UKU Women’s Tour 2: A Title for the Taking.

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Hannah Pendlebury once again gives us a fantastic view into the Women’s division.

If looking at the results from Tour 1 should tell you anything, it is that Women’s Tour has officially been blown wide open. Despite my initial scepticism this year regarding the relative security of the top four (and continued scepticism from the schedule writers judging by the format), the top 12 is now a veritable hotbed of challenger teams. With so many games ending in sudden death on Sunday in Nottingham, I am certainly very pleased that my preview involves very few predictions of final standings… But mostly I am excited for what this means for the development of women’s Ultimate in the UK!

It is also worth mentioning just how many games were not won on the toss in Nottingham – whilst we were lucky to enjoy some relatively mild and warm conditions for most of the weekend, throwing abilities in the wind across the division were looking much more well-developed that in recent years. Keep up the good work getting those throwing reps in, ladies!

Pool S

Interestingly, this power pool is almost a carbon copy of pool T from Tour 1 – only this time with a different ‘unknown quantity’ in the form of GB U24 2 instead of Nice Bristols. In any case, judging by the results of pool play last time around this mix of teams should be a reliable recipe for plenty of hotly-contested games! Let’s take a closer look:

Brighton (1)

In my Tour 1 preview I mentioned that Brighton might be rather good in the wind. I am pleased to say that I was not wrong. These ladies had an excellent Tour 1 and seemed to sail quite comfortably into the final, taking full advantage of the breeze with solid winning margins across the board. They have traded in some of their handlers for a few more threats upfield at Tour 2 which is an adjustment that should pay off in the calmer conditions expected in Llanrumney – but without the elements on their side they will have to remain clinical if they want to keep hold of that desirable first place seeding.

SYC (3)

SYC came out all guns blazing in Nottingham and were the only team to successfully prevent Iceni reaching the point cap. However a gutting loss in pool play to Brighton meant taking the less preferred route towards the final and thus having to settle for crushing the 3v4 to round off their Sunday after falling to Iceni. No doubt they will come into the weekend looking to make up for this disappointment, revved up by a recent 4th place finish at Windmill. They will need to hang tough in this pool but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak the top spot going into Sunday.

GB U24 2 (6)

After teasing us in Nottingham and slimming down to one squad at the last minute, it is exciting to see the U24 development programme sending two teams to Cardiff. But whilst I do enjoy the mystery which these GB teams bring to pool play, hopefully both squads can find a bit more consistency this time around after ending up in a three-way tie at Tour 1. With a little less wind to battle against they should be able to put their youthful athleticism to work, though having their standout players spread across two teams may well impact their ability to convert in those crucial situations.

Hydra 1 (8)

Hydra had a decent Tour 1, putting up very respectable scores against some of the top four finishers and comfortably taking seventh 15-4 after a sudden death loss to Swift 1. This is a team that can pack a punch or two pretty high up the top eight bracket, but they didn’t quite have the finesse in Nottingham to take down any big names. Coming in as the supposed underdogs for this pool I can certainly see them snatching sixth away from GB, though I think they probably have a little more building to do before they can best SYC and Brighton. But feel free to prove me wrong, ladies!

 

Pool T

Whilst the match-ups in Pool S are looking pretty enticing, I’m definitely more intrigued to see what becomes of Pool T. This side of the top eight certainly looks far more open to upsets from the lower seeds and, whilst I wouldn’t want to wish a three-way tie on anyone, if I had to pick a pool as most likely for one it would certainly be this one. Here’s why:

Rebel (2)

Cardiff will be Rebel’s first Women’s Tour outing of 2017, though they are by no means new to the UK circuit. As a highly spirited and talented set of players, I know plenty of teams will be raring to get a chance to match up against the ladies from Ireland. In previous years their offence has typically been driven by serious throwing power hitting a number of confident receivers, which I know from first-hand experience can be very tricky to shut down. However this strategy can occasionally backfire in later games at those events when they have a slightly smaller squad. Certainly if they are lower on numbers, the two game Sunday schedule will play right into their hands for a strong finish, provided that they can keep a grasp on the top end of the pool.

Smog (4)

Having gone undefeated all weekend at Tour 1, Smog have certainly proved that they are a force to be reckoned with this season. Their Women’s Tour debut saw them clinch two sudden death wins in a row against Chaos and Swift on Sunday to snag a very respectable fifth place finish. It will certainly be interesting to see if they can replicate this spotless performance at the weekend, though I expect that having to contend with a more challenging set of opponents on Saturday may result in a few more miscues this time around. We’ll see whether those miscues cause them to slip out of the top four, but I don’t anticipate they will fall very far if that is indeed the case.

GB U24 1 (5)

As per my comments regarding the even-numbered side of this split squad, this GB team could definitely throw a spanner into the works of their fellow pool mates’ plans for a top four finish. In addition to this, I’m excited to see how they fare as they continue on their journey towards Worlds in Australia!

Swift 1 (7)

Swift were pretty chuffed with sixth place at Tour 1, their highest finish since 2011. They will of course look to build upon this success in Cardiff, especially after coming out at the bottom of the three-way tie in Nottingham. Pool play will certainly provide opportunities to set things right, with rematches against both GB and Smog. Having lost to Smog in sudden death last time around, if Swift can maintain consistency on Saturday there is certainly no reason they can’t sneak into that guaranteed top four finish. Especially when you consider that they put more goals past Iceni than anyone in their pool at Tour 1.

 

Pool U

This is the first of two oddly small pools – presumably designed to avoid the lower teams having to take a bye game on Sunday again (thank you schedule writers!) and including a seeding game late on Saturday for those who top their respective pool and then crossovers for the other two. In pool U I would consider an upset fairly unlikely. Here’s why:

Chaos (9)

Having absolutely smashed their pool on Saturday, Chaos came into the Sunday of Tour 1 hungry for a shot at the 5-8 bracket. With arguably the hardest fought game of the weekend (including a 20 minute point) against LLLeeds they came out on top in sudden death, but a few subs down thanks to injuries. Although they then put up a gritty performance against Smog with another sudden death finish, by the last game most of the players still standing were running on fumes. It is a shame to see them locked out of the top four from the get-go, but hopefully this weekend they can stay injury free and consolidate their hard work in the latter games on Sunday and challenge for fifth.

Hydra 2 (16)

Having been in a tricky pool at Tour 1, Hydra 2 did well to hold onto their seeding all weekend, displaying solid fundamentals across the board. Training as a club with their first team players resulted in a good start for their debut appearance, which they can hope to build on in Cardiff. However their only shot out of the 13-16 bracket is to take down Chaos, which will probably prevent them from achieving their goal of placing within the top 12 until Tour 3.

Devon (18)

Having been forced to drop out due to lack of numbers in the run up to Tour 1, it is pleasing to see that Devon have stirred up enough interest to attend Tour 2. They will certainly be looking to build on their efforts from last season where they finished 20th out of 27 teams, but will have to do so off of the back foot since their opposition will already have one Tour of gelling under the belt. They will certainly have their work cut out for them to progress upwards, needing to best either Hydra 2 or Uprising to avoid being locked into the bottom bracket.

 

Jenna Thomson (pictured right) will be coaching the U24s this weekend with no Iceni present. Photo by Sam Mouat.

Pool V

I would also expect Pool V to retain their original seeds going into Saturday afternoon, though the risk of an upset between LLLeeds and Uprising seems the most likely of any, with lower wind speeds taking a pinch off of LLLeeds experience edge and placing it firmly in Uprising’s more youthful camp. Here’s how I see it playing out:

LLLeeds (10)

Leeds had a lot of battles at Tour 1. They started out promisingly as third seed on Saturday with a sudden death win against GB U24, but didn’t seem to have enough in the tank to replicate this form against Swift later in the day. Ending up in the three-way tie saw them lose their spot in the top four and suddenly fighting for their top eight status on Sunday morning. They lost this in the aforementioned physically gruelling game against Chaos. However Leeds certainly showed their quality later on in the day, with the mental toughness to pick up two sudden death wins over Nice Bristols and Reading 1 en route to their ninth place finish. This time around I expect that they will be looking to see off their pool games as efficiently as possible in order to save plenty in the tank for their seeding game against Chaos and a hopeful return to the 5-8 bracket. They certainly have a strong enough roster for it!

Uprising (15)

As a team with a younger demographic than many, Uprising struggled with the conditions in Nottingham. Clearly a very feisty bunch with some very promising players, it will be interesting to see how they fare without quite so much to contend with from the elements this weekend. Certainly if they can get their long game working more efficiently I would expect to see them give LLLeeds a bit of a run for their money – though I’m not sure they have enough experience to take 10th seed. Certainly a strong contender for the plate final.

Swift 2 (17)

Having put in the work required to hold seed at Tour 1, a weekend in Cardiff of more of the same would see Swift 2 take their highest ever finish at a tour event. Whilst I don’t really see them gaining any ground within their initial pool, if they can save enough energy for their seeding game at the end of Saturday there is no reason they can’t shoot for the 13-16 bracket by taking down Hydra 2. One to watch!

 

Pool W

Whilst the top eight bracket have been tucked away on Saturday to have some intense games amongst themselves, the two larger pools at the tail end of women’s tour show the wide range of match ups more traditionally seen on the first day of a tournament. Pool W certainly doesn’t disappoint in this aspect – with the following spread to whet your appetite:

Reading 1 (11)

Reading stormed through their pool at Tour 1, deservedly securing their status within the top 12 going into Sunday. Having put in a decent but futile effort against Hydra on Sunday morning, they proceeded to scoop a dramatic 12-3 win over Glasgow and finished up with a tight sudden death loss to LLLeeds. However with Reading opting for an even more equally balanced approach to team selection this tour and being a little lighter on numbers, we may see them struggle to rise too much higher in the rankings as squad depth becomes more of an issue. Any of the opponents that Reading are likely to face in the 6v11 on Sunday will be expected to prove too much of a challenge, though I certainly wouldn’t fully rule out any chance of an upset…

Red (14)

Red were another team who had a cracking women’s tour debut in Nottingham, falling only at the hands of two very capable Reading sides. Because of this I wouldn’t expect them to topple Reading and advance in the pool stages – in fact they will need to be pretty wary of Vurve who are likely to be hungry for a win. I expect that they will find themselves with some comfortably competitive games in the 13-16 bracket on Sunday, with a fair chance of taking home some glassware after missing out at Tour 1.

Vurve (20)

Vurve had a frustrating time at Tour 1, ending up in the round robin after losing to a heavily underseeded Reading 2 and a very capable Hydra 2. Hopefully this time around they will have more of a chance to spread their wings and find their stride faster, though they will have some work cut out for them trying to push past Red or Reading to take a top 16 finish.

Discie Chicks (22)

Discie chicks may not have posted very high scores over the weekend in Nottingham, but they did exactly what they set out to do. Although they don’t present the biggest defensive threat in the division in terms of physicality, Discie often pose a more mental challenge to teams higher up the rankings. It is always interesting to note which teams struggle to maintain their offensive focus without the benefit of a tightly covering defender. I expect to see more of the same in Cardiff and they will be pleased to have a full schedule on Sunday this time. Hopefully they will also convert a few more points without all that wind!

 

Pool X

Finally we come to pool X. This one looks to be a pool of two halves – though within those halves we could certainly see some exciting games between some relatively closely seeded teams.

Nice Bristols (12)

With a healthy chunk of their roster away at a hen do (real life? What’s that?) Nice Bristols struggled during pool play, converting very few points and leaving a nice gap for Hydra to move into (and quite rightly so). They definitely found their groove more on Sunday, dropping down into the 9-12 bracket for a nail-biter against old friends LLLeeds and a solid win against Glasgow. However, much to the dismay of the other teams in their pool, I suspect the return of the hen partiers will bolster this squad and keep them well out of reach of being beaten on Saturday. Just how far they can move up from there is anyone’s guess, but I fully expect them to regain a significant portion of their six-seed drop following Tour 1.

Reading 2 (13)

Having been seeded dead last Reading were the true underdog story of Tour 1, climbing a colossal 10 seeds over the weekend to take home the plate! With some big arms behind the disc and some key defensive talents slotted into their zone they managed to capitalise on the conditions to great effect. I’m not sure they will have quite enough to topple Nice Bristols, which will be sorely disappointing as I’m sure they would quite like to face off against their first team. However they should certainly dispatch the lower seeds in their pool comfortably and are in with a good chance of taking home another piece of glassware if they can keep the momentum going.

Brixton (19)

With a lot of fresh faces following their expansion to an outdoor team, Brixton had a bit of a baptism of fire in their pool for Nottingham. Whilst they enjoyed a secure 5-1 win over Discie Chicks to keep them out of the round robin, they seemed to struggle to convert points. It will be interesting to see if they can get to grips with grass in Cardiff if the weather proves a bit calmer. Hopefully they can find a bit more focus and slot in a few more points along the way this time around.

Crown Jewels (21)

With the biggest fall in seeding at Tour 1, Crown Jewels will be relieved that the only way is up in Cardiff! Hopefully after a disappointing performance in Nottingham hopefully they can come out with a bit more fire this weekend as they build their team chemistry from a lower-pressure starting point.

 

Feature photo by Sam Moaut.

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