UKU Open Tour 1: A Tour – A New Beginning

news, Open, Previews

Firstly a quick announcement from Black Sheep:

This weekend the Manchester based club Black Sheep will sell stickers to show that the Ultimate Frisbee scene in the UK and Europe stands in solidarity with Manchester, the victims and families affected by last week’s tragic bombing attack.

A sticker can be purchased for a small donation (suggested donation 50p to £1) at any of the three Black Sheep teams and also at the TD desk. All profits raised will be donated to the “We Love Manchester Emergency Fund”, raising money to help those bereaved or injured.

Please help Black Sheep raise some cash for this very worthy cause. Now onto the frisbee, with our preview from David “DP” Pryce.

With the end of the Mixed regular season comes the start of the Open and Women’s. In such an exciting year, given the WUCC qualification implications, we also have loads of changes for club teams to get through as they try out different combinations ahead of EUCF 2017 and WUCC 2018.

 

The Regular Season

With the ever expanding Tour format it was clear that there were not many venues that could hold the sheer number of teams in both Women’s and Men’s division, maintain a high level of competitiveness and attempt to serve the purposes of players from all over the UK.

To combat this, the UKU has attempted a format change which will be set in place this season. I would urge everyone to really give it a chance and then give constructive feedback to the UKU afterwards, as they are trying to do what’s best for the sport. The players, teams and club provide the best perspective here so feedback could be vital.

So, what’s new? Well we still have a top 16 and now a fixed top 12 but beneath this we will have just one larger division that is split geographically into North and South regions. We are assuming this is to minimise travel distances over the whole season, although it remains to be seen how this works out.

The format of the postseason is also changing, but let’s leave that can of worms till we get nearer.

For now, I don’t see much changing at the top A Tour but I am very interested to see how the promotions and demotions pan out with the geographical nature of the B Tour.

 

Who

The UKU has already announced that the top 12 teams from the Tour standings last season will start in the A Tour and will be guaranteed entry to A Tour venues if they remain in the top 12. They are: Chevron Action Flash, Glasgow 1, Manchester 1, Fire of London 1, Reading 1, Devon 1, EMO 1, Clapham, SMOG, Ka-Pow!, Birmingham 1, Flump.

The UKU have emphasised, though, that these teams aren’t guaranteed to be in the A Tour all year, so promotion and relegation still matters.

 

The Rocks

There are some teams in this list who we have seen time and time again perform at the very peaks of UK Ultimate and would imagine keep their places. Clapham have been on an extensive recruitment drive over the winter to start pooling talent ahead of WUCC. Young stars like Conor Hogan (Ireland Open), Conrad Wilson (GB U24 Dev) and Elliot Canning (Brighton) will combine with veterans James Freeman, Callum Ayers and Hayden Slaughter to really give the squad some depth. But will they have been able to get on the same page ready for WindFarm? CU will be sending two teams and cutting players throughout the season to ensure every one of these players is fighting to the end.

On the other hand, Chevron and Fire have already battled once this season in the final of Fog Lane (15-13 to the “Northern” giants). Both teams have truly consolidated their strengths from previous seasons. Fire have retained the bulk of last year’s squad and have some exciting additions in the form of Harry Slinger-Thompson, Nick Barker, Brodie Whittington and Rolo Turnell-Ritson. Expect tenacious defence from this team, whose strict attendance rules have been aimed at ensuring cohesion throughout. Chevron have also maintained a fantastic core and, as ever, have drafted in some young talent from the GB Juniors program along with Issa Dualeh (trying to work his way up the table one team at a time). Both sides missed players at Fog Lane and still managed to play a great final, so this fight is sure to continue for the rest of the season.

Pete Gore battles to go down the sideline against EMO at UKU Nationals 2016. Photo by Sam Mouat.

Not far behind is the ever present EMO. The team qualified for WUCC last time round, but outside of captain Tom Tongue, Ben Poole, Tom Fox and a select few others, not many of that team remain with the club. This means that many of their players have experienced very little international Ultimate.

They have been cultivating a good development structure through their second team and local universities, with great Ultimate coaching foundations. I would not be surprised to see either end of the spectrum from EMO; they may upset some big names but may also be taken down themselves. As long as they can maintain composure they can play some fantastic Ultimate and will be a team to watch – as will the potential return of talismanic handler Joe Wynder, who has been to trainings but may well not commit to Tour.

You want upsets? Then Devon are your team. A game they will tell you all about is beating Fire in the last qualification year, at Nottingham, in the most emphatic style. Sadly, I didn’t get to see them play at Fog Lane but with incredible strength from the likes of Richard Coward and Sam “Meat Train” Taylor, I think this team are a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, a quick word on Manchester; they didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders in Leicester but judging by the last few seasons’ performances and their retention of a good core, I can’t see them slipping out of this top echelon under the new leadership of Tom ‘Yellow’ Lees, Sion Regan and David Todd.

 

The Next Few

Teams like Reading, Glasgow, SMOG and Ka-Pow! have taken a bit of a hit due to previous players or clubs focussing on Mixed (Reading, Glasgow and Deep Space to be specific) or defections to other Open teams. The 5-12 bracket is absolutely wide open and it very well could come down to who copes best on the day to what they are given.

 

Undecided..

The only two left of this top bracket are Flump and Birmingham. Both these teams have been battling it out in both A and B tour over the last couple of seasons. Birmingham have lost their key handler Marius Hutcheson, who’s moved to Ka-Pow!, and cutter Will Collier who has moved north, but will still have a number of players with experience at A Tour level. Flump have lost a few of their stalwart players and will be missing offensive handler Sean Colfer in Nottingham, but they have added a number of athletic younger players in response. How both teams deal with that roster turnover will dictate how well they do at this and other Tours.

 

Games to watch

There will be a live stream provided by Fanseat showcasing field A and potentially B as well (unconfirmed). However for those lucky to be there in person pool B looks like the Pool of Death with Chevron, Fire, EMO and Brighton offering some potentially fantastic, close games. This could end up any way but Clapham’s equally split teams must be laughing where they have been placed, going into pools A and D. I think they will be challenged most by Manchester (A), Glasgow (A) or Devon (D) but it’ll be tough for anyone to overcome either side. A new addition for this year is EDI, which is the replacement for Sneeekys from Edinburgh. It’ll be fun to see how they match up with Devon in pool D. Bad Skid are always worth a watch but again getting a relatively easy pool C, so I would say Reading vs SMOG will be the one to watch here.

Unlike Sean Colfer I don’t do predictions, so good luck to all, hope it isn’t too windy (even though we all know it will be).

(Note from Sean – coward: Clapham 1, Clapham A, Chevron, Bad Skid, Fire, Glasgow, SMOG, EDI, Manchester, EMO is my top 10.)

Featured image by Andrew Moss.

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