University Ultimate 2016: Scotland Men’s

Scotland, Scottish Ultimate, University

This year The ShowGame will be covering university Ultimate in more depth, assisted by a new team of student writers. We’ll be featuring previews on all the divisions in the coming weeks, and first up is Haydon Christou with a preview of the Men’s division all the way up in Scotland.

The inaugural BUCS season was one of great entertainment in Scotland. The likely winner changed hands on multiple occasions; Glasgow looked certain to win before the Christmas break, then the tide changed in Dundee’s favour before they choked away a 12-5 lead in a game to 13 against eventual winners St. Andrews. As the new season draws near, there are plenty of talking points. Some notable long serving players have finally graduated, the new blood replacing them are still unpredictable and teams will have learned from last year’s mistakes. It all adds to what will surely be another unpredictable season.

St. Andrews

Let’s start with last season’s champions. Last year was probably the most successful in the club’s recent history – they were winners of the league, finished third at Indoor Nationals, in top eight at Outdoor Nationals and second at SSS Regionals. This will be a squad looking to build on their recent successes, and captain Gabe Schechter views winning the league as the minimum expectation. This aim is backed up by their squad depth – the only graduates are Peter “Tall Pete” Worsely and Julian Grant. Gabe has already played down their contributions to last year’s success by claiming that the squad is “much stronger than last year”.

Jack Lynch has been tipped by his captain as “at this point probably the best player in Scottish [University] Ultimate”; it looks as though Jack has now earned the full confidence of Gabe to be called on when his team needs him. Arek Aspinwall may be able to remedy the Flatball squad who have previously struggled to provide an aerial threat. All eyes will be on Hugo Turner, who could well lead the turnover stats and has “a fire in his belly” to prevent a Dickers-esque final year full of misery. Two second years, George Day and Mackenzie Blair, not only add to the pool of St. Andrews’ ridiculous names, but are recommended ones to watch too.

Gabe pinpoints two crucial factors they learned about themselves in the league last year: their mental strength and utilising their depth. Boasting a 3-1 universe point record (the Dundee game doesn’t really count though), and a squad which should only get better, St. Andrews may be the team to beat.

Strathclyde

After failing to live up to the dizzy heights of Men’s Indoor champs, the league was a disappointing finish for a team I backed to really push for a Division 1 spot. But captain Cameron Mackie has big plans to overturn this, starting with a dedicated Men’s training (who knew?) where pre-season training is well underway. He wants aim for a much-coveted top three finish – or even win the title.

Who’s gone? Horses power couple Jake Burgess and Alistair McNeil, while traitor Sam Finlay has crossed the Clyde to Farflung. Strathclyde has been a popular destination too, with Heriot-Watt’s Giorgio Cabrera among inclusions from Aberdeen, Manchester and Malaysia. There’s a pool of second years adding to the squad that Mackie backs to play a big role on the team this season. Horses may well have a deep squad capable of some damage.

The first few fixtures are Aberdeen, Stirling and Flatball 2; last season Dundee found it a shock having to up their game off the back of the same first three games, so this could be a challenge. However, come December this team could be well fused and if everything falls into place, that top three claim looks more realistic.

Stirling

Last year’s relegation battle intensified with a three-way tie between Blaze, Aberdeen and Flatball 2. Stirling were able to snatch a spot to Division 3, and Captain Sam Fawcett hopes to build on last year’s result and aim steal a Division 2 spot. The team spent last year developing some depth in the squad, and are reinforced with the trio of Sam, Daniel McBride and Fraser MacDonald. They lost no graduates so the team can only improve – rookie handler Finlay Watson and “deep threat” Peter Glasgow are being backed to become household names in the new season.

However, previous Captain Fraser Macdonald is not scheduled to return from Australia until the second semester, and Sam is banking on him bringing back some Aussies to bolster the team. But by then, with only Heriot-Watt, Dundee and St. Andrews will be left to play, the important games without Fraser will likely have proven too much of an ask for Stirling to improve last year’s position. However, even his return is in doubt, given that his enjoyment of regular Ultimate and the Australian sun has stopped the flow of postcards sent to Stirling. Another university transfer on the cards?

Glasgow's Hugo Degerth makes a contested catch against Portsmouth at Nationals last season. Photo by Andrew Moss.

Glasgow’s Hugo Degerth makes a contested catch against Portsmouth at Nationals last season. Photo by Andrew Moss.

Edinburgh

A team no one in Scotland ever really knows much about these days, and that doesn’t look to change all that much. Despite an expected fifth-place finish last season, their results were not as clear cut as expected – they pushed Glasgow, Dundee and Heriot-Watt close, their biggest loss just three points, and came away with wins against Strathclyde and St. Andrews, becoming the only team to beat the eventual champions. This goes to show that, although lacking the big names or notable players, they were a team to be respected. Captain Christopher Burrows has not declared any aims for the league, but seeks to fully restore Edinburgh back to their former glories.

So, who’s gone? Even if I named them, could you even put a face to the name? Peter Dennis, (taller than Peter “Tall Pete” Worsely?) and long-serving Ross Mills are gone, as is Toby Dighero. Burrows has made it obvious that their season will once again rely on exchange students, with no named young stars coming through the ranks. Especially after their second team at Men’s Regionals, full of Americans, qualified ahead of their firsts it is probably wise to trust players better than the current crop. A quick look at their fixture list shows that Edinburgh’s first semester has Stirling, Glasgow, Dundee and St. Andrews. All are winnable games but perhaps a big ask for short-term players to come in and do a job against last year’s top three.

Heriot-Watt

Last season Heriot-Watt narrowly missed out on a Division 1 spot, and their shock win against Glasgow added chaos to the climax of the Scottish BUCS League. Perhaps seen as the ‘almost team’ in recent years, they have yet to prove themselves with a medal – something captain Gavin Nicholson is looking to change. But Heriot do not seem to make their generation count enough. Two seasons ago, John Stainsby could not lead them to a SSS Outdoor Regionals win and there seems to be more roster misery again this year. Dealing with the graduates first, Luke Crighton, Eoghan “the Irish guy” McConville and Gio “Judas” Cabrera, who joined Strathclyde for postgraduate studies, leave Heriot looking bare.

Captain Gavin is looking for Johnny Ridley and Andrew Boxall to lead the line (again) and carry the team along with Cameron Dick. The formula (mostly) worked for them for most of last season; keep everyone fit and they should be OK, although Johnny is currently out injured. With Glasgow, Dundee and St. Andrews in their first semester, Heriot can’t afford any more injuries, and are going to need their big players fit and ready ASAP.

This is a squad with key players very capable of causing every team issues, but who lack the depth to really challenge for the top three, especially without any new players looking to make an impact.

Aberdeen

Danny Strasser is gone. Last season was a tough one for Aberdeen, and I cannot see that changing all that much. Losing a player of Danny’s calibre would impact any Scottish team, but for a smaller university it’s a major blow. Add to this the exit of Matthew Milne and Lenci Fabiny, and a lot of experience has been bled out of an already thin squad. Ever the optimist, captain Josh Baillie believes this will provide their youngsters with the opportunity to rise up and play a key role.

Lessons learned from last year point to a more realistic outline than other clubs, as captain Josh would be happy to just not drop pulls and avoid a static offence. The primary target is to qualify for Nationals, with the view of placing sixth. A whole two places higher than last season, without two of their experienced players, will be a challenge. Josh is looking to both Hunters, Andrew and Ross, along with rapid cutter Edward Payne to lead the charge as their synergy is being counted on to provide results. Also look out for new blood –  Conor Stephens and Dan McElderry, who has been described as “able to outpace most players” but may be unlikely to have the service to do so. There is also no mention of Luke “Chizzle” Wood’s rival for NEO’s turnover stat leader, Aaron Roberts, as rumour has it that he does not want to extend his NEO hell by another eight months.

It will certainly be a dogfight at the bottom, but will Aberdeen have enough to fight off Stirling and Flatball 2? Probably not.

Last season's Glasgow team - can they keep up the momentum of their second place Nationals finish last season? Photo by Andrew Moss.

Last season’s Glasgow team – can they keep up the momentum of their second place Nationals finish last season? Photo by Andrew Moss.

Glasgow

Last year was a successful season for Glasgow, as they finished second at Nationals and weren’t the third Scottish victim to the iron-man Portsmouth. The future looks bright – until you hear who’s gone. The exodus includes Rory Curran, Peter Casey, Chris Dickie, Hugo “toothslayer” Degerth, while their two American exchanges Peej and James Rath returned home. Coming off the high of Nationals and dealing with this exodus, Glasgow should look forward to a Dundee-type season full of misery and national embarrassment while still convincing themselves that it’s just a bad patch.

However, there is much for captain Axel Ahmala to be excited about. He fully intends to qualify for Division 1 with sights on the title. The core of the team will be centered around the Glasgow Ultimate trio of himself, Iain Campbell and, fresh from the States, Duncan Webster. If these three synchronise as Axel expects, it could be a dangerous combination as they look to establish a philosophy free from long-serving dictator Curran. The trio could be a massive threat, certainly later in the year, but they’re going to have to start firing early due to difficult initial fixtures – Flatball, Dundee and Heriot-Watt. A team certainly competing for a Division 1 spot, their season will rest on early success. Will it be too much for a team with such change?

St. Andrews 2

Now onto a team which many will likely not bother to read about, but here it is for Stirling and Aberdeen at least. Many players in this squad are still licking their wounds following the controversies which followed first team trials. Co-captains Connor Rock and Andrew Boyce, have started on the path to recovery by cutting off all links to those who got the call up from last years second team. Robbie Jones, in his heart a member of the firsts, is the only contact between the two but has not been trusted by other senior players (don’t worry Robbie, I know the feeling).

Captain Connor has outlined a clear vision – to just not be terrible. The first phase of this plan has been to find freshers who can catch, and the second is to hold himself back on his turnover flick bombs. He is also looking towards certain key players to lead this vision. Stephen Sisel, described as too quick for anyone to defend, and Derek Farnham have been singled out, and Sam Solt and (the dejected) Jones are also around to guide the team to glory. Connor is quick to highlight that they have beaten first teams before – Aberdeen in last season’s league and Edinburgh at SSS Outdoor Regionals, so there is apparently potential. Flatball 2 have announced Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Stirling as primary targets in their bid to qualify for Nationals. If they can get firing (and divert some of Benji’s attention away from the first team or the ladies), national qualification would be plausible if this season lives up to the previous three-way tie at the bottom.

Dundee's Asif Arshad makes a catch at Nationals 2016. Photo by Andrew Moss.

Dundee’s Asif Arshad makes a catch at Nationals 2016. Photo by Andrew Moss.

Dundee

Dundee. Oh, Dundee. A season which contained modest peaks and tragic troughs, we are looking forward to wiping the slate clean. Captain Mihael “Jimmy” Dimitrov looks to fine-tune much of the mayhem caused by the previous administration (which he was a part of). He wants to firmly put Dundee out there as the team to beat and enjoy the successes of previous generations. The main (painful) lesson learned from the last BUCS season was that although a six point deficit is a little much to come back from, a seven point lead is definitely not enough.

But has Andrew “Dickers” Dick finally left?! Yes, unfortunately. Asif Arshad likes to think he is primed and ready to step into the role as Dundee ‘golden boy’ but it’s unlikely he’ll match Dickers’ stats from last season. The only other loss was Isaac Prazmowski, who has returned to Canada and likely to never play Ultimate again. Despite a coveted SSS medal, that seems to be a growing trend at Dundee. With athletic depth, Mihael backs Angus Milliken to continue developing after playing a full season with Glasgow Ultimate. Paul Rozanski, who has previously been point blocked three times in one game by the tiny frame of Gabe, has also “stepped up his training ever since”.

General club training has taken a hit in delivery and success of late, but the first team sessions have been boosted by the new regime with a ‘no excuses’ attitude. Although Dundee has lost their form (and ability) recently, for anyone’s money they will be viewed as one of the teams to beat at the top.

 

Predictions

Predictions from all captains seem to expect a repeat of last season, with St. Andrews winners, and Glasgow fighting it out with Dundee for second and third and a round robin at the bottom with Aberdeen and Flatball 2 challenging for ninth spot.

St. Andrews certainly look strong and, although winners of the last league, it came in bizarre fashion. I have to back Dundee to win it. They have an impressive record over Flatball, although preseason friendlies are yet to suggest this. Glasgow should take third, but could easily trade that spot with Strathclyde. These four teams are capable of beating each other, so results could go either way depending on form or availability of players. Edinburgh could be in the mix to beat either Glasgow team but would inevitably lose to Heriot to force more three-way ties, and once again prompt, elaborate spreadsheets to work out these ties via scenarios will be required. The non-league side of the table should see Stirling through and I’ll back Flatball 2 to correct the “injustices” served by the trials. Sorry, Aberdeen.

1st = Dundee

2nd = St. Andrews

3rd = Glasgow

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4th = Strathclyde

5th = Edinburgh

6th = Heriot-Watt

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7th = Stirling

8th = St. Andrews 2

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9th = Aberdoomed.

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