by Richard Turkowitsch
Editor’s Note: Richard Turkowitsch is a non-playing member of the Vienna Vanguards
For a long time in the eyes of the community, Austrian quidditch was dominated by one team: the Vienna Vanguards. With their win at Austrian Quidditch Cup 2017, the first Austrian qualifying tournament featuring multiple games played, Austria’s oldest quidditch team have qualified for their fourth European Quidditch Cup (EQC) in a row, every year since their founding in late 2014.
The Vanguards have a mixed 2017 behind them. The year included two tournament wins with the Slavic Cup in Warsaw in May (in a combined team with Ljubljana’s Aemona Argonauts) and the Golden Nut Tournament in Ljubljana in September, but it also included a disastrous tenth place finish out of twelve at their home tournament Danube Cup II in October. They were, however, still able to finish the year on a positive note with their comfortable win at the first Austrian Quidditch Cup in November, where they cruised past both newcomers Graz Grimms from Austria’s second largest city as well as city rivals Danube Direwolves. They did not lose a single game, despite the Direwolves being able to challenge them stronger than ever before and even being ahead for long stretches of the first of two games.
While the Vanguards are able to bring a 20-person squad to Pfaffenhofen, a few key absences have weakened the team slightly, most notably on the beater front: the injured Josephine Röser, who will instead be the team’s head coach, veteran Max Liebetreu, who is currently taking a break from the sport altogether, and strong defensive beater Lena Mandahus, whose semester abroad in Southampton has led her to play on the Southampton QC squad. Stepping up on the female beater front will be former chaser Anita Prem, Lisa Schulte, formerly of the Berlin Bluecaps, as well as former BSI Rumpeldunk member Birgit Haider. The male beater lineup features former Pressburg Phantoms tank Martin Čurnek, Austrian national team beater coach Markus Tünte, freshly back from a semester abroad in North Carolina where he gained further playing experience with Nomads Quidditch, and wild card Osman Akkaya, whose hyper-aggressive style will be sure to give opposing beaters strong defensive worries.
Tünte beating for the Vanguards | Photo Credit: Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography
On the quaffle side of things, notable players are captain and keeper Dominik Hiesl and chaser Andrea Wöger, both playing their fourth EQC for the team. Hiesl’s in-game focus and field vision is one of the core strengths of the Vanguards’ offense and his goal line defense ability is second to none in Austria, except for maybe fellow keeper and team physician Daniel Mitterauer. Wöger is a versatile offensive weapon with a hammer of a throwing arm and a great sense of positioning. Other important chasers that have to be mentioned are one-time Austrian Rugby Sevens women’s national team member Jessica Zekar and Augsburg Owls head coach Matthias Renner, who will both bring their own brands of physicality to the game. Fast and small Simon Heher, who doubles as chaser coach, will give worries to opposing players with his ability to dodge both beats and tackles most others would think undodgeable. Belgian national team chaser Hanne Hermans, who started her playing career with the Vanguards, will also be joining the blue and orange for one last tournament before she switches to Antwerp QC.
Wöger at the Austrian Quidditch Cup 2017 | Photo Credit: Martin Reifensteiner
The seeker side, while always a strong suit in local tournaments, was the Vanguards’ biggest weakness at last year’s EQC, leading them to lose an important SWIM range game against Liège Leviathans in the group stages and to lose to the Barcelona Eagles in lower bracket play. The seeker rotation has since taken a clear step up with Austria national team seeker coach Sascha Grimm bringing his karate-influenced style of seeking to the squad. Also in the rotation will be the aforementioned Dominik Hiesl, Simon Heher, and Jessica Zekar, whose different approaches to the seeking position will give snitch runners a multitude of challenges. Zekar’s abilities in defensive seeking are an additional strength, although the Vanguards will certainly hope that those skills won’t be needed.
Two of the Vanguards’ biggest strengths are the experience from the core players taking part in as many fantasy tournaments as they possibly could (BMT, LXG, Open Dutch Summer Cup, Intergalaktik) and a tactical knowledge based on the variety of other sports the members have formerly played (or still play). The team features players of football, handball, basketball, American football, field hockey, rugby, and ice hockey. The Vanguards favor a somewhat reactive strategy, heavily focusing on adapting to their opponent’s playing style and playing what works best against it.
The Vanguards were drawn into Group H along with OSI Vikings, Münchner Wolpertinger, and Gothenburg Griffins. The draw leaves the Vanguards with a clear path to the upper bracket: Beat the Wolpertingers. While Vienna and Munich as cities are only a mere 400 kilometers apart, the teams have never before directly played each other. Barring an upset of either Wolpertinger or the Vanguards versus the favored OSI Vikings, this first meeting between Munich and Vienna will most probably decide second place in Group H, and there is no clear consensus on a favorite for this game. If the Vanguards manage to take out the Wolpertinger’s strongest players, the path to their long-awaited first EQC upper bracket will be wide open.