Sean Colfer takes a look at each region in an effort to determine who will be fighting it out for the national title in Southampton next month.
This weekend will see team qualify for Nationals through their local Regionals competition. Tournaments are taking place in Stockport, Tewkesbury, Reading, Bristol and Wimbledon – let’s take a look at what might happen.
- The North – three Nationals spots
Black Sheep are hosting this tournament in Stockport, with the plan being a simultaneous Women’s and Junior tournament as well (unclear if numbers have allowed these to happen, thought it would be great if they did!).
Chevron Action Flash have long been kings in the north – Manchester’s victory in the Tour series last year was followed by a narrow defeat at Regionals. Whenever Manchester do get one over on their longer-tenured rivals, Chevron come right back at them. Still, these are two of the best teams in the country; Chevron won Tour this year to keep the Tour trophy up north while Manchester finished third. The battle for the top spot, assuming both teams bring full (or somewhere close to it) squads will be a close one.
Joining them will be LeedsLeedsLeeds, who enjoyed a very up-and-down season that was more down than up. They finished last in A Tour to start the season and went on to finish seventh and fifth in B Tour to close the season out. They have a good blend of youth and experience but recent personnel losses have robbed them of some of the talent at the top of the roster from previous years. They will, however, almost certainly qualify for Nationals and earn a chance to take something from a disappointing season.
The final three teams in the region are all Mixed teams. SMOG will be entering Nationals as a Mixed team, despite their excellent debut season in the Open division, and so will be preparing for that. They will lose Conrad Wilson, one of their stars this season, as he tries out for Clapham but will still have enough to give Leeds a fright in an ultimately meaningless game. Black Sheep will send two teams to their home tournament, both of them loose Mixed. They have some good players and have had a pretty good season, but they won’t be in the mix for Nationals places.
Prediction: Chevron, Manchester, Leeds.
- The South East – three Nationals spots
Reading are hosting this tournament, and have the joint largest tournament this weekend. They are joined by Brighton’s two teams – City and Legends – as well as Guildford, Hampshire and a number of second teams.
Reading will be entering as a Mixed team at Nationals and so their better players may well opt to try and qualify for Europeans in that division, aiming to do better than their excellent third-place finish in Wroclaw last season. Their Open team will still be good, though, and they should qualify here. Their main opponents for the title will be Brighton City, who came back from a tough Tour 1 by achieving promotion in Nottingham and finishing 11th in Cardiff. With a large squad and their Great Britain players Callum Ayers and Hayden Slaughter back in the fold, they’ll be confident they can roll into enemy territory and take the win.
Brighton Legends are a tough one to predict. A number of their players will be skipping this tournament to ensure they can play for Brighton Breezy in the Mixed division at Nationals. Therefore, it’s tough to say who they’ll actually have. Whoever they do trot out will be good with the disc and have plenty of experience, though, so perhaps it doesn’t matter all that much.
The other teams in this region are C Tour or Junior teams. Guildford and Hampshire will have to overcome Reading 2 to get a shot at one of the Nationals spots, something that may be beyond them if the Tour standings are anything to go by. Guildford only finished one spot back, though, and could cause a slight upset if Reading 2 are missing too many players. Meanwhile, Windsor Wolves, Reading Juniors, Hampshire 2 and Reading Knights will likely just be making up the numbers but will all gain valuable experience playing against teams like Brighton and Reading 1 in a competitive environment. Hopefully they come back for more next season – it’s great seeing so many teams entered here.
Prediction: Brighton City, Reading 1, Brighton Legends.
- The Midlands – three Nationals spots
This tournament is being hosted in the vaguely Midland town of Tewkesbury. This is the first tournament where there will likely be very little competition, and so less to talk about. EMO have entered and they will extend their run of never having lost a Midlands Regionals. BAF and Flyght Club will vie for the second place in the final, and this could be a closer match up than it looks. Flyght have had an excellent season. They’ve only lost four times this season and gone from a middling C Tour team to the B Tour which is no mean feat. However, one of those losses was to BAF in Cardiff, only a week ago. The 15-10 score line doesn’t indicate a fluke, either. Flyght are certainly good enough to cause a scare, but I wouldn’t bank on them getting there. Standing in their way for the third qualifying spot – Banbury Big Worms. As far as I can tell, they’ve existed since 2014 and probably won’t pose much threat here. Hopefully they get some good experience here and can build on that in the future, though!
Prediction: EMO, BAF, Flyght Club.
- The South West – two Nationals spots
Bristol are hosting this one and will be keen to overcome their ‘nearly men’ tag from this season to qualify for Nationals. It’ll be very tough to defeat Devon 1 given their strong finish to the season – they finished sixth in Cardiff – but Bristol have a lot of experience and quality and are equipped to give Devon a good game. Devon 2 will undoubtedly feature a lot of young legs with exceptional potential as well as some wily, grizzled veterans. If you were going to put a team together to cause an upset, one full of young, confident serial winners (AirBadgers players don’t experience that losing feeling often) with athleticism and big throws is probably pretty close to the ideal. It’ll be tough for them to overcome Bristol but it’ll be entertaining to see them try.
Cardiff are again something of a wild card. They managed to stay in B Tour at their home tournament last weekend and will still probably feature Dave Tyler and Kei Matsumoto, both of whom have experience at the top of the domestic game. However, given how new they are as a team I’m pessimistic in their chances.
Prediction: Devon 1, Bristol.
- Scotland – one Nationals spot
This is an odd one. Scotland had two spots this year after some great performances by Glasgow and Sneekys in the past couple of years. However, with the Sneekys players making up a large proportion of the Black Eagles male players, who will be taking part in the Mixed Nationals competition, there was only one entry into Regionals; Glasgow. It was, understandably, decided that a tournament may not be necessary.
However! If you are feeling brave (or stupid, as I’m sure Glasgow would put it) and are in the area at the time, there will be a cash prize Goaltimate tournament (alongside a more conventional and dull hat tournament). Details are here: http://bit.ly/ScottishRegionals
Prediction: Glasgow (obviously).
- London – four Nationals spots
This brings us to the main controversy in the structure this season. Clapham and Fire will obviously feel very good about qualifying first and second here, coming off a season where Clapham won both Tours they entered but did lose to Fire for the first time in around a decade. They’re both deep, talented and experienced as usual and if they don’t contest the final here it will be a shock.
KaPow came back from a disappointment at Tour 1 to win B Tour convincingly and take 13th place in Cardiff. They have been the third best team in London for a few years now and despite their slight step back this season they should continue in that spot.
Fourth place, though, is where this region will see bigger competition than anywhere else in the country. Flump and Fire 2 have played three times this season with Flump winning all three. However, two of those wins were in sudden death from defence, so the teams are very evenly matched. Both have spent time in A Tour this season and feature a number of talented players. It will be a real dog fight to see who qualifies here – I play with Flump, so I’m backing my teammates here.
However, the allocation of spots has to come under scrutiny again here. Both Flump and Fire 2 have been better than a number of teams elsewhere in the country this season that will qualify and it seems unnecessary that one of them misses out, particularly given that Scotland have relinquished their second spot. Flump finished 11th on Tour this year, while Fire 2 finished 16th. Meanwhile, teams that I’ve predicted to qualify for Southampton finished 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd and 28th. We’ll have more on this between Regionals and Nationals, but the system seems to be off here.
As for the rest of the tournament, this is also a 10-team tournament, showing that London is still the place to be for Ultimate in the UK. Curve were a solid B Tour team all season and should be the next best team here, but it will require something we haven’t seen from them all season for them to contest for the final spot. Cloud City made the jump from a C Tour team to an established B Tour outfit, a great achievement, and Camden are at a similar level. Brixton will probably find the going tough, while Thundering Herd are here as a Mixed team looking to tune up ahead of Nationals (and throw as many cow print spanners in the works as possible) so won’t be in the mix for Nationals places. Several of these teams would stand a chance of qualification in other regions – Curve particularly – but unfortunately for them the continued strength in depth in London will probably keep them out. ABH are missing as they’ll also be playing Mixed.
Prediction: Clapham, Fire 1, KaPow, Flump.
That gives us the following field for Nationals:
Chevron Action Flash
Fire of London
I’m more confident in these predictions than I’ve been all year, and if I get more than two teams wrong I’ll be absolutely astonished. Good luck to all, I hope the tournaments (both Ultimate and Goaltimate) go well!