Sean Colfer introduces us to the Mixed Tour ahead of the opening event this weekend.
Mixed Tour is upon us once more, and it’s a big year. Nationals this year will act as a qualifier for the World Ultimate Club Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio in the summer of 2018. Tour no longer plays a part in determining qualifiers, but the quality of the field reflects the excitement that Worlds qualification always brings the division. However, there are things to look for right the way through the draw, not just at the top. Let’s take a look.
Pool A looks brutal at first glance. Not only are the reigning Tour champions JR drawn with the reigning national (and European) champions Reading, but with Chevron Mixed and newcomers Deep Space. Chevron will doubtless be using this as a bit of fun ahead of the Open and Women’s season but will feature an array of talented athletes, while Deep Space have been making waves with their dedicated approach to Mixed at the expense of playing in other divisions. Run by Great Britain Mixed stalwarts Sam Vile and Matthew Hodgson, featuring a number of players who have played in Great Britain teams and at previous Worlds tournaments, they will be ones to watch in the early part of the season. If the men and women in pink are to retain their (somewhat surprising) title, they’ll be made to earn it starting this weekend.
Pool B is a more difficult call. Brighton are always strong, experienced and have strong chemistry, so they’ll be a tough opponent. Devon are difficult to peg – they always have some outstandingly athletic players but can be very inconsistent. At their best they’ll pose a real challenge to anyone. Black Blackbirds are the first team (of a few) that I’m unfamiliar with, but I’m assuming they’re related in some way to Black Eagles so they’ll likely be well-drilled and experienced. Thundering Herd 2 have the weapons to cause spring some surprises and will be looking to knock overconfident opponents down a bracket (bias alert), while the GB under-24 teams will all be impossible to predict ahead of time for those not involved in the process. Whatever happens, they’re very likely to be quick, fit and talented. Whether they have the chemistry of other teams, though, will be interesting to see.
Pool C is another tough one to call. Thundering Herd 1 are the top seed, and since I’m their captain I probably can’t be relied on to give any kind of neutral analysis (we’re sick though). The Great Black White Sharks are a team I have never heard of, and could be a number of people. My best guess is that they’re the Great Britain Beach Mixed (or Mixed Masters?) team, in which case they’ll be very good with very tight lines for a Tour event, since WCBU have capped squads at 15. Glasgow Ultimate have generated a fantastic community in a short space of time, qualifying for Euros in Open and being competitive in Women’s as well, finishing 14th overall on Tour last year. Rumour has it they’re focusing on Mixed for 2017 so they’ll be looking to hit the ground running. European interlopers Rebel Ultimate are thumbing their noses at the UK’s collective disdain of our continental neighbours by attending Mixed Tour 1 and will likely do well – they’re a good team that constantly bring through talented young players, and they’ve sent a number of players to World and European championships in the recent past. Another under-24 team rounds out the pool and, as before, it’s tough to tell what exactly they’ll be bringing to the table at this early stage in their process.
Finally in this section we come to Pool D. Mighty Hucks finished an unlikely fourth last season with a scarcely believably small squad – they attended Tour events with 10 players and did phenomenally well. They tended to play a zone and a very direct offence, with deep threat Rollo Sax Dixon underpinning everything they did. He returns this season, but they’ve doubled their squad size in an attempt to make a real assault on the Mixed Tour title. Whether they can keep these players for Nationals to try and qualify for Worlds remains to be seen – they have players who will be in the Clapham and Chevron squads, as well as others in top teams, so it might be a struggle for them. SMOG have grown into the top Ultimate programme in the north east of England in a remarkably short space of time and, with another year of developing and learning each others’ games, will be a formidable foe. They may be missing captain Callum Spiers as he prepares the GBU24 teams, but there’s plenty left for them to do well. Cambridge 1 have had some down times in the past year or so but, lest we forget, were the highest placed UK team at the last Worlds. If they can get some of the players who pushed them to that lofty perch back they’ll be a very tough matchup. TBC are a team of loosely Bristol-based players who did well in the early stages of last season and feature a lot of talent, though they may count in their ranks a number of Open and Women’s players who want to fill their spring weekends with more running around in wet and windy fields. The final under-24 team finish off this pool.
Overall, it looks to be a stronger overall field than last season. Pool A will really weed out the contenders from the pretenders, while some of the other pools have some fascinating match ups. The teams to watch, other than the unpredictable under-24 squads, will be Deep Space, Great Black White Sharks and Mighty Hucks, in my opinion. Most of the others are in some way known quantities. These three are either brand new, totally changed, or very mysterious. It’ll be fun to see who’s who.
The Middle Class
The middle of Mixed Tour is also set for some changes this season. There are old reliables – Shakedown finished in 22nd last season and will begin this season seeded in the same place, while Bristol, PAF City and Curve are in the same kind of area they were last season (although Bristol have been bumped down a few spots for some reason). There are new teams, like Cosmic Manatees who appear to be a Brighton-based team but other than that I have no idea about them, and Bare to Bream (probably related to Warwick in some way). There are also some teams who have seen a large amount of change, though, who will be interesting to watch. Birmingham have dropped from 10th to 21st seeds, a surprisingly large drop. Either they’re missing players or they’re going to be very annoyed, which could be the motivation they need. Sheffield Steal have been pushed up the seedings after originally sitting in the 40s, given that they’ve defeated both Black Sheep and Flyght Club in warm-up games so far this year. Great Britain Mixed player Sam Rayner is running the team and they’re feeling optimistic about their chances to improve on the 45th place finish last year – they’ve got some exciting young players to go with the experienced old heads that have been with the team for some time. There’s always a lot to watch for at the first event of the season, but this season it feels like there’s more flux at every level of the standings. This will be no different.
Teams to watch: Sheffield Steal, Shakedown and Birmingham.
The final third
The final section of the tournament is the 37 – 56 seed range. It features a number of second teams, but there are some teams there who have been working hard over the winter to try and improve and progress up the ladder. Merseyside Ultimate have been training regularly, while ABH have played higher up the Tour as recently as last season. They’ve suffered some losses, but the experience contained in the team will be enough to make things tough for the young teams that tend to populate the lower end of the draw. The same could be said of Blue Arse Flies, who always bring a mix of youth and (extensive) experience. Black Sheep continue to bring a lot of people to Tour events, with two teams in this draw joining their first team in 35th spot, while Sneeeky’s have two teams in the same bracket.
Teams to watch: Merseyside Ultimate, Blue Arsed Flies, Leeds Squirrels.
Overall, as usual the first competitive club tournament of the year will be fascinating. I’m sure there will be some surprises. One of them would be nice weather, given Cardiff’s reputation for monsoon-like conditions. Fingers crossed on that front.
Top eight prediction:
- Great Black White Sharks
- Mighty Hucks
- Thundering Herd
- Deep Space
- Brighton Breezy
- Black Blackbirds
Feature image by Serena de Nahlik.