UKU Mixed Tour 2016: From Cardiff to Salford

Mixed Ultimate, news, Previews

Sean Colfer reviews the first Mixed Tour’s results then looks ahead to this weekends event.

Mixed Tour 1 is in the books for another year and threw up a number of surprises, as usual. The predictions made on this site were somewhat shaky – I was correct that GB would be difficult to stop (no one did so), that Sublumni were a good bet to make a seedings leap (they are 15th in Manchester after starting the weekend in Cardiff as 28th seed) and I was one off on Black Eagles (predicted 3rd, finished 4th) and Thundering Herd (predicted 8th, finished 7th). Other predictions were far less successful – Glasgow and Reading slipped out of the top eight in surprise results, with Glasgow falling to Herd and Cambridge while Reading lost to Smog 1, a vastly improved team I’ll mention later on. Reading recovered enough on Sunday to finish 10th after a final game loss to Mighty Hucks, but Glasgow lost their last two games to slip further to 12th and will begin Mixed Tour 2 outside the top eight.

The big story of Mixed Tour 1 was two teams making major improvements – Smog 1, who were seeded 19th and ended up 6th, and JR 1, who were seeded what seemed a generous 7th and exceeded all (external) expectations and finished 3rd.

Smog have added a number of talented women from the north east as well as some players from the GB under-23 Mixed team that competed in London last summer. Keeping a lot of players already familiar with one another’s games together has the added benefit of good team cohesion and understanding, which augments the individual talent they have and makes them a strong contender for a semi-final spot in Manchester this weekend. They go in seeded 4th so will be looking to build on a very encouraging showing in Cardiff.

JR, on the other hand, suffered only one defeat in Cardiff, to a very good Ireland Mixed team that has been reworked from their second place at Euros last year but remains a talented bunch. JR defeated Black Eagles, last year’s Nationals runners-up and sixth-placed at Euros, twice in close games and finished third overall. They were the highest placed club team and will go into Mixed Tour 2 as the top seed. To most, this was a fantastic result, clearly the best result that JR have ever achieved and beyond what might have been expected. To JR, though, it was a slight disappointment:

“We actually fell short of our goal by losing to Ireland and not getting a shot at GB,” said captain and main handler George Hudson.

JR have changed their approach considerably this season in order to try and maximise what they do – filming games to review later, keeping stats from games, rearranging lines and dedicating themselves to the Mixed season. This has meant that they have been able to bring all their players together for Mixed Tour for the first time.

“We only actually added two players this year,” explains George, “but both played 25% of the points at Mixed Tour 1. It probably looked like we added players but the reason is that we got the whole club to prioritise Mixed, commit to the weekends and as a result we got all of our players at once, with only one player missing.

“The reason the girls looked different is that they are all different players this year compared to last – they’re vastly improved. The Loughborough University girls, for example, went huge on fitness this year and so players like Rupal Ghelani and Ruth Nicholson came in firing. They are easily two of the best women I have played with and are massive contributors to our success. Ruth got over 10 out and out Ds over the course of Mixed Tour 1 and Rupal was not far behind.

“We organised our lines as upwind and downwind, not O and D. We loaded our big throwers on the upwind line, which plays an isolation offence. Downwind, we put conventional work horses that would walk the disc in, which is not typical JR. It also kept our star players fresher as they played only 50% of the points as opposed to the 100% I had to play on day two of Nationals last year.

“Post game plays a part as well. We filmed everything and we recorded stats on everything. I was holed up in a hotel room going over what we did in each game and wrote individual feedback for our 20 strong squad on the Saturday night. Without training we need to milk tournament time for all it’s worth and this is something we hope will keep up the momentum and effort. I learned a lot about myself as well and hope to improve as a result.

“But really, the biggest change was the shift in attitude. A couple of us have been making a huge point about setting goals for the club and getting everyone pulling in one direction. The team really peaked in terms of the friendships and family vibe last year but Nationals was a disaster, hugely disappointing. We lost players to injury, to Open, to Women’s and just didn’t give a good account of ourselves, particularly not after finishing so high at Tour and having destroyed [eventual champions] Reading at Mixed Tour 3. This year everyone wanted it as much as I wanted it and no-one wanted to let anyone else down. It took the pressure off a few of us and we trusted the players around us to deliver.”

Both wins over Black Eagles were come backs, with the team dropping behind early before fighting back for the victory. Triumphing through that adversity and the experience of playing tough, close, high-level games is something that JR have not been able to do previously and stands them in good stead for being the top dog, rather than the underdog, in Manchester.

“The wins over Black Eagles were very important for us. The games we won up until then were lost by the other team as opposed to won by us. In both Black Eagles games we really had to dig deep, particularly since we don’t have that experience of close, high-level games. Both times we came from behind which was the main achievement that I took away.

“I always love being the underdog. Before the start of the season I secretly relish people asking when I will play for a ‘real team’, knowing that on our day we can beat anyone.

“We want to keep that top spot but I don’t think we’ll be feeling the pressure. People have always thrown their best shot at us, people hate losing to JR. We have as strong a team going into Mixed Tour 2 as we had in Cardiff, with Chris Peploe back from Australia as well, so we will just dig our heels in.”

One thing JR have always had is a tight group, an excellent club and team spirit and strong friendships off the field.

“JR started as a team of friends for sure and it still is. What sounds super cheesy though is that we are much closer. People are working harder for the other people in the club. We still don’t train or trial, we just play with our best mates.

“It sounds cheesy but no one calls it a club and usually refers to it as “the fam” or something similar. It means when people join us for a tournament we tend to retain those players forever. Even those we have playing for other teams will still be with us at other tournaments or social events. I can’t think of a player we have ever lost to anything more than another division, so they are gone for Open but back for Mixed.”

We’ll see in Manchester how far that cohesion and their new approach can take them as favourites.

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Caitlin Wilson playing for JR. Photo by Christine Rushworth.

The schedule is out for Mixed Tour 2, and though we are missing the two national teams the top eight has some interesting matchups. Reading have been slotted in at eighth and will be trying to recover from their setback at Mixed Tour 1 against Brighton, Cambridge and JR. Meanwhile, Black Eagles will face Thundering Herd, Smog and Mighty Hucks. There is an opportunity for teams in the 9-16 bracket to cross into the top eight at this Tour, so teams like Manchester, Glasgow and Bristol will be looking to take advantage of that on Sunday. Sublumni are still a team to watch given their huge rise at Mixed Tour 1 and both HEX and Devon are unknowns given that they didn’t attend the event in Cardiff.

My predictions did not go well last time around but I will not be deterred; here is how things will (probably not) finish at Mixed Tour 2:

  1. JR
  2. Black Eagles
  3. Reading
  4. SMOG
  5. Thundering Herd
  6. Mighty Hucks
  7. Brighton
  8. Glasgow

In weather news, it’s going to be chilly and wet. Welcome to Manchester.

 

Featured image of Alex Mazzon bidding by Andrew Moss.

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