The new year is a time to reflect on the past, and to look to the future. 2018 brings an end to holiday festivities, the beginning of a new university term, and dozens of teams training rigorously for the chance to triumph at Men’s Indoor Nationals. This year everyone is once again gathered in the cold, unforgiving climate of Scotland’s Ravenscraig Sports Centre.
Here at Nationals, every division holds prestige. Arguably, none more so than Division 2 Men’s – filled with teams who’ve journeyed with nothing to fight for except honour, and who are determined to send a message to those Division 1 teams that they’re coming for them.
Scotland – Home Again at Last
The hosting region. On home turf. Eight teams at Men’s Nationals. Need I say more? Scotland are always a force to be reckoned with indoors, whatever the conditions. A third and fourth placing last year for both Scottish teams in Division 2 (on hardcourt all the way down in London!) shows they deserve all the Nationals places they are given.
This year sees a return of Heriot Watt to Division 2 (with an unfortunate loss against Aberdeen at Regionals) alongside division debutantes Strathclyde 2. Strathclyde’s domination of Regionals paved the way for their second team to take the last Nationals spot ahead of Stirling (who were the only first team not to make it to Nationals). Although they are a second team, they are Scottish, so I’m expecting them to be a worthy challenger to the top eight.
Our Scotland reporter Oscar Nolan had tipped a Division 1 spot for Heriot Watt, so a strong finish at Division 2 is extremely likely. Their team tends to have a significant height advantage over the competition (I know this from experience!). However, at both Regionals and last year’s Nationals, Heriot Watt were unable to use it to full potential. Never underestimate the benefit of home field advantage, this could give Heriot Watt the edge to take the title.
North – New Kids on the Block
None of the teams from the North going to Division 2 this year did so last year. Newcastle were unfortunate not to beat Durham again at Regionals, and this year they round up the traditional northern top four. Newcastle are joined by two newcomers to Nationals: Liverpool John Moores and Northumbria. LJMU are in their first year of university Ultimate, and to make Nationals on the first attempt is truly astonishing. Northumbria meanwhile have achieved a Nationals spot on their second attempt after recently reforming the club.
What is common to both teams but something that not many of the others in the region have, is an active, dedicated coach. Oliver Browne for LJMU and Paul “Stig” Unwin for Northumbria have given their wealth of knowledge and experience to the fledgling teams, and it has certainly been successful. Hopefully both teams will be able to repeat their success on the national scene, but they could find themselves out of their element, especially on the large 3G pitches.
Newcastle are looking very strong, performing well outdoors despite being newly promoted, unlike their promotion counterparts and fellow Division 2 qualifiers Bangor. Having Ross Nugent (Fire) as an addition to their team could see them winning the division. Thanks to Durham’s victory last year Newcastle have top seed in the division, which could make their path to the final a little easier. Although, since when did seedings mean anything in Division 2?
Yorks and East Mids – Sheffield Switcheroo
The same five teams are going to Nationals this year; however in a twist of fate the Sheffield teams have switched place. Sheffield Hallam fought off a worthy Loughborough 2 to take the last spot for Division 2. They made it to Division 1 last year, so this result may have been a little disappointing for them – especially in the light of their excellent outdoors performance this season at the top of the Northern 1A Division. Perhaps the larger pitches will suit Hallam’s outdoor style better.
Leeds were very unlucky not to make it to Division 1, losing twice to Loughborough in very close games. If they can avoid making some of the mistakes they made at Regionals, they can go a long way in the tournament. Yorks and East Midlands is always a tough region, but finishing a hair’s breath from Division 1 powerhouse Loughborough makes Leeds a strong opponent.
Nottingham’s not-so-stellar Saturday performance at Regionals got into their heads, but they were able to turn around their fortunes and qualify. If they are focused and on form, you better watch out for them. The extra space on the pitches may play into Nottingham’s hands; they achieved a respectable position on 3G pitches at Mixed Nationals.
Both our Midlands reporter Alun Pinder and our Northern reporter Sam Higginbotham nominally predict an all Y&EM final. We’ll see…
With only 16 teams at Div 2 and seven regions, only two of the regions are fortunate enough to send three teams. This year these are North and Y&EM. Both regions have to work very hard to keep these places, and having a team placed in the bottom three could allow for a more deserving region to take their spot. I believe the Y&EM teams have what it takes to avoid this fate, and I hope the Northern teams can too.
West Midlands and Wales – Warwick still the Kingmaker
Despite Warwick losing many of their players from last year, they still showed everyone at Regionals that they can send two teams to Nationals, even with one fewer spot available. Warwick 2 join Strathclyde 2 as the other second team in Division 2, but may be one of the more inexperienced teams in the competition. Having their first team alongside them giving support will be a great advantage, and hopefully they can avoid finishing in the same position as last year. They only lost to their first team in universe point at Regionals, no easy feat for a second team by any means. Unless you’re Bath. A battle of the second teams could emerge between Warwick and Strathclyde. Traditionally Warwick 2 perform well, finishing fourthat Div 2 Outdoors last year, however Strathclyde’s dominance of the Scottish region leads me to predict they will come out on top.
Bangor are the sole representatives of Wales at Nationals this year. A very narrow loss to high-flying Birmingham, accompanied with being in Division 1 last year puts Bangor in a very strong place. GB U24’s Ed Simpson is definitely a useful player for any team to have; he seems to have an extraordinary knack for leaping horizontally.
Both teams are fortunate in playing their Regionals on 3G pitches, giving them some useful practise before the weekend. With the styles of play between hardcourt and 3G being so varied, this experience could give the edge in a close matchup.
South West – Back to Usual?
In the game to go to Division 2, Exeter were able to defeat a Plymouth side weakened by a shattering loss against Bath 1. This led to none of last year’s Division 2 teams going to Nationals this year. Bristol and Exeter are traditionally strong teams in the region, and they both made it to Division 2 at Mixed. Exeter have snapped up former Falmouth player Chris Redd, and this gain may have edged them above their rivals in the region. Exeter are also enjoying a solid second place outdoors that will make them a tough team to beat.
Bristol must be feeling very hard done by, losing to both Bath teams successively at Regionals after beating Bath 1 earlier in the day. Just goes to show how much things can change in the space of an afternoon. They reportedly spent most of their energy after narrowly losing to winners Bath 2, and they will aim to take Division 2 by storm in response. Any team that has to face Bristol will find themselves against a team determined not to let their Regionals downfall get to them.
East and London – LSE on the Money
LSE seem to be moving from strength to strength through the years. Making Nationals for a second year in the row and even managing to defeat long time Nationals attendees Cambridge – twice! Perhaps the 3G pitches at Cranford are to LSE’s advantage, and if so, this could put them in a strong stance up at Ravenscraig.
Cambridge had a more uphill journey to Nationals, having to defeat both UCL and Brunel in consecutive matches to secure their spot. Although their 2013/4 heyday of winning everything has passed, they have a solid, experienced team benefiting from their somewhat liberal use of postgraduate students, such as captain James “JR” Richardson, who has been playing for years and years.
South East – All Change
Sussex seem to have dropped this year. From reigning outdoor champions and second in Division 1 Nationals to fourth in Regionals, being bested by two outdoor Division 2A teams (Reading and Surrey). Losing big names like Ashley Yeo has rumoured to have affected their team synergy, however they still have a number of top players. If they have practiced well over the break and really gelled together as a team Sussex can certainly do well.
Chichester have made their way into Nationals again, this time on their own merit instead of via a wild card slot. This should put them in a stronger position than last year, and they will hope to improve on 16thplace – the only way is up! Rumour has it their zone was the key to their success at Regionals, a tactic which might not be as successful at Ravenscraig.
Coming from my experience of Division 2 Nationals, anything can happen, making predictions very awkward to do. With almost three months since Regionals, teams have had plenty of time to iron out any problems. Even positions within regions are likely to vary. So, with these excuses out of the way, here are my (likely wrong) predictions of the top eight:
- Heriot Watt
- Strathclyde 2
Just missing out: Exeter, Sussex, Cambridge