Sean Colfer previews the World Championships of Beach Ultimate from the British and Irish perspective. Stay tuned on live.wcbu2017.org for our tSG coverage and fanseat.com for the live stream!
The first pull of the World Championships of Beach Ultimate in Royan, France, is now 2 days away. The latest bit of information to be released came in the form of the pools and first game of the tournament were revealed by the tournament organising committee in France.
While the first game will see Germany, reigning champions in the Mixed division, take on the host nation France, the key concern for most readers in the UK and Ireland is how our own pools shape up. So let’s take a look!
GB have drawn a tough pool here, partially due to their 13th place finish in Dubai two years ago. They are drawn with Portugal, who finished a surprise fourth in Dubai and who are always tough to beat on the beach. The Portuguese return their five top scorers from 2015, almost all of whom also played at the World Ultimate and Guts Championships in London. David Pimenta was third in the stats tables in Dubai, scoring more goals than anyone else in the division with 32. He’s just one of many threats in an experienced squad.
Russia and Australia look to be the other main threats, as Austria, Poland, Ukraine and Malaysia are seeded quite low. The Russians came eighth in Dubai, losing to Ireland in their final game, but have a very different squad this time around. Alexander Shebunyaev and Natalia Shebunyaeva return, but otherwise this is a new team. They have added Toronto Rush and Team Canada player Isaiah Masek-Kelly though, which seems like a decent pick up. The Australians, too, are a very new team without any of the players that made up their 12th-place finishers in Dubai. Hannah Monty played at WUGC 2016, and the Aussie teams are rarely weak.
As for GB themselves, this team combines elements of the last few teams to have competed at WCBU events. James Freeman returns from WCBU2011 in Lignano Sabbiadoro, as does Dave Tyler, while players such as Tom Mannings, Hannah Brew, Karina Cooper and Adam Lothian are back again after Dubai. The team has a lot of pedigree and a lot of talent and their hopes will be high. It’s a tough group that might come down to a battle with Portugal but they’re capable of snatching that fourth seed.
Ireland, on the other hand, may be slightly happier with their pool. While the hosts will likely be a tough matchup, France isn’t the squad that stormed to a shock fourth place in London on grass, with Steven Cochener the only representative from that team. The Irish will also have the Czechs to contend with, but given the respective finishes at Copa Tanga recently Ireland shouldn’t be too concerned with the challenge that they’ll be presented there. The main challenge for them will be reigning champions Germany, whose squad is outstanding. They return nine of the team that won in Dubai, and have added former GB Men’s player Robert Schumacher and German superstar Nici Prien, so that’s good. They are real threats to both Canada and the USA (or should that be the North Americans are threats to them?) and it’s going to be very tough to wrestle that first seed off them.
Ireland themselves feature many of the players that made a run to the finals of the European Championships in 2015, and will be confident of improving on their seventh-place finish in Dubai. They have added Seattle-based superstar Mark Burton and DC Scandal player Kelly Hyland, while retaining Clapham players Will Martin and Conor ‘Hogi’ Hogan and other key players like Iceni player Grainne McCarthy and Emer Staunton. They should reach the quarterfinals and from there it’ll be fun to see who they get in the draw. All in all, both teams have the capability to finish in the top two in their pools. Watch out for Spain, by the way, who are seeded lowly but performed well at Copa Tanga and may provide the upsets this year.
The British women face Russia, who came second in Dubai and are routinely excellent. Seven of their silver medal squad return, including star handler Sasha Pustovaya, with seven players also continuing from London. GB also face what will probably be a strong German squad and Switzerland, whose FAB squad has performed well in European competition in recent years. It has the makings of a very tough pool.
The GB squad features a lot of Iceni players, not to mention extensive international experience. Lucy Barnes, Ania Godbold, Niamh Delaney and Avril Hunter played Mixed in London while most of the rest played Women’s – though not all for GB, as Ellie Hand played for Canada and Katey Forth played for the USA. Bex Forth and Issy Burke didn’t play in London but both have played in the World Games and in previous GB cycles, so bring a lot to the table. The team also features a number from the last WCBU – Hand, Fran Scarampi, Burke, Jackie Verralls, the Forth sisters and Vanessa Lowe have all returned. They do however lose their top scorer as Nici Prien returns to her home squad.
The Men’s pools are two 11-team supergroups. GB are seeded second after losing to the USA in the final last time around, and so avoid both the USA and Canada (a USA team, by the way, that features several of the best throwers in the world like Brett Matzuka, Jonathan Nethercutt, Jonathan ‘Goose’ Helton and Cassidy Rasmussen. They are going to be a treat to watch). They do, however, have to face the perennially excellent Philippines – although there are a lot of changes from Dubai in that squad, including the loss of their highest scoring player, Antonio Francisco. That will be a tough game, as will match ups with Australia, Germany, France and Ireland. Teams like Italy and Belgium will have capable teams, too. The nature of these large groups means there is huge pressure on these games for placings ahead of the knockout rounds.
GB, though, are a strong team and should be able to deal with most of what’s thrown at them. The team is made up entirely of men from the GB team from WUGC in London, and almost entirely of Clapham players. The only exceptions are James Mead and Sam Bowen from Chevron. The team’s familiarity will set them in good stead, as will the ability of Justin and Ash to jump a mile or so in the air.
Ireland have chosen an entirely new squad from Dubai, but seven of the Men’s team from London are flying to France – Seamus Murray, Mark Fanning, Daragh Kelleher, Niall McCarthy (sources in the Irish camp have described him as ‘a villain’), Brian O’Callaghan, Nicolas Peters, Ferdia Rogers and Pádraig Sweeney. They will be looking to move up from their current seed of sixth in the pool, and their games against the French, Germans and Aussies in particular will be crucial if they want to make it to the knockout stages.
This division has a single pool of 12 teams rather than breaking into groups. This means that GB will likely treat pool competition as they have in previous tournaments and keep something in reserve for later in the tournament. The team features a number of players with experience at the top level, as you would expect, and is led by Graham Bailey and Luke Tobiasiewicz. Bailey and Steve Balls were the joint top scorers in Dubai and will both be key cogs again, as will two women who played Women’s and Mixed respectively in London; Ange Wilkinson and Nancy Rawlings. Players like Stu Greer, Kate Markey and Mark Garbers will also be key if GB want to progress to the knockout stages.
This is another division where GB are defending medallists after winning bronze in Dubai. The team is very talented and they’ll undoubtedly be aiming to emulate or better the team from two years ago. The schedule is one big pool again, also with 12 teams, so they’ll have to play everyone, but with such a deep and experienced squad they’ll hope to keep something in reserve for when the games really mean something.
Mara Alperin and Susanna Bidgood played Mixed in London, while Romanie Hannah and Becci Haigh (who also played for GB at the World Games in Cali) played for the Women’s team. A number of the others played for the Women’s Masters team, too – Claerwen Snell, Steph Balsys, Emilia Cruz, Katja Ulbrich and Laura Wilson. There a number of returners from Dubai in Ulbrich, Balsys, Wilson, Alize Clough and Lau Santos, while Phil Sturt played for the Women’s team in 2015. In short, the squad is stacked and well capable of bringing some hardware home.
Fresh off a bronze medal in London, captain Dave Povey will be aiming to go one better than the fourth place the team achieved in Dubai at the very least. The team retains a number of players from both Dubai (Dan Berry, Al Harding, Chris White, Ewen Buckling and Povey) and the WUGC team (Will ‘Caesar’ Cornelius and Paul ‘Voodoo’ Waite) as well as some recently eligible masters in Sam ‘Cowboy’ Luxa, Felix Shardlow and Christian ‘Bobby’ Zamore. They have a good balance in their squad and should be able to match up effectively with anyone. They’ll be happy with their pool as they’ve avoided the USA, Germany and France, as well as Australia. Instead GB have to contend with India, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada. Outside of Canada, who will have GB’s WUGC nemesis John Hassell in their squad, they should be able to handle their business.
Ireland, on the other hand, are in that pool of death. The USA will have some phenomenal players, as usual – Bart Watson highlights a group also featuring Tom Doi, Tyler Kinley, Ryan Purcell and Moses Rifkin. Germany, Australia and France are all seeded higher than Ireland and will likely be competitive too. That makes it a tough task as is; when you consider that the Irish only have 11 people then their task will be made that much harder. Ireland haven’t been much of a factor in Masters before so it’s great to see them able to field a team. With some really challenging games coming up it’ll be a great week for the boys (and girl – Emily Vereker played for Ireland Women in London) in green.
GB finished eighth of nine teams in this division last time out and so will be looking to improve in this 10-team draw. They’ve started well with team selection, since the squad resembles an all-star team from the early 2000s. Si Weeks leads a team also featuring players like Dave Grayson, Si Hill, Rob McGowan, the Mitchell bothers Rob and Stu, Rik Shipley, Paul Atkins and Dave Barnard. Dave Bixler was the Masters high scorer in Dubai and so should thrive with this team as well. The big question will be how they do against the North Americans, but games against (probably familiar-looking) teams like Finland, Germany and France will also be crucial in ensuring they’re in a position to fight for medals. The Americans feature former Callahan Award winner and Johnny Bravo coach Jim Schoettler as well as freak athlete Kelly Swiryn, so they’ll be favourites here and a challenge to topple.
That’s all of the home representatives. Make sure to follow WCBU on all social media platforms to keep up to date!
Feature photo by William Brody Brotman for Ulti Photos