał Glinka were also present on the team. Other Mermaids that have been included in the national team’s roster are Stasiek Iskorostinskij, Aleksander Gęściak, Eliza Piotrowska, Katarzyna Skibińska, and Piotr Piekarski.
A lot has changed since their first EQC performance in 2016. Gallipoli was a tough adventure for the young Polish team because they had just 12 players, only four of whom were males — chasers Marian Dziubiak, Stasiek Iskorostinskij, Maciej Maciejewski, and beater Maciej Olejnik — it was a hard tournament, especially for debutants who never played before as one team outside their country. They did not yet know exactly what to expect from the other teams and the games. Moreover, strong sun, heat, and sandy pitches were a challenge when it came to keeping the gender rule and still allowing breaks for every player. In Gallipoli they faced Loughborough Longshots, Malaka Vikings, Paris Titans, and Vienna Vanguards. They lost all games but were very close to winning against the Spanish team, with the snitch catch giving the Vikings a victory of 100*-70. During their match against the Parisian team, they did not manage to score any quaffle points but still caught the snitch, finishing their game 250-30* for Titans.
However in 2017 the Mermaids had better chances at bringing home victory, and they are aiming to improve this year. At the last EQC they faced Paris Frog, Bristol Brizzlebears, and the current European champions Antwerp A. They lost all the games in their group by 70 or more points. Later, in the lower bracket, they faced OSI Vikings and Milano Meneghins Quidditch, and the game with the Italian team brought them their first international victory 280*-150. “A year ago,” said one of the team’s coaches Marian Dziubiak, ”we had a full squad and we managed to win our first international game. This year we hope to get even further.” He is a proficient tackler and one of the most experienced players in Poland, involved with the sport since the beginning of the Warsaw Mermaids.
Another coach is beater Eliza Piotrowska. Outside of quidditch, she is a competitive karate fighter and oversees the physical fitness of the Mermaids. The position of main coach is held by Michał Glinka. Besides quidditch, Glinka used to play volleyball and currently coaches Ultimate, probably a reason for his aptitude to incorporate more dynamic elements into his training sessions.
Winning the Polish Winter Games in November 2017 is what led to the Mermaids’ EQC nomination. It was the last league tournament of the 2017 season, and a very important one. The Polish Winter Games opened up a significant chapter for quidditch in the country, changing the country’s competition structure from one championship at the beginning of the year to all the teams competing against each other in Spring, Summer, and Winter Games. This new way of approaching quidditch aims to get more people interested in the sport as well as to bring new opportunities and motivation to play to the already existing teams. The Winter Games saw some great results for the Mermaids. They managed to win all of their games, always scoring a minimum of 70 points more than any opposing team, and losing the snitch catch only once. They tend to dictate the pace of the game and once they gain control, it is hard to hold them back. Their quick counters, accurate beats, and good teamwork paid off and sent them straight to Germany.
At the end of 2017, the Warsaw Mermaids became a registered sports club, the first quidditch team in Poland to do so. Their serious approach is also seen in the consistent changes they make to their leadership structure. New captains and coaches are introduced each season in an effort to find the best leadership for the current team. Mermaid’s key players are mostly the ones who have played with the team since the very beginning, but they have also gained a lot of new players during their tryouts before 3 Polish Championships in 2017. “Our main beater, Maciej [Olejnik], for a long time now is trying to put fear in the foreign player’s eyes. Piotr [Piekarski] and Patryk [Kudła] (the captain) are our most physical players, usually wearing the green headband,” said Dziubiak. He also points out that whilst the squad did not change much in the last year, the new players feel comfortable playing with the rest of the more experienced players: “We have a new female beater and some new female chasers, who I hope will show their best during the games.”
The Mermaids’ third performance at EQC will require more preparation than ever if they want to play their best and win more games this year. Asked about their plan and training routine that they followed for the last few months, Dziubiak answered: “We went back to the basics. We want our players to make good passes and throws, also not to be afraid of going their whole body against the opponents, and if that will succeed, then tactics will be the icing on the cake.” In last year’s EQC preview we can read that the highlights of the team’s way of playing were mostly their “breaks to the wings in quaffle play and reliable bludger players who know very well what their chasers need to score hoops,” but this year their plan is to “approach [the game] a bit more calmer, with more passes and resets so we won’t unnecessarily expose ourselves to losing the ball and give the opponents a chance to counter,” said Dziubiak.
To conclude, Warsaw Mermaids may not yet be the dark horse of this years EQC, but their players are going to Pfaffenhofen well prepared and with a positive attitude. EQC 2018 will be a perfect test for how much the team has learnt this year and how they have grown and evolved as a team. This still young squad is eager to gain experience and knowledge and will definitely benefit from watching and competing against the best teams in Europe. This year their opponents will be Velociraptors QC, Virtute Romana Quidditch – Roma Quidditch ASD, and Lille Muggle Quidditch – Black Snitches.