Writer Tom “Clackers” Claxton rounds off his year-long coverage of the lower leagues with his perspective on Men’s Division 3 Nationals, a.k.a. The BUCS Cup
It has finally arrived! The last event of the university season. After a term marked with uncharacteristic amounts of snow cancelling many events and BUCS games, spring has finally sprung, and here’s a hope for nice weather (at least for the Wind Farm) for Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Nationals.
Although many eyes will be on both the Men’s and Women’s Division 1 matches, waiting to see who lifts the championship trophies, there are just as competitive and exciting events occurring elsewhere throughout the weekend. Division 3, aka the BUCS Conference Cup, is perhaps the most confusing of the divisions. Even I have trouble understanding it all sometimes, and I’m covering it! Ten teams will fight it out over 155 total BUCS points, which incidentally is more points available than in Division 2.
These ten teams are two each from the five regions in the country. Eight of these teams are from the lower leagues, and have qualified from the Northern, Midlands, Western and South Eastern knockout cup competitions, independent of the league system. 56 teams across the country battled it out for these eight spots, with games often going down to the wire. One unfortunate loss and you’re out of contention. And pray to the scheduling gods that you aren’t facing the powerhouse in your region, or at the least you’re playing them at home. The other two teams come from the Scotland region, and are automatically designated as the teams that have finished seventh and eighth in the Scottish league.
Division 3 is tough. The competition is far more of an unknown quantity than any other (due to the limited number of qualifying spaces and separate leagues), and so teams will have to adapt quickly to unknown foes, or face a difficult road ahead. For others however, they have previously faced one of their fellow qualifiers during the league system, and are determined to prove they are the best team in their region, whatever previous results might say.
The nature of the Cup allows for teams who may have not earned promotion this year in the league system to qualify for Nationals, and in the past these “giant killers” have performed well at the tournament. So now it’s time to discuss the teams that have made it to Nationals!
We’ll start in Scotland, with Stirling. They ended up finishing in seventh this season in the Scottish 1A division, ensuring their qualification to Division 3 with two victories under their belt; a decisive 15-5 win against fellow qualifiers St Andrews 2, and a narrow 14-12 win against Aberdeen. Although the nature of the Scottish region means that Stirling have had to play against some of the best teams in the country, Stirling captain Finlay “Jimmy Neutron” Watsup has said that his team has adapted to this challenge throughout the season and have notched up several points against these high caliber teams. Furthermore, this year will see Fraser “Franchise” MacDonald bow out of university Ultimate. Bringing silverware back to Stirling must be a top priority for the biggest carry in the UK. Watsup hopes an attitude of every point matters, MacDonald and a new batch of athletic freshers will mean Stirling maintains their record as the better of the two Scottish teams.
St Andrews 2
After Aberdeen were again unable to make it to Nationals this year, the ninth placed team in Scotland, St Andrews 2, are fortunate to take their place (because this is the only region where this is possible!). Although they haven’t won a game this season (a position I can certainly sympathise with), this has not fazed them. Captain Morgan Curran says this gives new players a chance to get a lot of pitch time and improve at a quick rate. As a second team, many of these players are in their first year of Ultimate, giving them valuable experience. With this, and their first team’s continuing support throughout the year, they aim to be the best of the second teams here at Nationals.
Moving to the Northern Region now, with the first of the league winners attending Nationals, Sheffield. Unbeaten all season, albeit with seldom serious challenges to their dominance of the region. Comfortable victories against Keele, Sheffield 2, and York St. John have brought them to Nationals, with fellow Regional attendees Liverpool providing their greatest challenge in the league. They were unlucky not to be promoted last year, and their third place finish in Division 3 last year certainly puts them in good standing for Nationals this year. Returning captain Max Larkinson (along with BFF Sam “Slender” Higginbotham) hopes that despite the lack of many teams to test them so far, Sheffield can mount a serious challenge to claim the gold medal this year.
Liverpool finished runners-up in the Northern 2A league this year. To qualify for Nationals they have had a more challenging progression than their northern counterparts, beating Northern 2B champions York and a tough Hull side. And while they may be keen to get revenge on Sheffield for handing them their only loss so far this year, they’ll probably be glad the chance will happen at Nationals, rather than in a knockout cup qualifier. Captain Louis Graham is confident that Liverpool’s strong chemistry will see them well at Nationals, despite being a little undermanned on the Saturday. For many of Liverpool’s players, this is their first Outdoor Nationals – hopefully they are able to adapt quickly to the conditions and intensity the weekend will bring.
Another region, another league winner. Cambridge are amongst only two teams now in Division 3 who competed in Division 2 last year, alongside fellow Midlands qualifiers Warwick 2. Unbeaten this season, they have been viewed as one of the likely favourites to take the gold medal. They qualified for Nationals against some of the toughest opponents possible, seeing off Midlands 2B winners Lincoln in the first round, as well as their own league runners-up UEA, and Midlands 2B third placed Loughborough 2. However, Cambridge captain James “JR” Richardson isn’t one to get ahead of himself, focusing on just playing well at Nationals, and seeing where that takes them.
Although at the beginning of the season there were some doubts that Warwick 2 would be able to adapt to a large turnover from last year, they have managed to prove themselves wrong, and qualify for Nationals (albeit by the closest of margins)! A 13-12 win against Leicester 2 almost took them out of the competition, and perhaps playing at home in their semi-final against Leicester 1 aided to their qualification. There are many strong teams in the Midlands region; the region has a habit of winning Division 3. Captain Will Bolton is keen for Warwick 2 to be the best of the second teams once again, and their current success has been attributed to “trusting each other as players along with hard work”. Certainly an effective ethos!
The Western division has changed this year. Instead of two lower leagues, there is now one. This has its pros and cons and both the league and the Cup has been plagued by walkovers and unarranged games caused by increased travel distance. Bath 2 were on the fortunate side of this in their cup semi-final match against FXU, ensuring their qualification to Nationals. Although they did not manage to achieve promotion this year, thanks to fellow qualifiers Cardiff, Bath 2 are confident that this result has only spurred them on to achieve great things at nationals. Captain Ollie Edwards has said that the new league format has benefited Bath 2 greatly, allowing their fledgling players to develop considerably. He has ambitions that Bath 2 are not only capable of being the best second team, but of winning Division 3 as well.
Cardiff have come back with a vengeance. Unable to play in Division 3 last year despite qualifying, the new Western league format has allowed them to gain promotion with a second placed finish in the league. Wins against Winchester and Plymouth (who themselves knocked out eventual league winners Bournemouth) secured Cardiff’s spot to Nationals. Interestingly Cardiff and Bournemouth drew against each other in the league, the only such occurrence throughout all of the leagues! Cardiff captain Dan Finch is glad for the opportunity to attend Nationals this year, along with Ben Alba’s return from Scotland. He hopes that Cardiff will be able to perform well against the other teams in Division 3.
A mainstay for Division 3, Brighton have yet again qualified this time round. Having lost to league winners Reading early on in the league, and Reading already assured promotion by the time their cup semi-final tie approached, Brighton were determined to make Nationals again, according to captain Ricardo Fungairiño. A 15-8 victory against an unfortunately depleted Reading side comfortably sees them to Nationals. Brighton are keen to remain the best team in the South East after defeating Chichester earlier in the league.
The team where the term “giant killers” most applies to this year. A fourth position in the South East 2A league, with title hopes dashed early on, captain Joe Clarke says that focusing on the cup was the best course of action. And it worked. Victories over South East 2B teams Essex and St Mary’s, including a comeback from 8-4 down against the former secures their place in Nationals. Joe hopes that Chichester’s positive energy will see them progress far through Nationals. Or, at the very least, make sure that Brighton don’t get revenge after Chichester beat them in the South East Regionals game-to-go to Men’s Indoor Nationals.
With the teams introduced, here comes the difficult part. The teams that are currently unbeaten this year are definite contenders for the gold medal positions, but it’s never wise to rule out Scots. Teams from the Midlands have won Division 3 for the last two years, will they make it a third? Bath 2 have a history of performing far better than our predictions of them, but that might well be the secret of their success… Half of the teams were at Nationals last year, perhaps this experience will aid their chances. But only one team can win. So without further ado, here are my predictions:
- Bath 2
- Warwick 2
- St Andrews 2
Feature photo by Timo Low