The European Ultimate Championship Finals begin today! Ahead of the tournament starting, Sean Colfer takes a look at the Mixed division, often the hardest to predict given the lack of high-level Mixed tournaments around Europe. First up; the two-time national champions, Reading.
On the face of it, Reading had a disappointing regular season in a vacuum. They culminated their several seasons of hard work last season by winning Nationals, but finished sixth overall in Mixed Tour and didn’t come higher than sixth at any individual Tour event. They seemed to have lost some of their ability in the long game particularly, and struggled to turn the field around as effectively as they had in 2015. However, their roster was in a state of flux all year. The first time they had something like a full team, at Nationals, they were anything but disappointing as they ran roughshod over the competition. No one scored double figures against them and they capped everyone despite some challenging conditions. Their second national title was even more impressive than the first, and hopefully foreshadows a strong showing in Frankfurt.
The squad is, predictably given their Nationals win, formidable. They have suffered some big losses though, including GB Mixed players Ania Godbold, Cat Ashton and James Freeman and former Clapham player Andy Mitchell. These kinds of losses would be insurmountable for most teams, as all four are wonderfully talented. The strength of Reading at their best is their well-roundedness, though, and this squad is no different. They have handlers like captain Bex Palmer and Sam Gunbie who can keep the disc moving, win their individual matchups and break the mark at will. Gunbie, in particular, is able to change the complexion of a point with one throw given the power he has in his arm. They also have cutters who can make plays downfield but also use the disc intelligently and create offence on their own – Mark Bignal, Mark Clarke and former GB under-23s Danny Ryle and Andy Lewis are all a nightmare to play against. They simply don’t have weak links and will be comfortable with any matchup they see in Frankfurt. Losing offensive firepower like Godbold and Freeman and athletes like Ashton and Mitchell and still harbouring legitimate hopes of a semi-final spot is a very impressive state of affairs
Their pool features five other teams. They face Czechs 3SB, Slovakians Outsiterz, local team Hassliche Erdferkel, Estonians Sexy Legs and Parisians Ah Ouh Puc. It’s difficult to know exactly where the teams all stand. Reading beat 3SB in the third-place game last year, and Outsiterz finished eighth. It seems to me as though Reading are the class of the group and should be able to finish in the top two. That would give them a semi-final on Saturday, and from there it all comes down to how they can perform. Theirs seems to be as strong a squad as there is in the tournament, and they stand a great chance of going one game better than they did last year and reaching the final.
Reading are a great blueprint for any club looking to reach the top. Their Open and Women’s teams have also gotten better in recent years, but it’s Mixed where their strength truly lies. Their cohesion and balance is excellent, and given that they’ve been training as a team every week and focused on fitness ahead of the important part of the season, I’m betting on them to do well. This is a team that’s aiming at WUCC, so they’re not done growing yet.