Irish Women’s Nationals: can Rebel be pulled back by Gravity?

Ireland, Irish Ultimate, Previews, womens

Aidan Kelly previews this weekend’s Irish Women’s Nationals, and sees a potential upset brewing.

This weekend, Dublin’s fair city is due to welcome female Ultimate players from across the country as it plays host to only the second ever stand-alone Women’s All-Ireland Ultimate Championships.

Before 2016, the event had been packaged alongside its Open counterpart. However, in an effort to promote Women’s Ultimate in the country, as well as removing any conflicts around teams with male coaches having to pick between playing or coaching, the first ever WAIUC was hosted by Uproar in Maynooth last year. The event was a huge success and saw Rebel Ultimate claim their first ever title in the division, seeing off the heavy threat of Dublin Gravity in the final.

The Gravigals will be looking to go one better this season. Photo by Elizabeth O’Sullivan.

The scene has witnessed a number of changes in the last twelve months. Last year we saw seven teams from five clubs, while this time around there are six from three. While Dublin Youth Unicorns, Jabba the Huck and UPELT are out this year, we’ve been struck by a newcomer in the form of BOLT. While it’s obviously sad to see fewer teams in the division, the fact all three clubs entered are fielding two teams each shows the strength in depth that these sides are creating.

With days to go, all early signs point to a repeat of last year’s finale. Both Rebel and Gravity have had strong seasons so far, with the Cork ladies previously travelling over to Tour 2 and the Dubliners fighting it out with some of Europe’s best over at Windmill and Disc Days Cologne during the summer.

Rebel, captained by the current IFDA Female Player of the Year Rosie O’Mahony, will no doubt be hungry to repeat their successes from last season and with the ever-united core of players developed by the dominating varsity team, University College Cork, it will take massive performances from their rivals to steal the crown. The champions also currently hold an impressive record against Gravity, having already beaten them a few weeks back at Munster Munch, an invitational Women’s tournament hosted by the Ireland Junior Women. And, with EUCR also just around the corner, I feel that the girls from ‘The People’s Republic’ will look to use this weekend as a strong base for their preparations.

BOLT are looking to cause an upset in their first year as a club. Photo by Eva Normoyle.

However, it needs to be said that Gravity, led by the team of Sinead ‘Shinners’ O’Flemming and Kate Boylan, have had a very interesting shake-up this term. Since the collapse of former champions Jabba the Huck, the club has stepped forth as the only Women’s team in Dublin, allowing for many of Jabba’s top players and young college starlets to integrate into the ranks. This added depth, along with the addition of renowned coach Ian French, has meant that Gravigals are as serious a threat to Rebel’s title hopes as they have ever been. Should these two teams make the final, as many may predict, it’s going to be a hell of a showdown between Ireland’s finest. If Gravity can flawlessly execute their game plan when it counts, I can see them bringing the gold medals home to Doyle’s Pub come Saturday night.

Looking to provide a shock are newcomers to the division in the form of BOLT Ultimate. An amalgamation of ladies from PELT (Limerick) and Tribe Ultimate (Galway) in the west, this young club will need to pull out something big to conduct an upset on the big two. The brainchild of seasoned Ireland international Aine Ahern, this thunderous crew are hoping to surge through their opposition and make a name for themselves. While the potential goal of toppling their more established rivals might be out of their reach for year one, I forecast that this storm creeping in from the west will look to show what they’re made of as they descend upon Dublin.

UKU Regionals: the Open division

Open, Previews

With DP away doing Eurostars things and the rest of our editors and contributors being slightly tied up, we didn’t have an opportunity to get a preview for Open ready before the tournaments. However! Today will be the big qualification day in both the North and the South, so let’s take a look at where we stand.

NORTH

There are semi-finals and a power pool going on today in Salford. The semis will pit Chevron against Leeds while EMO take on Manchester. Those games should really be a formality if everyone has brought a full squad, and EMO vs Chevron will very likely be the Regional final. All four teams, though, have qualified for Nationals. There are six spots in the North, so the power pool is the really interesting bit.

Alba and The Brown have each carried through unbeaten records against their pool opponents. The Brown have victories over Vision and BAF, while Alba won a squeaker in sudden death against SMOG. Alba play Vision first thing this morning while The Brown get a break. The key game is likely to be The Brown against local rivals SMOG.

If The Brown beat SMOG, they have the inside line to Nationals and their final game against Alba will simply be for seedings in Birmingham. SMOG need to win in order to finish second, too, so the game is a de-facto knockout game (if SMOG can beat BAF this morning, as expected). It should be a spicy one at 11am.

PREDICTION
Chevron
EMO
Manchester
Leeds
Alba
SMOG
The Brown
Vision
BAF

SOUTH

The South division also features semi-finals today with Clapham playing Devon and an all-London game in Fire vs Kapow. All four are through to Nationals and can finish no lower than sixth.

The South has eight spots for Nationals, so the route there is a little more complicated. Reading 1 play Fire 2, and Flump play Brighton Legends, at 9.20am this morning. The winners of those games are guaranteed a spot at Nationals and will make up the final two in the 3-6 playoff bracket with the losing semi-finallists. The losers of those two games go into the brutal 7-10 bracket, where only two teams will qualify. They’ll be joined by the winners of two more games; Brighton City vs Reading 2 and Bristol vs Camden.

Predicting this group is a tough one after the first few games. Realistically, Reading 1 will beat Fire 2. Brighton City should beat Reading 2 and you’d fancy Bristol over Camden. Brighton Legends against Flump is the really close one, with Legends defeating City (who have beaten Flump twice this season) in sudden death yesterday. I’m going to pick Flump despite the accusations of bias that could be pitched my way.

That would leave both Brighton teams, Bristol (who game Clapham a decent game yesterday) and Fire 2 in a bracket with only two qualifiers. It’s a brutal region this year. Brighton City vs Fire 2 would be a fiery game, but I’d see Brighton coming out on top, while Bristol vs Brighton Legends is almost too close to call. I’ll back the experience and give it to Legends, giving us a rematch of the all-Brighton pool game.

Despite their loss yesterday, I’d back City here. That would mean Legends would have to play the winner of a Fire 2 vs Bristol game where I’d favour Fire 2. A game-to-go between Brighton Legends and Fire 2 is another very closely matched encounter. Legends have quite a tight squad and by this point they’ll have played six games in the weekend and three today. I think that would slow them down sufficiently that Fire 2 would take it, but it would likely be very close.

PREDICTION
Clapham
Fire 1
Kapow
Devon
Reading 1
Flump
Brighton City
Fire 2
Brighton Legends
Bristol
Camden
Reading 2
Kent
Bristol 2

CONCLUSION

This would make for some tasty pools at Nationals. Clapham would face Ranelagh, SMOG and Devon. Chevron would have Reading, Fire 2 and Manchester. Fire 1 would play EMO, Leeds and Brighton City. PELT would face off against Kapow, Flump and Alba. Clapham’s pool looks to be quite tough in these circumstances, but they’d surely be confident of winning through yet again.

We’ll post something more comprehensive once the results are final and not based on my notoriously terrible predictions. Good luck to everyone today!

All-Irelands Regionals: a preview

Open, Previews

UK Ultimate isn’t the only body having regionals this weekend – our Irish friends are also getting ready for their Nationals. Aidan Kelly and Tadhg Brogan walk us through the teams to watch in Ireland.

As we wave goodbye to both the month of July and the Tour season, here in the Emerald Isle the club season is ready to kick it up a gear (or five) as the All-Irelands Regionals events take place in two locations this weekend.

How our All-Ireland Ultimate Championships (Nationals) format works is fairly simple. Each regional event takes place a few weeks as a qualifier for Division One, which is comprised of eight teams. At the moment there are four spots in the East (Leinster/Ulster) and four in the West (Munster/Connaught). This can vary each year depending on finishing spots. Any team that doesn’t qualify is free to play Division Two, which usually takes place alongside its premier counterpart.

This year, we have ten teams squaring off in the East and six in the West. Here’s a round-up of who we’ll be seeing, and our bold* predictions of how they may fare.

*probably wrong

AIUC East – Aidan Kelly

Ranelagh 1&2 (Last year: 1st and N/A)
Top dogs in Dublin, and indeed the region, Ranelagh are back to playing with two teams this year, after having one, larger panel in 2016. Unbeaten at Regionals in the two previous years it’s run, I don’t expect the first team to fall to anyone this time around either.

Expect the second team to feature a mixture of some younger, developing talent combined with a few veterans of the Lagh to help drag them over the line. With both teams well drilled by the coaching team of Sam Mehigan and Matthew Feely, and with the valuable positive performances at Windmill and Tour 3 already under their belts this season, there is no reason why we can’t see both Ranelagh teams finish in the top four spots come Sunday evening.

Uproar (Last year: 2nd)
After finishing runners up at last year’s event up in Belfast, the Kildare side have experienced a massive amount of turnover in their squad. Pulled apart by immigration, travelling, players joining other clubs (sorry lads) and long-term injuries there are as many as seven of last year’s first team no longer on the roster.

However, expect a number of their younger players, mostly blooded from the local Maynooth University, to attempt to step up to the plate this year and embrace the chance at taking on bigger roles within the team. Regionals will be a massive test, especially with possibly their most important game of the weekend first thing Saturday against Masterclass. But, as previous battles throughout the season with their rivals have proved, they won’t be surrendering a spot in Division One without putting up a real fight.

Dublin Gravity 1&2 (Last year 3rd and 5th)
As possibly the biggest club in the region (roster size-wise), Gravity have typically been comfortably blessed with depth that has seen both teams in honest contention for qualification. Last season Gravity 2 (or Anti-Gravity as they oddly like to be called) narrowly missed out on the top bracket thanks to a bitter and contentious loss to Jabba in the game to go.

This year they’ve also been met with a lot of roster turnover, however some of that has been in their favour. With the additions of Ireland regulars Enda Kelleher and Daniel Purdy, expect the well-drilled side to have an extra layer of unpredictability as they now have that all-important Plan B that they lacked last season (i.e. huck it to the stupidly tall lad).

Jabba the Huck (Last year 4th)
Despite “retiring” their Men’s team, the former champions and current Mixed gold medallists have made the rather surprising decision to give Regionals a go this year. Rumour has it that this is just to give some extra playing time to their Mixed players and for a chance to just play some more competitive Ultimate and sure, why not?

After causing huge controversy last year for giving opponents Ranelagh a 15-0 walkover in an attempt to keep the legs fresh for the tighter games later on in the day last year (hey, it worked I suppose), I don’t expect the club to have the same mindset this time around. I do however expect Jabba to make things hard for their opponents by playing with little pressure and nothing to lose.

Belfast Ultimate (Last year 6th)
A fallen giant of Irish Ultimate, Belfast have found things tough over the last few seasons. A victim of a lack of foresight in the past as many of their older, seasoned leaders began to retire years back without enough younger players to take up the mantle, this year it looks like the ship has started to be steadied somewhat.

With a new, fresh leadership combining Ireland Masters’ player Wesley Fraser and former Junior international Richard Sayers, things are starting to look brighter up North as massive attempts to redevelop the Ultimate scene in Belfast have been made this year. However, with the region being so competitive, it may come as a season too soon if they want to be taken seriously as contenders for Division One. However, I expect BU to look to take at least one scalp this weekend, while playing with great spirit as they look to do Belfast proud.

XVI 1&2 (Last year N/A)
After giving regionals a miss and dominating Division Two last season, the young guns, comprised mainly of both former and current Gonzaga students, come with huge pedigree despite the average player age. Containing more Ireland underage caps than I dare try count, XVI will look to use this tournament as the platform to announce themselves as All-Ireland contenders. Whether they can actually do it is another question entirely.

When on-form, it’s near impossible to stop this side, but the problem is that we have really gotten a chance to see that so far. It’s easy to forget that this is a club still in its infancy and it takes a lot more to run a successful side at this level than to train in a park twice a week. However, they have shown signs that they don’t fear the early learning curve with big wins against Masterclass and Uproar already under their belt this term. If they can keep composure and use their heads I see them finishing comfortably in the top four.

As far as their second team (…XVII?) goes, I would wager it’ll contain an even younger, developing group of future first teamers that will use the weekend as great experience for the future.

Masterclass (Last year N/A)
The bloody wildcard. A bunch of old, semi-retired vets who are just here to have fun and fuck with everyone else (and let’s face it, nothing is more fun than that…)

If this was a one day tournament, I’d put a lot of money on Masterclass to qualify, but it’s not. The schedule will play a massive part in how this side ends up. Despite the fact they hold a generation of experience under their belts and know how to conserve their energy (lazy, lazy zones), it’s a massive question as to whether their bodies will last up to seven games over the weekend.

Aidan’s predictions:
1 – Ranelagh 1
2 – XVI
3 – Ranelagh 2
4 – Dublin Gravity
——————–
5 – Uproar
6 – Masterclass
7 – Jabba
8 – Belfast
9 – Gravity 2
10 – XVI 2

AIUC West – Tadhg Brogan

In contrast to the east, out wesht we have just 6 teams venturing up to Galway to fight for a spot in the Top 4. With such few teams, here’s a look ahead for what to expect.

PELT Ultimate 1&2 (Last Year: 1st & 5th)
The powerhouse of the west, PELT claimed their first All-Ireland title last year, and they have continued building since. This season has seen them go unbeaten domestically in the All-Ultimate Ireland League (AIUL) and abroad they have only suffered losses to Clapham, Chevron and Freespeed, resulting in third-place finishes at Windmill and Tour 3. With an almost full squad (despite the noticeable absence of Andrew Meade) it’s hard to imagine them being dethroned at Regionals as they look set to continue to another All-Ireland final, with the WUCC qualifying spot firmly in their sights.

PELT 2, on the other hand, have come up short the past two years in terms of qualifying for Division One. While the team has had success at Division Two All-Irelands, the club’s goal for regionals is to have both teams qualify for Division One. As a result, you’ll find that some of the talent has been spread across the squads to ensure this, so it won’t be too surprising if the club manage to have both teams crack the top four.

Rebel Ultimate (Last Year: 2nd)
Rather surprisingly, the Cork giants are only sending one team to this year’s Regionals, in contrast to the three teams they managed to muster up last year. These short numbers are stretching all the way up to the first-team squad with only 13 players making the trip to Galway. Despite the short numbers and probable absence of one or two of their bigger players, Rebel can never be counted out. Already having competed at Tom’s Tourney (taking ninth), Tour 2 and Tour 3, the team will be ready for battle and with hordes of experience under their belt, odds are they’ll hold onto their Division One spot. Short numbers could see them fall down the seedings when all is said and done, though.

Ballingcollig Ultimate (Last Year: 3rd)
Collig have put in a pretty decent performance so far this year at home, fairly comfortably dispatching Rebel and Tribe in the AIUL, only suffering a loss to PELT, which will most likely see them come second in the league. Further afield, they have taken the time to develop younger side of the squad at Tour 1, where they put in a relatively decent performance at C Tour. This could prove crucial as Collig are likely to be missing some of their bigger players in the form of John “the Boy” Hallisey, Donnacha McAuillfe and Dave Forde. However, what I imagine will be the main worry for the side is how they will fair in close games without Matthew Feely, who they lost to Ranelagh earlier in the year. In a similar situation to their Cork brethren, Collig are only sending one team due to short numbers. As a result, it would be asking a lot for the team to take down PELT 1, but I would still have them tipped to possibly get the better of Rebel.

Tribe Ultimate 1&2 (Last Year: 4th & N/A (Formerly Snatch))
And finally our hosts for the weekend: Tribe. In contrast to the Cork sides, the Tribe lads are managing to send two teams to Regionals. With a large portion of Tribe 2 being more inexperienced players looking to build experience, the focus will be on getting Tribe 1 into the top four. Tribe has been a team that has been constantly improving thanks to the University team in NUIG. So far this year however, the Tribe Men’s team have only been seen during the AIUL where they suffered losses to both Collig and Rebel. Some added talent over the season may provide Tribe with the boost they need to get past these teams come Saturday. However, with the major threat of PELT 2 vying for at least that fourth spot, the pressure is on the Galway boys to climb the seeds or hold their spot.

So with five teams really looking for the top four spots, and a bit of a wildcard in the form of PELT 2 thrown in for good measure, here are my predictions for the weekend:

Tadhg’s Predictions
1 – PELT 1
2 – Ballincollig 1
3 – Rebel
4 – PELT 2
———————-
5 – Tribe 1
6 – Tribe 2

UKU Regionals: North Mixed preview

Mixed, Previews

Ali also previewed the North (before it happened, obviously) and here’s what she thought would happen. Did she get it right…?

There are only six teams entered in the North, meaning that Northern Regionals will only be held over the course of one day. Fewer teams means that every game is crucial. Four (technically five since Black Eagles split their teams) of the top ten teams from Mixed Tour are in the North, with a convenient four Nationals places available. It’s not controversial to say that Black Eagles, Glasgow, Mighty Hucks, and SMOG will qualify, with Red Leicester and Black Sheep battling it out at the bottom. Here’s some more information on the teams anyway.

Black Eagles
How does a team take first and second at Mixed Tour? Couch Danny Hoyle says the secret is to remember that Frisbee is a silly sport. Over the Open/Women’s Tour the team have been apparently been keeping in touch with words from a GUFF (Generic Ultimate Friendship Freshener) that was issued to all squad members at the start of the season. Black Eagles have a strong legacy and will doubtless be regarding Regionals as another warm-up tournament before Nationals, but Tour results against SMOG and Glasgow have been close, so an easy Regionals victory is by no means guaranteed.

Black Sheep
Black Sheep had a good run at Mixed Tour this season, with their first team sneaking into the top 16 at MT2 and landing 17th overall. They don’t have a full strength team for Regionals, but Captain Ant Bailey assure me that they’re still planning to enjoy the weekend, put some points on boards against big names, and “have a lot of fun in the Manchester sun at the same time!”

Glasgow
Captained by GB U24 Frisbee power couple Katie Flight and Axel Ahmala, Glasgow achieved a strong seventh place at Mixed Tour and have apparently been managing to keep their Mixed chemistry alive via Linkedin. They’re aiming to qualify but are not at all intimidated by their strong opposition, as Flight puts it: “in terms of match ups, we don’t see the difference between chumps and chumps.”

Mighty Hucks
Another team that doesn’t train together yet are still uncannily good are the Mighty Hucks. They’re basically a group of mates from Open and Women’s teams that come together a few times a year and conjure up incredible results. Unfortunately many of their key men will be playing Open, so their core of female players may have to carry them through. Captain Ben Bruin is keen for the team to qualify for Worlds, but admits it may be a tall order since Hucks have suffered losses to big names over Tour, so their aim is to build chemistry over the qualification process.

Red Leicester
Red’s main priority this year has been establishing their women’s team, which they did with aplomb. Captain Neil Humpage says that their Mixed squad is nice balance comprising some relatively established Red players, along with some newer recruits who have joined up with the club this season, and they are looking forward to playing Black Sheep, having already faced off in both other divisions.

SMOG
When asked about SMOG, Coach Callum Spiers chose to give his answer in the form of a Game of Thrones metaphor which was just too good to paraphrase: “We like to think of ourselves as Jon Snow and Scottish teams as the army of the dead. Yeah it’s gonna be hard, but we’ve got a lot of dragon glass hanging around. If we can see off the undead, a few Southern families should be a breeze even if they have made a few alliances.” Watch out everyone; the North remembers.

Predictions
1. Black Eagles
2. SMOG
3. Glasgow
4. Mighty Hucks
————–
5. Black Sheep
6. Red Leicester

UKU Regionals: South Mixed preview

Mixed, Previews

Ali Thomas has analysed the teams playing Mixed Regionals this year and makes her picks on who finishes where. Here’s what she thinks will go down in Edenbridge.

The Tour season has finished, but competitive Ultimate is far from over. Eight southern teams will make the trip to Edenbridge to vie for three places at Nationals. There are some old teams, some new teams, some teams who are in it to win it and some who are just there to chase some plastic around and have a good time. Here’s a rundown of which teams fit into which category.

JR
First of all, incredible kudos to the JR ladies for playing in Open Tour. Managing to stay comfortably in B Tour by the end of Tour 3 (with only nine players) is ridiculous. Couple that with an overall eighth place finish at Mixed Tour and you’d be forgiven for assuming that JR train often and hard (they never train. As if they weren’t already unbelievable enough). According to co-captain Charlotte Kennedy, they’ve had a tough year integrating new players into the team (which might account for their drop from first to eighth at Mixed Tour), but their experience over six Tours instead of three will certainly give them an advantage.

Reading
Reading have notched impressive results over all three divisions this season, but are looking to remind people that Mixed is where their strength lies. They came fifth overall at Tour, which is a bit of a step down from National (and European) champions, but are confident that they can win Regionals, and according to co-captain Joe Brown, are using it as an opportunity to “solidify connections and work out some of our plays and positions before we try and dominate Nationals”. Look out for their rematch against Deep Space, there should be some exciting matchups.

Deep Space
Much has been said about Deep Space; their ethos of Mixed and Mixed only, combined with an experienced and athletic roster, got them to sixth overall at Tour. Some were surprised they didn’t place higher, but Deep Space welcomed Tour as an opportunity to build connections as a team and not worry about results. Any problems that arose have no doubt been ironed out in the intervening months. Captains Sam Vile and Matt Hodgson will be aiming for top three if not the top spot, as well as revenge on JR, against whom they had a close loss at Tour 1.

Thundering Herd
Herd are a strong squad that boast players from a variety of London club teams such as Fire, Flump, and Chaos. This Tour season saw them slip down a few places from third last year to tenth, though whether due to the addition of three GB U24 teams at Tour, or some slight deficiencies in their mental game, I couldn’t say. Herd have stepped up their training in recent weeks and are determined to qualify for Nationals, but they will have to produce some major plays to upset the top three, especially since some of their male players may opt to play for their Open teams this weekend.

Guildford
Guildford have the squad depth to consistently enter two teams to Mixed Tour, and their firsts finished a solid fifteenth. Despite this success, most of the team have been training and playing with other clubs for Open/Women’s Tour, so for them Mixed Regionals is a nice way to end the season together. They’re not a walkover by any means, but they’re not looking to qualify.

At the lower end of the Mixed Tour results we have Brixton, Curve, and Zero Degrees. These three London teams look to develop players and have fun doing so. They all know each other quite well and have been playing each other over the course of the London Summer League. Though they may have a tough time of it on the Saturday, their match-ups on Sunday will certainly be more enjoyable as they face off against local rivals.

Final predictions
Reading
JR
Deep Space
——————–
Thundering Herd
Guildford
Brixton
Curve
Zero Degrees

The World Games 2017: what to look out for in Wroclaw

Previews, World Games Previews

The World Games 2017 opening ceremony is this evening, and the Flying Disc (as it’s called in this event) portion of the schedule starts tomorrow, with Poland kicking things off against Canada. The sport was added to this event in 2001, with Canada winning the first tournament on universe point against the USA in Japan and the USA winning the three events since then. While Great Britain are absent for the first time since 2009, there’s still plenty to look out for and the games will be available online here. Here’s a quick primer of what you might be able to see, and what could happen, in Wroclaw.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The USA have won the last three World Games titles, defeating Japan in the final in Chinese Taipei and Australia in the final four years later in Cali, Colombia as well as in Germany in 2005. I’m afraid this portion of the preview might be rather dull – they’re absolutely fantastic. Almost every player on this squad is a superstar not just in the USA but across the Ultimate-playing world.

It’s difficult to find a comparison across other sports for what Beau has been to Ultimate over the past decade; he’s shown players across the world what can happen when you dedicate yourself to not only the elements of training that affect the game directly – throwing, catching, cutting and so on – but also to gym work, track and plyometrics. He was the first globally-known player to be something close to a professional athlete and changed how players all over the globe approach training for the sport. Something like a mix between Roger Bannister, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan might encapsulate it. He’s won two of these things already and is shooting for an unprecedented (obviously) hat-trick.

Outside of the mononymous Alaskan, the USA have an embarrassment of riches. Sarah ‘Surge’ Griffiths has been a star for Riot for years, while the Fury trio of Claire Desmond, Anna Nazarov and Carolyn Finney have won everything there is to win. Lien Hoffman plays for current powerhouse Brute Squad, while Sandy Jorgensen (Scandal) and Georgia Bosscher (Heist) add extensive experience themselves. Bosscher and Griffiths already have one gold medal, both having been been on the team in Cali. Meanwhile, NexGen stars Jimmy Mickle (Johnny Bravo), Dylan Freechild (Sockeye this year) and Chris Kocher (PoNY) have all made the step up to the highest level, along with fellow USA Men’s National team player Nick Stuart (Sub Zero). The only two players not to have been in London are Revolver teammates George Stubbs (who also already has a World Games gold medal from Cali) and Grant Lindsley (dude lived in a cave for several months, so there’s that).

This team will win, and I doubt anyone scores in double digits against them. Congrats to the four-time champions.

CANADA
The Canadians feature a number of experienced players. Led by the trio of Mark Lloyd (GOAT), Morgan Hibbert (Furious George) and Catherine Hui (Traffic), all of whom played in Cali, they’ll be a formidable team. The whole squad played in London, all for the Men’s and Women’s teams other than former Furious George player (and MLU MVP) Brendan Wong, who played Mixed. There are two players from GOAT (Andrew Carroll and Geoff Powell) , two from Furious George (Kevin Underhill and Tim Tsang) and two from Iris (Audrey St-Arnaud and Jessie Grignon Tomas) with four more Traffic players (Laura Mason, Rachel Moens, Terri Whitehead and Jessica Rockliff) meaning they make up the bulk of the squad.

With international and high-level experience like this, Canada will be a tough match-up for anybody. They have athletic ability, some excellent handlers and in Hui and Lloyd they have two of the best players in the world. They’re very strong contenders for a medal – I fancy them to succeed against the field but can’t see them making too much of a mark on the USA juggernaut.

AUSTRALIA
The Aussies are the third most successful nation at the World Games, having medalled in the last three Games. They’re defending a silver medal from Cali and have superstar Cat Phillips, captains Sarah Wentworth and Peter Blakelely and handler Seb Barr returning from that team. The rest of the team is made up almost entirely of national team players from London, with only Rebecca Brereton having missed out on that event. The Aussies always rely on strong fundamental skills and excellent fitness. They seem to excel at grinding out results and one of their strongest attributes is always the chemistry they possess as a squad.

The team is relatively young, though, and missing perennial fixture Tom Rogacki for the first time in a while. Both Wentworth and Vivan Stettner are 42 years old and will bring their experience to a squad with only one other player outside their 20s (Blakeley is 30) but it will be interesting to see how they fare against the top two. Given the situation of other teams in Poland, though, they’ll be in the mix for a medal. I think they’ll come home with some bronze medals.

Colombia are looking to make an impact again.

COLOMBIA
Colombia are the best-case scenario for the hosts, Poland. They qualified as hosts four years ago but have blossomed into a true global power. Their women, particularly, have performed superbly since their sudden-death loss to Canada in the bronze medal game in Cali, winning silver medals in London. All of the women in their squad here were part of that team, including Laura Ospina, Elizabeth Mosquera and crucially Yina Cartagena. Cartagena is generally regarded as one of the finest players in the world, and her performance in the final of WUGC last year, where she was involved in four of Colombia’s seven goals against yet another powerhouse USA team, confirmed that standing. She is an outstanding handler with exceptional footwork downfield – she’s one to watch if you get a chance. So are the Cardenas twins, who are competing in the World Games – the pinnacle of our sport, remember – at the age of 17, which is frankly outrageous. Both are excellent players already, and with so much time left before they hit their peak Manuela and Valeria have a chance to be both the present and future of Colombian Ultimate. (See from 55 seconds here for what they can do. That block is just filth.)

Their men are no mugs either. Alexander Ford, Santiago Montano and Julio Duque return from Cali as well, and Duque, Mauricio Martinez and Ivan Alba were three of the highest scorers for the Men’s team in London. Their men are always athletic and physical, and they will certainly stand up to the challenge of the bigger teams. You sense that this team will go as far as their women can take them, though, particularly Cartagena and Mosquera, who is an outstanding cutter who excels in creating play after making the first cut. I think this they’re going to be fighting with the Canadians and the Aussies for the hardware behind the Americans, and if I had to guess I think they’ll be left on the outside looking in.

JAPAN
This is the hardest team to project. The Japanese are always strong and are the other team to have won a medal at the World Games – only four teams have done so. However, the controversy around Buzz Bullets has cost the team a number of their best players – superstars Masahiro Matsuno and Taiyo Arakawa were on the squad to start with, as were 2016 Men’s team members Keiichiro Shiba, Kurono Masahashi and Yuti Inomata. It’s still unclear what happened to cost Japan these players, but they’ll certainly be worse off for it. Matsuno may well be the best male player in the world outside of North America, while Arakawa was a heat-seeking missile in London, scoring a huge number of points with his precise and devastatingly effective diagonal cuts.

The whole squad was in London, the vast majority in the Mixed division. Only Takaharu Komori and Taku Honna played Men’s, with the other five men in the Mixed team alongside three of the women. It’s likely that Andrew Kunieda, Goku Genshima and Ayumi Fujioka will be key players, along with Kana Kobayashi and Risa Shimada. Whether this team has the power to outlast their opponents given that they’re missing stars like Matsuno and Arakawa remains to be seen, but they’re still very talented and should be able to play that very unique Japanese style well. They also have more WUGC teammates than the other top teams, so that cohesion could play well for them. Still, I see them fifth.

POLAND
The hosts look like the outsiders here. Their entire team played Mixed in London, and they finished second (in contentious circumstances) at Windmill. You’d imagine that they’ll play well together and that their team chemistry, understanding and cohesion will be excellent. However, it’s going to be tough for them matching up against the teams that are in the draw with them. Filip Stepniak and Filip Dobranowski are two very good players, and the rest of the squad are steady and more athletic than the other teams might be expecting – it wouldn’t be a surprise for Poland to catch some teams out early on in games if they’re underestimated.

Still, seeing this team win a game on home soil would be a massive, massive surprise. They’ve done an impressive job in preparing for this and have worked on their team for over a year. Hopefully they can see some return on that effort, give it their best shot and cause some upsets. Because if there’s one thing everyone loves, it’s chaos caused by the underdog.

PREDICTION
1. USA
2. Canada
3. Australia
4. Colombia
5. Japan
6. Poland

Women’s Tour 3: the final epic preview

Previews, womens

Hani Pendlebury always gives the editors palpitations with her incredibly detailed previews, and this final Tour of the season is no different. Here’s her view.

It is with a mixture of excitement and sadness that I sit down to write my final Tour preview for the 2017 season. As I have said before, this year’s Women’s division has opened up so beautifully to provide teams with the opportunity for weekends crammed with close competitive games. The kind of on pitch situations that are essential to push their play to the next level. So it is disheartening to hear that despite all these exciting developments, regionals has been cancelled due to lack of interest with just six teams having entered.

Whilst I fully understand the UKU’s decision to cancel, ladies – I’m gutted! With a 22-strong division all season we really can do better in making the most of our opportunities to get on the field and play some competitive Ultimate. Yes, you might have to play the game of ‘get spanked by Iceni’ which I realise is not always the most fun. But it’s another opportunity to spend a weekend playing arguably the best sport known to man with your awesome teammates. That is a beautiful thing. Let’s make it happen next year, yeah? Cool.

Right, rant over. Onto the excitement. Let’s see those pools!

    Pool S

The ‘S’ in this power pool definitely stands for spicy… What a hot and fiery group!

SYC (1)
As a team with quality running throughout their deep roster, SYC had a cracking Tour 2. Going undefeated all weekend they managed to bag themselves maximum points and their first ever Tour win. They made pretty handy work of their pool and their closest game all weekend was their fairly comfortable semifinal win over Smog 13-9. So are SYC the ‘new Iceni’, doomed to sit largely uncontested at the top of Women’s tour? My sources would suggest perhaps not. Word on the street is their offence is not looking quite as slick as it has been in previous seasons, leaving enough scope for a plucky young challenger to potentially knock them off their perch. Saying that though, it will definitely be a hard task to take the top spot away from this talented group of players!

Smog (3)
Another team who had a pretty good time in Cardiff is Smog. Described by some as the “surprise package of the season” they showed real class in Cardiff racking up some hefty score lines and pushing SYC closer than anyone else. What’s their secret? They certainly have undeniable chemistry amongst much of their roster, forged by time together at uni in the north and on former Women’s team Relentless. But they also have some quietly talented players who can do serious damage, especially whilst their opposition’s defence are busy downfield trying to shut down this team’s big name receivers. With a few additional legs in Birmingham to help keep their lines that little bit fresher, they are especially hungry for a rematch against SYC which this pool will provide. Honestly I’m not sure what I’m more gutted about – that this is the only pool game from this group that won’t be live-streamed or that Smog aren’t attending Nationals! Well, as a Women’s team anyway…

Swift 1 (6)
Unlike the top two seeds in this pool, Swift had a bit of a mixed bag in Cardiff. With a slimline squad of just 12 players, they didn’t quite have the consistency I predicted they’d need to advance into the very highest bracket. They definitely struggled with the pressure of the live stream too, but held their own against Nice Bristols on Sunday morning to guarantee themselves a top eight finish. It turned out that this was a sorely needed win after dropping down to just 10 players on Sunday after a few injuries. Unfortunately with only 13 players coming to Birmingham I suspect staying in the top eight may be a bit touch-and-go for Swift with plenty of larger squads jostling for position. Either way though, they will certainly dive head first into their pool ready to have a their first crack at SYC this season. Hopefully they can stay healthy all weekend and level-headed in front of the cameras this time around!

Nice Bristols (8)
In my Tour 1 preview, I suggested that Nice Bristols might be taking a slow-start approach to tour this year. As an established club with a strong core of veteran players boasting finely-honed connections, there certainly seemed to be more of a focus on ‘real life’ over the summer for the majority of their more mature players. But now that all of the weddings and hen dos are over I hear that we should see some familiar faces back in red for the final Tour of 2017… Whilst this is sad for the developing players in the club who won’t be making the trip up to Birmingham, it is of course very exciting news for this pool! If previous years are anything to go by I would expect to see Bristol to have a fair shot at the upper end of the seedings – though they will need to make sure there isn’t a single spot of rust in their offence if they’re hustling for a top four seed. Have they been training enough to hit the ground at full speed? I hope so!

    Pool T

The ‘T’ in the second of our power pools should stand for tenacious… Lots of gritty teams on this side of the top eight and I can definitely see plenty of numbers changing hands here!

GB U24 (2)
Although they are sadly back to just one squad again in Birmingham, GB certainly did not disappoint at Tour 2. With both halves of the split squad having finished on the podium following a nail-biting 15-14 finish in their semi-final match up, they certainly proved that they have some excellent roster depth. I reckon the selection committee for the World Championship squads are going to have their work cut out for them in deciding who to cut and who to keep! Either way though, with a decent handful of players returning to their home clubs for Tour 3 it will be interesting to see if they can continue their winning form as a single unit. They definitely struggled with consistency at Tour 1, so hopefully they can come out a bit sharper for their final appearance this season.

Brighton (4)
Brighton’s focus this year has always been peaking at Nationals. But with a squad of just eight players on Saturday and nine on Sunday, they will have to survive a pretty gruelling weekend in Birmingham in the meantime! Not to say that this team isn’t super fit (they are) but I doubt they will find it easy to cope with the fresh legs of their top eight competitors with such low numbers. They will definitely have been doing their best to bribe the weather gods this week in the hope of some blustery weather for zone, but unless the wind is compliant with their wishes I suspect they may find themselves locked out of the top eight by the end of Sunday morning due to sheer exhaustion.

Hydra (5)
Going into Tour 2 at the bottom of their power pool, Hydra knew they had an uphill climb if they wanted to advance up the rankings on Saturday. Although a strong team who have made some seriously impressive progress this year, they unfortunately didn’t seem to hit their stride until Sunday morning in their game against LLLeeds – though in terms of staying in the top eight this was an important one to win! This time around they’ll be looking to put in a more solid effort against the top teams from the get-go. This should be helped by the fact that they will have a few more fresh legs than at Tour 2 to bolster their efforts. However this of course has it’s own drawbacks in terms of team dynamic, so hopefully their new faces will gel quickly at the weekend for maximum effect.

LLLeeds (7)
As another team with their eyes on Nationals, LLLeeds have been using their Tour season to solidify their connections ahead of August. Though saying that, they are definitely out for some revenge in Birmingham against the likes of Hydra and Chaos! LLLeeds have ended up playing tight games against both teams earlier this season which they are hoping will fall in their favour for the final Tour, proving that they are worthy of a top eight finish. Helping them achieve this will be a number of their highly-decorated veteran players, but some rising stars too. In the words of ‘LLLegend’ Gemma Taylor describing their dedicated new talent Emily ‘Harry’ Potter: “Be afraid tour… Potter is coming. The most keen keeno I’ve ever met”. Hopefully LLLeeds can make some magic this weekend to climb back up the rankings and go into Nationals on a high!

    Pool U

As far as I see it, the ‘U’ in this pool is for unshakeable – you could say it’s a bold call, but this one should definitely go to seed.

Chaos (9)
Oh Chaos. As a new team to the circuit this year, they just seem to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to seeding! Tour 3 sees them again start at the top of a pool which they should demolish fairly easily. Sadly this also puts them in the familiar position of having been bumped out of the top eight and thus locked out of top four, this time by virtue of Nice Bristols’ re-seeding. However as they are bringing their strongest squad to Birmingham (they will be joined by a nice chunk of their U24 picks) this weekend is their time to prove that they deserve to be taken more seriously – if they can utterly smash fifth place

Swift 2 (16)
Swift 2 had a bit of a struggle with numbers in the run up to Tour 2, taking on a few pickups late in the day to boost their squad. They had a challenging Saturday in their pool, fighting to put points past LLLeeds and Uprising, but they used the lessons from these tough matchups to snag some nice wins on Sunday. This included a frankly superb comeback from 3-7 down to steal a 9-7 win against Brixton! Whilst they have retained a few of their pickups from Cardiff, they are still a relatively tight squad of 13 – an intentional decision from Swift’s captains. Their aim being to develop a core unit within their second team who can take club’s strong legacy forward in future years. Smart development, Swift! I hope it pays off.

The Brown (18)
With their first and only outing of 2017, it’s nice to see The Brown return again to Women’s tour. Though I am a little concerned to hear that much like Brighton they will be taking on a full weekend of Ultimate with just eight players following some last minute drop outs. Whilst I hope that they give it their all, energy management and injury avoidance will be crucial as they find their feet as a team.

    Pool V

Man, ‘V’ words are hard… But after some deliberation, I found a great fit. I’m going to say this pool is vivacious!

Reading 1 (10)
After sending two evenly-balanced teams to Cardiff, Reading have shifted more towards a first and second team split for Tour 3. This is an effort to provide their Mixed players with an opportunity to play together, so expect Reading 1 to be fairly stacked out. Whilst Tour 2 saw both teams lacking the firepower to truly advance up the rankings, this time around they are chasing after a top eight finish and I dare say that’s an achievable goal. No matter where they end up though, teams across the division have been telling me that they are keenest to match up against ladies from Reading. Easy to see why, with the firsts going two-for-two on spirit wins thus far this season. Can they make it three in a row? We’ll have to see, but either way I think they’ll make fast work of this pool and roll on to their seeding match against Chaos with plenty of energy… That’s definitely going to be a game to watch!

Merseyside Women (a.k.a Liverpool) (15)
After being sadly absent from Tour 2 due to low numbers, it is great to see Merseyside Women back on the schedule for their second ever Tour appearance. Based on their performance back in Nottingham which included some very solid performances against mid-table teams, I am really excited to see what level their game can reach in calmer conditions. Whilst I’m not sure they will shoot up the rankings (unless they can topple Reading they’ll only be able to advance a maximum of two seeds this Tour) but with such strong leadership and a host of enthusiastic young players this is certainly a team to watch for the future. I am also super excited to report that they are running a Women’s tournament on the 12/13th September! Excellent effort Merseyside. If you’re not already attending, I heartily encourage you to speak to them this weekend and sign up.

Brixton (17)
After a bit of a gruelling Saturday in Cardiff against the likes of Nice Bristols and Reading 2, I was really pleased to see Brixton putting in some solid numbers in the Sunday round robin – including what sounded like a very intense game against Swift 2. Whilst I suspect they’re going to find pool play equally as tricky this time around, hopefully they can continue to build upon their experiences from Tours 1 and 2 as they progress through Sunday for their third appearance for their debut season. Keep grinding Brixton!

Reading 2 in action in Cardiff. Photo by Sam Mouat.

    Pool W

Pool ‘W’… Some wicked-good teams for sure!

Reading 2 (11)
With their first team coming off the back of two spirit wins, Reading 2 will be arriving in Birmingham with two plate finishes already secured under their belt. Whilst I’m sure there’s something nice to be said about a triple-plate season, these ladies will certainly be fighting hard on Saturday to guarantee their place in the top 12. Despite having fewer big names this time around with the focus on Nationals leading to a truer firsts and seconds split, Reading 2’s roster looks to have plenty of depth left in it to keep them top of this pool, provided they can continue to execute in the more crucial moments.

Red (14)
Red have had an absolutely excellent debut season, losing just three out of their total 12 games so far – all of which have been at the hands of a Reading team! Which begs the question, is this the Tour where they will finally break through and sneak a win in Birmingham? Only time will tell… But either way they’re pretty enthusiastic to get another chance to play each other. After a gutting 3 way tie in Cardiff that left them in the round robin they will at least be looking to secure their place in either the plate bracket, or higher if they can. Another young team with some wise leadership at the helm and heaps of potential, very exciting indeed.

Black Sheep (20)
Another northern team missing from the schedule at Tour 2 were Black Sheep. Perhaps as a consequence of this, they will be bringing a pretty large squad of ladies keen to get another bite at the Tour cherry! This of course will bring the inevitable challenges in terms of cohesion and pitch time management, particularly with the length of time that has passed since Tour 1 compared with the brief break between 2 and 3. But with a focus on playing their own game and having fun as a team, I’m fairly certain Black Sheep will find their flow again without too much trouble for another fun weekend!

Discie Chicks (22)
With their third and final outing of the season, the ladies of Discie Chicks will now hopefully be over those first tour nerves to take on teams like never before! They certainly made great strides in Cardiff with some much longer possessions on offence and a whopping seven points scored in their last game against Crown Jewels. Hopefully this weekend will see them continue to grow and develop in confidence – exactly what this team is all about.

    Pool X

Finally we have pool ‘X’… For Xenia! A pool full of developing teams who are certainly increasing the size of their skills.

Hydra 2 (12)
I’ve already mentioned numerous teams that will be turning up this weekend with a squad of just eight women. Hydra 2 are certainly able to imagine what those players’ legs are going to feel like by Sunday evening, having experienced exactly that scenario at Tour 2! Unfortunately in their case some injuries over the weekend ended up reducing their numbers to just six, resulting in them having to forfeit their final game against Uprising. Thankfully this time out sees them return to a much more full-bodied roster, with an interesting mix of new faces hoping to hold seed in this very enticing pool! Although the ragged line that attended Tour 2 will doubtless know each other pretty well at this point, again cohesion will be key as they progress through the weekend to try and retain their top 12 seeding.

Vurve (13)
After a frustrating Tour 1 Vurve arrived in Cardiff with plenty of gusto – snagging second place in yet another three-way tie, this time with Reading 1 and Red. Unfortunately their Sunday was filled with games not going quite in their favour, including a sudden death loss to Hydra 2! No doubt they will be out for revenge in their last pool game on Saturday where we will see these two teams face off for the third time this season. I would expect to see a very spicy game indeed with both teams giving their all, especially as the victor will guarantee themselves a coveted top 12 finish no matter how Sunday plays out.

Irish Junior Women (19)
I have to confess to you, dear reader, that I don’t know much about this team personally. However my sources inform me that these young ladies from the Emerald Isle will embody all the qualities one would usually expect from any self-respecting Irish team. So with that in mind, teams in this pool should watch out for some keen athleticism, gutsy plays and all round good craic! Certainly as a newcomer to the Tour circuit, they’ll have a perfect opportunity to catch the higher seeds on the back foot. Feel free to shake this pool up, Ireland!

Crown Jewels (21)
And last but by no means least, our attention turns to Crown Jewels. Another development team solidly plugging away in the lower bracket, but definitely making strides with every passing game! Great to see them putting away a load more points in Cardiff – hopefully they can continue this momentum and take things to an even higher level in Birmingham!

So there we have it! That wraps up my previews for Tour 2017 – next stop Nationals. Thank you to everyone who has helped me out this year by providing their insights and opinions, I honestly couldn’t cope with writing these previews without you! But most of all – thank you to all the Women’s players this season for continuing to make the division so exciting to write about. I can tell you for a fact that our Open writing staff are outwardly jealous… Great work all. See you at the fields!