Our four Women’s writers (Annie Bechtel, Kat Rowland, Isabel Goh and Becky Greenwood) combine to produce a full-sized preview for Women’s Nationals this year, with Harry Mason filling in the gaps.
The days are lengthening and the skies are lighter; the outdoor season is here! Everyone knows outdoors is real Ultimate. The rain, the slippery mud, the four loads of laundry per week. The big throws, the zones, the layouts that don’t hurt. Outdoors is the best. Unfortunately, Regionals was cancelled! So there’s been no warm up for these teams, but in theory they’ve had an extra month to get really hyped! Instead of asking ourselves why mother nature hates university Ultimate, lets preview those teams heading to the Windfarm.
While we don’t know the schedule, we’ve received inside information that the tournament will be split into initial regional pools, with qualification to the top brackets (“Div. 1”) and lower brackets (“Div. 2) still sorted on a region-by-region basis. As such, let’s take a region-by-region look at the tournament, before making some incredibly risky predictions at the end, given how volatile the schedule will have to be to sort this many teams in this few games.
Scotland – Annie Bechtel
Edinburgh: Quite frankly I was tempted to leave Edinburgh out of this preview. You’re probably not worried about them. Captains Kathleen Beekman and Kate Stafford led their indoor team to a National title and will be itching to take the Outdoors one as well. They placed third overall last year, and with multiple players on the squad going to Worlds next year and/or training with Black Eagles, this team is likely to smash it.
Look out for : Helena Slater’s fierce bids, and Shona Carr’s super fast cutting!
Strathclyde: Dark Horses? Not really. It’s fairly easy to make calls about Strathclyde’s plays. They’ve had a stormer of an Indoor season, fighting Edinburgh every step of the way – in (mostly) a good way. Captain Hayley Dalmon is at the head of a strong team of which several are prepping for Worlds. The big throws which are so successful indoors will be put to the test outdoors – but I having a feeling they’ll be just fine. If they have faith in their receivers, which did slow them down last year, they are well within their limits to upset my prediction and make it into the final.
Look out for : Katie Flight playing all the points and never slowing down.
Glasgow: The women who aim to get their vitamin C via their shirts. Glasgow scored the most points against Edinburgh at regionals last year, and came seventh at Nationals. Captain Jiaqi Sng will probably be looking to replicate that performance, and having seen her bossing it on field during Indoors, she’s more than capable of pushing her team to play their best. They came in the top ten at Indoor Nationals (Scotlandddd). With several of their players prepping for Club Worlds, they are a bit of a dark horse – apologies to Strathclyde – going into this.
Look out: Kimberly Marsh and Zsofi Marozsak’s connection on field.
St Andrews: They have steadily remained strong, and came a very respectable seventh last year at Nationals. Captained by Laura Nagle, this team are the champions of getting hyped up for games. Watching some of their games at UWIN, I was impressed by the spirit and support they gave each other. If you hear a team getting loud for every point and every turnover, it’ll be this one!
Look out for : Gabriela Starek’s throws, and Karyn Stewart’s fashion sense.
Stirling: The girls in green are under the young but very positive leadership of Louise Webster. After seeing a carload of this team descend on Swift trials, I was very impressed at the improvement over the season so far. They are very supportive of each other, which is something that is always good to see. If this relatively inexperienced team can hold up as handlers against the likely wind, they’ll have some good games. Also, this team released player profiles for their Nationals squad and they have some great role models, so check it out!
Look out for : Louise Webster, as in, please look out for her and don’t run into her she’s already been injured enough! Also, steady handling from Ashling Bourke.
So, to sum up – Scotland is really strong at the moment. A top ten finish is in reach for multiple teams here, and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde will have their eyes focused on those medals*. There will be wind, there will be drama, there will be bids and hucks galore! I wish all teams going the best of luck.
North – Kat Rowland
Women’s teams from the Northern region will soon be competing hard for those top-bracket Outdoor Nationals places. The surprising lack of teams from Leicester or Liverpool will be offset by second teams from Durham and Newcastle; the region is notoriously difficult to predict, so expect upsets and tense games as they fight it out. This article predicts who will be the champions, the challengers, and the chumps from within the region. However, if the results here are as surprising as Indoors earlier in the year, the top spots at from the North are anybody’s game.
Predicted Division 1
The Newcastle ladies have always impressed at indoors, finishing fourth at Nationals in 2017, and a respectable sixth in 2018. This did not translate into outdoor success last year, ending Nationals at the bottom of Division 2. That being said, Pies now boasts a starting line of SMOG players, including rapid handler Kate Gibson (GBU24), so expect their offence to be imposingly slick.
Durham, despite missing Kat Rowland (SMOG) due to ACL surgery, will be looking strong under the tutelage of dedicated coach Annie Glasspool. They are aiming to do their injured captain proud and defend their 2017 second place finish (from ninth seed). Both universities have entered two teams, so their firsts are experienced and chosen on merit.
Loughborough lived up to their infamous athleticism at indoors. Captain Rupal Ghelani (GB U24) is potentially under-estimating the strength of her team, who finished fourth last year and second at NWIR. She says that they are a small side with limited training time with lots of beginners – they are also pitch-aware and aggressive, and with an intimidating male side-line that comes with a bonded club. Interestingly, they train on rubber crumb, so the grassy pitches of Nottingham might prove a challenge.
Last year’s Regionals champions Leeds were disappointed with their 20th finishing position at Indoor Nationals, so are aiming to prove their worth and get their confidence back. Athletic and versatile, Leeds should qualify for Div. 1 Nationals despite losing Rachel Naden (Reading Ultimate). It would be thrilling to see a continuation of the Leeds-Durham rivalry that began at Indoor Regionals (where Leeds won the final) and continued to Nationals (where Durham won the 8-9 cross).
Predicted Division 2
Despite an impressive third place finish at last year’s Outdoor Regionals 2017, Nottingham are having a development season with lots of freshers following a large cohort of frisbee graduates; captain Lauren Mounteney is aiming to “make other teams lives harder” than to seriously threaten the title. That being said, they have a mean zone and rapid offence and have the team catch-phrase “Positive, Focus, Believe” to keep them going through close games.
Likewise, Sheffield (with the bright yellow kit) have a mixture of experienced players (such as Zarah Dixon of LLLeeds) and freshers for whom UWON will be the first outdoors tournament – having taken the last indoors qualifying spot, the team is clearly not lacking experience, and will rely on their hard person defence to challenge for Division 1.
Huddersfield: the dark horses of Indoors! Winning Regionals with a genuinely unstoppable iso and then representing the North by taking fourth at Nationals, Huddersfield could surprise us. However, their indoors play seemed to consist of overheads through a small number of tall aggressive players, which will not be enough to dominate on the (needless to say) larger and windier pitches. Manchester are similarly an unknown quantity – many teams felt that a significantly over-seeded York meant that Halycon had an easy path to Indoors qualification, and they failed to qualify at Outdoors last year, so are unlikely to pose a threat. Expect Elly White to show up on the photographs with a huge layout too.
York are one of those teams it’s hard to make out sometimes. They initially didn’t enter Outdoor Regionals, but now it’s an open-to-all chance to play Nationals, they find themselves on the big stage. Some of them for the second time, after qualifying for Mixed Indoor Nationals earlier in the year. Captain Hollie Cardwell has been getting plenty of pitch time playing York City Ultimate in Mixed Tour, so expect her to hit the ground running and bring an infectious positivity that will run through the whole team.
It is easy to write off second teams as primarily freshers with little outdoor experience. However, Durham 2 and Newcastle 2 both went to Indoor Regionals and ended in the top ten, so they are clearly not lacking talent, enthusiasm or dedication. The ladies will have been training hard with (and against!) their first teams so won’t go down without a fight. After qualifying for Nationals automatically, they’ll be sure to battle it out hard for their own mini-championship if they meet on pitch (as the only second teams in the tournament).
The North is a region of surprises – last year’s Durham rocketed up the rankings to claim a Div 1 spot, and Huddersfield (finishing eighth at Regionals) went on to win Division 2 Nationals. So, do not rule a weekend filled with surprise finishes and dark horses. However, my final predictions are for Newcastle and Durham to be the North’s strongest chance of medals, with Loughborough and Leeds battling it out for the final Div. 1 spots. Feel free to prove me wrong! I look forward to seeing these teams battle it out at a tournament of spirited, competitive Ultimate.
Midlands – Isabel Goh
(Likely Division 1)
Cambridge: After the graduation of Charlie Daffern (GBX U24), a key handler in their offensive flow last year, Strange Blue will be looking to restructure their offense around the rest of the team. Well-drilled (in new tactics I hear) and not lacking in experience, the team was always aiming to qualify for Div 1 Nationals, and will hope to have a strong weekend on the backs of experienced handler Rebecca Harwin, as well as GBW U24 player Ali Thomas. Also, half the team have been spending the notoriously long Cambridge holiday playing near the top of Mixed Tour with Cambridge, which can’t hurt, although missing Ela “Elsa-Elsa” Matthus may make them drop a couple of seeds.
Imperial: They snuck in to Div. 1 last year due to dropouts, but proved themselves worthy by giving the other teams in the tournament a good fight. This year the DiscDoctors’ main handlers have had an extra year of experience and despite losing a key handler in Qiao Yan Soh (GBW U24), Claire Baker (GBW U24) has arrived to take her place. Their now famous structured offensive flow will be on display as they aim to finish in Div. 1, and high in Div. 1 at that.
Oxford: This team will be hungry for some revenge after a close and windy final at UWON last year against UCL, but their aim for UWON this year will be to finish as high as they can in Div 1. While key handler Joyce “the Kwokadile” Kwok (Iceni) and Christine Moore (GBW Masters Beach) are unable to attend, captain Sarah-Jane Rodgers (SYC) will have plenty of support to marshal the backfield, and plenty of talented receivers upfield like Phili Kent.
UCL: The Silverbacks brought a team of 12 to UWIN in Glasgow and defied expectations by jumping from 17th to seventh over the weekend. The UWON team will likely see a similar line up with few additions – this is a team that played with nine over the UWON weekend last year yet still clinched the gold medal. Captain Alicia Tan (GBX U24) returns, but this time as co-captain with Chaos player Angelica Yeo. Having stated earlier in the season that indoors is part of the build up to outdoors, let’s see just how much better this team can get. A gritty team with some seriously sick break throws, they will be aiming to win it all again.
(Likely Division 2)
Brunel: Another team with players boasting an insane amount of experience, Lucy Hawkes (more than ten years) and Rachel Clark (more than five years) keep this team going, but the team style of play will see the disc pass through the hands of every member. They missed out on Div 2 last year despite qualifying due to a lack of numbers, but claimed before Regionals “the goal this year is to earn our place at Nationals again and this time actually go”. It seems they’ve reached their goal already due to the cancellation of UWOR, so things can only go up from here.
Hertfordshire: After their fantastic performance indoors this year, you would initially suspect Hertfordshire to be amongst the top contenders at outdoors. However, they didn’t enter Regionals initially, and didn’t enter Women’s Regionals or Nationals last year either. As such, while you’d expect a strong core from their indoor team (with players like Cat Gale and Charlie Ellis able to match up to anyone on any team), you’d have to suspect this team might be weaker at the edges than some of the other teams here. With that said, this is a team with major upset potential.
Kent: A team with a reputation for zone, this may prove even more effective outdoors than indoors. If they can capitalise on the turns they generate, this might be a foolproof gameplan. With half the team in their first year of playing frisbee and attending their first outdoor tournament, captain Alice Nicholas says the team is hoping not to get bagelled and manage a couple of wins.
Reading: This team’s close ties with local club Reading Ultimate should put them in good stead to do decently in Div 2 this year, with many of their women attending the Reading club trainings, and with Emily Peach and Charlotte Marriott having recently won Mixed Tour (as development players in Reading A)! However, as of UWOR the team had not yet had a chance to play together, so the additional months should hopefully have put them in good stead to continue learning and developing over the UWON weekend.
Sussex: A team very much in a development year after graduating a strong cohort of players such as Maxine Tink, they have spent much time training together to “get a good flow throughout their game and maintaining a hard defense”. They will be hoping to give the other teams some good games, as well as adapt to whatever is thrown at them. A team with their name on the trophy more than any other team, they’ve got a few years to develop yet before anyone comes close to challenging the legacy that is Sussex Women.
UEA: Still a mystery to all, this team finished near the bottom in Div 2 last year, getting the spot due to poor subscription despite not participating in UWOR. This year they did enter UWOR, but with the whole tournament called off, they find themselves going straight to Nottingham again. Without more information, my guess is that they will finish similarly this year.
West – Becky Greenwood
Now that indoor season is over, it’s time to face what some say is the more intense side of ultimate – outdoors. This year we have eight teams travelling to Nottingham for what looks set to be a very exiting outdoor tournament! (And lots of love to Bangor, Keele and Winchester who worked really hard for Regionals but are unable to attend Nationals.) All these wonderful west women are ready to put together all their hard work and show everyone everyone at Nationals how amazing these teams are!
Bath fished in a very impressive third place at UWIN! They were lead by their women’s captain Beatrix Perks, alongside some star players in the likes of Shino Yoshen, Amy Van Zyl and Georgia Murphy. They are working hard to get to know each other on a personal level as well as a player level. They have a great bunch of women who are hyped to get out on the pitch and to “focus on mental toughness and the ability to fight back in the face of adversity”.
Birmingham (UBU) fought it out tooth and nail at UWIN, leaving them in a commendable 11th place. Alongside their women’s captain Ophelia Byrne, they still have the legendary Grace Owen. Their keen freshers are developing fast and their aim is to stay positive, to qualify for nationals, learn loads and have fun while doing so.
Bristol (Mythago) have struggled to get a team together this year. Alongside a few experienced, they are coming with a very fresh team filled with a load of extra KEEN freshers, who are a lovely group and ready and exited to give it their best shot! Their aim is to keep ‘playing with love’ and to fully support and encourage one another.
Cardiff (No Frills) wanted to bring two teams to Regionals, so you know this first team they’re bringing to Nationals will be the best of the best! They’ve been working hard to get to know each other’s strengths, get some set plays working well and make an impact at Nationals!
Exeter (Urielle) have been preparing by keeping their fitness up, with lots of early morning fitness and extra sessions. Their team is going to stay positive throughout Nationals by having lots of fun and avoid making it stressful or competitive. Their women’s captain Caz Brand has set a goal for the tournament for all the girls to fully enjoy themselves!
Southampton (Skunks) have a number of talented players, alongside their women’s captain Ciara Bignell, including Katie Allen, Ann Lai, Amy Watson and Freya Elliot from GB U20s! They’d be most pleased if they developed as team, from freshers and experienced players alik. Also, that they get this experience at Nationals is amazing, but if everyone plays well, learns a load and has fun, their main aim is achieved!
Swansea (Ducklings) have had a number of new recruits, so who knows how well they’ll do in their first outdoor tournament. The freshers have really impressed their women’s Captain Immie Wong, and she thinks they can definitely improve as a whole over the weekend. As I’m sure with most teams “the aim is to play hard at Nationals and to not finish last”.
Warwick (Bears), lead by the almighty Ellen Daly, fought hard and finished 19th at UWIN. They are determined to surprise when they hit outdoors! They’ve been developing as a squad, learning throughout training and have been creating their own team identity. Their team includes players in the like of Hannah Yorwerth and ex-Cambridge uni captain Tasha Smith. This team are eager to learn loads but also show everyone what their made of!
Good luck to all the women at this year’s Western teams at University Women’s Outdoor Nationals! Here’s to playing what is a truly epic sport with such admirable spirit, determination and companionship!
Final Predictions – Harry Mason
Here is where I could make some flimsy prediction like “expect lots of competitive Ultimate” or that “spirit will be the Ultimate winner”. No. These athletes have all been training hard throughout the year. They’ve fought through the uncertainty of Women’s Regionals being cancelled. Many of them battled through whatever it was that Mixed Nationals turned into this year. Lots of them travelled to Scotland for Indoor Nationals, and gave some of the finest performances University Ultimate has seen.
You know that there will be some amazing Ultimate here. You don’t need me to tell you that. Nor can I properly express how much victory will mean here to these players – or how painful it will be when they will have to manage their adrenaline during the spirit calls which always seem to come at the most tense moments of a game.
What you need me to do is tell you how it may end up, so that you can get as excited as I will when following the heartbreak, the upsets, and the triumphs. So here it is.
- St. Andrews
Feature image by Sam Mouat.