With the nation’s fields cleared from snow (and hopefully staying that way despite warnings…), Isabel Goh brings us previews and predictions ahead of this weekend’s Mixed University Mixed Outdoor Nationals in Manchester.
You either love it or you hate it, there is no in between. It’s not in jest when I say that the Swiss draw system has attracted as much debate as whether beans should really be served on toast (No. They should not). But for a tournament of this size – there is no Mixed Regionals – it seems that UKU have decided to go again with the Swiss draw system for administrative ease, relying on an algorithm to decide on the match-ups every round. With the Swiss draw, every point in each game counts, and how well your opponent fares in their future games will also affect you as you accumulate swiss points that determine your overall ranking. The Swiss giveth, and the Swiss taketh away, as teams will find out soon enough. Though some might say that the Swiss taketh away, and the Swiss taketh away some more…
With 48 teams attending (and more on the waitlist), retaining your attention while talking about them all in this UXON preview is going to be as difficult as getting some teams to enter the event on time *cough* St. Andrews *cough* Nottingham. Fortunately for you, I’ve scoped the field and asked some highly reputable Ultimate players for help to come up with a list of 10 teams to watch over the March 17th-18th weekend.
When will the Scottish dominance end?
The answer is… not this weekend. With Scottish teams sweeping much of the medals over the indoor season, I’d place my bets on another strong tournament for the folks way up north. My non-Ultimate-playing Scottish friend just told me that Glasgow are known for their banter, but I would say Glasgow should be known for Joel Terry, an athletic anomaly who will captain Farflung to another successful Mixed Nationals. They will make full use of the women on their line, but may face some real opposition from their Scottish regional rivals. Despite being the only undefeated team last year, they came in second, and will be looking to seek revenge on the Swiss draw system this year and smash their opponents.
Strathclyde and Edinburgh are likely to also finish in the top eight, and a Strathclyde vs Edinburgh final (after one of them beats Glasgow to a spot) may be on the cards. Quick and agile with full field hucks in their holsters, Strathclyde female handler duo Katie Flight and Hayley Dalmon embody just what “small is powerful” means. Coupled with men who have the ability to get free at will or make the spectacular highlight plays, Strathclyde are on their way to more medals for their cupboards. I’ve heard whispers that Katie Flight and Jonny Shaw had the “best Scoobers in the tournament” at UMWIN, and perhaps this is the stage for them to have a within-team showdown for the title.
Edinburgh have the strongest women of the Scottish programmes, and it is their women led by Kate Stafford and Kathleen Beekman who will carry them to another final – hopefully to win it all. Confident with the disc and with the agility to dazzle their defenders, their women will steal the limelight with show-stopping layout grabs too. While less known for particular highlight players, their men are reliable and this team will be hard to beat. With consistent play, the Swiss draw may benefit them more than others, as it did last year when they pipped Glasgow to the top seed despite a draw in the final game. Their strong ties with current UK Club Mixed champions Black Eagles can’t hurt their chances either, as Ro Sham eye another gold medal finish.
Solid programmes with a strong legacy
Now I’m sure you’re all secretly rooting for someone not from Scotland to crack the top three, and I’d place my bets on the teams in this section of my preview. Bath have had a strong season so far, with bronze medals for their women at UMWIN and a top 11 finish for Bath 1 and Bath 2 for the men. Athletic and just so so runny, their women are hard to defend. Their men aren’t too shabby either, coming off a silver medal finish outdoors at Men’s Outdoor Nationals last year. With lots of talent in a very strong programme, Bath is not to be messed with. GB U24 players Georgia Murphy, Bea Perks and Amy van Zyl will show you just why.
Loughborough are another tough team to beat, with perhaps one of the best and most well-known female ultimate players in UK university Ultimate right now in their women’s captain Rupal Ghelani of BE Ultimate Ambassador fame. Another small but fast and ridiculously powerful player, she is unstoppable on either side of the disc and teams will have a challenge keeping her talents at bay. Of course, the rest of the team is also stacked with Omar Khan, Dan Hillman, and GB U24 Men’s player Sam Wilson all still with Haze. The athleticism of the team is incredible, and may give them the edge over the long weekend where every point counts. Not to mention Loughborough recently got named joint-top sports university in the world, so y’know, that tells you something.
In an attempt to not make the same mistake as my predecessors by underestimating uBu in the previews so far, I’ve decided to back them to finish in the top eight. Despite graduating some of their top female players, their younger women have stepped up and their men have somehow retained James Firth on a PhD, as well as Elliott Parnell who may be “going to change course yet again this year since he still hasn’t got a BUCS gold under his belt”. Picking up Canadian U24 Mixed captain Jeremy Hill and his buddy Matt Shore will give this team some firepower. Grace Owen will also be a calming presence on a team that may flounder if behind, keeping the disc safe with her sticky hands to pull her team back together for those precious Swiss points.
Home advantage is real, they say, and coupled with a solid track record, Manchester is a programme that will be tough to beat. Especially if they field their strongest players: Steve Dixon and Emily McCabe will be ones to watch on this team. Interestingly, their men fell to Sheffield Hallam in the BUCS league, so teams hoping to beat Halycon should ask Hallam for some tips!
Another team that lost to Hallam in the BUCS league, Durham probably will not be in the top four but a top eight finish is possible. Despite their loss, they finished at the top of the table, which goes to show how strong they can be but also hints of inconsistency which Swiss draw may punish. Two factors will help push them up the table. Several of their players will be playing mixed at Worlds this summer, and Alexis Long. Arguably one of the best mixed players in the country, despite his height. Considering they also entered two women’s teams for Regionals, this suggests depth and strength in their programme.
Wild card challengers – do not underestimate!
Cambridge impressed me over the recent Varsity weekend as they beat the Oxford mixed team on universe with a deep throw to James “JR” Richardson (who beat Harry Mason, Oxford’s resident deep threat, to the disc). Their players are all willing to put their bodies on the line, and somehow always manage to find an open throw in a high stall situation. Look out for Elsa Matthus, a PhD finalist way underrated in my opinion, who is calm on the disc and decisive in her cuts. Ali Thomas (GB U24 Women), Humaira Bhadelia and Katie Tidd round off a strong cohort of Cambridge women this year. I may have overheard Humaira effuse about just how much more space there was to run outdoors, so watch out or she’ll flash by you with her super-speed.
Bangor, led by duo Dom Knight and Ed Simpson, have snuck into this preview off three whole-hearted endorsements who will remain anonymous. If windy, the Welsh squad will be in their element, with a tricky zone that will earn them some upsets and closer games, and the accompanying Swiss points. While they have not had another fantastic female player like Rachel Turton (GB U24 Mixed) join the team in recent years, they still have strength on the squad, though having less depth than previous years may cost the team a higher finish.
The best of the rest
Unfortunately, traditional 10 top finishers Warwick, Oxford, Leeds and Sussex seem likely to miss out this time. With handler Jack Skipper finally leaving and cutter Jonah “I play mixed” Varney injured, the men on the Warwick team seem slightly depleted. Their women have seen a strong cohort graduate, and the current women are good but the team in overall seems to be undergoing a “development year”.
Oxford like playing mixed and are proud of it, but this year might just not be theirs with UXON set a week into their holidays. Key players are missing with Jeffrey Sload, Andrew Bunting, Christine Moore, and Joyce Kwok all sadly absent. Only two first team women are available that weekend, which will push them down the rankings more than they’d like. Perhaps they are having a “development tournament” (as opposed to year), if you can say that about a team so heavy with postgraduates.
Sussex ended last year on a high with an exciting win over Bath to take victory at Men’s Outdoor Nationals, and have topped their Men’s Outdoor BUCS league. Unfortunately with their underwhelming showing indoors and a massive graduation of their strongest female players, this team might not be able to push into the top 10.
Leeds have had a slightly inconsistent year so far. Their men were poised to win Division 2 Men’s Indoor Nationals, but a team that they had beat earlier in the tournament took gold. Their women had a poor showing indoors as well. Despite showing flashes of solid play, they finished near the bottom. This team had done brilliantly at Mixed Indoor Nationals, but having graduated Rachel Naden since then, their UXON team will still be smarting from this loss.
Hertfordshire Hornets (Has anyone actually seen hornets on their team kit before? Asking for a friend) didn’t enter UXON last year, but could be worth watching this year. Their women were on fire at Indoor Nationals, with Charlie Ellis being her usual unstoppable goal-scoring self, and the rest of their women including Ola Kulikowska and Catherine Gale working it up the pitch. Unfortunately, their women did not enter a team for outdoor Regionals, citing injuries and work deadlines which may also impact their team for UXON. But if everyone’s favourite yellow-beanie-wearer Ernest Simmons is around, Herts may yet have a decent showing.