Quidditch finally made its long awaited return to Horspath Athletic Ground on the 22nd and 23rd of April (it’s been far too long) as nine teams across the UK competed in the first Development Cup. As its ever so catchy name suggests, Development Cup is Quidditch UK’s answer to teams who did not qualify for the British Quidditch Cup. Participants ranged from veterans of the UK circuit St Andrews Snidgets all the way through to fresh produce in the form of Glasgow Grim Reapers and the Bournemouth Banshees. Second team outfits such as London Unbreakables, Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds and Sheffield Steelfins also made the trip down to Oxford with the hope of solidifying their existence as we look forward to next season.
Dubbed as the ‘gauntlet from hell’, these brave teams' fate would be decided through a daring round-robin format that provided a staggering eight matches for each competitor. As a comparison, this year’s British Quidditch Cup’s semi-finalists played a total of seven games across the weekend. With most roster sizes stretching to the brink of being playable, the likelihood that all games would be completed was put into doubt. The odds were further stacked against them as the last minute drop out of fan favourites Ahmeds kebab van threw another spanner into the works – players would be expected to take on the gauntlet without his greasy yet delicious calories to fuel them.
So… how did the teams fare?
1st Place - Liverpuddly Cannons
Ultimately, the title of Dev Cup Champions 2017 went, after an undefeated run over the two days, to the Liverpuddly Cannons.
The Cannons started out shakily, catching from behind to scrape a victory against Edinburgh II in their closest match of the weekend. From then on, however, the Cannons improved match on match, developing a coherent strategy and fantastic communication and synergy between beaters and chasers to storm their matches later in the tournament.
Kathryn Reynolds and Chloe Hemingway both excelled in the quaffle game, reliably making crucial catches and showing great confidence in driving and ball handling. Both also put in exceptional stints at seeker, each catching at least one snitch and disproving suggestions that the Cannons' seeker game lacked depth and variety.
Newcomer Mark Evans made a significant impact on the tournament (and Tom Newton's shoulder), quickly developing an uncanny ability for spotting fast break opportunities and exploiting them to rack up points for his team, while on defense, tight marking and interceptions were the order of the day. Elif-Semida Atal was particularly relentless in scrambling for the quaffle to force turnovers.
Alisha Raithatha maintained her stalwart hoop defense during most of the last two matches without a sub, exhibiting little to no drop off in skill in doing so. Freya Brooks persevered through injury to bring physicality to the Liverpool beater line, making tackles and stubbornly maintaining bludger control while taking hits, and Alex Rayner showed potential to excel as an aggressive beater, making plays that were reminiscent of the very best in the game and tearing apart opposing defenses as a result.
Liverpool were clearly a driven and disciplined team, and it is for that strategic unity between every player, perhaps even more than his admittedly impressive take downs, frequent interceptions and abundance of hoops, that captain Iyas Husni should be praised. Liverpool's victory was clearly the result of a lot of smart leadership, hard work and training, which can only bode well for their future in competitive quidditch.
2nd Place - Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds
Fresh from the jubilation of their first team's glorious run to the semis at BQC, the Holyrood Hippogriffs Seconds team did not disappoint in their commanding performance at Dev Cup. Aside from a less than ideal start with a snitch range loss to the eventual winners, the Liverpuddly Cannons, Edinburgh dominated play all weekend, winning every other game well out of range to take home a well deserved silver medal.
Having loaned her BQC cheerleader outfit to coach Ollie Riley (presumably to facilitate a 'who wore it better' article later in the season), Brazilian international Yanna Colmerauer proved she is as much of a threat on pitch as her death stare and signature warning hand gesture seem to promise. Consistently and easily ignoring attempts at distraction made by opposing bludgerless beaters to focus on the quaffle game, she acted as a lynchpin to secure her team's defense and made catch after catch after catch on attack. With the addition of the physicality and tenacity of Seb Klick, Elise Audouy and Bob Pratt, strong beater subs were abundant in the Edinburgh team, although Gary Cassidy still made the slightly unorthodox decision to sub for himself, which seemed to go reasonably well all things considered.
Guntis Rutins played an important role, adding sheer impassable size to Edinburgh's arsenal in the quaffle game and, as a seeker, catching snitch Matt Bateman through the power of fear alone while Ben Zinger used speed and agility to out-maneuver the opposing team and was always quick to chase down a loose ball.
Edinburgh as a whole can be justly proud of both of their teams' performances this season and of the general growth north of the border represented by the plethora of Scottish talent present at Dev Cup. Although they were denied the trophy, Edinburgh should be proud of their first medal on the QuidditchUK national stage and look forward to challenging for many more in seasons to come.
3rd Place - Bathilisks Quidditch Club
When Newton rejected my proposal to go for a cheeky pint on Saturday night, the world knew that Bathilisks were coming into this tournament with their hearts set on a podium place finish. Due to numerous setbacks at the start of the season, Bath has had to rely on their South West League fixtures to provide some structure to the squad’s development. Despite not recording a win in any of these games, the Bathilisks came into Dev Cup full of optimism and the belief that they could be title contenders.
A narrow SWIM loss to Preston Poltergeists and two further losses against 1st and 2nd place denied Bath of snatching the gold or silver on this occasion, however a commendable performance across the weekend left Bath going home smiling.
The Bathilisks scalped the crown of double overtime kings off the Brizzlebears' head as Luke Rose made history against the London Unbreakables, marking the first double overtime game in the UK to end with a snitch catch.
Hattie Elvins proved to be a real stand-out player when present, displaying the discipline necessary to control the tempo of the game whenever on pitch. At this level, it’s this discipline that makes the difference between winning and losing crucial games. Meanwhile, Captain Tom Newton surpassed his performances for former club Reading, sporting good bludger aim, driving power and seeker skill.
The keeper rotation of rugby converts Lewis Dixon and Adam Wood provided opponents with little rest against constant powerful drives and bone-crunching tackles. It would be an understatement to say that South West Broadsider Jess Climer was indispensable at providing Bath with further security on offense and in defense. As well as donning the white headband, former Keele player Jessica Lee showed a valiant display in Bath’s seeking department against Mr Tickle limbed snitch and destroyer of schedules Trym Berge.
After watching the team progress throughout the weekend, I truly believe that Bath have now set the foundations to build upon on the run up to regionals. Do not be surprised to see Bath be upper-bracket contenders coming into Southern Cup and who knows; maybe grab a cheeky overtime win against the Radcliffe Chimeras!
4th Place - London Unbreakables
After facing years of Ashara Peiris’ relentless teasers, Development Cup provided a platform for London Unspeakables' longly awaited second team to finally make their competitive debut. Coach Jepha Krieg provided bundles of enthusiasm to London’s nine person roster throughout the weekend, a trait that particularly came in handy when bouncing back from a gruelling double overtime loss against the Bathilisks.
In the quaffle game, former Warwick player Thaison Dang, whose career had been put on hold after being ruled out of BQC 2015 with toothache, showed his opponents a clean pair of heels time and time again. His ritual of skipping around multiple defenders and converting through the hoops was always met with a loud ‘DANG THAISON’ from the crowd. With the right representation, I predict a bright future for Dang’s personal brand with a call up to Jay Holmes expansion squad at the very top of this players bucket list. Tom Appleyard and Kirsty Brown helped solidify London’s chasing game, always opening up channels to penetrate the tightest of defenses.
Loughborough’s loveable legend Tim Lee provided reliable bludger support alongside the tenacity of Willow Rosenberg, allowed London’s chasers to have a field day when crafting wave after wave of offensive onslaught. A particular highlight from the weekend was watching game changer Tim Lee ‘accidentally’ striking the face of Bath captain Tom Newton when trying to regain bludger control – pundits labelled this as a ‘Zidanesque moment.’ It was also encouraging to see new faces in Carly Maling and Outi Valkonen take up multiple positions with such confidence.
For such a small roster, London should walk away from this tournament with the knowledge that the future is bright should they be able to use the Unbreakables as a chance to develop the club's raw talent. Also, that inflatable pretzel mascots now need to make an appearance at every tournament to provide comfort to the community #pretzelteamjk2k18.
5th Place - St Andrews Snidgets
Originating in one of the most windswept regions of the country, the St Andrews Snidgets could be forgiven for expecting a home turf advantage in the notorious gales of Horspath Athletics Ground. However, despite losing this potential advantage in the wake of the unexpected and almost unprecedented phenomenon of sunshine, the team rallied, achieving an impressive record of 4 wins and sneaking into 5th place on QPD.
The Snidgets attacking game at Dev Cup relied on the relentless use of napalm by the indefatigable Dan Edwards to create holes in the opponents defense which were then exploited by the fleet-footed Roland Crompton and driving powerhouse Sean White, often to the dramatic and colourful commentary of well-known Big Dog and ex-Snidget Ben Middlemiss. (One of many of the club's alumni that, along with a significant number of Edinburgh's first team, showed up at the event to help out, cheer on their old teammates and/or exploit ready access to a megaphone).
The clever positioning and pitch awareness of Alice McDougall and Sarah Dunleavy were responsible for plenty of hoop opportunities for the Scottish side, presenting a constant scoring threat behind the hoops as well as providing consistently tight marking on defense.
By far the standout performance for St Andrews, though, was from Tev Wallace whose heroic and tireless turn at defensive seeker frustrated Bath's seekers over and over again, drawing the first game of Day 2 out to 45 minutes and 10 seconds of game time and threatening everyone's lunch break, for which they at least had the grace to apologise to the tournament director.
The Snidgets showed great determination and promise in their showing at Dev Cup, and should go into the next season with their eyes firmly set on BQC qualification at regionals.
6th Place - Preston Poltergeists
Though their squad was one of the smallest there, the Preston Poltergeists impressed with their resilience and survived the weekend without needing to supplement their roster with mercs. Ultimately tying with the Unbreakables and Snidgets on 4 wins each, Preston finished sixth overall due to the cruel machinations of QPD. The closeness of this final result reflects much of Preston's weekend which was characterised by nail-bitingly tense matches that could have easily gone either way, including an overtime loss to the London Unbreakables and an incredibly intense double overtime win against the Glasgow Grim Reapers.
Preston have improved enormously since Northern Cup, perhaps due to their plethora of local competition and unofficial gameplay experience over the course of this season. Employing the aggressive beating of Izaac Cole and Connor Miller, Preston were able to regain bludger control and effectively make space for Niall Rowe to make threatening runs deep into enemy territory while Charlotte Adams provided a level-headed and stalwart defense that was vital to the team's defensive structure.
Conspicuous at fantasy tournaments across the course of the season, Zac Lamont-Rodriguez continued to show amiable versatility over the course of the weekend, donning the yellow and white headbands with equal skill and making vital snitch catches to secure victories for the team.
As a side note - a personal highlight of the weekend was listening to Niall Rowe’s ‘Daddy story’ – for those lucky enough to be graced with his presence at next seasons regionals, I would recommend listening to the theatrical version of this for the best entertainment.
7th Place - Glasgow Grim Reapers
The Glasgow Grim Reapers are one of the UK’s latest teams to emerge in the UK, only appearing on the radar a couple of months ago. Under the leadership of Alice Ravier, the team have quickly built themselves into a functional club and have already won the hearts of many within the community. Although having one of Development Cup's smallest rosters, my hat goes off to them that they chose to attend. It cannot be emphasised enough how important actual game time is in developing your club. I’m certain that Glasgow will have benefited from their first tournament experience.
Along with the thrills of being a new team, many had already written Glasgow off picking up a win from this tournament. However, captain Ravier and coach Ash Cooper were determined not to let this mentality set in. SWIM games against Sheffield Steelfins and a 14 second catch against rivals St Andrews saw the Grim Reapers pick up not just one, but two wins!
Former St Andrews player Aakash Gupta has bolstered the teams quaffle game tremendously, providing a real counter attack presence. Ross Wiseman proved much needed physical prowess and was relied upon with seeker duties in crucial games. Brodie West was the glue in holding Glasgow’s beater game together saving countless number of attacks from every angle. Although inconsistent at times, the team showed glimmerings of their true potential as they turned the tables on much more established opponents.
With confidence in their stride, the Grim Reapers need to maintain this over the long summer break ready to hit the ground running in September. Recruitment efforts must be Glasgow’s number one priority heading into next season, with the hope that they can cement good steading heading into regionals and Scottish Cup.
8th Place - Bournemouth Banshees
The Banshees came into this tournament only having a handful of games under their belt. A win against Winchester in November showed early promising signs for the coastal side, with outstanding performances from Callum Newman (AKA – Salmon Boi) and Duncan Bezzant. Attendants were already labeling this team as the next big thing. However, a suspicious wrist injury to Newman and relationship commitments for Bezzant ruled Bournemouth’s main two quaffle drivers out of this year’s Development Cup. Nevertheless, these absences did not affect the spirit of Tara Moreland and the Banshees coming into the gruelling gauntlet of death. With a rebranding and a move away from Sondico kits since their last appearance the team was ready to make their splash on the quidditch community.
Bournemouth came close to pulling off a win against the London Unbreakables as they forced the game into overtime late on day 2. Although they came out on the losing side, a win against the Glasgow Grim Reapers saw them edge 8th place by 20 PD.
Free Agent Harry McLeneghan was able to fill the gap that Newman and Bezzant left behind, covering every blade of grass on the pitch with his looping runs and tight marking. Witty banter was exchanged at McLeneghans choice of apparel, sporting a Chelsea Shevchenko shirt on day 1 and a Chelsea Deco shirt on day 2. Every team in the Midlands should be looking to pick up the Worcester Saucerers star and only remaining player in the Summer transfer window. Keeper Dan Aziz made some crucial saves in the form of slaps and punches to keep Bournemouth's opponents at bay.
At the centre of the Banshess beater corps, Jake Ruggier’s tireless performance provided structure to Bournemouth's overall game. If Alistair Goodwin and Matthew Nugent had a baby, Jake would be that baby - his stamina and tenacity shined through over the course of the weekend. Meike Glombek stepped up to the plate time and time again proving to be a real threat on defense.
The beaming personality of captain Tara Moreland cannot be faulted. It is clear that she has had a positive impact on the team’s persona which has translated to enjoying their time on pitch. This tournament has provide the Banshees with an opportunity to learn and develop their players. With the right structure and chemistry, I am looking forward to seeing how Bournemouth progress as a team next season, with an aim of securing a place at BQC next year still very much on the cards.
9th Place - Sheffield Steelfins
Sheffield. A season ago, they were just murmurings of a group of people looking to set up a team. 12 months on, they have established two large teams in the form of Squids and Steelfins. The recruitment of this season will put Sheffield down as one of the biggest success stories of the 2016-17 season. Coming from a strong performance at BQC, it was now the Steelfins turn to be in the limelight. Sheffield boasted the biggest roster of this year’s Development cup with 19 eager Sheffieldolians being taken care of by coach Sasha Burgoyne.
The Steelfins were ceaselessly community-spirited, offering help to the tournament committee at every opportunity and providing the lion's share of merc players to the smaller teams to enable them to survive until the end of the tournament. This mercing will have done wonders for the Steelfins players themselves, giving them even more competitive game time and experience of different playstyle that they will be able to take back with them.
Despite finishing at the bottom of the pack, the Steelfins have many positives to take away from this tournament. They picked up a convincing 190*-110 win against the Bournemouth Banshees (their fast and certainly not their last) and were level on pitch against Glasgow Grim Reapers when the snitch was caught. The Steelfins even managed to keep silver medalists Holyrood Hippogriffs II in SWIM range for seven minutes. They had only formed three weeks before, some had never played a game before and most had only played in their varsity match. From some of the gameplay we saw, this was not evident at all. Every beater picked up gameplay really quickly with great individual performances all round, all female chasers drove with the quaffle and every quaffle player scored.
Huw Williams provided a solid chasing option for the Steelfins, showing great tactical awareness that outsmarted opposing defenses. Big hitters Danny Birdsall and Josh Prentice really came into their own across the weekend. Elizabeth Brack and Lucy Harris were assigned as guardians of the hoops and were not afraid to get in their opponents faces to scare off attackers. Every beater got their time in the limelight, with great steals and recovering bludger control from Sam Birkitt, Oliver Bower and Dom Hodgkiss. Captain Becca Livesey in particular performed well at the tournament, showcasing strong ball-handling skills and confident driving while Arkady English was notable at seeker both for Steelfins and as a merc for other teams.
The team's confidence grew over the weekend and with more experience playing they could all be knocking on the first team's door. It was clear that training alongside the Squids has had a positive impact on the Steelfins overall structure and play. Although there were inevitably some school-boy errors that led to some preventable goals, with a bit of polishing the Steelfins can go all the way to becoming the best second team in the country next season.
Article by Tom Ower, Rix Dishington and Sasha Burgoyne
Photos by Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography