By Gavin Hughes
Making their debut appearance at European Quidditch Cup (EQC), the HogYork Horntails will be quietly confident about their group draw, despite the looming presence of the unseeded former silver-medalists METU Unicorns. York tend to employ an efficient, counter–attacking style of play centred around Team UK’s Tom Stevens, whose sheer pace and intuitive reading of the game are the team’s greatest asset. Alongside Stevens are stalwarts like Caleb Pakeman, a powerful and composed quaffle driver, and intelligent receivers like Connagh Doohan and Frank Davies who allow the York attack to diversify beyond a simple driving game. The old adage goes that the Horntails “don’t have any beaters”, but their increased depth in that department this season, alongside the meteoric rise of Stevens, has contributed immensely to their jump from the UK’s mid-tier to EQC-level. The addition of Hannah Dignum’s experience to the roster has been instrumental in this regard, and gives direction to a beater line that never lacked in promise, but historically failed to read the game effectively at the highest level.
The squad’s superior depth and newfound experience of high-level quidditch should be enough to see off fellow EQC debutants Turicum Thunderbirds, while York’s match with Ghent could conceivably come down to a battle between two key playmakers in Stevens and Micah Unruh, and which of the two sides can most effectively contain their opposite number. This should leave the Horntails with a reasonable chance of qualifying for the upper bracket, despite the likelihood of a decisive defeat to the METU Unicorns, whose intense, high-pressing beaters will probably be too much for a York beater game that simply is not individually talented enough to contain them. Some contend that the distribution of two EQC spots apiece to the UK’s Northern and Southern regions unjustly favoured the Horntails over the South’s Warwick Quidditch Club, who narrowly missed out on being crowned British champions last month, a tournament where York failed to live up to expectations and crashed out in the last 16. However, the Horntails will be keen to prove their worth, and a strong second–place group finish coupled with a decent run into the upper bracket would more than vindicate them.
Hannah Dignum at BQC 2018 | Photo Credit: Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography
Werewolves of London
Werewolves of London
Three River Dragons Passau
Perennial silver/bronze medalists Werewolves of London are hot off the back of a strong British Quidditch Cup (BQC) finish where they came close to breaking their podium curse in a narrow semifinal SWIM loss to Velociraptors QC. Continuing their medal misfortune, an unlucky group draw at EQC 2018 may complicate their chances of medaling at all. Werewolves can boast more Team UK training/expansion squad players than almost any other club side, including Jan Mikolajczak, whose stunning individual performance at BQC, particularly against Velociraptors, will cement his name even further as one of the most technically skilled and adaptable beaters in Europe. In the quaffle game, Tom Norton is on excellent form. Norton forms the backbone, alongside the likes of Edward Brett and Jemma Thripp, of a well-oiled passing style of play that stands in stark contrast to the directness of their rivals Velociraptors. However, with a mind like Simon Bidwell’s at the helm, you can be sure to expect the Werewolves to adapt their game dynamically to the plethora of European tactics on display.
Brian Wong and Ed Brett in the BQC 2018 semi-final against Velocriaptors QC | Photo Credit: Sports Action Photo
In the Group of Death, second place seems to be the most likely finish for the London side. They can be relatively confident of victory over the Barcelona Eagles, although the Catalonian champions are a European mainstay and not to be underrated. If Werewolves do not bring a full-strength roster to Pfaffenhofen, they will likely struggle to surmount the challenge presented by an Antwerp squad largely unchanged from last season, but they will have an edge over probable third-placers Passau, who they have twice beaten in SWIM range in the past year. At Southampton’s Battle Royale early this season, Passau looked vulnerable during snitch-on-pitch play, and with a beater line that includes Mikolajczak, Nat A’Bear, and Luke Twist, Werewolves will surely back themselves to beat the German side for a third time. Finishing second in their group will make the chances of a run at the title harder for Werewolves, but they have the potential to pull some upsets and will be seen as the ultimate last 16 bogeyman.
Velociraptors Quidditch Club
Virtute Romana Quidditch
The two-time British champions enter EQC 2018 as serious contenders to take home the trophy. Their squad is stacked with talent in every position, they constantly innovate tactically and they have an unmatched ability to grind out difficult victories in big matches, as demonstrated by the flawless snitch bubble of Bill Orridge and Lucy Q in the BQC 2018 final, accompanied by two snitch catches in quick succession by Ben Morton to claw victory back from a Warwick QC side that managed to control the quaffle game for most of the match. It is this indomitability that will potentially serve the Raptors so well in Pfaffenhofen. Some doubted whether the Raptors would still have the edge on the other giants of the UK game without Andrew Hull, but Jay Holmes has been a more than capable replacement at keeper thus far, and there is no reason to believe EQC will be any different. Even though they are taking a squad of only 14, they have the capacity to find success no matter the cost, and it would be unwise for even Europe’s finest to underestimate them.
Dave Goddin and Jay Holmes after the Velociraptor’s quarterfinal against Brizzlebears at BQC 2018 | Photo Credit: Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography
Adding to their already strong chances of a medal is the fact that Raptors have a very favourable group draw. None of their opponents pose a serious threat unless Raptors suffer from a dip in form, but even then their aforementioned grit should see them through to the knockout stages unscathed. The closest thing to a challenge will likely come from Virtute Romana, one of Italy’s most competitive teams, but their dependence on conserving bludger control will do them no favours against a Raptors squad that features some of the best beaters in Europe. France’s Black Snitches and Poland’s Warsaw Mermaids will be angling for an upset over the Italians, but both will see a victory over Velociraptors as a mere pipe dream, and it is highly unlikely that the UK champions will be knocked out before the quarterfinals. With unparalleled snitch-on-pitch play, the Raptors’ victory over Warwick at BQC will be a cautionary tale for the European elite, and could herald the return of the EQC title to English soil for the first time since the Radcliffe Chimeras clinched the 2014 gold.
Southampton Quidditch Club (SQC)
Southampton Quidditch Club
North Sea Nargles
The 2017-18 season might appear to have had its ups and downs for Southampton, who won the Southern Cup but failed to medal at BQC despite being touted as outsiders to win the trophy. However, their losses to Warwick and Werewolves at BQC highlight the parity at the top of the UK game more than they do any inconsistency on the part of the south coast side, coming to Pfaffenhofen with their strongest lineup since they made the semifinals at EQC 2015. Marshaling their quaffle game is captain Aaron Veale, whose vision as a playmaker and high percentage shooting make him incredibly difficult to contain in the final third of the pitch. Veale also elevates the play of those around him, and Southampton are adept at utilizing every player on their roster. Unsung players such as Mantas Gudaitis, Marion Head, or Sam Atkinson, while all talented in their own right, rise to an even higher level under the direction of Veale and Tommy Morgan. SQC’s true strength nevertheless lies in their beater game. In their Southern Cup victory, it was the sheer dominance of Anjit Aulakh that decisively turned the tables on Werewolves, and though he is temperamental player, the presence of Kerry Aziz, Ben Guthrie, and Alex Carpenter ensures that the team is never beholden to Aulakh’s changeable form.
Anjit Aulakh, Joel Davis, and Imy Gregg celebrating after a win at BQC 2018 | Photo Credit: Sports Action Photos
Southampton will be confident that they can top their group at EQC. Newcomers Pressburg Phantoms will struggle to make any inroads against such a seasoned team, as will the North Sea Nargles. Lumos Compostela are a different matter, and their match against Southampton, while weighted in the UK club’s favour, promises to be one of the more interesting showdowns of Day One. The Spanish side have a history of pulling upsets, having sent the heavily-touted OSI Vikings to the lower bracket at EQC 2017, and with relatively easy matches in Nargles and Phantoms, they will be throwing everything at their game with Southampton. While they are not a team known for complacency, Southampton will have to play well to truly quell the challenge that Lumos Compostela present. However, if they do, it will bode well for their Day Two performance, and if all of their key players are on the same form as they were at Southern Cup 2017, Southampton could be angling for a podium finish.