UK University Ultimate 2017/18: Men’s Outdoor Nationals Division 1 Preview

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Writer Alun Pinder takes us through the Men’s showcase event – Division 1 Nationals, a.k.a. The BUCS Championship

As the BUCS leagues conclude, the best of the best converge once more on Nottingham to take on the near-legendary conditions of the wind farm (and each other, of course). With huge BUCS points and bragging rights on the line, who can make like the gold medalists at the Commonwealth Games, rise above all others, and take home the glory? Fasten your seatbelts, don your ponchos, wrap up warm, and brace yourself. Division 1 is coming.

South East – Parity?

Reigning champions Sussex Mohawks return to Nationals having extended their unbeaten run in Men’s outdoor competitions to a second season. With the bulk of their championship squad remaining, a strong Brighton contingent, and a sprinkle of Clapham from Luis Semple, Mohawks will look to cement themselves as a top-four team. A comparatively disappointing indoor season casts doubt on the top end of this team’s ability to match others, but some comfortable wins in the league suggest that squad depth will be a strength.

Following in second, Portsmouth Sublime rose past a cluttered mid-table with another strong showing. A tough zone, patient O, and plenty of grit can take the south’s premier purple team far, as back to back top eight finishes will attest to. Josh Awcock (GB U24) will have firepower and athleticism to call on from Josh Boorer and Bill Wright. Can they recapture the magic of their semi-final appearance in 2016?

Below the top two, South-East 1A descends into a three-way tie, which sees Imperial Disc Doctors rise to the top by virtue of a strong win over Hertfordshire. Disc Doctors may lack the cutting edge to threaten the top end of the division, but will be ready to bite anyone looking for an easier game. Rolo Turnell-Ritson (Fire) and Stuart Franz (Herd, Flump) lead a younger squad eager to play spoiler for the big names.

Finally, and carrying a win over Imperial, UCL Silverbacks claim the wild card spot to Division 1, with a points difference of just -2 against the three teams above them. Perhaps the most notable thing about this UCL squad is that no-one seems to be able to put them out of a game. Single point losses against the top two in the league prove that the Silverbacks can hang with anyone, although they may be missing the killer instinct to finish from those positions. Last time the South East took the wildcard, Surrey finished dead last. Can UCL avoid a repeat?

 

North – Unpredictable

Northern 1A ended with no team undefeated, and no team winless. Rising to the top of this heap are Durham DUF, with big wins over most comers, and the distinction of being the only team to travel to Bangor and win. Captain Alexis Long can rely on a hugely versatile team, with snappy handler movement and devastating deep threats, prompting even Manchester’s Robbie Kyme to remark “I like what (Durham) have been doing,” while links with SMOG have kept already strong players improving. Results suggest a top eight finish is a realistic possibility for the self-crowned and as-yet reigning “kings in the North”.

The only team to upset DUF thus far have been Sheffield Hallam, who claim second after a bizarre season that saw them beat both other Division 1 qualifiers, slip up against lower teams and claim a walkover against Bangor to cement a high finish. Hallam are another team who seem not to lose by much, with both their losses coming by a single point. A ferocious zone helps here, particularly considering the default weather at Nationals, while Alex Morgan and Drew Fitton slice through any opposition efforts to reciprocate. A concern for Hallam may be their ability to close out games, blowing an 8-2 lead against Leeds early in the season, but a universe win over DUF eases these fears.

Rounding out the Northern contingent, and frontrunners for the title of scariest pool 4-seed, Manchester Halcyon look to build on top eight finishes at Indoor Men’s and Mixed . The by-now familiar names of Steve Dixon and Ollie Gray are still kicking around, along with Evan Smith and Devon’s Robbie Kyme. This year’s edition may lack some of the depth of previous squads, but the top end remains devastating, particularly when the deep game starts to connect. Losses to Hallam and Bangor suggest some issues against strong zones though, which could put the brakes on a run beyond quarters.

 

West – Third verse…

Same as the first two versions for Western 1A, as Bath claim another league title, followed by Bristol and Exeter. Bath return to outdoors after the phenomenal feat of landing two teams in the top 11 at UMIN. That depth looks to be paying dividends, as fairly comfortable wins against all comers saw them top the table again. Captain Matt Elmore is looking to improve on last year’s silver medal, and brings an entire squad of scary players with him, and major competitors are naming them as one to watch. After coming somewhat out of left field last year, how will they fare with opposition ready and waiting for them?

In second, Bristol Mythago, who fell short of upsetting their neighbours once again. Captain Nathan Sanders will have a solid group to rely on, including “Deep Space reject” Ed Hanton and imported “Trump enthusiast” Michael Lally. Injuries have hampered Bristol so far, but the full squad should be recovered in time for an outing northward. Aiming high, or at least higher than Exeter, Bristol will look to a cohesive veteran core and a never-say-die attitude to carry them beyond their previous best of tenth.

Rounding out the region are Exeter Uriel, who lost out on second on head-to-head after a short-handed team were heavily beaten by Bristol. Ever bombastic, and of late highly visible with their bleach blonde look, the southernmost entrant to this year’s Nationals will be looking to prove there’s more to them than their league finish suggests – especially with a tight zone that could cause some problems in Nottingham’s wind. A big win over Swansea, who beat Bristol, hints that they could spring a few surprises.

Keep and eye out for Gabe! Photo by Alice Hanton

Scotland – Dominant?

Ending two years of St Andrews dominance, Strathclyde Dark Horses took the decisive win early in the season to top the table in the biggest tier 1 league – Scotland 1A. The UMIN runners-up (and the leaders at UXON before it was cancelled) carry devastating form into Nationals, and have the players to match anyone. Andrew Warnock, Ben Cornelius (both Glasgow), Cameron Mackie and Jonny Shaw (both Black Eagles) are all heading to the World Club Championships this year, and the remainder of the squad carry as much experience as any opponent. Plenty of opponents have picked Horses as favourites for the title this year, but similar circumstances saw them crumble in the final at UMIN, and they will be desperate to avoid a repeat.

Ultimate’s richest team, St Andrews Flatball, saw their long reign over Scotland cut short this year, but will come back all the hungrier for it. Captain Gabe Schechter (GB U24) lists their main attributes as “hips, spirit, American arrogance, German discipline, Benji, money”. Pick your own positives and negatives. Flatball carry threats right through their team, from GB U24 Men’s captain Schechter to big German Hannes Ludewig, to fresher Matt Graham, who forced his way into first team contention. After falling in the quarters two years ago and the semis last year, can they push one further?

Finally, Glasgow FarFlung have had a comparatively rough year at the regional level, but come through to deliver on the national stage, with UMIN and UXIN titles already. Despite this, depth may become an issue as exam pressure strips them of some big players, not least of which is captain Joel Terry. FarFlung still bring an impressive squad with big game experience, and a confidence in their ability to reverse those league defeats when it matters. Iain Campbell, Julian Grant and Sam Finlay will carry a big load, while Alan Jeuken has found a new lease on life north of the wall to become a top threat, and missing big players failed to stop them from medalling last year. FarFlung will already have an eye on picking up the one medal that has eluded them so far at this event; gold.

 

Midlands – Rising?

Another year, another Birmingham uBu victory. No matter how much other teams step up, uBu always seem to find a way to come out on top, putting in an unbeaten season after last year’s three-way tie. Nationals will see Birmingham without the talismanic figure of James Firth, or Tom Williams (GB U20), but Williams’ GB teammate Elliot Parnell and Canada U24 captain Jeremy Hill will be poised to take up the load along with young stars like Chris Allen, who drew a matchup with tournament MVP Ashley Yeo as a fresher in last year’s semi-final and lived to tell the tale. After medalling at UMIN, uBu may fancy their chances at breaking into semi-finals once again.

Loughborough Haze come into Nationals with only four games under their belt after their match with Nottingham Trent was cancelled during the interesting weather this spring, but make up for lost chemistry by bringing eight EMO squad members. Well known stars like Dan Hillman (EMO) and Sam Wilson (GB U24) are back from placement to add to Haze’s firepower, but in their absence, a new generation has risen. George Hill and Harry “Bidoof” Moore have taken the keys to the offence and will be out to make names for themselves. Watch out for the trademark Haze speed and throwing flair, and try not to be left in their wake.

The third Midlands team carry a Nationals record unlike any other. Nottingham have remained unbeaten at UMON since 2014, which has been held at their home Nottingham venue each year. The majority of players attending this weekend have spent their entire ultimate career without seeing a Nottingham loss here, although two of those runs came in Division 2. Nottingham look to step up a level, as they did successfully in 2016, and keep the flow of silverware going. George Gayton (GB U24) and Joel Miller remain the biggest names, and a nightmare to stop, while Liam Reddy has been unbeaten at UMON since 22nd April 2012 (Just. Graduate. Already.). With a glut of EMO squad members in addition to those, Nottingham will be an unwelcome sight in anyone’s pool, and could well find themselves in a quarter-final.

 

Predictions

As Gabe Schechter puts it, “anything can happen once you make the quarterfinals”, but I’ll try and pick a top eight anyway. This year feels like the one when the “Scottish dominance” my fellow writers keep on about finally produces a win. The big English names seem ready to swing the semi-final spots balance back in favour of the south, though, and at least one team will be left disappointed after pre-quarters, with simply not enough space for all the squads targeting the top eight.

  1. Strathclyde
  2. Bath
  3. Sussex
  4. Glasgow
  5. St Andrews
  6. Birmingham
  7. Loughborough

    Keep and eye out for Gabe! Photo by Alice Hanton

  8. Manchester

Feature image by Ed Hanton

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